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Andrews v. Scuilli

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

April 10, 2017


          Argued October 25, 2016

         On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, District Court Civil No. 2-13-cv-01657 District Judge: Honorable Cathy Bissoon

          Timothy P. O'Brien, Esq. [Argued] Counsel for Appellant

          Carol A. VanderWoude, Esq. [Argued] Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin Counsel for Appellee

          BEFORE: VANASKIE, KRAUSE, and NYGAARD, Circuit Judges


          NYGAARD, Circuit Judge.


         David Andrews was found not guilty of the crimes for which he was charged. He brought suit against Officer Robert Sciulli for false arrest and malicious prosecution.[1] On appeal he contends that the District Court erred by granting summary judgment, on the basis of qualified immunity, in favor of Sciulli. We agree. We will reverse the District Court's judgment and remand the cause for trial.


         On November 25, 2012 in Stowe Township, Pa, Brooke Wagner was walking on a sidewalk from a friend's house to her home. She was fifteen years old. A man in a car approached her and asked if she wanted a ride. She told him "no." He demanded that she get in the car. Wagner again refused and told him that she would report him to the police. He sped away. She used her mobile phone to call her mother, who told her to go home. The mother then called the police.

         Both Officer Sciulli and Officer Antonio Reymundo Ruiz of the Stowe Township Police Department arrived at Wagner's home within minutes of the mother's report. Upon questioning by Ruiz, Wagner described the vehicle as a red, four-door sedan. She said that the car had a Pennsylvania license plate bearing the letters ACG. She described the driver as a white male with dark hair, around 35 years old. Ruiz gave this information to Sciulli, who then went to the location of the incident. Sciulli prepared an Incident Investigation Report that same day, recording the details Wagner had provided.

         The next day, the mother was driving Wagner home from a grocery store when Wagner saw a red car. She told her mother that it was the car that had stopped next to her the day before. She noted that the license number was JDG4817. They followed the car until it stopped in a parking lot. Her mother drove into the lot and parked. Wagner observed the driver get out and walk into a building. She believed he was the man that tried to lure her into the car on the day before.

         Wagner's mother then drove her directly to the police station. They met with Sciulli and Officer Gruber.[2] Wagner reported what she observed: the red car, the full license number, and the driver. She also stated her conclusion that this was the car and man she encountered the previous day. The officers checked the license number, JDG4817, in the JNET database and identified the car as belonging to David Andrews. They obtained Andrews' license photo and created a photo array with images of Andrews and seven other men.[3]Sciulli presented the lineup to Wagner and instructed her to circle the picture of anyone she recognized. Wagner circled the image of Andrews.

         After Wagner and her mother left the station, Sciulli went to the parking lot they said was the location of Andrews' car and he looked at the vehicle.[4] Andrews' automobile was not a four-door sedan, but a red, three-door coupe.[5]

         Sciulli drafted an affidavit of probable cause to arrest Andrews. The affidavit, dated November 28, 2012, stated:

Officers were notified on 11/25/12 at approximately 1112 hours, of a possible child luring incident. I, officer Sciulli, and officer Ruiz were dispatched to 1309 Island Avenue to meet the victim. At this time, officers spoke with the victim. The female juvenile's information was obtained and is on record and said juvenile and parent will be present at all court hearings.
The victim (female juvenile age 15) stated that while walking home from a friend's house, a red vehicle pulled up next to her while walking on the sidewalk and asked her (juvenile age 15) if she wanted a ride. The victim stated "NO". The defendant then said "COME ON, JUST GET IN". The victim then said "NO, I'M FINE. Now I am going to report you". The victim then stated that the vehicle sped away.
The victim then described this male as a middle aged white male with dark hair with streaks of gray. Victim described the vehicle as a red 4 door sedan.
On 11/26/12, the victim spotted this same vehicle described above, driving on Island Avenue, while riding with her mother. She identified the plate as JDG4817, PA tag. They followed the vehicle to Axion, and victim again positively identified the male driver as the suspect she encountered the previous day.
The victim and her mother came to the station to give officers this information. Officers ran the PA plate, JDG4817, and found it to be registered to David Gene Andrews, out of Beaver Falls, PA. Based on this information, officers created a line up using similar identifiers as Andrews.
The victim was shown a line up, created by myself and officer Gruber, generated by descriptors through J-NET[sic]. The victim was asked to look at the pictures and to see if there was anyone of the pictures that she recognized as the driver of the car. She was advised that he might or might not be in the pictures. The victim looked at the pictures and almost immediately picked out the picture of defendant. The defendant was identified through JNET Pa. drivers [sic] license as David Gene Andrews, DOB [REDACTED].
Your affiant respectfully requests that a warrant be issued for David Gene Andrews based on the facts enumerated above.

Appx. 245.[6]

         The magisterial district judge reviewed the affidavit and issued the arrest warrant on November 28, 2012. That same day, police arrested Andrews and charged him with luring a child into a motor vehicle, stalking, corruption of a minor, and harassment. In a bench trial, he was acquitted of all charges in June 2013. Andrews filed this lawsuit on November 20, 2013. The District Court granted Sciulli's motion for summary judgment on September 30, 2015. This appeal followed.



         We review de novo the District Court's grant of summary judgment. Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 505 (3d Cir. 2003).[7] Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed R. Civ. P. 56(a). When we review the District Court's grant of summary judgment, we will reverse only in those instances when we conclude that material facts are in dispute, or when we determine that the undisputed facts-viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party-could objectively support a jury's verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995).

         Andrews raises claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution against Sciulli. To assess claims of false arrest, the court must determine whether "the arresting officers had probable cause to believe the person arrested had committed the offense." Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988). Malicious prosecution requires evidence that:

(1) the defendant[] initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiff's favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendant[] acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.

DiBella v. Borough of Beachwood, 407 F.3d 599, 601 (3d Cir.2005).

         However, Sciulli contended at summary judgment that he has qualified immunity from this lawsuit because probable cause grounded the arrest and prosecution. "'[G]overnment officials performing discretionary functions, generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known."' Orsatti, 71 F.3d at 483 (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald,457 U.S. ...

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