United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
RICARDO GONZALEZ, SEVERIN JOHNSON, and MICHAEL SCOTT MARSHALL, Plaintiffs,
WILLIAM WALTMAN, Defendant.
Richard Caputo United States District Judge
before me is the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc.
13) filed by Plaintiffs Ricardo Gonzalez
(“Gonzalez”), Severin Johnson
(“Johnson”), and Michael Scott Marshall
(“Marshall”) (collectively, where appropriate,
“Plaintiffs”). On October 16, 2015, while
Plaintiffs were filming outside the Pennsylvania State Police
Barracks in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, they were approached by
multiple state troopers. After Plaintiffs refused to respond
to questions by the troopers, they were arrested by William
Waltman (“Waltman”), a Corporal with the
Pennsylvania State Police, and troopers under his direction.
Plaintiffs were charged with defiant trespass in violation of
18 Pa. C.S.A. § 3503(b)(1)(ii) for walking beyond a sign
located outside the barracks stating “Emergency and
Authorized Vehicles Only.” The charges proceeded to a
summary trial in magisterial district court. At the close of
the Commonwealth's case-in-chief, the presiding
magisterial district judge granted Plaintiffs' motion for
judgment of acquittal. Plaintiffs subsequently commenced this
action against Waltman asserting claims for false arrest and
malicious prosecution. Now, Plaintiffs seek partial summary
judgment on those claims. Plaintiffs' motion for partial
summary judgment will be denied because a reasonable jury
could conclude that probable cause existed for the crime
Gonzalez and Johnson worked for an organization called
“CopBlock.” (See Pls.' SMF, ¶
1; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 1). Marshall also did some work for
CopBlock. (See id.). CopBlock is a national
organization that investigates, videos, and writes about
police misconduct. (See id.). Plaintiffs were
investigative reporters for CopBlock. (See id.).
Waltman is a Corporal with the Pennsylvania State Police and
he was the patrol unit supervisor at the Lehighton Barracks
in October 2015. (See Waltman Dep., 5:23-7:5).
Plaintiffs learned that police in Lehighton were seizing
cameras and/or demanding individuals shut off their cameras
when filming police, Plaintiffs decided to investigate.
(See Pls.' SMF, ¶ 5; Def.'s SMF, ¶
6). On October 16, 2015, Plaintiffs first went to the
Lehighton Police Department before proceeding to the
Pennsylvania State Police Barracks in Lehighton to get
background video for a story. (See Pls.' SMF,
¶¶ 6-7; Def.'s SMF, ¶¶ 6-7). Upon
their arrival, Plaintiffs noticed a police vehicle parked
across a handicapped parking space. (See Pls.'
SMF, ¶ 8; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 8). After informing
Waltman that three people were filming the barracks, Corporal
Borosh and two other troopers began to observe Plaintiffs on
surveillance cameras. (See Pls.' SMF,
¶¶ 9-10; Def.'s SMF, ¶¶ 9-10).
Waltman inquired as to whether Plaintiffs were “beyond
the signs”, but they were not at that point.
(See Pls.'s SMF, ¶ 13; Def.'s SMF,
¶ 13). Waltman was later informed that two Plaintiffs
had walked past the sign. (See Pls.' SMF, ¶
14; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 14).
on one part of the parking lot at the barracks states
“Emergency and Authorized Vehicles Only.”
(Pls.' SMF, ¶ 11; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 11). The
sign does not refer to pedestrians or people outside of
vehicles. (See Pls.' SMF, ¶ 12; Def.'s
SMF, ¶ 12).
personally took Johnson into custody and directed other
troopers to arrest Marshall and Gonzalez after learning that
at least two of them walked past the sign. (See
Pls.' SMF, ¶ 15; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 15). Before
arresting Johnson, Waltman asked him if he was beyond the
sign, to which Johnson replied “I don't feel the
need to answer any question.” (Pls.' SMF, ¶
16; Def. SMF, ¶ 16). Waltman arrested Johnson and had
the others taken into custody because they were in a
restricted area, they were behind the building and were not
emergency personnel, they did not respond to questions about
what they were doing outside of the barracks, they were
filming the barracks, and for security purposes, including
his observations in light of the Eric Frein incident.
(See Waltman Dep., 11:11-12:24 45:5-25, 46:5-25).
Plaintiffs were all handcuffed and Marshall was shackled to a
bench. (See Pls.' SMF, ¶ 19; Def.'s
SMF, ¶ 19). Plaintiffs were seized “for the
purpose of and to begin prosecuting them.” (Pls.'
SMF, ¶ 20; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 20).
were all charged with defiant trespass in violation of 18 Pa.
C.S.A. § 3503(b)(1)(ii), which states that “(1) A
person commits an offense if, knowing that he is not licensed
or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in any place as
to which notice against trespass is given by: . . . (ii)
posting in a manner prescribed by law or reasonably likely to
come to the attention of intruders.” (Pls.' SMF,
¶¶ 21, 23; Def.'s SMF, ¶¶ 21, 23).
Prior to issuing the charges, the on-call assistant district
attorney was contacted, and he advised after review that
nothing greater than summary criminal charges were warranted
at the time. (See Pls.' Ex.
were released on the evening of October 16, 2015, but
Plaintiffs' cell phones and cameras were kept by the
Pennsylvania State Police. (See Pls.' SMF,
¶ 26; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 26; see also
Pls.' Ex. “5” (request for return of property
was denied)). Waltman refused to return the property or
provide a receipt for same, and he threatened to re-arrest
Plaintiffs if they did not leave immediately. (See
Pls.' SMF, ¶ 28; Def.'s SMF, ¶ 28).
March 1, 2016, a summary trial was held on the trespass
charges filed against Plaintiffs resulting from the events
outside the barracks on October 16, 2015. (See Pls.
Exs. “25”-“27”). At the summary
trial, Waltman asked questions of witnesses, presented
evidence, and made arguments on behalf of the Commonwealth.
(See Waltman Dep., 54:16-55:24). There was no
assistant district attorney at Plaintiffs' summary trial.
(See id.). The magisterial district judge granted
Plaintiffs' motion for judgment of acquittal at the
conclusion of the Commonwealth's case-in-chief without
hearing any evidence or testimony from Plaintiffs.
(See Compl., ¶ 30; Answer, ¶ 30).
According to Waltman, the magisterial district judge granted
Plaintiffs' motion to dismiss the charges, citing
“that the Commonwealth failed to meet the criteria for
the charge of ‘Defiant Trespass', in that the signs
posted at the time at PSP Lehighton were un-clear to the
reader.” (Pls.' Ex. “15”).
on the foregoing, Plaintiffs commenced this action on July 1,
2016. (See Doc. 1, generally). In Count One
of the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Waltman falsely
arrested them without probable cause in violation of the
Fourth Amendment and based on their exercise of their First
and Fifth Amendment rights. (See id.). Count Two of
the Complaint asserts a Fourth Amendment malicious
prosecution claim. (See id.). Waltman answered the
complaint, (see Doc. 8, generally), and the
matter proceeded to discovery. With discovery now completed,
Plaintiffs have moved for partial summary judgment on their
false arrest (Count One) and malicious prosecution (Count
Two) claims. (See Doc. 13, generally).
Plaintiffs' motion is fully briefed and ripe for
judgment shall be granted “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). “A court may grant a motion for
summary judgment if, after it considers all probative
materials of record, with inferences drawn in favor of the
non-moving party, the court is satisfied that there are no
genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Chavarriaga v. N.J.
Dep't of Corrs., 806 F.3d 210, 218 (3d Cir. 2015)
(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330,
106 S.Ct. 2548, 2556, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Brooks v.
Kyler, 204 F.3d 102, 105 n.5 (3d Cir. 2000)). “A
fact is ‘material' under Rule 56 if its existence
or nonexistence might impact the outcome of the suit under
the applicable substantive law. A dispute over a material
fact is ‘genuine' if ‘a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'”
Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410, 416 (3d Cir. 2015)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).
“In determining whether the dispute is genuine, the
court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to
determine the truth of the matter . . . .” American
Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 587,
581 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at
248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505).
moving party bears the initial burden to identify
“specific portions of the record that establish the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Santini, 795 F.3d at 416 (citing Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553). If this burden is
satisfied by the movant, the burden then “shifts to the
nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and ‘come
forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial.'” Id. (quoting
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986)). The ...