United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Bissoon United States District Judge
before the Court is Defendant Jack R. Heneks's
(“Heneks's”) Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. 61). For the reasons stated below, Defendant's
Motion will be denied.
Court will recite only those facts that are material to
resolving Defendant Heneks's motion. This civil rights
lawsuit stems from a fatal car crash that occurred on June
16, 2011, and the ensuing investigation and criminal
prosecution. (See Plaintiff's Statement of
Facts at ¶ 1, Doc. 76; Heneks's
Statement of Facts at ¶¶ 1, 70, Doc. 63.) Heneks,
at all times relevant to this action, was the District
Attorney of Fayette County, Pennsylvania. (Heneks's
Statement of Facts at ¶ 80.)
Serena Richter states that she was a passenger in a vehicle
driven by Samuel McKnight (“McKnight”)
“when the vehicle left the roadway, impacted a utility
pole and/or a wooden fence post, and rolled over several
times.” (Amended Complaint at ¶ 10, Doc. 23).
McKnight was ejected from the vehicle and died.
(Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶ 1; Heneks's
Statement of Facts at ¶ 1.) Two years after the
incident, on June 14, 2013, a criminal complaint was filed
against Plaintiff charging her with Homicide by Vehicle While
Driving Under the Influence, among other related charges.
(See Exhibit G to Heneks's Appendix to Statement
of Facts, hereinafter “Heneks's Appendix, ”
at 2, Doc. 64-7.)
Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) Troopers
investigated the incident, Robert. F. Wilson
(“Wilson”), John P. Weaver
(“Weaver”), and Gino Fagnilli
(“Fagnilli”). (Complaint at ¶¶ 11-13;
Heneks's Answer at ¶¶ 11-13). Plaintiff alleges
that Heneks also played a role in the investigation.
(Plaintiff's Statement of Facts at ¶¶ 2, 5, 7,
9.) For example, she provides evidence that prior to the
filing of criminal charges, Heneks spoke to Weaver about
whether to submit certain items containing blood for
collection of DNA evidence. (Plaintiff's Statement of
Facts at ¶ 5.) She also provides evidence that Heneks
and Weaver jointly decided which blood samples would be
addition to Heneks's role in DNA testing, Plaintiff
alleges that Heneks made a decision to arrest her despite his
knowledge of exculpatory evidence. (Id. at
¶¶ 8-9.) Specifically, Plaintiff offers evidence
that there were three witnesses who saw that McKnight was the
driver of the car on the night of the accident at the time
that she and McKnight left a Sportsman's Club, a
fifteen-minute drive from the scene of the accident.
(Id. at ¶ 2.) During the course of the criminal
investigation, Plaintiff obtained affidavits from these
witnesses, and she provides evidence that her counsel
discussed these with Heneks and submitted them to Heneks.
(Exhibit AA to Plaintiff's Appendix to Statement of
Facts, hereinafter “Plaintiff's Appendix, ”
Doc. 86-29.) Heneks approved the decision to file criminal
charges against Plaintiff, but the parties dispute whether
Heneks participated in a decision to arrest Plaintiff and
whether Plaintiff was, in fact, arrested after criminal
charges were filed. (See Plaintiff's Statement
of Facts at ¶ 9 (Heneks approved charges), ¶ 10
(facts supporting arrest); Heneks's Statement of Facts at
¶ 83 (Heneks approved charges), ¶¶ 72-79
(facts supporting lack of arrest).)
criminal case proceeded to a jury trial in the Court of
Common Pleas of Fayette County before the Honorable Nancy D.
Vernon. On January 8, 2015, Judge Vernon entered a Judgment
of Acquittal on all counts. (Plaintiff's Statement of
Facts at ¶ 1; Heneks's Statement of Facts at ¶
initiated the instant action on June 12, 2015. (Doc. 1.)
Following this Court's Memorandum Order on
Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Doc. 36), the only claim
remaining against Heneks is a claim against him in his
personal capacity for false arrest.
Fourth Amendment to the Constitution provides “[t]he
right of the people to be secure in their persons . . .
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S.
Const. Amend IV. For purposes of a false arrest claim, an
“arrest” is analyzed as a seizure of a person.
See Aschroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011).
Whether there was a seizure of a person turns on whether
“the officer, by means of physical force or show of
authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a
citizen.” Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429,
434 (1991) (citation omitted). Put differently, the relevant
question is whether “a reasonable person would feel
free to ‘disregard the police and go about his
business.'” Id. (quoting California v.
Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621, 628 (1991)); accord
Schneyder v. Smith, 653 F.3d 313, 322 (3d Cir. 2011)
(“a person has been ‘seized' within
the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all
the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable
person would have believed that he was not free to
leave” (internal citation omitted)). The two elements
of a successful false arrest claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for a violation of rights secured by the Fourth
Amendment are (1) an arrest (2) that was made without
probable cause. James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700
F.3d 675, 680 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Groman v. Twp. of
Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995)).
Motion for Summary Judgment rests on four arguments, which
the Court will address in turn. Specifically, Heneks argues
that: (1) Plaintiff was not arrested; (2) even if she was,
Heneks did not participate in the arrest; (3) there was
probable cause to support an arrest; and (4) Heneks enjoys
absolute prosecutorial immunity for the false arrest claim.
(Heneks's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary
Judgment, hereinafter “Heneks's SJM Brief, ”
6, Doc. 62.)
Existence of Arrest
is tension among the decisions of the Court of Appeals for
the Third Circuit as to the necessary conditions for a
constitutionally significant seizure absent a formal arrest
and booking. In DiBella v. Borough of Beachwood, 407
F.3d 599, 603 (3d Cir. 2005), the Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit found that the issuance of a summons for
defiant trespassing coupled with a requirement to attend
court appearances did not constitute a seizure
“significant enough to constitute a Fourth Amendment
violation.” In other words, a requirement to appear in
court to face criminal charges was found insufficient to
constitute a constitutionally relevant seizure. In contrast,
the Third Circuit found that requiring a person charged with
arson to post a $10, 000 bond, attend court appearances,
maintain regular contact with Pretrial Services, and refrain
from traveling outside New Jersey and Pennsylvania
constituted a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. Gallo
v. City of Philadelphia, 161 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir.
1998). The court's analysis in Gallo rested
heavily on the fact that Gallo was required to attend court
appearances at penalty of law. The Gallo court also
concluded, in analyzing relevant Supreme Court precedent,
that a ...