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Leone v. Stipcak

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 6, 2015

ROBERT LEONE, Plaintiff,


A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendants Corporal Roger Stipcak ("Stipcak"), Trooper Scott Renfer ("Renfer"), Trooper Andrew Burian ("Burian"), Trooper Matthew Knock ("Knock"), and Trooper Thad Warnick's ("Warnick") (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 46.) Plaintiff Robert Leone ("Leone") contends that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment rights and committed state law torts during a series of events relating to the use of force that began on the evening of March 8, 2010 and continued into the following morning. Because there are disputed material issues of fact regarding whether the use of force against Leone was objectively reasonable, Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claim will be denied. Furthermore, because factual issues exist as to whether Defendants' actions were actuated by an intent to serve their employer and/or whether the use of force was expected by their employer during the events relevant to this litigation, Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the state law claims will also be denied.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

On March 8, 2010, Leone took the T-tops off his Trans Am and decided to go for a drive. (Doc. 47, Defendants' Statement of Material Facts, " Defs.' SMF ", ¶ 4; Doc. 54, Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, " Plf.'s SMF, " ¶ 4.) Leone suffered from a mental illness prior to that day, and he continues to suffer from the symptoms of mental illness. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 7; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 7.) On his drive, Leone made stops at an observatory and a store. After stopping at the store, Leone proceeded to drive through Pennsylvania for approximately two and a half or three hours. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 5-6, 11; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 5-6, 11.)

At some point thereafter, Kelly Murray ("Murray") was stopped at a stoplight when she contends that Leone's vehicle side-swiped her automobile. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 12-13; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 12-13.) Leone disputes that he side-swiped Murray's automobile. ( Id .) Although Leone gave a statement to his insurer that he struck Murray's automobile, he contends that he was pressured to admit to it so that the insurer would pay the claim. ( Leone Dep., 221:2-14.) Leone, however, was ultimately convicted of one count of accident involving damage to attended vehicle in the Court of Common Pleas of Bradford County. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 19; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 19.)

Murray proceeded to follow Leone's vehicle, and she also contacted the State Police. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 13; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 13.) Renfer, Warnick, and Burian were notified of the hit-and-run, and they got in their vehicles and proceeded to Leone's location along Route 6. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 14-16, 21-23; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 14-16; 21-23.) The troopers pulled behind Leone's vehicle with their lights and sirens activated. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 24; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 24.) Leone noticed the flashing lights of the police vehicles behind him, but he was scared because he had just gotten his license back, was on probation for a DWI, and restrictions on his license provided that he was not to drive outside of Broome County, New York. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 28; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 28.)

Leone did not stop for the police, and he instead continued driving for approximately thirty minutes at speeds between twenty and fifty miles per hours. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 31-32; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 31-32.) The troopers in pursuit unsuccessfully attempted to pull in front of Leone's vehicle and conduct a rolling roadblock. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 38-40; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 38-40.)

Stipcak was the patrol supervisor on March 8, 2010. He, along with Knock, deployed tire deflating spike strips along Route 6 in an attempt to stop Leone's vehicle. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 36-37, 44; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 36-37, 44.) After the spike strips failed to stop Leone's vehicle, Stipcak joined the pursuit in his vehicle, while Knock got into Towanda Borough Police Officer Lantz's vehicle. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 45-48; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 48.) The pursuit was captured on the Mobile Video Recordings ("MVR") for Cars # 5, 6, 8, and 18. ( Defs.' SMF, Exs. E, H, I, M.)

Thereafter, Stipcak decided to take Leone off the road, and he caused Leone's vehicle to spin out and come to a stop along the southern edge of the roadway. (Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 49-53; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 49-53.) Leone felt the vehicle spin wildly, and he was jerked around and slammed against the inside of the door. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 54; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 54.)

Renfer pulled his vehicle in front of Leone's, exited, and drew his sidearm. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 55; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 55.) Stipcak's vehicle stopped in a position that prevented both Leone and himself from opening their doors. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 57; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 57.) Warnick stopped his vehicle approximately fifteen to twenty feet away from Leone's vehicle. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 58; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 58.) Burian pulled his vehicle around Stipcak's vehicle and parked. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 59; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 59.) Burian exited his vehicle with a loaded shotgun and pointed it at Leone as a cover officer. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 60; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 60.)

Stipcak and Leone were eye to eye through the windshields of their vehicles, and Stipcak exited his vehicle through the window and climbed onto the hood of the Trans Am. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 61-62; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 61-62.) From there, Stipcak was able to see Leone clearly because the T-tops were off the Trans Am. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 64; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 64.) The troopers began giving Leone commands to put his hands up and exit the vehicle. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 65; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 65.)

The parties largely dispute the circumstances as to how the following events unfolded. According to Defendants, Leone did not respond to commands, sat in his vehicle smoking a cigarette, made no attempt to reach for his door handle or open his car door, did not put his hands in the air, did not attempt to climb out through the opened roof, and did not acknowledge Stipcak's presence. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 66-72.) Leone, conversely, contends that the scene was noisy, he was unable to exit his vehicle, the instructions came very quickly, he was not instructed to get out of the car through the roof, and he did not know how he could surrender at that time. ( Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 66-72.)

At that point, Stipcak deployed his taser for five seconds, ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 75; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 75), striking Leone in the chest. ( Leone Dep., 93:1-16.) While Stipcak and Burian testified that the taser made a good connection, Leone contends that the taser failed to effectively connect. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 74; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 74.)

After he was tased, Defendants contend that Leone still did not respond to commands. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 77.) Leone, however, maintains that he was not given clear instructions or an adequate amount of time to respond. ( Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 77.) Stipcak then squeezed the taser trigger again. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 78; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 78.)

Knock approached the door of Leone's vehicle and entered. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 79; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 79.) Defendants contend that Knock told Leone to exit the vehicle, but he held onto the steering wheel and was throwing his arms in the air trying to pull away. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 82-84.) According to Knock, Leone put his hands in the air, swinging at him. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 86.) Leone, conversely, disputes that he swung at Knock or that Knock provided verbal instructions. Rather, Knock was attempting to unbuckle Leone's seatbelt and began punching him. ( Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 82-84, 86.) Knock contends that he punched Leone with a closed fist strike to the face at that time, while Leone testified that he was punched multiple times by Knock. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 88; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 88.) Renfer also punched Leone multiple times in the face. ( Defs. SMF, ¶ 89; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 89.)

Leone was then pulled from the vehicle and brought to the ground head first. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 90; Plf.'s SMF, ¶ 90.) According to Defendants, Leone was fighting with the troopers and preventing them from getting his arms behind his back, while Leone testified that he was being punched and kicked while he was on the ground. ( Defs.' SMF, ¶¶ 92-95; Plf.'s SMF, ¶¶ 92-95.) Stipcak testified that he then initiated the taser again, ( Defs.' SMF, ¶ 97), before leaping from the hood of the Trans Am. While Stipcak testified that ...

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