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Martin v. Finley

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 15, 2017

THOMAS J. FINLEY, et al. Defendants.


          Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 60) by Magistrate Judge Carlson, in which the Magistrate Judge recommends granting in part and denying in part Defendant Amil Minora's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 22) in the above-captioned action. Defendant Minora has filed Objections (Doc. 61) to which Plaintiff has responded (Doc. 62). For the reasons that follow, upon de novo review of the R&R, the Court will adopt in part and overrule in part the pending R&R.

         II. Analysis

         A. Plaintiff's Claims of Malicious Prosecution and Abuse of Process

         Defendant Minora first objects to Magistrate Judge Carlson's recommendation that Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claims for malicious prosecution and abuse of process in Count III be denied. (See Doc. 61, at 1-6).

         "The tort of 'abuse of process' is defined as the use of legal process against another 'primarily to accomplish a purpose for which it is not designed.'" Rosen v. Am. Bank of Rolla, 627 A.2d 190, 192 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1993) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 682).

The gravamen of the misconduct for which the liability stated [under this tort] is imposed is not the wrongful procurement of legal process or the wrongful initiation of criminal or civil proceedings; it is the misuse of process, no matter how properly obtained, for any purpose other than that which it was designed to accomplish.

Id. (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 682, cmt. a) (emphasis added). To succeed on an abuse of process claim,

the plaintiff must show some definite act or threat not authorized by the process, or aimed at an objective not legitimate in the use of the process ...; and there is no liability where the defendant has done nothing more than carry out the process to its authorized conclusion, even though with bad intentions.

Lerner v. Lerner, 954 A.2d 1229, 1238 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2008) (quoting Shiner v. Moriarty, 706 A.2d 1228, 1236 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998)) (internal alterations omitted).

         The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has characterized the distinction between abuse of process and malicious prosecution in the following manner:

Decisions in this state and in other jurisdictions have drawn a distinction between actions for abuse of legal process and those for malicious prosecution .... The gist of an action for abuse of process is the improper use of process after it has been issued, that is, a perversion of it"On the other hand, legal process, civil or criminal, may be maliciously used so as to give rise to a cause of action where no object is contemplated other than its proper effect and execution." Publix Drug Co. v. Breyer Ice Cream Co., 32 A.2d 412, 415 (Pa. 1943) (quoting Mayer v.

Walter, 64 Pa. 283, 285 (Pa. 1870}}. Furthermore, unlike a claim for malicious prosecution, the presence or absence of probable cause is irrelevant to a claim for abuse of process nor does the plaintiff have to prove that the underlying action terminated in his favor. Smith v. Wambaugh, 887 F.Supp. 752, 757 (M.D. Pa. 1995).

         Defendant Minora objects to Magistrate Judge Carlson's recommendation with respect to the abuse of process claim because "defendant Minora's referral of alleged criminal conduct to the appropriate authorities to investigate is not an abuse of legal process" (Doc. 61, at 6). However, in examining Plaintiffs claim of abuse of process, Magistrate Judge Carlson noted the following chain of allegations:

Martin's complaint alleges that the defendants filed an unfounded criminal complaint against him with the District Attorney's Office and then induced the District Attorney's Office to obtain and execute search warrants on the plaintiffs bank accounts based upon false and incomplete information. The complaint then expressly alleges that the defendants attempted to use this ongoing legal process to leverage favorable civil settlement terms from Martin.

(Doc. 60, at 20-21). Defendant focuses only on the first allegations, namely the filing of a criminal complaint and the resulting search warrants. As Plaintiff admits, the "abuse of process claim began to accrue against Defendant Minora personally when Defendant Minora himself used the threat of the criminal proceedings as a means of coercing Martin to enter into a civil settlement." (Doc. 62, at 4). Thus, it is the final event, the use of the ongoing criminal investigation to leverage a favorable civil settlement, that, when applied in conjunction with the prior allegations, sufficiently alleges a perversion of process; i.e. the improper use of the criminal complaint and subsequent search warrants to achieve the allegedly unlawful and unethical objective of ...

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