United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Bissoon United States District Judge.
reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. 57) will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in
civil rights law suit stems from events that occurred on
October 19, 2012, when Officers Russell Paul Miller, Jr.
(“Officer Miller”) and Garrett Toothman
(“Officer Toothman”), (collectively, the
“Officer Defendants”), police officers of the
Cumberland Township Police Department, entered the home of
Plaintiffs Stephanie Renee Minor (“Ms. Minor”)
and her three minor children, L.M., B.J., and J.M (“the
Minor children”) or (“the
Children”). See generally Am. Compl. (Doc.
16). This entry led to Ms. Minor being handcuffed, arrested
and charged with various crimes, which ultimately were
dismissed. See (Doc. 63-15).
Miller and Toothman along with Cumberland Township
(collectively, “Defendants”) filed their first
Motion to Dismiss on March 10, 2014, which the Court granted
in part, dismissing various claims without prejudice to
Plaintiffs filing an Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs filed an
Amended Complaint bringing various claims against the Officer
Defendants in their individual capacities, as well as
Cumberland Township (the “Township”). (Doc. 21).
Defendants then filed a renewed partial Motion to Dismiss,
which the Court again granted in part, dismissing an
additional claim. Defendants filed their answers shortly
thereafter. (Doc. 22). The parties engaged in discovery and
now, pending before the Court, is Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. 57).
the facts surrounding the events of October 19, 2012 are
disputed; however, the following facts are undisputed: After
an argument with Lucas Cubic, an intern with the Cumberland
Township Police Department, James Jurczak left the Nemacolin
Citizen's Club, a private bar in Nemacolin, Pennsylvania,
and drove to his residence at 113 Bliss Avenue, Nemacolin,
Pennsylvania (“the Residence”). (Doc. 59) at
¶¶ 1, 6, 7, 8, 28; (Doc. 65) at ¶¶ 1, 6,
7, 8, 28. Officers Miller and Toothman of the Cumberland
Township Police Department were in a patrol car watching a
stop sign near the Residence when Mr. Jurczak arrived home.
(Doc. 59) at ¶ 16; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 16.
thereafter, and after a series of disputed events that
terminated with Mr. Jurczak entering the Residence, Officer
Miller approached the side door of the Residence and banged
on the door. (Doc. 59) at ¶ 35; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 35.
Ms. Minor answered the door. Officer Miller informed her that
he was looking for Mr. Jurczak - though the precise language
he used to convey his point is in dispute - and in response
Ms. Minor told Officer Miller that Mr. Jurczak was not
inside. (Doc. 59) at ¶¶ 41, 43; (Doc. 65) at
¶¶ 41, 43. Officer Miller then said that “if
Ms. Minor would not let him in the house, he would come in
anyway.” (Doc. 59) at ¶ 45; (Doc. 65) at ¶
45. Ms. Minor replied by saying “Like hell you
are.” (Doc. 59) at ¶ 46; (Doc. 65) at 46. Ms.
Minor attempted to close the door to prevent Officer
Miller's entry into the home. (Doc. 59) at ¶ 48;
(Doc. 65) at ¶ 48. Whether and how much force she used
in closing the door is in dispute. (Id.) Officer
Miller entered the home and followed Ms. Minor into a
first-floor bedroom. (Doc. 59) at ¶¶ 51, 52; (Doc.
65) at ¶¶ 51, 52. Officer Miller placed a handcuff
on Ms. Minor's left wrist. (Doc. 59) at ¶ 56; (Doc.
65) at ¶ 56. “Ms. Minor placed her right arm
between her legs, ” presumably to prevent him from
handcuffing her other hand “and told Officer Miller
that ‘he wasn't taking [her] to jail.'”
(Doc. 59) at ¶ 57; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 57. The precise
series of events leading to Ms. Minor being fully handcuffed
and placed under arrest are in dispute, however, that Officer
Miller eventually arrested and transported her to Greene
County Prison is not. Compare (Doc. 59) at
¶¶ 59-72 with (Doc. 65) at ¶¶
Officer Miller approached the side door of the Residence,
Officer Toothman went to the rear of the Residence “to
make sure that no one fled out the back.” (Doc. 59) at
¶ 34; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 34. At some point thereafter,
he entered the Residence. (Doc. 59) at ¶ 77; (Doc. 65)
at ¶ 77. After entering the Residence, he went upstairs.
(Doc. 59) at ¶ 80; (Doc. 65) at 80. While in the
upstairs of the house, Officer Toothman encountered Plaintiff
B.J. (Id.) He also went to the basement. (Doc. 59)
at ¶ 81; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 81. When he returned to the
first floor of the house, Ms. Minor was already handcuffed.
(Doc. 59) at ¶ 83; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 83. Officer
Toothman “did not have any physical contact with Ms.
Minor during the [arrest] struggle.” (Doc. 59) at
¶ 85; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 85.
Ms. Minor was in custody, Officer Toothman contacted Green
County Children and Youth Services (“CYS”)
regarding the Children. (Doc. 59) at ¶ 87; (Doc. 65) at
¶ 87. Jamie Imhoff, a caseworker for Greene County CYS
came to the Residence. (Doc. 59) at ¶ 88; (Doc. 65) at
¶ 88. Ms. Imhoff explained to Ms. Minor that CYS had to
implement a safety plan because there were no adults in the
home to take care of the Children. (Doc. 59) at ¶ 90;
(Doc. 65) at ¶ 90. Plaintiffs L.M. and J.M. stayed with
their aunt and subsequently with their father. (Doc. 59) at
¶¶ 93, 95, 96; (Doc. 65) at ¶¶ 93, 95,
96. Plaintiff B.J. stayed with her grandmother. (Doc. 59) at
¶ 94; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 94. The Minor children
returned home to the Residence on December 13, 2012. (Doc.
59) at ¶ 100; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 100.
Miller charged Ms. Minor with: aggravated assault (causing
bodily injury to a police officer); endangering the welfare
of children; resisting arrest; obstruction of the
administration of law; and simple assault. (Doc. 59) at
¶ 101; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 101. Ms. Minor was committed
to the Greene County Prison at 5:30 a.m. on October 19, 2012,
and released on bail at or before 7:25 p.m. on the same day.
(Doc. 59) at ¶ 105; (Doc. 65) at ¶ 105; (Doc. 57-21).
A Preliminary Hearing was held before Magistrate Judge Lee
Watson on October 29, 2012, and Judge Watson determined there
was probable cause to hold over all charges for trial. (Doc.
59) at ¶ 106, 112; (Doc. 65) at ¶¶ 106, 112.
Ms. Minor filed a petition for habeas corpus alleging that
“Officer Miller had no right to be in her house, [and
that] any and all charges arising out of his presence there
at that time should be dismissed.” (Doc. 63-15) at 4.
Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas President Judge William
Nalitz granted the petition and dismissed all charges against
Ms. Minor. (Doc. 63-15) at 1. In doing so, President Judge
Nalitz found that Officer Miller had:
unlawfully and forcibly entered a private dwelling over the
strong protests of the householder, pursued her into her
children's bedroom, initiated physical contact with her,
and followed her to the floor when she fell, rolled her over,
placed her in handcuffs in front of her children and then
took her to jail. At least he did not tase her. The charges
against Defendant [Stephanie Renee Minor] arose only because
of and in reaction to Officer Miller's illegal invasion
of her house. (Id.) at 6.
judgment is appropriate if the moving party establishes
“that 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 dispute is
“genuine” only if there is a sufficient
evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the
non-moving party, and a fact is “material” only
if it might affect the outcome of the action under the
governing law. See Sovereign Bank v. BJ's Wholesale
Club, Inc., 533 F.3d 162, 172 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986)). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the
Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist.,
211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000).
argue that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to
Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claim for unlawful entry
into Plaintiffs home and that both Officers Miller and
Toothman were legally justified in entering the Residence.
(Doc. 62) at 6, 11. The Court will address separately each
Officer Defendant's alleged justifications for entry into
Miller contends he was in “hot pursuit” of Mr.
Jurczak, a fleeing felon, when he entered the Residence, thus
justifying his actions as a matter of law. “A
warrantless home entry is presumptively unconstitutional, but
‘exigent circumstances' can excuse the warrant
requirement.” Kubicki v. Whitemarsh Twp., 270
Fed.Appx. 127, 128 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Welsh v.
Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 749-50, (1984)). “Exigent
circumstances include, but are not limited to, hot
pursuit of a suspected felon, the possibility that
evidence may be removed or destroyed, and danger to the lives
of officers or others.” United States v.
Coles, 437 F.3d 361, 366 (3d Cir. 2006) (emphasis
added). Thus, whether Officer Miller was justified in the
warrantless entry of the Residence turns on whether he
believed he was in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon. If he
believed Mr. Jurczak was fleeing a traffic stop for running a
stop sign, he would not have been legally justified to follow
him into the Residence. However, if he believed Mr. Jurczak
was fleeing a DUI traffic stop, for example, he would have.
exist substantial discrepancies regarding Officer
Miller's version of events. The record evidence, read in
the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, does not support
Officer Miller's position that he had reason to believe
Mr. Jurczak was intoxicated at the time of the alleged
traffic stop and, therefore, fleeing a DUI stop.
Specifically, there is a dispute as to whether Officer Miller
had reason to believe Mr. Jurczak was driving while
intoxicated. Compare (Doc. 59) at ¶ 23
(Officers Miller and Toothman both testified in depositions
for this matter that they discussed the contents of Mr.
Cubic's call with Officer Toothman after the call was
completed) with (Doc. 63-8) at 13-14 (Officer Miller
testified at Ms. Minor's Preliminary Hearing that he and
Officer Toothman did not discuss the call between Officer
Toothman and Mr. Cubic).
one hand, Officer Miller's police incident report states
that “Patrolman G. Toothman received a telephone call
from Lucas Cubic in regard to James Jurczak, James Jurczak
had been drinking heavily and was causing problems to the
point that the Nemacolin Citizens Club requested that he
leave. Lucas Cubic informed Patrolman G. Toothman that he was
intoxicated.” (Doc. 57-9) at 6.
Officer Miller testified inconsistently at the Preliminary
Q: So the hot pursuit that you were in was for a stop sign
summary offense? A: I had an individual fleeing a motor
vehicle in a traffic stop.
Q: But the traffic stop was a summary offense?
A: It was a summary offense.
Q: You had no other evidence of any other crime; ...