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Lyter v. Pennsylvania State Police

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 11, 2019

ANDREW LYTER
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          KEARNEY, J.

         Police officers charged Andrew Lyter for failing to register as a sex offender three times. Represented by counsel to defend at least one of the charges, he plead guilty thinking he had committed a crime and served two jail terms losing several months of his life to prison. When charged again in 2015, Mr. Lyter learned the Commonwealth wrongly placed him on the sex offender registry without a legal basis in September 2001. No. court ever found him guilty of a crime requiring registration as a sex offender. But this alleged travesty started when a Dauphin County employee allegedly sent a notice two days after September 11, 2001 wrongly representing the nature of Mr. Lyter's conviction in Dauphin County. After two jail terms in 2003 and 2011, he moved into Berks County who then brought the same wrong charge against him in 2015. Upon Mr. Lyter's motion, Berks County dismissed the 2015 charge and Mr. Lyter is now suing those he believes have some relationship to this harm. But he needs to focus his theories; he cannot sue the Pennsylvania State Police with sovereign immunity or individuals with no personal involvement in the conduct. In the accompanying Order, we dismiss claims against the Pennsylvania State Police and against individual state actors with no plead personal involvement. Mr. Lyter may proceed into discovery against Dauphin County and other remaining defendants who may have some role in the September 13, 2001 wrongful notice leading to convictions and jail terms for failing to register as a sex offender when no court ever found him to be a sex offender.

         I. Alleged facts

         On September 10, 2001, Andrew Lyter plead guilty in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas to Access Device Fraud, Theft by Deception, Possession of Instruments of Crime, and Obscene and Other Sexual Materials or Performances.[1] The state court judge sentenced Mr. Lyter "to an aggregate sentence of six-twenty-three-and-a-half months . . . [in] county prison and five years of intermediate punishment."[2]

         On September 13, 2001, Colleen M. McGonigal, a Victim/Witness Coordinator for the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office, sent a letter to a detective of the Derry Township Police Department in Dauphin County incorrectly representing "[Mr. Lyter] had pled guilty to 45 counts of Sexual Abuse of Children.[3] He did not. Mr. Lyter alleges those "45 counts were dismissed at the time of his plea, "[4] and "[a] simple review of the sentencing order, filed with the Dauphin County Clerk [of] Court[] on September 17, 2001, demonstrates that [Mr. Lyter] never pled guilty to Sexual Abuse of Children."[5]

         Following Ms. McGonigal's September 13, 2001 letter, an unspecified individual at the Pennsylvania State Police told Mr. Lyter he needed to register as a sex offender.[6] Informed he must "register for 10 years or life, "[7] Mr. Lyter met in October 2001 "with Defendant Robert Clark and submitted his information to be included in Pennsylvania's sex offender registry."[8]

         2003 plea and conviction for failing to register.

         Sometime before February 4, 2003, the Pennsylvania State Police "determined that [Mr. Lyter] was not complying with registration and reporting requirements" and referred the charges to the Dauphin County Sheriffs Department.[9] On February 4, 2003, Dauphin County charged Mr. Lyter "with Failure to Comply with Registration Requirements, a Felony of the Third Degree."[10] Attorney Robert James Daniels, Jr., Esq. represented Mr. Lyter.[11] While allegedly represented, Mr. Lyter plead guilty to the registration charge on June 11, 2003, and received an eleven-and-a-half to twenty-three month sentence in Dauphin County Prison.[12]

         2011 plea and conviction for failing to register.

         Sometime before December 31, 2008, the Pennsylvania State Police again "determined that [Mr. Lyter] was not complying with registration and reporting requirements" and referred the charges to the Swatara Township Police Department.[13] On December 31, 2008, the Swatara Township Police Department charged Mr. Lyter "with Failure to [Comply] with Registration of Sexual Offenders Requirements, a Felony of the Second Degree."[14] Mr. Lyter plead guilty on March 21, 2011, and the judge sentenced him to three to six years in a state correctional institution.[15]

         2015 charge and learning Mr. Lyter never needed to register.

         Sometime before August 6, 2015, Mr. Lyter moved to Berks County. The Pennsylvania State Police again "determined that [Mr. Lyter] was not complying with registration and reporting requirements" and referred charges to the Reading Police Department.[16] On August 6, 2015, Reading Police charged Mr. Lyter "with Failure to Verify Address/Be Photographed in connection with his... registration requirements, a Felony of the Second Degree."[17] Sergeant John M. Solecki of the Reading Police Department served as the affiant of the charge.[18] After preliminary arraignment, Mr. Lyter moved on January 26, 2017, to dismiss the charge on the ground he "was not actually required to register" as a sex offender.[19] The Berks County District Attorney's Office, "agreeing with [Mr. Lyter] that he was not a person [required] to register," nolle prossed the August 6, 2015 charge on February 14, 2017.[20]

         Mr. Lyter sues for the two jail sentences for conduct not constituting a crime.

         On February 13, 2019, Mr. Lyter sued various individuals and entities for damages to compensate him for the harm he suffered for being convicted for failing to register as a sex offender when in fact he did not need to do so. Mr. Lyter sues the Pennsylvania State Police, Dauphin County, Swatara Township, and the City of Reading. He sues the former commissioners of the Pennsylvania State Police who held the position throughout the years spanning his convictions and registration: Paul Evanko (1996-2003); Jeffrey B. Miller (2003-08); Frank Pawolski (2008-11); Frank Noonan[21] (2011-14); and Tyree C. Blocker (2015-18).[22] We refer to these individuals as "the Commissioners" unless otherwise noted. Mr. Lyter sues former Commanders of the Pennsylvania State Police's Megan's Law Unit: John K. Thierwechter (2001-04); Janet A. McNeal (2004-07); Douglas E. Grimes (2007-11); and Todd L. Harman (2011-17).[23] We refer to these individuals as "the Megan's Law Unit Commanders" unless otherwise noted. Mr. Lyter also sues his former lawyer Robert James Daniels, Jr., Esq.; Michael D. Fading, an employee of Swatara Township Police Department in 2003[24]; John M. Solecki, an employee of the City of Reading Police Department in 2015[25]; Robert Clark; Marcus Brown; and Colleen M. McGonigal.

         Mr. Lyter seeks to vindicate numerous alleged constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 along with state claims:

• reckless or intentional failure to investigate against the Pennsylvania State Police, Dauphin County, Swatara Township, City of Reading, Michael D. Farling, John M. Solecki, the Commissioners, the Commanders of the Pennsylvania State Police's Megan's Law Unit, Robert Clark, Colleen M. McGonigal, and John Does;[26]
• malicious prosecution against the Pennsylvania State Police, Dauphin County, Swatara Township, City of Reading, Michael D. Farling, John M. Solecki, the Commissioners, the Commanders of the Megan's Law Unit, and John Does;[27]
• false arrest, illegal seizure, and deprivation of liberty against the Pennsylvania State Police, Dauphin County, Swatara Township, City of Reading, Michael D. Farling, John M. Solecki, the Commissioners, the Commanders of the Megan's Law Unit, and John Does;[28]
• violation of his right to privacy against the Pennsylvania State Police, the Commissioners, the Commanders of the Megan's Law Unit, and John Does;[29]
• restriction on freedom of movement against the Pennsylvania State Police, the Commissioners, the Commanders of the Megan's Law Unit, and John Does;[30]
• conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights against the Pennsylvania State Police, the Commissioners, the Commanders of the Megan's Law Unit, and John Does;[31]
• failure to intervene against the Pennsylvania State Police, Dauphin County, Swatara Township, City of Reading, Michael D. Farling, John M. Solecki, the Commissioners, the Commanders of the Megan's Law Unit, and John Does;[32] and,
• legal malpractice against Robert James Daniels, Jr., Esq;[33] and,
• breach of contract against Robert James Daniels, Jr., Esq.[34]

         We dismissed without prejudice for lack of prosecution Mr. Lyter's claims against Michael D. Farling, Colleen M. McGonigal, Janet A. McNeal, and Robert Clark.[35] Swatara Township, Dauphin County, City of Reading, John M. Solecki, and Robert James Daniels, Jr., Esq. have answered Mr. Lyter's complaint.[36]

         II. Analysis

         Pennsylvania State Police, the Commissioners, the Megan's Law Unit Commanders, and Marcus Brown move to dismiss Mr. Lyter's claims arguing: (1) they are barred under the statute of limitations; (2) the Heck doctrine bars Mr. Lyter from using 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to challenge valid state convictions absent a favorable termination; (3) Pennsylvania State Police is not a "person" capable of being sued under § 1983; and (4) the named individual defendants did not have the personal involvement required for liability under § 1983.[37] ...


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