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Turkos v. Borough

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2017

DONNA TURKOS, Plaintiff
v.
DUPONT BOROUGH, JASON KWIATKOWSKI and JOHN SARANCHUK, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY United States District Court Judge

         Before the court for disposition are motions for summary judgment filed by all the parties in this civil rights action. The motions have all been briefed and are ripe for disposition.

         Background

         The general facts of this case are that plaintiff Donna Turkos complained to the Dupont Borough Police about her ex-husband violating a protection from abuse order (hereinafter “PFA”). After investigating, the police determined that no PFA was in effect and arrested the plaintiff instead of her former husband. Specifically, the facts are as follows:

         Plaintiff Donna Turkos had been married to non-party David Turkos. Plaintiff obtained a PFA against him. On May 17, 2013, plaintiff met with Defendant Jason Kwiatkowski, a police officer for Dupont Borough. She indicated that she had a valid PFA order against her ex-husband and that he had violated it. (Doc. 49, Pl.'s Statement of Facts, (hereinafter “Pl. SOF”) ¶ 2). Instead of arresting David Turkos, however, on June 19, 2013, Defendant Kwiatkowski arrested plaintiff and charged her with the following: 1) Tampering with public records or information, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4911(a)(2); 2) False reports to law enforcement authorities, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4906(a); and 3) Unsworn falsification to authorities, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 4904(a)(1). (Pl. SOF ¶ 1).

         Kwiatkowski based the charges on the premise that although she reported to the police that she had a valid PFA order against David Turkos, she actually did not have one. (Pl. SOF ¶ 2). Plaintiff asserts that at the time she did, in fact, have a valid PFA order against her ex-husband and that she presented evidence of such to Defendant Kwiatkowski who nonetheless proceeded with the charges. A full preliminary hearing was held on the charges at which Defendant Kwiatkowski and David Turkos testified. After the hearing, the court dismissed the charges against plaintiff.

         Subsequently, plaintiff instituted the instant civil rights action. The amended complaint asserts the following four causes of action: 1) violation of plaintiff's First Amendment rights against Defendants Kwiatkowski and Saranchuk under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 40, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 74-77); 2) Malicious prosecution against Defendants Kwiatkowski and Saranchuk (Id. ¶¶ 78-84); 3) 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Defendant Dupont Borough (Id. ¶¶ 85-87); and 4) Abuse of power against Defendants Kwiatkowski and Saranchuk. Plaintiff seeks, inter alia, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees. (Id. ¶ 91).

         Jurisdiction

         As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of plaintiff's civil 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 the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Legal Standard

         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) (quoting 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, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

         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 non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex 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 showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

         Discussion

         All of the parties have filed motions for summary judgment. We will address them all in turn beginning with plaintiff's motion.

         I. Plaintiff's motion

         Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment regarding Defendant Kwiatkowski, who is named in Count One and Count Two of the complaint. She claims that no questions of fact exist regarding whether Defendant Kwiatkowski, acting under color of state law, engaged in retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment and that he maliciously prosecuted plaintiff in violation of state law. Accordingly, plaintiff seeks judgment on these two counts. We will discuss these counts separately.

         A. First Amendment Retaliation section 1983

         Count one alleges a claim of retaliation for exercise of first amendment freedom of speech rights. (Doc. 40, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 74-77). Plaintiff claims that she engaged in protected speech by complaining to the police about alleged violations of a PFA. Then the police officer to whom she complained, Defendant Jason Kwiatkowski, retaliated against her by filing criminal charges against her.

         The elements of a First Amendment retaliation claim are: “(1) constitutionally protected conduct, (2) retaliatory action sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his constitutional rights, and (3) a causal link between the constitutionally protected conduct and the retaliatory action.” Thomas v. Independence Twp., 463 F.3d 285, 296 (3d Cir. 2006); Considine v. Jagodinski, 646 F. App'x 283, 286 (3d Cir. 2016). Additionally, plaintiff must establish an absence of probable cause for the charges that were brought. Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 265 (2006).

         The first issue that we will discuss is whether the plaintiff can establish a lack of probable cause for the arrest. “[P]robable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been or is being committed ...


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