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Stone v. Martin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 22, 2016



          MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 16). Based upon the court's review of the motion and related materials, the defendants' motion will be granted with respect to the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claim and the plaintiffs' remaining state law claims will be dismissed without prejudice.

         By way of relevant procedural background, the plaintiffs filed the instant action on August 24, 2015, in which they set forth a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, as well as various state law claims. (Doc. 1). On June 30, 2016, the defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, (Doc. 16), along with a statement of material facts, (Doc. 17), and supporting brief, (Doc. 18). The plaintiffs filed a responsive statement of material facts, (Doc. 19), and opposing brief, (Doc. 20), on July 13, 2016.

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, the discovery [including, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file] and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and is material if it will affect the outcome of the trial under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Ericksen, 903 F.Supp. 836, 838 (M.D. Pa. 1995). At the summary judgment stage, “the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see also Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (a court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations). Rather, the court must consider all evidence and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007).

         To prevail on summary judgment, the moving party must affirmatively identify those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24. The moving party can discharge the burden by showing that “on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.” In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 238 (3d Cir. 2003); see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. If the moving party meets this initial burden, the non-moving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts, ” but must show sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in its favor. Boyle v. County of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)). However, if the non-moving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to [the non-movant's] case, and on which [the non-movant] will bear the burden of proof at trial, ” Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment because such a failure “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23; Jakimas v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., 485 F.3d 770, 777 (3d Cir. 2007).

         In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege that, on June 17, 2015, defendant Dunlap, a deputy sheriff in Monroe County, entered onto their property to serve a small claims notice from the State of Rhode Island. At the time of entry, the plaintiffs allege that their home and property were posted with signs that prohibited persons from entering or trespassing upon the property. Moreover, the plaintiffs allege that the driveway on the property had a gate that was closed and locked. The plaintiffs allege that defendant Dunlap disregarded the signs and circumvented the locked gate in order to enter onto the property and reach the plaintiffs' home and garage which are not visible from the adjoining street.

         Based upon the above allegations, the plaintiffs assert a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, a claim for a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and state law claims for invasion of privacy and trespass. The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

         In support of their motion for summary judgment, the defendants have submitted a statement of material facts, the following of which are not in dispute. The plaintiff, Brian Stone, is a licensed Pennsylvania attorney with offices in New York and Pennsylvania.[1] The plaintiff, Ellen Stone, is Brian Stone's wife. Todd Martin is the elected Sheriff of Monroe County and Jason Dunlap is a Monroe County Sheriff's deputy.

         The Stones own a property along Route 115[2] in Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania, which is comprised of approximately 75 acres. The Stones' home and Brian Stone's Pennsylvania law office are adjacent to each other on the property and are both accessed by a shared driveway running from Route 115. At the Route 115 entrance to the property, Mr. Stone erected a sign advertising to the public that the property is the site of his law office and included his phone number on the sign.

         At the entrance to the plaintiffs' driveway is a gate. Along the driveway leading to the plaintiffs' home and Mr. Stone's law office were placed signs reading “Beware of Dog”, “No Hunting”, “Speed Limit 15", “Posted - Private Property - Hunting, Fishing, Trapping or Trespassing for Any Purpose is Strictly Forbidden - Violators will be Prosecuted”, and “Keep Out”. These signs are posted even when Mr. Stone's law office is open for business.

         The Monroe County Sheriff's Office was asked by Latese T. Smith, the plaintiff in a Rhode Island lawsuit against Mrs. Stone, to serve documents upon Mrs. Stone relating to the lawsuit. On two occasions on June 8, 2015 and June 11, 2015, defendant Dunlap went to the plaintiffs' property to serve the civil process and found the gate at the plaintiffs' driveway locked. On those occasions, defendant Dunlap placed his card in the plaintiffs' mailbox and left the property. On June 17, 2015, the day at issue in this case, defendant Dunlap returned to the plaintiffs' property. At that time, the gate at the end of the driveway was once again closed and locked. This time, defendant Dunlap proceeded to walk around the gate and down the Stones' driveway. When he reached the law office building, the garage door in the building was open and Ellen Stone was visible from the open door. Defendant Dunlap indicated that he was looking for Ellen Stone at which time she replied “You found me.” Defendant Dunlap gave the Rhode Island paperwork to Mrs. Stone at her husband's law office and then left the property. A sign on the door of the law office reflects that the building houses Mr. Stone's law office and provides a contact phone number and website address.[3]

         The plaintiffs allege that defendant Dunlap was acting “in conformity with the policy of the (sic) defendant Martin . . . and under color of the statutes, regulations, customs, and usages of defendant Martin”, and that the “[d]efendants affirmatively assert and claim that [they] have a right to disregard posted signs and to go around locked gates in connection with serving civil process, no matter how trivial the matter, . . .” (Doc. 1, p. 2).

         The plaintiffs have provided their own counterstatement of material facts to which the defendants have not responded.[4] To the extent that those facts are supported by the record, they demonstrate that a majority of the property in question is covered by dense woods which blocks the view of the home and nearby garage from the public road. At the time that defendant Dunlap entered the property, he was not able to see the Mr. Stone's law office from the public roadway. The plaintiffs' materials demonstrate that there is a mailbox at the intersection of the driveway and public roadway outside of the plaintiffs' gate at which the plaintiffs receive their mail.

         In their first, and only federal, cause of action, the plaintiffs allege that they “were deprived of their rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution of the United States and laws enacted under that Constitution, in that defendants' conduct constituted an arbitrary intrusion by defendants on the plaintiffs' property, deprived plaintiffs' (sic) of their peace and quiet, invaded plaintiffs' privacy and solitude, and diminished plaintiffs' enjoyment of life, which conduct was not authorized by law and which constituted a denial of plaintiffs' rights without due process of law.” Despite what appears to be a Fourteenth Amendment claim in their complaint, throughout the plaintiffs' briefs ...

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