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Yagla v. Simon

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 3, 2015



LISA PUPO LENIHAN, Magistrate Judge.


It is respectfully recommended that: (a) the motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint filed by the City of Pittsburgh (ECF No. 55) be granted, and (b) the consolidated motion to dismiss and/or to strike portions of the Second Amended Complaint filed by the County of Allegheny (ECF No. 57) be granted as to the County's motion to dismiss and denied as to the County's motion to strike. It is further recommended that Plaintiff's §1983 claims be dismissed with prejudice, to the extent they are premised on:

(i) alleged violations of the Fifth Amendment;
(ii) alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment;
(iii) alleged violations of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause;
(iv) alleged violations of the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process clause arising from: (a) the withdrawal of a potential plea offer; (b) the Commonwealth's reliance on officer Scarpane's testimony; (c) the nolle prossing of Plaintiff's criminal charges; and (d) the violation of a Rule of Professional Responsibility; and
(v) alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment arising from: (a) Plaintiff's false arrest; (b) Plaintiff's false imprisonment; and (c) a judicial officer's probable cause determination.

Finally, it is recommended that the following §1983 claims be dismissed without prejudice: (i) Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim; (ii) Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment due process claim premised upon an alleged fabrication of evidence and/or Brady violation; and (c) Plaintiff's municipal liability claims.


A. Background Facts

Plaintiff Bart Maverick Yagla ("Yagla") filed this civil rights action after being arrested and prosecuted in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas for drug-related offenses that were eventually nolle prossed. The state trial court summarized the background facts and procedural history of Plaintiff's criminal case as follows:

On February 15, 2009, Officer Kenneth L. Simon, a sixteen-year veteran of the Pittsburgh Police Department, was on routine patrol with his partner in a marked vehicle in the Northside Section of the City of Pittsburgh. As they approached Sorrell Street, near its intersection with Marshall Avenue, they noticed a parked vehicle with two occupants, which was in front of a vacant lot. Officer Simon, who had made numerous drug arrests in this area, became curious as to why this vehicle would be parked in front of a vacant lot at one o'clock in the afternoon. He and his partner then ran the license plate that was on this vehicle to determine that the car was registered to an individual who lived in Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Officer Simon and his partner decided to talk to the individuals in this car and as they approached, they noticed that the two individuals were looking in their laps. As they got closer to the vehicle, [Yagla] and his passenger, William Fryer, noticed them and then began to move frantically inside the car. [1] When Officer Simon got to the driver's window, he noticed several stamp bags of what he believed to be heroin in [Yagla's] lap and he also observed a needle and spoon at the feet of both the driver and the passenger, in addition to several other empty stamp bags. Immediately upon seeing these items, [Yagla] and Fryer were removed from the car and arrested. During the subsequent search of [Yagla], Officer Simon found an additional thirty-two bags of suspected heroin. During the search of Fryer, nothing else was found on him and the police uncuffed him and released him with a summons for possession of heroin. When [Yagla] heard this, he asked the police [why] they were not taking Fryer with them since half of the bags that were found on [Yagla] were allegedly Fryer's.
[Yagla] filed a motion to suppress and at the time of hearing on that motion, only Officer Simon testified. That motion was then denied and the defense and the Commonwealth entered into a stipulation to incorporate the testimony given at the time of the suppression hearing into a non-jury trial. In addition, [Yagla] and the District Attorney stipulated to the Crime Lab report which indicated that the items tested by the Crime Lab had a gross weight of one point zero seven grams and tested positive for being heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance. The Commonwealth's only other witness in this non-jury trial was Anthony J. Scarpine, III, who is a seventeen-year police veteran, spending the last fifteen years with the Pittsburgh Police Department. Officer Scarpine was called so that he could offer an opinion as to whether or not [Yagla] possessed the heroine found on him for the purpose of intending to deliver to another party. During the hypothetical question that was being asked of him, Officer Scarpine asked several questions in his attempt to clarify the facts of [Yagla's] case. In particular, he asked whether or not Fryer had any stamp bags on him and further, whether or not the markings on the stamp bags were the same for both Fryer and [Yagla], to which the District Attorney said yes, the markings on all of the stamp bags were "Star Legend". Based upon this information and the other information provided to him in the hypothetical question, Officer Scarpine was of the opinion that [Yagla] possessed heroin for the purpose of delivering it to another individual.

Trial Court Opinion, 9/22/10, at 3-4 (footnote added).

[Yagla] was convicted of one count of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, one count of possession of a controlled substance, one count of tampering with evidence and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia on August 27, 2009. [Yagla] was sentenced on that date to a mandatory period of incarceration of not less than two nor more than four years to be followed by a period of probation of two years during which he was to undergo random drug screening. [Yagla] filed a timely appeal to the Superior Court and was directed, pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(b), to file a concise statement of matters complained of on appeal.

Trial Court Opinion, 9/22/10, at 2.

Commonwealth v. Yagla, No. 1608 WDA 2009 at 1-3 (Pa.Super. Ct. Aug. 4, 2011) (attached as Ex. B to Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 52-2) (footnote 1 and alteration in the original; all other alterations added).

In his direct appeal from his state court conviction, Yagla challenged the validity of Officer Simon's investigative detention and subsequent search of his vehicle, claiming that the detention was not supported by an objectively reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Commonwealth v. Yagla, supra, at 4 ("In Appellant's first issue, he challenges the ruling of the suppression court and claims that the police officers lacked reasonable suspicion."). The Superior Court sustained this challenge, reasoning as follows:

Here, the record reflects that at one o'clock in the afternoon, the officers saw a legally-parked car on a city street in a high drug trafficking area. The car was parked in front of a vacant lot, but it had a current registration tag and was not reported as stolen. The officers opted to approach the occupied vehicle, and they then saw frantic movement from the passengers. It was at this point that the officers drew their weapons and ordered [Yagla] and his cohort to show their hands, seizing [Yagla]. It was not until [Yagla] was seized that the officers arrived at the car door and saw the suspected narcotics and paraphernalia.

After careful review, we note that in the instant case, the police officers, similar to those in [ Commonwealth v. McClease, 750 A.2d 320 (Pa.Super. Ct. 2000)], had even less information than did the officers in [ Commonwealth v. DeWitt, 608 A.2d 1030 (Pa. 1992)]. Here, it was one o'clock in the afternoon, and the officers did not have the information regarding criminal activity in the area or flight, as did the officers in DeWitt. In the instant case, the officers drew their weapons and ordered [Yagla] and his friend to show their hands prior to the discovery of anything that would amount to reasonable suspicion. We conclude that no reasonable person would have believed that they were free to leave once the officers drew their weapons and shouted commands.... Accordingly, we conclude that [Yagla] was seized without reasonable suspicion. Thus, we are constrained to reverse the order denying suppression, reverse the judgment of sentence, and remand this matter to the trial court....

Commonwealth v. Yagla, 1608 WDA 2009, at 11-12 (emphasis in the original) (internal citations omitted).

After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the Commonwealth's petition for allowance of an appeal, the Commonwealth moved for a nolle prosequi of Yagla's criminal charges. (Second Am. Compl., Ex. B, at pp. 7-8, ECF No. 52-1; id., Ex. C, ECF No. 52-3.) The Court of Common Pleas granted the Commonwealth's motion, and the case was nolle prossed on February 6, 2012. ( Id., Ex. C.)

B. Procedural History

1. The Original Complaint

Following the dismissal of his criminal charges, Yagla commenced this civil action on February 10, 2014, with the filing of his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and an accompanying complaint. (ECF No. 1 and 1-2.) Yagla's original complaint named as defendants Officer Simon and the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office (the "DA's Office") (ECF No. 1-2 and 3) and asserted claims for "Malicious prosecution, False Imprisonment, Mental pain and Anguish, and Punitive damages" ( id. at ¶ III).

On April 24, 2014, the DA's Office filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that: (A) it is not an entity for purpose of §1983 liability, (B) Yagla had not alleged an unconstitutional policy implemented by the DA's Office; (C) the office is immune for liability relative to any malicious prosecution claim; (D) Yagla did not allege the involvement of the DA's Office in his arrest; and (E) the complaint was untimely. (ECF Nos. 12 and 13.) This motion was rendered moot when Yagla filed his First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 22) on June 3, 2014.

2. The First Amended Complaint

In his First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Yagla named as defendants Officer Simon, the City of Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County; the District Attorney's Office was not identified as a defendant in the FAC and was therefore terminated from the case. Yagla's FAC expanded his constitutional tort theories to include alleged violations of his rights under the 4th, 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. (FAC ¶ III, ECF No. 22.)

On July 21, 2014, the County filed a consolidated motion to strike certain declarations that Yagla had filed in support of the FAC and to dismiss the claims against the County (ECF No. 34). In support of its motion to dismiss, the County argued that: (i) Yagla had failed to allege facts supportive of a municipal liability theory; (ii) Yagla's claims based upon alleged violations of the 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution should be construed and addressed instead as claims based upon alleged 4th Amendment violations; and (iii) the claims in the FAC were untimely because the lawsuit had been filed outside of the applicable statute of limitations. (Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss at pp. 3-7, ECF No. 35.)

3. The Second Amended Complaint

On September 15, 2014, with leave of this Court, Yagla filed his Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") (ECF No. 52), which is currently the operative pleading in this case. Like the FAC, the SAC names Officer Simon, the City of Pittsburgh, and the County of Allegheny as defendants; however, Plaintiff's SAC elaborates on the procedural history and outcome of his criminal case ( see SAC, "Statement of Claim" ¶¶ 1-16) and offers more expansive averments concerning the claims against each of the named defendants.

The SAC's "Statement of Claim" alleges that, on the day in question, Yagla was legally parked in a spot adjacent to his friend's house, where he had been visiting. (SAC, "Statement of Claim" ¶1, ECF No. 52.) After Yagla and a friend got into Yagla's legally registered vehicle, Yagla noticed a marked police car approaching. ( Id. ) The police car drifted back and forth a few times alongside Yagla's vehicle, then pulled in front of Yagla's car, as if it were leaving. Yagla then started his car in an attempt to leave, at which point the police car stopped about two car lengths in front of Yagla's vehicle, blocking the roadway ahead. ( Id. ) At this point, according to the SAC:

1.... [Officer Simon] and his partner drew there [sic] weapons and ordered plaintiff and his friend to show their hands. Plaintiff and his friend complied, not understanding what was going on.... Upon reaching plaintiffs [sic] vehicle and with there [sic] weapons still drawn, Officer Simon stated "drugs" to his partner. His partner appeared to be confused at first but went along with Officer Simon. Officer Simon and his partner then opened plaintiffs [sic] car doors and physically pulled both plaintiff and his friend out of the vehicle. Once outside the vehicle, both Officer Simon and his partner searched the plaintiff and his friends [sic] person. Plaintiff was found to have on his person 32 stamped bags of herion [sic]. Plaintiff was then placed in handcuffs and put inside of the police car. Plaintiffs [sic] friend was found to have nothing on his person and was ordered to standby [sic] while Officer Simon and his partner searched plaintiffs [sic] vehicle. Upon searching plaintiffs [sic] vehicle, Officer Simon and his partner found drug paraphenila [sic] underneath both the driver and passenger seats. At this time, back up officers arrived, Plaintiffs [sic] friend was released from the scene with a summons for possession. Plaintiff's car was towed to the police impound and plaintiff was taken to the Allegheny County Jail.
2. Once at the Allegheny County Jail, plaintiff was placed in a holding cell, where he was detained, awaiting a criminal complaint/charges and a preliminary arraignment. While plaintiff was being detained, Officer Simon drafted his version of plaintiffs [sic] arrest and submitted a sworn affidavit of probable cause to a judicial official of Allegheny County.

(SAC, "Statement of Claim, " ¶¶ 1-2.) According to Yagla, Simon's sworn affidavit "withheld detailed information" and "contained false statements/accusations that were fabricated and misleading to produce probable cause to arrest plaintiff." (SAC, "Legal Claims as for Defendants Officer Simon and the City of Pittsburgh" ¶ 3, ECF No. 52.) This falsified affidavit then became the "initial motivating factor in prosecution" ( id. ¶ 4), which involved criminal charges of possession with intent to deliver ...

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