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Mazzella v. Marzen

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

January 14, 2015

CHRISTOPHER MAZZELLA, Plaintiff,
v.
LEE MARZEN in his individual capacity, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

Before the court for disposition is Defendant Lee Marzen's (hereinafter "defendant") motion for summary judgment. The matter has been fully briefed and argued, and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons explained below, the court will grant defendant's motion.

Background

This action arises from Plaintiff Christopher Mazzella's (hereinafter "plaintiff") arrest by defendant, an officer in the employ of the Jim Thorpe Police Department. Plaintiff claims that defendant had no probable cause to arrest him, and that defendant used excessive force in the course of taking him into custody.

On June 10, 2011, plaintiff attended a graduation ceremony at Jim Thorpe High School to watch his brother, Justin Mazzella, graduate. (Doc. 25-2, Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter "SOF") ¶ 1). Defendant was assigned to provide security and crowd control during the high school graduation ceremony in the school's gymnasium. (SOF ¶ 2). The high school's Security Director advised defendant that air horns were not to be allowed on the premises. (Doc. 25-6, Dep. of Lee Marzen (hereinafter "Marzen Dep." at 7.) A pre-ceremony announcement, which the defendant heard, also stated that noisemakers, including air horns, were prohibited. (Doc. 26-3 at 16; Def.'s Response to Requests for Admissions ¶¶ 3, 5; see also Doc. 26-3 at 8-9).[1]

At the time plaintiff's brother's name was announced, plaintiff sounded an air horn for between eight and nine seconds. (SOF ¶¶ 4, 5; Doc. 30, Video 1[2] at:38). Before the horn blast, the graduates' names were announced at a steady pace; the announcements halted when the air-horn sounded. (Video 1 at:47).

Defendant Marzen approached the plaintiff and informed him he had to leave the ceremony. (Marzen Dep. at 10). Plaintiff initially did not comply, but then stood and defendant escorted him down the bleacher steps. (Mazzella Dep. at 5-6, Marzen Dep. at 14-15). As the parties exited the gymnasium, defendant pushed plaintiff against a wall. (Video 3 at:08). Defendant applied a "half-nelson" hold to plaintiff's arm and guided him toward the building exit. (Mazzella Dep. at 20).

As the group proceeded toward the building's exit, a crowd grew in number and drew closer around the parties. (SOF ¶ 12, Video 5 at:07-15). Some individuals in the crowd, including plaintiff's mother, made physical contact with the parties and at times grabbed hold of the plaintiff. (Video 5 at:07-15; Doc. 25-7, Dep. of Joseph Mazzella at 16). Before they reached the exit, the defendant took the plaintiff to the ground, landing on top of him. (Video 5 at:16-19). A few seconds later, defendant, with the assistance of an off-duty police officer, lifted plaintiff to his feet and continued toward the exit. (Id.; SOF ¶ 13)

Once outside, defendant placed plaintiff under arrest. The entire interaction between plaintiff and defendant, until they had exited the building, lasted at most three to five minutes. (SOF ¶ 14).

After transporting plaintiff to the police station, defendant called the assistant district attorney for Carbon County and explained the events that occurred at the graduation. The assistant district attorney agreed with defendant's assessment and approved the charge of persistent disorderly conduct. (SOF ¶ 15).

Once the charge was approved and a criminal complaint filed, plaintiff appeared before Magisterial District Judge Kozcloiek in Lansford, Pennsylvania. (SOF ¶ 16). The magisterial district judge set bail, and defendant transported plaintiff to the Carbon County Correctional Facility. (SOF ¶ 17). Defendant had no further contact with plaintiff on the date of accident. (SOF ¶ 18). Plaintiff alleges that he sought treatment at a hospital the following day and received a diagnosis of a sprained neck, but the hospital did not admit him. He further alleges that he sustained bruises that lasted one and one-half weeks. (Mazzell Dep. at 34-35). After trial, a jury subsequently acquitted plaintiff of all charges, including a summary offense. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 12).

Based upon plaintiff's acquittal, plaintiff commenced this action on June 6, 2013, alleging four counts: Count I invokes 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges that the defendant violated plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable and unlawful seizures and free from the use of excessive force under color of state law; Count II alleges a state law claim for assault and battery; Count III alleges a state law claim for false arrest and illegal imprisonment; Count IV alleged harassment and intentional destruction of property in connection with an alleged "retaliatory raid" on plaintiff's real estate in May 2013. (Doc. 1, Compl.). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on July 29, 2013, which we denied on November 20, 2013. (Docs. 8, 14). On April 23, 2014, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Count IV with prejudice. (Doc. 22).

Discovery closed on August 1, 2014, and defendant timely filed the instant motion for summary judgment on August 15, 2014. (Doc. 25). The parties then briefed and argued the issues, bringing the matter to its current procedural posture.

Jurisdiction

Because this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). The court has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). ("[I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.").

Standard of Review

Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 4 (3d Cir.1997) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id . Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

Discussion

Defendant seeks summary judgment based on three arguments: 1) defendant is immune from suit on the federal claims under the doctrine of qualified immunity, 2) defendant is immune from state law claims under official immunity under Pennsylvania's Political Subdivision Torts Claim Act (hereinafter "PSTCA"), and 3) punitive damages are unavailable as a matter of law. Plaintiff asserts that the factual basis for all three claims is in dispute, and therefore summary judgment is improper. We address the issues in turn.

I. Qualified Immunity

Defendant asserts immunity from suit on the federal Section 1983 claims under the doctrine of qualified immunity. A government official sued under §1983 is entitled to qualified immunity unless the official violated a statutory or constitutional right that was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct. See Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 3). A right is clearly established only if its contours are sufficiently clear that "a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987). In other words, "existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." al-Kidd, 563 U.S., at ___ (slip op., at 9). This doctrine "gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments, " and "protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'" Id., at ___ (slip op., at 12) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 ...


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