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Suydam v. Pennsylvania State Police

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 15, 2017

GABRIEL N. SUYDAM, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          KAROLINE MEHALCHICK United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is a motion for summary judgment, filed by Defendants, Daniel Nilon and the Pennsylvania State Police, on June 22, 2016. (Doc. 20). The Defendants move for summary judgment in the instant matter on the grounds that the claims against Trooper Nilon are barred by the statute of limitations, and claims against Defendant Pennsylvania State Police are barred by sovereign immunity. (Doc. 22).

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Gabriel N. Suydam initiated the instant § 1983 action, filing a counseled complaint against Trooper Nilon and the Pennsylvania State Police on January 12, 2015. (Doc. 1). Suydam alleges Trooper Nilon subjected Suydam to a warrantless arrest at 2:35 a.m. on September 1, 2012. (Doc. 1, ¶ 6-8). On the night in question, Trooper Nilon patrolled a four-way-stop intersection. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9). Trooper Nilon pulled over Suydam's vehicle on the basis that the lights meant to illuminate Suydam's registration plate were not functioning. (Doc. 1, ¶ 10; Doc. 21, ¶ 2). As a result of the stop, Trooper Nilon placed Suydam under arrest for DUI and driving with a suspended license. (Doc. 1, ¶ 11; Doc. 21, ¶ 3).

         Trooper Nilon testified at trial that Suydam's registration plate lights were inoperable, precipitating the stop. (Doc. 1, ¶ 13). The dash cam footage from Trooper Nilon's cruiser indicated the lights on the registration plate were in fact operating at the time of the stop. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15). On January 10, 2014, the Monroe County District Attorney filed a motion for nolle prosequi. (Doc. 1, ¶ 16; Commonwealth v. Suydam, No. CP-45-CR-0000570-2013 (Monroe County C.C.P.). The Monroe County Court of Common Pleas granted the motion for nolle prosequi on January 30, 2014, dismissing the case. Commonwealth v. Suydam, No. CP-45-CR-0000570-2013 (Monroe County C.C.P.).

         In his complaint against Trooper Nilon and the Pennsylvania State Police, Suydam states Trooper Nilon: lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Suydam; knew the stop was unreasonable and without probable cause; caused Suydam to retain counsel to defend charges stemming from the stop and arrest; and acted unlawfully and maliciously. (Doc. 1, ¶ 17-20). Suydam seeks attorney's fees and costs incurred in defense of the state court action and in the instant proceedings, plus punitive damages and interest. (Doc. 1, at 4).

         The parties consented to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge on July 31, 2015. (Doc. 13). The Defendants filed the motion for summary judgment on June 22, 2016. (Doc. 20). Suydam filed a brief in opposition on August 24, 2016. (Doc. 28). The Defendants filed a reply brief on September 13, 2016, making the motion ripe for Court review. (Doc. 29). The Defendants argue that the false arrest claims against Trooper Nilon are barred by the statute of limitations and that claims against the Pennsylvania State Police are barred by sovereign immunity. (Doc. 22).

         Suydam concedes that the Pennsylvania State Police were protected by sovereign immunity. (Doc. 28, at 4). Further, Suydam does not challenge the argument proffered by the Defendants regarding the applicable statute of limitations for false arrest actions. (Doc. 28). Instead, Suydam argues his cause of action for malicious prosecution is timely, rendering summary dismissal improper. (Doc. 28, at 3). Defendants submit that judgment should be entered in their favor, as the motion on false arrest claims was unchallenged, and that Suydam never raised malicious prosecution theories until his brief in opposition, at which point advancement of new legal theories is improper. (Doc. 29, at 3).

         The Court considers the claims against the Pennsylvania State Police dismissed by consent of the Plaintiff and the motion for summary judgment on his claim of false arrest unopposed. Having found it meritorious, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of the Defendants on any false arrest claim. Thus, the only remaining issue is whether Suydam pled a claim for malicious prosecution, sufficient to put the Defendants on notice, or if this claim is being brought for the first time in a brief in opposition to summary judgment.[1]

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment should be granted only if “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). A fact is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is “genuine” only if the evidence “is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In deciding a summary judgment motion, all inferences “should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true.” Pastore v. Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).

         A federal court should grant summary judgment “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 a judgment as a matter of law.” Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000). In making this determination, “a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.” Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court's function is not to make credibility determinations, weigh evidence, or draw inferences from the facts. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Rather, the court must simply “determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         III. Discussion

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandates that a pleading ...


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