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Tereo v. Smuck

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 9, 2019

ERIC D. TEREO, Plaintiff


          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Last year, this court considered and resolved the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. We denied the motion for summary judgment by plaintiff Eric D. Tereo (“Tereo”) and granted in part and denied in part the motion for summary judgment by defendants. Specifically, we denied defendants' Rule 56 motion as to the malicious prosecution claims against defendant Darryl L. Smuck, II (“Officer Smuck”). Officer Smuck moves for reconsideration of that decision. (Doc. 68). We will deny his motion.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History

         A thorough recitation of the factual background and claims in this case appears in this court's September 17, 2018 memorandum addressing the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, familiarity with which is presumed. See Tereo v. Smuck, No. 1:16-CV-1436, 2018 WL 4404676, at *1-4 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 17, 2018). The instant motion for reconsideration focuses on the court's denial of Officer Smuck's request for judgment as a matter of law on Counts I and III, which assert malicious prosecution claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, respectively. Officer Smuck maintains that the court made both factual and legal errors in denying summary judgment in his favor on these claims. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         A motion characterized simply as a “motion for reconsideration” is generally construed as a motion to alter or amend judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). See Wiest v. Lynch, 710 F.3d 121, 127 (3d Cir. 2013) (citations omitted). Such a motion must rely on at least one of the following three grounds: “(1) an intervening change in controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence; or (3) the need to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Id. at 128 (quoting Lazaridis v. Wehmer, 591 F.3d 666, 669 (3d Cir. 2010)); see Max's Seafood Café v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677-78 (3d Cir. 1999); Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). A motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order, however, is subject to a more malleable standard. District courts possess inherent power to reconsider interlocutory orders “when it is consonant with justice to do so.” State Nat'l Ins. Co. v. County of Camden, 824 F.3d 399, 406 & n.14 (3d Cir. 2016) (citing United States v. Jerry, 487 F.2d 600, 605 (3d Cir. 1973)); Alea N. Am. Ins. Co. v. Salem Masonry Co., 301 Fed.Appx. 119, 121 (3d Cir. 2008) (nonprecedential). Regardless of whether the order is final or interlocutory, a party may not invoke a motion for reconsideration to “relitigate old matters” or present previously available arguments or evidence. See Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008) (citation omitted); Kropa v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., 716 F.Supp.2d 375, 378 (M.D. Pa. 2010).

         III. Discussion

         Both parties incorporate the Rule 59(e) requirements for reconsideration into their briefing. (See Doc. 69 at 3; Doc. 70 at 2). An order granting partial summary judgment, however, is more appropriately deemed an interlocutory order under Rule 54(b), thus implicating the “when-consonant-with-justice” standard of review. See Qazizadeh v. Pinnacle Health Sys., 214 F.Supp.3d 292, 294-95 (M.D. Pa. 2016) (citations omitted); cf. State Nat'l Ins. Co., 824 F.3d at 406 & n.14. Even operating under this less demanding standard, Officer Smuck cannot establish that reconsideration is warranted.

         A. Alleged Factual Errors

         Officer Smuck contends that the court made certain factual errors when reconstructing the affidavit of probable cause. He claims that many of the alterations we fashioned-pursuant to guidance in Andrews v. Scuilli, 853 F.3d 690, 697-98 (3d Cir. 2017), and Dempsey v. Bucknell University, 834 F.3d 457, 469-70 (3d Cir. 2016)-were “inaccurate” and “immaterial.” (See Doc. 69 at 5-11). We disagree.

         Specifically, Officer Smuck argues that there is no evidence supporting the additional facts in the reconstructed affidavit that Carl Johnson, Sr. (“Johnson”) may have been the aggressor during the incident or that Tereo may have been acting in self-defense or in defense of the store clerk, Tammy Reynolds (“Reynolds”). (See id. at 6-8). Officer Smuck is incorrect. As we noted in our prior opinion, there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to what information Reynolds and another store employee-Alice Crowley (“Crowley”)-told Officer Smuck when he interviewed them prior to filing the criminal complaint against Tereo. See Tereo, 2018 WL 4404676, at *7. When viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Tereo-the nonmovant for purposes of defendants' Rule 56 motion-there clearly is evidence that Officer Smuck omitted exculpatory information from the affidavit of probable cause that he learned from his interviews with Reynolds and Crowley.

         For instance, at the preliminary hearing, Officer Smuck admitted that, in their interviews, Reynolds and Crowley both discussed Johnson “being the aggressor.” Id. (citing (Hr'g Tr. 25:6-8)); (see also Doc. 52 ¶ 9). Reynolds testified at Tereo's criminal trial that (1) Johnson had been “hostile” and “aggressive” at the gas station on prior occasions; (2) Johnson had been told to leave the premises on the day of the incident because he was harassing customers and was “ranting and raving” about people smoking near the gas pumps; (3) Johnson refused to leave and instead got “in [Reynold's] face”; (4) Johnson also “got into [Tereo's] face”; (5) Tereo positioned himself between Reynolds and Johnson and did not push Johnson from behind; (6) Reynolds believed that Tereo was trying to protect her and that Johnson was the aggressor; and (7) Johnson fell down after a “medium”-force push because he tripped on a step. (Doc. 48-2 at 3 ¶ 4; Doc. 48-2 at 4 ¶ 13; Trial Tr. 36:8-50:25). Crowley testified extensively about Johnson's belligerent, aggressive, and confrontational actions at the gas station, both on the day of the incident and on prior occasions. (See Trial Tr. 83:3-90:6). Reynolds and Crowley further averred that, in their interviews with Officer Smuck prior to his filing of charges, they had told him substantially the same information that they subsequently testified to at Tereo's criminal trial. See Tereo, 2018 WL 4404676, at *7 (citing (Doc. 48-2 at 5 ¶¶ 18-20; Doc. 48-3 at 3 ¶¶ 20-22)). Even assuming that Officer Smuck maintains that Crowley or Reynolds did not relay all the information contained in their trial testimony, that does not resolve the genuine dispute regarding Officer Smuck's potential knowledge of numerous exculpatory facts omitted from the affidavit of probable cause. See id.

         We likewise disagree with Officer Smuck that the additional facts in the reconstructed affidavit are “immaterial.” Officer Smuck conflates the “relevancy” analysis, which considers what information should have been included in the affidavit of probable cause, with the “materiality” analysis, which examines the likely effect of the omitted information on the probable cause determination. See Dempsey, 834 F.3d at 470-71 & n.9. As the Dempsey panel explained, “[t]o determine whether information was recklessly omitted, we ask whether the officer withheld a fact in his ken” that a reasonable person would have understood was the “kind of thing” a neutral arbiter would want to know. Id. at 470-71 (quoting Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 788 (3d Cir. 2000)). This relevancy determination is distinct from the inquiry concerning whether the omissions were “necessary” to the finding of probable cause. Id. at 471 n.9 (citation omitted). Quite frankly, it is difficult to comprehend how the information that Reynolds and Crowley averred that they told Officer Smuck about the incident and Johnson's past similar conduct (as outlined above and contained in the reconstructed affidavit) could not be considered relevant to a probable cause determination.[1]

         Furthermore, we do not waver from our prior conclusion that “Officer Smuck's alleged omissions could be material to a finding of probable cause.” Tereo, 2018 WL 4404676, at *10. Those omissions suggest that Johnson was the aggressor; Tereo was acting in self-defense or defense of Reynolds; Johnson's version of events was not credible; Johnson had a history of behaving in a harassing, aggressive, and belligerent manner ...

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