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Heilimann v. O'Brien

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 7, 2017

RYAN A. HEILIMANN, Plaintiff
v.
STATE TROOPER THOMAS O'BRIEN, Individually and as a State Trooper for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; STATE TROOPER PETER P. NEMSHICK, Individually and as a State Trooper for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; CORY MOODY; AGENT CHRISTOPHER CARDONI, Individually and as an employee of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board; MOUNT AIRY, NO. 1, LLC d/b/a MT. AIRY CASINO; JOHN DOE CASINO DEFENDANTS #1-25, Individually and as employees of Mt. Airy Casino; and JANE DOE CASINO DEFENDANTS #1-25, Individually and as employees of Mt. Airy Casino, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES M. MUNLEY JUDGE United States District Court

         Plaintiff Ryan A. Heilimann (hereinafter “plaintiff”) avers that two Pennsylvania state troopers, a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (hereinafter “GCB”) agent, and casino security violated Pennsylvania state law and his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (hereinafter “section 1983”) for events related to his detainment and arrest inside Mount Airy Casino. Before the court for disposition is Defendants Mount Airy Casino and casino security officer Cory Moody's (collectively “the casino defendants”) motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 42). For the reasons that follow, we will grant in part and deny in part the motion.

         Background

         On August 25, 2012, plaintiff visited Gypsies nightclub inside Mount Airy Casino in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 53-1, Pl.'s Additional Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter “Pl.'s SOF”) ¶ 1).[1] While dancing with a woman, plaintiff was escorted off the dance floor by Pennsylvania state troopers and casino employees. (Pl.'s SOF ¶¶ 2-4). At some point, a verbal exchange ensued, after which troopers arrested plaintiff and escorted him to the Pennsylvania State Police office located inside the casino. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 5).

         The parties dispute what happened next. Plaintiff testified that Defendant State Trooper Thomas O'Brien pushed him face down into the floor and intentionally twisted his ankle until it broke. (Doc. 53-2, Dep. of Pl. Ryan A. Heilimann (hereinafter “Pl. Dep.”) at 24-26). Defendant Cory Moody, a casino security officer, however, testified that plaintiff tried to kick State Trooper O'Brien, but O'Brien caught plaintiff's leg and pushed him down toward the floor. (Doc. 42-2, Ex. E, Dep. of Def. Cory Moody (hereinafter “Moody Dep.”) at 32-34).

         As a result of the night's events, the Commonwealth charged plaintiff with aggravated assault under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2702(a)(3), resisting arrest under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5104, disorderly conduct under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5503(a)(1), harassment under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2709(a)(1), and public drunkenness under 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5505. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 14). A jury found plaintiff not guilty of aggravated assault and disorderly conduct, and a Monroe County Court of Common Pleas judge dismissed plaintiff's resisting arrest charge on a motion for judgment of acquittal. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 17). The judge, however, found plaintiff guilty of harassment and public drunkenness. (Id.)

         On July 1, 2014, plaintiff filed a thirteen-count complaint against Defendant State Troopers O'Brien and Peter P. Nemshick and Gaming Control Board Agent Christopher Cardoni (collectively “the Commonwealth defendants”) as well as the casino defendants. (Doc. 1, Compl.). Counts I, III, V, VII, and XI allege civil rights violations under section 1983 against all defendants, excluding Mount Airy Casino.[2] Counts II, IV, VI, VIII-X, XII also assert respective Pennsylvania state law assault, battery, false imprisonment, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and malicious prosecution claims against Defendant Moody. Count XIII asserts a vicarious liability claim against Defendant Mount Airy Casino.

         On March 4, 2016, the casino defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 42). The parties have briefed their respective positions and the matter is ripe for disposition.

         Jurisdiction

         As this case is brought pursuant to section 1983 for a violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”). We have supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Standard of Review

         Granting summary judgment is proper 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 judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by establishing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the nonmovant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

         Discussion

         The casino defendants move for summary judgment on all thirteen of plaintiff's claims, as well as plaintiff's punitive damages claim. We address each in turn, beginning with plaintiff's federal claims.

         I. Section 1983 Claims

         The casino defendants first move for summary judgment on plaintiff's section 1983 claims, arguing that they are not state actors, and therefore, section 1983 does not apply. Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights; rather, it provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). Section 1983 states, in pertinent part,

Every person who, under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizens of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a claim under section 1983, two criteria must be met. First, the conduct complained of must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law. Kaucher v. Cty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999)). Second, the conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution or federal law. Id. (citing Am. Mfrs., 526 U.S. at 49-50).

         Generally, private actors do not act under color of state law, and thus are not liable under section 1983. Indeed, a private entity is only liable under section 1983 if it “may fairly be said to be a state actor.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co. Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982). To that end, the United States Supreme Court has articulated several tests to determine whether a private individual may “fairly be said to be a state actor.”

         Two of these state actor tests are the “joint action” test and the “symbiotic relationship” test. Here, while the casino defendants argue that they cannot be held liable under section 1983 pursuant to the “joint action” test, plaintiff contends that they may be held liable under both the “joint action” test and the “symbiotic relationship” test. We address each test in turn.

         A. Joint Action Test

         The casino defendants argue that they are not state actors under the joint action test, and therefore, plaintiff's section 1983 claims must fail as a matter of law. While we agree that plaintiff has not produced evidence sufficient to pass this test, plaintiff's section 1983 claims do not warrant dismissal.

         Under the joint action test, a private party will be deemed a state actor if it is a “willful participant in joint action with the State or its agents.” Lugar, 457 U.S. at 941. Moreover, a private entity may only be deemed a state actor, and therefore liable under section 1983, for actions of police officers if: (1) the private entity has a “prearranged plan” with police officers; and (2) under the plan, the police officers will “substitute their [own] judgment” with that of the private entity's. Cruz v. Donnelly, 727 F.2d 79, 81-82 (3d Cir. 1984).

         Here, plaintiff has satisfied the first prong of the joint action test, but not the second. Initially, the evidence demonstrates a custom of interdependency between casino security and state troopers in that they routinely rely on each other to investigate and resolve potential criminal activity inside Mount Airy Casino. (Moody Dep. at 8, 10, 15, 21-22; Doc. 42-2, Ex. H, Dep. of Lianne Asbury (hereinafter “Asbury Dep.”) at 12).

         While such evidence presents a genuine issue of material fact regarding the first prong of the joint action test, that is, whether the casino defendants had a “prearranged plan” with the Commonwealth defendants, plaintiff has produced no evidence of the second prong of the joint action test, that the Commonwealth defendants substituted their own judgment with that of the casino defendants. To the contrary, the undisputed evidence establishes that the Commonwealth defendants, namely State Troopers O'Brien and Nemshick, were the principal actors throughout the alleged course of events. Defendant Moody, on the other hand, arrived at the State Police office after plaintiff had already been detained and arrested, wrote only a victim/witness statement for the State Police, banned plaintiff from the casino based on information from the Commonwealth defendants, and did not testify at plaintiff's criminal trial. (Moody Dep. at 22, 28, 42-43 & 44).

         In the absence of any evidence suggesting that the State Troopers substituted their own judgment with that of Defendant Moody's, the casino defendants cannot qualify as section 1983 state actors under the joint action test. Because the joint action test is merely one way to determine whether a private ...


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