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Karolski v. Davis

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 24, 2018

Clifford Joseph Karolski, Plaintiff,
Chief Davis, Assistant Chief Don Couch, Detective Stephen Roberts, City of Aliquippa, Defendants.


          Cynthia Reed Eddy, United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the Defendants' motion will be granted and Plaintiff's will be denied.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         Plaintiff Clifford Joseph Karolski, proceeding pro se and currently confined at SCI-Camp Hill based on an unrelated incident, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that his federal rights were violated by the Defendants when he was falsely charged with numerous counts of arson, notwithstanding his alibi, and was incarcerated for approximately one month until his charges were dismissed by a magistrate at his preliminary hearing.

         Plaintiff's second amended complaint was filed on January 27, 2017. (ECF No. 43). On April 4, 2017 the Court dismissed defendant City of Aliquippa from this case with prejudice (ECF No. 49), leaving as defendants Couch, Davis, and Roberts. The remaining claims are: wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment. Discovery ended on July 21, 2017. (ECF No. 59).

         On September 5, 2017, Defendants filed their motion for summary judgment with brief in support, as well as concise statement of material facts and an appendix. (ECF Nos. 65, 66, 67, 68). Plaintiff filed his motion for summary judgment on September 13, 2017, with exhibits attached thereto (ECF Nos. 70, 71), although he did not file a concise statement of material facts, in derogation of the local rule and our order to do so. (ECF No. 50, citing L.R. 56). Plaintiff also filed a response to the Defendants' motion for summary judgment on September 29, 2017. (ECF No. 71). Defendants filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiff's motion on February 12, 2018. (ECF No. 73). Thus, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         Unless otherwise stated, the following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff's claims arise out of his arrest on November 8, 2013 and subsequent prosecution on arson related criminal charges arising out of a fire on August 29, 2013 at his house in Aliquippa, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania State Police investigated the cause and origin of the fire and determined that the fire originated inside the house, was deliberately set, and found its cause to be “incendiary.” Defendant Detective Steven Roberts investigated the arson on behalf of the city of Aliquippa, and after his two-month long investigation, he filed an Affidavit of Probable Cause and Criminal Complaint (“the Affidavit”) charging Plaintiff with offenses including arson, recklessly endangering death and injury and arson/collect insurance, 18 Pa. C.S.A.§ 3301(a)(i) and 3301(c)(3). A magisterial district judge issued a warrant for plaintiff's arrest and Plaintiff was arrested and detained on November 8, 2018 pursuant to that warrant. Following a preliminary hearing on December 12, 2013, the magisterial district judge dismissed all charges.

         The affidavit of probable cause is contained in the record herein as Exhibit 11 to Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 65-11 at 7). Defendant Roberts, then-detective, was the affiant. Roberts has also filed with the court a declaration (ECF No. 65-1), which provides a summary of the Affidavit, as well as other information.

         Roberts was the Aliquippa's only detective in 2013. He investigated the suspected arson at 2023 McLean Street, Aliquippa, Beaver County, Pennsylvania on August 29, 2013. The house was vacant and nearly empty of all contents. The fire's origin was in the interior of the house in the dining room area. All utilities were off at the time of the fire. The Aliquippa Fire Department determined that the fire was suspicious, and called for investigative help from the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal, which also confirmed the fire was suspicious in nature. The laboratory test results for “ignitable liquids” on items collected from the fire scene came back negative. The Affidavit did not state this. The Affidavit accurately states that the State Police investigator concluded that despite the negative results for ignitable liquids, it was intentionally caused by means of an “accelerant.” The fire was classified as "incendiary, " i.e. intentionally set.

         On August 29, 2013, Plaintiff came into the Aliquippa police station and informed Defendant (then-Assistant Chief) Couch that he had worked from 2:15 p.m. until 11:45 p.m. on August 28, 2013, but that he would not make any statements regarding the fire. The next day Detective Roberts interviewed Plaintiff's wife, Delina D'Arcangelo. She informed him she had had the locks changed on the house at 2023 McLean after she obtained a protection from abuse order against K arolski which required him to move out of the house. She had had new dead bolt locks installed on the front and rear doors. She had moved out of the house in mid-July, 2013 due to the utilities being shut off. When she moved out she gave her keys to the house to her in-laws. Plaintiff lived with his parents and Ms. D'arcangelo thought he would have access to the keys. She had not made any extra copies of the keys to the house while living there due to her fears that an extra key would somehow come into the possession of Plaintiff.

         In their Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Defendants concede there were multiple keys to the house. (ECF No. 67 at ¶ 30, citing the Amended complaint, ECF No. 43 at p.2). There is no dispute that Plaintiff had a key to the house. He had been seen removing items from the house after Ms. D'Arcangelo moved out of the house.

         Through Beaver County Real Estate records and a mortgage settlement agreement provided to Roberts by Ms. D'Arcangelo, Roberts learned that the sole owner of the house at 2023 McLean Street was Plaintiff. Roberts also confirmed that the electricity at the house had been shut off prior to the fire due to non-payment. Furthermore, Roberts learned Plaintiff was behind in his mortgage payments; Chase Bank was in the process of taking action against him. Ms. D'Arcangelo told Roberts that while living at 2023 McLean she had received several letters from Chase Bank addressed to Plaintiff sent by certified mail. Roberts searched court records and learned that civil actions had been filed at the magistrate level for unpaid debts, suggesting that Plaintiff was having financial difficulties.

         On August 31, 2013, Roberts was contacted by James Thomas of Travelers Insurance Company, which insured the property, advising it was conducting an "origin and cause" investigation. Travelers further advised Roberts Plaintiff had made a claim for the fire loss. On September 17, 2013 Roberts spoke with James Thomas, investigator for Travelers Insurance. He informed Roberts that Plaintiff provided an alibi that he was at the Rivers Casino and that M s . D'Arcangelo was also listed as an insured on their policy.

         According to the Affidavit, after speaking with the Travelers Investigator, Roberts spoke with Ms. D'Arcangelo to inquire why she had not told him she was also listed on the insurance policy. She informed Roberts that she did not know that she was on the policy until Travelers contacted her about the claim. She learned this information after her last conversation with Roberts. According to Plaintiff, he had told the police that his wife was not listed on the policy; he had owned the house prior to their marriage.

         Plaintiff's attorney James Villanova advised that his client would not provide a statement and that surveillance videotapes would show Plaintiff was at the Rivers Casino at the time relevant to the fire. Roberts contacted the Rivers Casino to determine whether their records would provide an alibi for Plaintiff. Rivers Casino explained that through Plaintiff's Player's Club Card and their video surveillance they were able to establish that he arrived at the Casino at 1:48 a.m. on August 29, 2013, played one machine, and then left the Casino at 2:08 a.m., twenty ...

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