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Collins v. Jones

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 24, 2015

LAMAR COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
RICHARD JONES, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DAVID R. STRAWBRIDGE, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendants, Officer Richard Jones and Chief Francis Priscopo of the Trainer Borough Police Department move for summary judgment against Plaintiff, Lamar Collins. Collins has sued Jones and Priscopo, along with Delaware County Detective Robert Lythgoe and ten John Doe Defendants, members of the Trainer Borough Police Department. By his complaint, Plaintiff seeks damages for harm he claims to have suffered from malicious and vindictive prosecution initiated by these officers. For the reasons set forth below, we will grant Defendants' motion in part and deny it in part.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On December 27, 2013, Collins filed his first complaint pursuing claims arising out of his October 2012 detention by police and the subsequent filing of criminal charges that were lodged against him. (Doc. No. 1.) The Complaint was amended on April 14, 2014. (Doc. No. 17.) Defendants moved to dismiss the amended claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 18, 19.) District Court Judge Michael M. Baylson granted that motion in part, dismissing, without prejudice, Plaintiff's claims for selective enforcement, First Amendment retaliation, municipal liability, and injunctive relief. (Order, Doc. No. 28, 30.) Collins then filed his Second Amended Complaint[1] on July 17, 2014 (hereinafter "the Complaint") against Officer Jones, Chief Priscopo, Detective Lythgoe and the ten John Doe Defendants asserting claims for malicious and vindictive prosecution under both state and federal law. (Compl., Doc. No. 33) Detective Lythgoe has since been dismissed from the case by stipulation. (Doc. No. 48.) We also dismiss the John Doe Defendants.[2] We therefore have before us only two remaining claims against Jones and Priscopo, both brought under state and federal law.

In the first count of his Complaint, Collins asserts that the remaining Defendants are liable for malicious prosecution under Pennsylvania state law as well as under federal law through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl., Doc. No. 33, ¶ 30-38.) Collins sets out that these Defendants lacked probable cause to "stop, arrest, search, charge and/or accuse Plaintiff", that he was "seized from the time he was arrested through the time he was imprisoned, " that the Defendants "deliberately ignored and failed to advise prosecutors of evidence and accounts of the event that exonerated Plaintiff", and that the underlying criminal action ended in Plaintiff's favor. (Compl., Doc. No. 33, ¶ 34-37.) These allegations give rise to his two legal claims for malicious prosecution. (Compl., Doc. No. 33, ¶ 38.)

In the Second Count, Plaintiff asserts that he was subject to vindictive prosecution by Defendants and "prosecuted solely because he failed to cooperate" with law enforcement. (Compl., Doc. No. 33, ¶ 39-42.) Plaintiff claims that he therefore suffered "a violation of the Fourteenth Amendments [sic] of the United States Constitution, actionable through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, et seq., and common law." (Compl., Doc. No. 33, ¶ 42.) Defendants Jones and Priscopo filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on November 13, 2014. (Def. MSJ.) Plaintiff filed a responsive brief opposing Defendants' Motion on December 23, 2014. (Pl. Resp.) The matter is now ripe for resolution.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[3]

On October 20, 2012, Collins was in his car leaving his home with some $3, 000 in cash[4] in his possession. (Collins Dep. 39-5, at 36-55.). He was on his way to make a rental payment to his landlord and to deposit the rest of the money in the bank when he was pulled over by Officer Jones in an unmarked car. (Id. at 27-28, 36-55.) He was ordered out of his car and placed in handcuffs. (Id. at 51-52.) According to Collins, Jones told him that he (Jones) "knew" that he (Collins) had drugs in his possession. (Id. at 51.) Collins denied the accusation. (Id. ) Jones then began a preliminary search of the car, finding and seizing the cash, despite Collins's refusal to consent to the search. (Id. at 54.) Pursuant to Collins's request, Chief Priscopo then came to the scene. (Collins Dep., Doc. No. 39-5, at 58-59.) Priscopo spoke with Jones and then told Collins that he had probable cause for the search, that the car would be towed, and he would be booked at the police station. (Id. at 61.) Priscopo then left the scene. (Id. at 65-66.)

Jones then told Collins that he had information from a neighbor that Collins was dealing hydroponic marijuana and that he needed to cooperate with the police by providing the names of his suppliers. (Id. at 65, 68-69.) Collins was not initially receptive, but after having been told by Jones that he (Jones) would "find something [his] car, " he told him that he would be cooperative in order to appease Jones and secure his own release. (Id. 66, 77-79.) Jones agreed to the release and returned the car, but not the cash. (Collins Dep., Doc. No. 39-5, at 83-84.) During this discussion, Jones pressed Collins seeking consent to complete the search of the car which Collins then agreed to. (Id. at 81-82.) According to Collins, Jones then seized a bag found on the seat of the car which was described by Collins as containing a "like brown like pepper" sort of substance which Jones concluded was marijuana. (Id. at 82-83.) Collins requested that Jones test the material, but Jones refused. (Id. at 83.) Collins asserted that he believed the material which Jones suspected to be marijuana was nothing more than loose bits of tobacco coming from an empty cigarette pack in the back of his car which was placed in a bag put in his driver's seat by the officer. (Id. at 133-35.) Two days later, with no charges yet filed, Collins called Jones. (Id. at 94.) During this call, which Collins was surreptitiously recording, [5] Jones again attempted to obtain Collins's cooperation with law enforcement.[6] (Collins Dep., Doc. No. 39-5, at 99.) Collins also claimed that Jones had taken $90 of the approximate $3, 000 in cash he had in the car. (Phone Recording, Doc. No. 39-9.) Jones disregarded this allegation and repeated to Collins that he was "a known drug dealer." (Id. )

On October 23, 2012, Collins visited the Delaware County District Attorney's office where he spoke with Detective Lythgoe and filed a private criminal complaint against Jones for harassment. (Collins Dep., Doc. No. 39-5, at 104-07.) The District Attorney's Office, however, declined to authorize the charge. (Id. at 160.) Collins was then told that he would face criminal charges arising out of the October 20, 2012 incident. (Id. )

Collins, in fact, did receive notification by mail that he was being charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and a controlled substance. (Id. at 113-14; State Ct. Docket, Doc. No. 39-10, at 2.) The complaint supporting that charge was signed by Officer Jones and dated October 20, 2012 but was not issued by the magisterial district judge until November 5, 2012.[7] (Crim. Compl., Doc. No. 50-10, at 1-5.) Collins testified that, due to the charges, he was required to "submit fingerprints [and] papers to go down to like the bail office." (Collins, Dep., Doc. No. 39-5, at 113-14.) Bail was set at $10, 000 unsecured. (State Ct. Docket, Doc. No. 39-10, at 2.)

On January 2, 2013, the Lima Regional Laboratory of the Pennsylvania State Police's Bureau of Forensic Services provided laboratory testing results performed on a Ziploc bag and two shopping bags taken from Collins's car. (Lab Report, Doc. No. 39-12.) The testing results were negative for the presence of any controlled substance. (Id. ) Jones noted that he only field tested the vegetable matter he allegedly found in the car and that this substance was not sent in for further testing per the decision of the District Attorney's office. (Jones Dep., Doc. No. 39-6, at 53-54.) Plaintiff, nonetheless, waived his preliminary hearing despite the negative test results. (Collins Dep., Doc. No. 39-5, at 174-75.) He continued on unsecured bail. (Id. at 113-14.)

Pursuant to a Writ of Habeas Corpus, Judge Kevin F. Kelly of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas dismissed the criminal information lodged against Plaintiff on August 5, 2013. (Dismissal Order, Doc. No. 50-11, at 1-2.) Given the negative lab results, he found the charges to be unsubstantiated. (Id. ) On the same day, he also issued an order denying the state's forfeiture petition and granting Plaintiff's petition for the return of his property. (Seizure Order, Doc. No. 50-11, at 3-4.) He determined that, because the criminal charges were dismissed, the seized property would be returned to Collins. (Id. )

IV. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate Aif the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (a court must grant a motion for summary judgment "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."). An issue is Agenuine@ if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is Amaterial@ if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id. In reviewing the record before us, any "inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts contained in such materials must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962).

V. DISCUSSION

We begin by addressing Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claims and then discuss his vindictive prosecution claims. In both cases, we address the claims arising under federal law first.[8]

A. Malicious Prosecution Under ...


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