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Estate of Guziewicz v. Magnotta

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 3, 2019

ESTATE OF RAYMOND J. GUZIEWICZ, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
RENEE P. MAGNOTTA, Defendant.

          SAPORITO MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM

          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge.

         Presently before me is Magistrate Judge Saporito's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 93) on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Renee Magnotta (“Defendant” or “Agent Magnotta”). (Doc. 79). For the reasons that follow, the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to deny summary judgment and dismiss Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 false arrest claim and state law abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims with prejudice will be adopted.

         I. Background

         As set forth in greater detail in Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, this case arises out of criminal charges filed against Raymond Guziewicz (“Raymond”) for criminal conspiracy and forgery concerning narcotics prescriptions including Percocet, Oxycontin, and Dilaudid.

         On January 27, 2012, a criminal complaint was initiated against Raymond. (Doc. 80-1, “Def.'s Ex. A, ”[1] at 2). Included with this complaint was an affidavit of probable cause created by Agent Magnotta, a Narcotics Agent with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. (Doc. 80, “Def.'s SMF, ” ¶ 3; Doc. 84, “Pl.'s SMF, ” ¶ 3; Doc. 84-5, “Pl.'s Ex. C”[2]). This affidavit of probable cause relies in large part on a February 22, 2011 phone call betweem Agent Magnotta and Raymond's former physician, Dr. Mark Cruciani. Dr. Cruciani informed Agent Magnotta he was notified by Medicap Pharmacy that prescriptions were being billed in Raymond's name. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 8; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 8). He told Agent Magnotta that Raymond was his patient but that these prescriptions were not valid and that Raymond “had either stolen a blank prescription pad or mass produced an authorized prescription and passed them at several different pharmacies.” (Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 4, 8; Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 4, 8). However, he also stated Steven Guziewicz (“Steven” or “Plaintiff”), Raymond's son, presented “many” of the prescriptions. (Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 6, 7; Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 6, 7). In addition, Dr. Cruciani told Agent Magnotta the prescriptions were “passed” in six (6) different names: Raymond Guziewicz, Steven Guziewicz, Janine Belles, Joan Guziewicz, William Guziewicz, and Denise Belles.[3] (Def.'s SMF ¶¶ 10; Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 11). Agent Magnotta spoke with other individuals as part of her investigation, including Sam Sebastianelli, a pharmacist at Medicap Pharmacy. (Magnotta Dep. 31:25).

         On January 31, 2012, Raymond was arrested and appeared before a state magisterial district judge for his preliminary arraignment where bail was set at five thousand dollars ($5, 000). (Def.'s Ex. A at 1). Raymond was held in custody until he was able to post bail on February 2, 2012. (Id.). Raymond waived his preliminary hearing on February 9, 2012. (Id. at 5). The next entry on the criminal docket reflects that the case was nolle prossed, and the disposition of the case is listed as “Nolle Prosequi WITHOUT PREJUDICE - COMM RESERVES THE RIGHT TO REFILE.” (Id. at 12; Def.'s SMF ¶ 1; Pl.'s SMF ¶ 1). Raymond later died on March 18, 2013. (Doc. 93 at 5).

         Plaintiff, appearing both individually and in his role as the administrator filed the initial complaint pro se on September 8, 2014 against Agent Magnotta raising claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, unreasonable seizure, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Doc. 1). Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss on July 6, 2015, and on September 30, 2016, Plaintiff's personal capacity claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress was dismissed and the remaining claims were permitted to proceed. (Doc. 25; Doc. 46; Doc. 47). On February 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint alleging the same claims as his initial complaint and adding a claim for supervisory liability against Agent Magnotta's supervisor, Jerome Smith. (Doc. 52). Plaintiff eventually obtained counsel, who entered her appearance on May 2, 2017. (Doc. 63). On May 16, 2018, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 79). Magistrate Judge Saporito issued a Report and Recommendation on March 13, 2019, recommending summary judgment be denied on Plaintiff's § 1983 and state law malicious prosecution claims and dismissing the remaining claims with prejudice without leave to amend for failure to state a claim.[4] (Doc. 93). Defendant timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on March 27, 2019, Plaintiff filed a response to the objections on April 25, 2019, and Defendant filed a reply brief on May 9, 2019. (Doc. 97; Doc. 98; Doc. 99). This matter has therefore been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Standard of Review of Objections to a Report and Recommendation

         When objections to the magistrate judge's Report are filed, the court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the Report. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)). However, this only applies to the extent that a party's objections are both timely and specific; if objections are merely “general in nature, ” the court “need not conduct a de novo determination.” Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). Indeed, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that “providing a complete de novo determination where only a general objection to the report is offered would undermine the efficiency the magistrate system was meant to contribute to the judicial process.” Id. at 7. In conducting a de novo review, the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Owens v. Beard, 829 F.Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993). Uncontested portions of the Report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. At the very least, the court should review uncontested portions for clear error or manifest injustice. See, e.g., Cruz v. Chater, 990 F.Supp. 375, 376-77 (M.D. Pa. 1998).

         B. Summary Judgment

         Summary 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). “Summary judgment is appropriate when ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Wright v. Corning, 679 F.3d 101, 103 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986).

         Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Edelman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 83 F.3d 68, 70 (3d Cir. 1996). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. An issue of material fact is genuine if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Howard Hess Dental Labs., Inc. v. Dentsply Int'l, Inc., 602 F.3d 237, 251 (3d Cir. 2010). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the non-moving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the court that “the non-moving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986).

         “When considering whether there exist genuine issues of material fact, the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177 (1990).

         “To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must show specific facts such that a reasonable jury could find in that party's favor, thereby establishing a genuine issue of fact for trial.” Galli v. New Jersey Meadowlands Comm'n, 490 F.3d 265, 270 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). “While the evidence that the non-moving party presents may be either direct or circumstantial, and need not be as great as a preponderance, the evidence must be more than a scintilla.” Id. (quoting Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, “the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505.

         III. Discussion

         Defendant does not object to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to dismiss the state law claims for abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress and § 1983 claim for false arrest with prejudice. (See Doc. 93 at 37-38). As I find these recommendations are not clearly erroneous, these uncontested portions of the Report and Recommendation will be adopted.

         Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's findings on the following grounds: (1) Plaintiff is unable to satisfy the favorable termination and probable cause elements for his malicious prosecution claims; (2) this Court lacks supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claim because Plaintiff's federal claim may not proceed for failure to satisfy the malicious prosecution elements; and (3) the Magistrate Judge should have concluded Defendant is entitled to both qualified and sovereign immunity. (See Doc. 95, generally). In light of these objections, I will review de novo whether summary judgment is appropriate on the Plaintiff's state law and § 1983 malicious prosecution claims.

         A. Elements of Malicious Prosecution

         Plaintiff must satisfy the following elements in a malicious prosecution claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983:

(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in his favor; (3) the defendant initiated the proceeding without probable cause; (4) the defendant acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of a seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.

Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 82 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 521 (3d Cir. 2003). A claim for malicious prosecution under Pennsylvania law includes the same elements as a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim, except that the state law claim does not require the fifth seizure element. See Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 791 (3d Cir. 2000) (“[A] plaintiff alleging common law malicious prosecution must show (1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiff's favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; and (4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice.”).

         While Defendant objects to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to deny summary judgment on Plaintiff's § 1983 and state law malicious prosecution claims, Defendant only specifically objects to the Magistrate Judge's conclusions that Plaintiff satisfied the favorable termination element and that a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to the probable cause element.[5] To that end, I agree with the Magistrate Judge that the first and fifth elements of a § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution, which are uncontested, are beyond dispute. Agent Magnotta initiated criminal proceedings by submitting a criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause to a state magisterial district judge, Raymond was incarcerated for his inability to pay bail, and he remained bound to appear in court while the criminal proceedings against him remained pending.

         1. Favorable Termination

         To satisfy the favorable termination prong of a malicious prosecution claim, the prior disposition of the criminal case must demonstrate “the innocence of the accused.” Kossler v. Crisanti, 564 F.3d 181, 187 (3d Cir. 2009).

         A plaintiff may attempt to indicate his innocence by demonstrating that his prior criminal proceeding terminated in one of the following ways:

‘(a) a discharge by a magistrate at a preliminary hearing, or
(b) the refusal of a grand jury to indict, or
(c) the formal abandonment of the proceedings by the public prosecutor, or
(d) the quashing of an indictment or information, or
(e) an acquittal, or
(f) a final order in favor of the accused by a trial or appellate court.”

Id. (quoting Donahue v. Gavin, 280 F.3d 371, 383 (3d Cir. 2002). While “a grant of nolle prosequi can be sufficient to satisfy the favorable termination requirement for malicious prosecution, not all cases where the prosecutor abandons criminal charges are considered to have terminated favorably.” Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573, 579-80 (3d Cir. 1996) disapproved of on other grounds by Merkle v. Upper Dublic Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 794 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Kossler, 564 F.3d at 187 (discussing how “formal abandonment of the proceedings by the public prosecutor” may satisfy the favorable termination prong).

         The parties dispute which standard should be used to determine whether Plaintiff satisfied the favorable termination prong. This dispute is understandable, given the apparent lack of congruity between the Third Circuit's holdings in Hilfirty and Donahue v. Gavin. In Hilfirty, the Third Circuit held:

[A] grant of nolle prosequi is insufficient to support a claim of malicious prosecution only in circumstances where the accused herself enters into a compromise with the prosecution in which she surrenders something of value to obtain the dismissal or where the accused formally accepts the grant of nolle prosequi in exchange for her knowing, voluntary release of any future claims for malicious prosecution.

Hilfirty, 91 F.3d at 575 (emphasis added).[6] However, the Third Circuit later held in ...


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