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Cherkas v. White

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 27, 2018

ROBERT CHERKAS, Plaintiff,
v.
P/O SYLVESTER WHITE AND P/O JAMES TOKINSON, Defendants.

          AMENDED MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiff Robert Cherkas was arrested for allegedly driving while intoxicated. After the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania withdrew its criminal charges, Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit against Police Officers Sylvester White and James Tokinson. Plaintiff sued Defendants for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment (Count I), “improper search and seizure” under the Fourth Amendment (Count II), assault (Count III), battery (Count IV), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V), malicious prosecution (Count VI), and false imprisonment (Count VII). Defendants now move for summary judgment, which shall be granted.

         I. FACTS

         Plaintiff was arrested after he illegally parked his car. Plaintiff, driving on a two-way street, pulled across the oncoming lane of traffic and into a parallel parking spot facing the opposite direction. He parked his car at an angle over the sidewalk, though the parties dispute whether both or only one front tire was on the sidewalk. Plaintiff then left his car to buy a jacket from a street vendor. He returned and entered his car. Officer White then approached him.

         Officer White asked Plaintiff to place his vehicle in park. He noted that Plaintiff's eyes were bloodshot (though the parties dispute the degree to which they were bloodshot), and he told Plaintiff that he believed that Plaintiff was “stoned on something” or drunk. Plaintiff talked to Officer White loudly, though Plaintiff claims he raised his voice only after he was accused by Officer White of being intoxicated. Officer White, on the other hand, claims that Plaintiff was loud before he made that accusation. Plaintiff also told Officer White that he was a TV and YouTube celebrity. Plaintiff recalled having not slept for a while and that he may have told Officer White that he had not slept.

         After Plaintiff's arrest, he was taken to the police station, spending approximately 24 to 48 hours there.[1] A nurse drew his blood for testing. After his tests came back negative for any substances, the Commonwealth dropped its criminal charges against him.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment must be granted to a moving party if “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); see also Alabama v. North Carolina, 560 U.S. 330, 344 (2010). Material facts are determined by reference to the substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A genuine dispute “exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” See U.S. ex rel. Greenfield v. Medco Health Solutions, Inc., 880 F.3d 89, 93 (3d Cir. 2018). The non-moving party must show where in the record evidence a genuine dispute exists and not merely deny the moving party's pleadings. See id. Summary judgment will be granted “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. False Arrest, False Imprisonment & Malicious Prosecution Claims

         Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution are addressed together, as each claim requires him to establish the absence of probable cause. See James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 680, 682-83 (3d Cir. 2012) (false arrest); Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995) (false imprisonment); Kossler v. Crisanti, 564 F.3d 181, 186 (3d Cir. 2009) (en banc) (malicious prosecution).[2] Plaintiff's state law claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment, similarly require a showing of probable cause. See Manley v. Fitzgerald, 997 A.2d 1235, 1241 (Pa. Commw. 2010) (false arrest and false imprisonment); Kelley v. Gen. Teamsters, Chauffeurs, & Helpers, Local Union 249, 544 A.2d 940, 941 (Pa. 1988) (malicious prosecution). The probable cause analysis for the state-law claims is the same as that for the federal claims. See Russoli v. Salisbury Twp., 126 F.Supp.2d 821, 869 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (“Pennsylvania state law false arrest claims and federal constitutional false arrest claims are co-extensive both as to the elements of proof and elements of damages.”). Thus, the probable cause inquiry as to Plaintiff's false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution claims - whether styled as state or federal - will be identical.

         The question of whether there is probable cause is answered by reviewing the “totality of the circumstances.” See District of Columbia v. Wesby, 138 S.Ct. 577, 586 (2018). The analysis turns on evaluating “the events leading up to the arrest” and then deciding “whether these historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to probable cause.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         Here, the officer was confronted with an illegally parked vehicle that had pulled across oncoming traffic to fit into a space at an angle, facing the wrong way. The car's front tire was (or both were) on the sidewalk. Upon confronting the driver of the car when he returned from purchasing a jacket the officer noted that the driver's eyes were watery and bloodshot. Officer White also stated to the driver that he appeared “stoned” or drunk. Plaintiff raised his voice during the conversation and claimed to be an internet and television celebrity. A reasonable police officer could infer from these circumstances that Plaintiff had been driving while intoxicated or under the influence of other substances.

         Plaintiff fails to create a genuine dispute as to any of these material facts. Plaintiff takes issue with the degree to which the car was parked on the sidewalk, suggesting that only one tire was on the sidewalk. But given that the car was parked facing oncoming traffic, at an angle in a parallel parking spot, and undisputedly on the sidewalk, the degree to which the tires were on the sidewalk is immaterial. And while Plaintiff adds that the degree to which his eyes were bloodshot is debatable, he does not dispute that his eyes were bloodshot. Similarly, Plaintiff ...


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