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Naslanic v. Gula

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2018

JASON GULA, et al., Defendants.

          Mariani, Judge


          Martin C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Statement of Facts and of The Case

         This case comes before the court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Jason Gula, a Scranton Police Officer. (Doc. 110.) In considering this motion we do not write upon a blank slate. Instead, the past proceedings in this case have narrowed and sharply defined the issues that remain in this lawsuit. In its current form, the case involves a Fourth Amendment false arrest/malicious prosecution claim leveled by Robert Naslanic, who is now proceeding pro se, against Defendant Gula. With respect to this false arrest/malicious prosecution claim the pertinent facts, viewed in a light most favorable to Naslanic are as follows:

         In 2011, Gula was participating in an investigation into alleged drug trafficking in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In the course of this investigation Gula obtained information which indicated that Robert Naslanic used a telephone to arrange a drug transaction in early 2011. Accordingly, on May 16, 2011 Investigator Musto and Officer Leonard Gula swore out a criminal complaint, and obtained a warrant for Naslanic's arrest. This criminal complaint and warrant were based on an affidavit of probable cause, which was several hundred pages long. Gula's affidavit of probable cause was reviewed and approved by attorneys in the Office of Attorney General and also by an Assistant District Attorney of Lackawanna County prior to being filed. Moreover, the criminal complaint and was also approved by Magistrate District Judge Robert Russell, who found probable cause to charge Naslanic prior to the issuance of the warrant.

         Naslanic was then arrested on this warrant on May 18, 2011, and state criminal proceedings commenced against him. According to Naslanic, as part of these proceedings, in August of 2011, the plaintiff met with Investigator Musto, Officer Gula, and Timothy Doherty, one of the prosecutors assigned to this case, along with his counsel for a proffer interview. In the course of this interview, Naslanic alleges that he informed Prosecutor Doherty and the investigators that he was acting as a police informant for another Scranton police officer at the time of the drug transactions with which he was charged. If true, this fact that Naslanic was acting as an informant and operating under the direction of the police, would vitiate any criminal intent on his part, and could exculpate Naslanic.

         This Court has found that Naslanic has acknowledged during these proceedings that he shared this potentially exculpatory information with Prosecutor Doherty, and the investigators in August of 2011. Naslanic's prior judicial admission that he directly related this information to the prosecutor in August of 2011, led this Court to dismiss Naslanic's claims against Investigator Musto in September of 2017, [1]with the Court reasoning that once the prosecutor is informed of this potentially exculpatory information, responsibility for pursuing or abandoning the case rested with the prosecutor, and the investigators cannot be held civilly liable for any delay in dismissing these charges. (Docs. 105, 106.)

         The district court's ruling in favor of Investigator Musto on summary judgment then promptly inspired Officer Gula, whose posture in this case was essentially identical to Investigator Musto, to also file a motion for summary judgment on January 15, 2018. (Doc. 110.) Naslanic did not respond to that motion, and after the time for a response had passed we issued an order directing Naslanic to file a response on or before March 9, 2018, or face the sanction of dismissal of this case for failure to prosecute. (Doc. 114.) Naslanic has also ignored this clear guidance from the court, and has elected not to respond to this motion for summary judgment. In the absence of any response to this motion by Naslanic, we will now deem the motion to be ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, we recommend that this motion for summary judgment, (Doc. 110), be granted.

         II. Discussion

         A. Under The Rules of This Court This Motion to Dismiss Should Be Deemed Unopposed and Granted.

         At the outset, under the Local Rules of this Court the plaintiff should be deemed to concur in this motion, since the plaintiff has failed to timely oppose the motion, or otherwise litigate this case. This procedural default completely frustrates and impedes efforts to resolve this matter in a timely and fair fashion, and under the rules of this court warrants dismissal of the action, since Local Rule 7.6 of the Rules of this Court imposes an affirmative duty on the plaintiff to respond to motions and provides that

Any party opposing any motion, other than a motion for summary judgment, shall file a brief in opposition within fourteen (14) days after service of the movant's brief, or, if a brief in support of the motion is not required under these rules, within seven (7) days after service of the motion. Any party who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such motion. Nothing in this rule shall be construed to limit the authority of the court to grant any motion before expiration of the prescribed period for filing a brief in opposition. A brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment and LR 56.1 responsive statement, together with any transcripts, affidavits or other relevant documentation, shall be filed within twenty-one (21) days after service of the movant's brief.

Local Rule 7.6 (emphasis added).

         It is now well-settled that “Local Rule 7.6 can be applied to grant a motion to dismiss without analysis of the complaint's sufficiency ‘if a party fails to comply with the [R]ule after a specific direction to comply from the court.' Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (1991).” Williams v. Lebanon Farms Disposal, Inc., No. 09-1704, 2010 WL 3703808, *1 (M.D. Pa. Aug.26, 2010). In this case the plaintiff has not complied with the local rules, or this Court's orders, by filing a timely response to this motion. Therefore, these procedural defaults by the plaintiff compel the court to consider:

[A] basic truth: we must remain mindful of the fact that “the Federal Rules are meant to be applied in such a way as to promote justice. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 1. Often that will mean that courts should strive to resolve cases on their merits whenever possible. However, justice also requires that the merits of a particular dispute be placed before the court in a timely fashion ...

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