United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Tam Thanh Ngyuen brings this counseled civil rights action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Pennsylvania
State Trooper Jarret Bromberg alleging that Defendant's
traffic stop, search, and arrest of Plaintiff violated his
constitutional rights. (Doc. No. 12.) Trooper Bromberg is the
only Defendant remaining in this case, and the claims against
him are set forth in Counts I and III of an Amended
Complaint. (Id.) In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant violated his Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendment rights as a result of Defendant's illegal stop,
search, and seizure of Plaintiff. (Id.) In Count
III, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant violated his Fourth,
Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by arresting and
detaining him without probable cause. (Id.)
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment,
contending that issue preclusion prevents Defendant from
re-litigating the Fourth Amendment search and seizure
violation alleged in Count I. (Doc. No. 30.) He asserts that
this issue was previously decided by the Pennsylvania
Superior Court. (Id.) Defendant has filed a Response
in Opposition (Doc. No. 36) and has also filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 32.) In his Motion, Defendant
asserts that Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment false arrest
claim in Count III fails because Defendant had probable cause
to arrest Plaintiff. (Id.) In addition, Defendant
submits that he is entitled to qualified immunity on the
claims alleged in both Counts and that the applicable statute
of limitations bars Plaintiff's claims. (Id.)
Plaintiff then filed a Response to Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 40.) On July 14, 2017, the Court
held a hearing on the cross-motions for summary judgment.
After the hearing, Plaintiff and Defendant filed Supplemental
Briefs in regard to the Motions for Summary Judgment. (Doc.
Nos. 43, 46.) The Motions are now ripe for disposition.
reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 32) in its entirety and
will deny Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Defendant's Traffic Stop, Search, and Arrest of
January 4, 2012 at approximately 3:15 a.m., Plaintiff was
traveling southbound on Interstate 95 (“I-95”) in
a black Mercedes Benz. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. A at 21:11-22:13;
Id., Ex. C at 8:13-9:8.) He was traveling from
Chinatown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to his home in
Newark, Delaware. (Id.) Plaintiff's friend,
David Kung, was driving the vehicle, and Plaintiff was a
passenger in the front seat. (Id., Ex. C at
8:3-8:12.) At the same time, Defendant, a Pennsylvania State
Trooper, was patrolling on I-95 in a marked Pennsylvania
State Police patrol vehicle with his partner, Trooper Thomas
O'Konski. (Id., Ex. A at 21:5-23:5.) Defendant
saw the black Mercedes pass his patrol vehicle at
approximately 73 miles per hour and then follow closely
behind another vehicle. (Doc. No. 31, Ex. B at 3.) Defendant
activated the lights and the siren on his patrol vehicle to
initiate a traffic stop of the Mercedes. (Id.) In
response, the Mercedes pulled over to the right side of I-95,
between exit 7 and exit 8. (Id.) The patrol vehicle
did the same thing.
Defendant and Trooper O'Konski exited the patrol vehicle
and approached the Mercedes. (Doc. No. 34, Ex. A at
23:19-23:25.) Defendant asked Mr. Kung for his license,
registration, and proof of insurance, which Mr. Kung
provided. (Id. at 24:12-24:23.) Defendant then asked
Mr. Kung to step out of the Mercedes and stand at the back of
the vehicle. (Id. at 24:22-25:1.) He then asked
Plaintiff for his identification, and Plaintiff provided his
driver's license. (Id. at 27:2-27:5;
Id., Ex. C at 10:15-10:20.) According to Defendant,
when asked for his identification, Plaintiff “was very
hesitant, would not make any eye contact, and just
wouldn't answer questions initially.”
(Id., Ex. A at 27:6-27:8.) Defendant then ran both
Plaintiff's and Mr. Kung's driver's licenses
through CLEAN/NCIC and PennDOT. (Id. at 28:7-28:8.) Upon
running Plaintiff's driver's license through
CLEAN/NCIC, Defendant discovered that Plaintiff had numerous
prior drug arrests. (Id. at 28:23-28:25.)
returned to Plaintiff and Mr. Kung the items provided and
issued to Mr. Kung a warning for speeding and for following
another vehicle too closely. (Id. at 29:4-30:6;
Id., Ex. C at 13:10-13:13.) Mr. Kung thanked
Defendant. (Id., Ex. A at 29:21.) Defendant
observed, however, that Mr. Kung was “very apologetic,
” that he was “over-talking, ” and that he
was nervous. (Id. at 29:21-29:23.) Defendant did not
notice any signs of intoxication or have any other reason to
arrest Mr. Kung. (Id. at 30:19-30:23.) Defendant
then informed Mr. Kung that the traffic stop was complete and
that he was free to go. (Id. at 30:14-30:15.) Mr.
Kung began to walk back to the Mercedes, while Defendant
began to walk back to the patrol vehicle. (Id. at
Defendant had reached the patrol vehicle's door and once
Mr. Kung had almost reached his vehicle's door, Defendant
turned around and asked Mr. Kung if he could ask him a few
more questions. (Id. at 31:24.) M r. Kung said yes.
(Id. at 31:25.) Defendant then asked Mr. Kung about
his nervousness, why he was being excessively apologetic, and
why he was “over talking when [Defendant] was asking
him basic questions.” (Id. at 32:18-32:20.) He
asked Mr. Kung where he was going and how he knew Plaintiff.
(Id. at 32:20-21.) Mr. Kung answered all of
Defendant's questions. (Id. at 32:23.) Defendant
then asked Mr. Kung if he could search the vehicle, and Mr.
Kung consented. (Id. at 33:4-34:3.)
then walked to the passenger side and asked Plaintiff to step
out of the vehicle. (Id. at 34:6-34:8; Id.,
Ex. C at 20:5-20:7.) He informed Plaintiff that Mr. Kung had
granted him consent to search the vehicle. (Id., Ex.
A at 34:8-34:9; Id., Ex. C at 20:10-20:11.)
Plaintiff avoided eye contact with Defendant as he stepped
out of the vehicle. (Id., Ex. A at 34:17.) Defendant
then asked Plaintiff if he had any firearms, and Plaintiff
said no. (Id. at 35:15-16.) Defendant asked
Plaintiff if he could perform an exterior pat-down of
Plaintiff for his safety. (Id. at 35:16-35:17.)
Plaintiff consented to the pat-down. (Id. at 35:17.)
During the pat-down, Defendant felt a cellular telephone in
Plaintiff's pocket and cash in his right back pocket.
(Id. at 39:20-39:22.) Defendant then felt a soft
package in Plaintiff's right front pocket, which
Defendant believed to be pills, based on his training and
experience. (Id. at 39:23-39:25.) When Defendant
asked what the object was, Plaintiff said it was OxyContin.
(Id. at 40:1-40:2.) Defendant asked Plaintiff to
take the pills out of his pocket, and Plaintiff complied.
(Id. at 42:11-13.) When Plaintiff took out the
pills, Defendant noticed that they were packaged in small
clear Ziploc bags. (Id. at 42:14-42:19.)
then put Plaintiff in handcuffs and placed him under arrest.
(Id. at 43:6-43:7.) After arresting Plaintiff,
Defendant searched him. (Id. at 43:10-43:12.) During
the search, Defendant found: (1) U.S. currency totaling over
$1, 000 in various denominations and wrapped in three
bundles; (2) a cell phone; (3) four bags of cocaine; and (4)
four jars of crack cocaine. (Id. at 43:15-44:3.)
Pennsylvania State Court Proceedings
January 4, 2012, following his arrest, Plaintiff was charged
with possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug
paraphernalia, and possession with intent to deliver a
controlled substance. (Id., Ex. B at 1-2.) That same
day, Plaintiff was arraigned in the Court of Common Pleas of
Delaware County, Pennsylvania. (Id., Ex. D at 1.) On
January 5, 2012, Plaintiff posted bail and was released from
jail. (Id., Ex. E at 5.)
August 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed a motion to suppress the
evidence seized as a result of his search. (Id., Ex.
E at 6.) On June 20, 2013, the trial court held a hearing on
the motion to suppress. (Id. at 8.) On October 16,
2013, the court denied Plaintiff's motion to suppress.
(Id. at 10.) After a bench trial on March 14, 2014,
Plaintiff was found guilty of possession with intent to
deliver a controlled substance in violation of 35 Pa. Stat.
§ 780-113(a)(30). (Id. at 11.) Plaintiff then
filed a timely notice of appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior
Court, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in
denying his motion to suppress. (Id. at12.)
appeal, the Superior Court reversed the trial court's
order denying Plaintiff's motion to suppress, vacated his
sentence, and remanded the case for a new trial.
Commonwealth v. Nguyen, 116 A.3d 657, 669 (Pa.
Super. Ct. 2016). The court explained that although the
initial traffic stop was lawful, the court was required to
determine whether the second interaction with Plaintiff
constituted a seizure, and whether that seizure was supported
by reasonable suspicion. Id. at 667. The court
concluded that Plaintiff and Mr. Kung were subject to a
second seizure after Defendant had told them they were free
to leave. Id. Next, the court found that M r. K u n
g 's behavior during the traffic stop and Plaintiff's
criminal history were insufficient to establish reasonable
suspicion for the second seizure. Id. at 669.
with respect to Defendant's search of Plaintiff, the
Superior Court held that “there was insufficient
attenuation between the consent and the illegal detention to
purge the taint of [Defendant's] unlawful conduct.”
Id. As a result, Plaintiff's consent was
“ineffective to justify the search.” Id.
Therefore, because the second seizure was not supported by
reasonable suspicion and because the consent was tainted by
the unlawful seizure, “the evidence seized during the
pat-down search should have been suppressed.”
Id. Following the Superior Court's decision, on
October 27, 2015 the Court of Common Pleas granted the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Application for Nolle
Prosequi, and the charges against Plaintiff were dismissed.
(See Doc. No. 34, Ex. E at 13.)
Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Civil Rights
September 11, 2015, Plaintiff filed this civil rights action
against Defendants, alleging that his search, seizure, and
arrest on January 4, 2012 violated his constitutional rights.
(Doc. No. 1.) On April 12, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to
Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. (Doc. No. 6.) On May
31, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint against
Trooper Jarret Bromberg and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
(Doc. No. 12.) On July 1, 2016, the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of
Jurisdiction. (Doc. No. 17.) On July 25, 2016, Judge Stewart
Dalzell granted the Commonwealth's Motion to Dismiss, and
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was terminated as a
Defendant. (Doc. No. 19.) On August 9, 2016, Defendant
Bromberg, the sole remaining Defendant in this case, filed an
Answer to the Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 20.) On November
15, 2016, this case was reassigned from Judge Dalzell to this
Court. (Doc. No. 25.) The parties proceeded to discovery.
After discovery concluded, both parties filed Motions for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. Nos. 30, 32.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
summary judgment is an extraordinary remedy. Summary judgment
is appropriate “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). In reaching this decision, the court must determine
whether “the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, admissions, and affidavits show there is no
genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Favata v.
Seidel, 511 F. App'x 155, 158 (3d Cir. 2013)
(quoting Azur v. Chase Bank, USA, Nat'l
Ass'n, 601 F.3d 212, 216 (3d Cir. 2010)). A disputed
issue is “genuine” only if there is a sufficient
evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find 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)). For a fact to be
considered “material, ” it “must have the
potential to alter the outcome of the case.”
Favata, 511 F. App'x at 158. Once the proponent
of summary judgment “points to evidence demonstrating
no issue of material fact exists, the non-moving party has
the duty to set forth specific facts showing that a genuine
issue of material fact exists and that a reasonable
factfinder could rule in its favor.” Id.
(quoting Azur, 601 F.3d at 216).
deciding a motion for summary judgment, “[t]he evidence
of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id.
(alteration in original) (quoting Chambers ex rel.
Chambers v. Sch. Dist. of Phila. Bd. of Educ., 587 F.3d
176, 181 (3d Cir. 2009)). The Court's task is not to
resolve disputed issues of fact, but to determine whether
there exist any factual issues to be tried.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-49. Whenever a factual
issue arises which cannot be resolved without a credibility
determination, at this stage the court must credit the
nonmoving party's evidence over that presented by the
moving party. Id. at 255. If there is no factual
issue, and if only one reasonable conclusion could arise from
the record regarding the potential outcome under the
governing law, summary judgment must be awarded in favor of
the moving party. Id. at 250.
the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
“The same standards and burdens apply on cross-motions
for summary judgment.” Allah v. Ricci, 532 F.
App'x 48, 50 (3d Cir. 2013). When the Court is confronted
with cross-motions for summary judgment:
[T]he court must rule on each party's motion on an
individual and separate basis, determining, for each side,
whether a judgment may be entered in accordance with the
summary judgment standard. If review of [the] cross-motions
reveals no genuine issue of material fact, then judgment may
be entered in favor of the party deserving of judgment in
light of the law and undisputed facts.
Hussein v. UPMC Mercy Hosp., No. 2:09-cv-00547, 2011
WL 13751, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 4, 2011), aff'd,
446 F. App'x 108 (3d Cir. 2012) (second alteration in
original) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).