United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Barclay Surrick U.S. District Judge
before the Court is Defendant Shawn Michinock's Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 25), and Defendants
Phoenixville Police Department, Borough of Phoenixville,
Chief William J. Mossman, Officer Nicholas Heller, and
Officer Thomas Hyland's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 26). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions
will be granted.
civil rights action, Plaintiff James Lear asserts claims
against Defendants under § 1983 and Pennsylvania law for
malicious prosecution, selective enforcement, false arrest,
unreasonable search and seizure, and violations of his due
early evening of April 11, 2014, Officer Nicholas Heller,
while on his way to work at the Phoenixville Police
Department, stopped at a Wawa store in East Vincent Township.
(Heller Dep. 19, Phoenixville Mot. Ex. B., ECF No. 26.) While
at the store, he observed Plaintiff James Lear who was also
in the store. (Id.) Heller observed Plaintiff exit
the Wawa, and get into the driver's seat of a white
Chevrolet Impala. (Id.) Plaintiff drove the car out
of the Wawa parking lot. (Id. at
19-20.) Heller entered his vehicle and followed
Plaintiff to a traffic light. (Heller Dep. 20.) Heller was
aware of the fact that Plaintiff had a suspended license and
he wrote down the time and the license plate number of the
car that Plaintiff was driving. (Id.) When Heller
reported for duty that evening, he checked the online
database and confirmed that Plaintiff had a suspended
license. (Id.) He then made a print out of
Plaintiff's driver's license information.
(Id.) Since Heller is a police officer with the
Phoenixville Police Department, and he observed Plaintiff
driving in East Vincent Township, he reported the incident to
Officer Shawn Michinock of the East Vincent Township Police
receiving this information, Officer Michinock personally
confirmed that Plaintiff's driver's license was
suspended by reviewing the PennDOT records. (Michinock Dep.
20, Phoenixville Mot. Ex. D.) Michinock then filed an incident
report and wrote up a citation related to this matter.
(Michinock Dep. 34.) The citation and incident report were
filed with the Magisterial District Court. (Id. at
37.) On the incident report, Michinock listed Plaintiff's
address as 800 Kimberton Road, P.O. Box 674, Phoenixville, PA
19460. (Id. at 31.) Michinock got this address from
Plaintiff's PennDOT records. (Id.) Plaintiff
testified that he notified PennDOT of his change of address
from 7 Amy Court to 1050 West Bridge Street either right
before or right after Officer Heller saw him driving without
a license. (Lear Dep. 73-74.) Plaintiff never received the
citation. (Id. at 52.)
April 16, 2014, the District Court issued a Certified Summons
to Plaintiff for a hearing with respect to the citation.
(Traffic Docket 3, Pl.'s Resp. Ex. K., ECF No. 29.) On
April 28, 2014, the Summons was returned to the court as
undeliverable. (Id.) Plaintiff did not appear for
the hearing. (Heller Dep. 43.) The hearing was held before
Magisterial District Judge James Deangelo. (Id.)
Heller was subpoenaed to testify at the hearing.
(Id.) Plaintiff was found guilty at the hearing, and
the court issued a bench warrant for Plaintiff.
27, 2014, Phoenixville Police Officer Thomas Hyland arrested
Plaintiff pursuant to the bench warrant. (Hyland Dep. 12,
Phoenixville Mot. Ex. C.) Hyland had knowledge of the bench
warrant because Heller had informed him about the warrant
after the hearing. (Id. at 28.) While on duty,
Hyland observed Plaintiff standing outside of a house in
North Phoenixville. (Id. at 29.) Hyland recognized
Plaintiff because he had previously had conversations with
Plaintiff, and knew that Plaintiff had previously been
arrested and convicted for dealing drugs. (Id. at
13-15.) After verifying the bench warrant, Hyland approached
Plaintiff and told him that he was under arrest.
(Id. at 32.) Plaintiff acted confused. (Lear Dep.
46-47.) Hyland instructed Plaintiff to get on the ground.
(Hyland Dep. 32.) Plaintiff complied with Hyland's
instructions. (Id.) Hyland then put Plaintiff in
handcuffs and conducted a pat-down of Plaintiff.
(Id.) Hyland told Plaintiff that he was being
arrested for a traffic violation, on which he had been found
guilty. (Id. at 38.) Plaintiff was not aware of such
a violation. (Lear Dep. 52.) Before placing Plaintiff in the
patrol car, Hyland asked Plaintiff if he was carrying any
weapons or anything illegal on his person. (Hyland Dep. 38.)
Plaintiff responded “no.” (Lear Dep.
Hyland did not provide any Miranda warnings to Plaintiff.
(Hyland. Dep. 37.) Hyland then drove Plaintiff to the
Phoenixville police station. (Id. at 32.)
the police station, Hyland took Plaintiff to the processing
area. (Id. at 39.) Hyland documented Plaintiff's
property, which included a large amount of cash, specifically
$1, 135, and two cell phones. (Id. at 51; Evidence
Information, Michinock Mot. Ex. D, ECF No. 25.) Hyland sought
approval from his supervisor, Sergeant Sutton, to conduct a
strip search of Plaintiff. (Hyland Dep. 42.) Hyland believed
that he had probable cause to strip search Plaintiff for the
following reasons: (1) Plaintiff had a prior criminal history
as a drug dealer; (2) Plaintiff's reaction and his body
language when he was asked whether he had any weapons or
anything illegal on him was suspicious; (3) Hyland had
knowledge from a confidential informant that Plaintiff often
hid drugs in his crotch area; (4) Plaintiff was arrested in a
high drug and high crime area; and (5) Plaintiff was carrying
a very large amount of cash and two cell phones, which based
upon experience, is indicative of drug sales. (Id.
at 45-51.) Sergeant Sutton gave approval for Officer Hyland
and Officer Knapp, another Phoenixville police officer, to
conduct a strip search. (Id.)
was initially required to remove his pants and his socks, and
he was left sitting on a bench in his underwear and a white
t-shirt. (Video, Phoenixville Mot. Ex. H.) While he was
seated on the bench and before he was required to remove his
boxer shorts, Plaintiff removed drugs from his crotch area
inside of his boxer shorts and handed the drugs to Hyland.
(Lear Dep. 55.) After removing the drugs from inside of his
boxer shorts, Plaintiff was then forced to pull down his
boxer shorts to his ankles, exposing his buttocks and
filed the Complaint in this Court on March 23, 2016. (ECF No.
1.) The Complaint alleges violations under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 including: malicious prosecution (Count I); false arrest
(Count II); selective enforcement (Count V); illegal search
and seizure under the Fourth Amendment (Count VI); violation
of Plaintiff's due process under the Fourteenth Amendment
(Count VII); a claim under Monell v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs. of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) (Count
VIII); and conspiracy to deprive Plaintiff of his
constitutional rights (Count XI). Plaintiff also alleges
claims under Pennsylvania law for malicious prosecution
(Count III) and false arrest (Count IV). On June 15, 2016,
Defendants Phoenixville Police Department, Borough of
Phoenixville, Chief William J. Mossman, Officer Nicholas
Heller, and Officer Thomas Hyland filed an Answer to
Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 9.) On August 22, 2016,
Defendant Michinock filed an Answer to Plaintiff's
Complaint. (ECF No. 17.) On February 16, 2017, Defendant
Michinock filed his Motion for Summary Judgment. (Michinock
Mot.) On February 17, 2017, Defendants Phoenixville Police
Department, Borough of Phoenixville, Chief William J.
Mossman, Officer Nicholas Heller, and Officer Thomas Hyland
filed their Motion for Summary Judgment. (Phoenixville Mot.)
On March 7, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Response to both Motions.
(Pl.'s Resp.) That same day, Plaintiff withdrew his
Monell claim. (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. J.)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is
proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” A dispute is
“genuine” if there is a sufficient evidentiary
basis on which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the non-moving party. Kaucher v. Cty. of Bucks, 455
F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “[A]
factual dispute is material only if it might affect the
outcome of the suit under governing law.” Id.
The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. Galena v. Leone, 638 F.3d
186, 196 (3d Cir. 2011). However, “unsupported
assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions”
are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment.
Schaar v. Lehigh Valley Health Servs., Inc., 732
F.Supp.2d 490, 493 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (citing Williams v.
Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir.
the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the
moving party may identify an absence of a genuine issue of
material fact by showing the court that there is no evidence
in the record supporting the nonmoving party's case.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986);
UPMC Health Sys. v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 391 F.3d
497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004). If the moving party carries this
initial burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific
facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (“A party asserting
that a fact . . . is genuinely disputed must support the
assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in
the record . . . .”); see also Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S.
574, 586 (1986) (noting that the nonmoving party “must
do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts”). “Where the
record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of
fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no
‘genuine issue for trial.'”
Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).
Michinock argues that Plaintiff's malicious prosecution
claim must fail because Michinock had probable cause to issue
the citation, and because he did not issue the citation for
any malicious purpose. Plaintiff argues that Michinock lacked
an honest or reasonable belief that Plaintiff had in fact
been driving on a suspended license. In order for a plaintiff
to prevail on a § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution,
he must demonstrate that:
(1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding;
(2) the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiff's
(3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause;
(4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other
than bringing the ...