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Cieniawa v. Pall

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 6, 2019

JEREMY CIENIAWA, Plaintiff,
v.
TROOPER BRIAN PALL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         The pending action was filed by Plaintiff, Jeremy Cieniawa, in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, asserting one count of excessive force against Defendants, Trooper Brian Pall, Trooper Michael Foux, Trooper Larry McDaniel, Officer Christopher Zukowsky, and Captain David Douglas, and one count of excessive force under Monell v. Dep't of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), against Chief Brian Buglio and the Borough of West Hazleton. (Doc. 1-2, at 16-17). Defendants thereafter removed this action to federal court on June 6, 2017. (Doc. 1).

         On December 28, 2017, the parties stipulated that Plaintiff's Monell claim against the Borough of West Hazleton should be dismissed with prejudice, that Plaintiff's operative Complaint was to be amended to name Defendants Christopher Zukowsky and David Douglas as employees and officers of the Pennsylvania State Police (in their individual capacities only), and that the excessive force claim was to be directed against all remaining Defendants in their individual capacities (Doc. 27). This Court approved the stipulation on January 2, 2018. (Doc. 28).

         Following the completion of fact discovery, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 37) asserting that Plaintiffs claim against Defendants should be dismissed as a matter of law because Defendants' use of force was reasonable under the circumstances (Doc. 40, at 6). Further, Defendants argue that even if it were found that there is a question of fact about the force used, Defendant Pall is protected by qualified immunity for his use of force. (Id. at 11). Additionally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs "humiliation and emotional distress" claims should be dismissed. (Id. at 13).

         Plaintiff, in his "Response in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment," argues that summary judgment should be denied because there are outstanding disputes of material fact. (Doc. 41, at 6-7). In his brief, Plaintiff withdraws his prayer for compensatory damages for emotional distress and any claim against Trooper Douglas. (Id. at 9). Thus, Plaintiff's excessive force claim is the only remaining claim before the Court.

         The parties have fully briefed the motion, and it is now ripe for adjudication. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion with respect to Defendant David Douglas and Plaintiffs prayer for compensatory damages for emotional distress and deny Defendants' Motion with respect to all other Defendants.

         II. Statement of Undisputed Facts[1]

         Defendants have submitted a Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 38) as to which they submit there is no genuine issue or dispute for trial, as well as a number of exhibits attached thereto. Plaintiff submitted a Response to Defendants' Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 41-1). In addition, Plaintiff submitted a Statement of Material & Undisputed Facts (Doc. 41-2), as well as a number of exhibits, to which Defendants provided an Answer to Plaintiffs Statement of Material & Undisputed Facts (Doc. 48).

         On May 26, 2013 (and into the morning of May 27, 2013), Defendants Pall and Foux pulled over a vehicle occupied by Plaintiff and driven by Jamaal Bandy (non-party) for speeding. (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 1; Doc. 48, ¶ 1). Upon being pulled over, Defendant Pall walked to the passenger side of the vehicle and recognized Plaintiff. (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 2; Doc. 48, ¶ 2). Plaintiff previously lied to Defendant Pall about his identity during a traffic stop in 2012, and he again lied to Defendant Pall about his identity during the traffic stop out of which this action arose. (Doc. 38, ¶¶ 3-4; Doc. 41-1, ¶¶ 3-4). Moreover, Plaintiff was aware that there was a warrant for his arrest at the time of this incident. (Doc. 38, ¶ 8(c); Doc. 41-1, ¶ 7(c)).

         After identifying Plaintiff, Defendant Pall handcuffed and searched Plaintiff (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 4; Doc. 48, ¶ 4). Plaintiff was subsequently brought to the police cruiser, although the manner in which he was brought to the police cruiser is in dispute. (See Doc. 41-2, ¶ 5; Doc. 48, ¶ 5). While in the back of the police cruiser, Plaintiff kicked the window of the cruiser (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 9; Doc. 48, ¶ 9), but did not damage the vehicle in any way (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 10; Doc. 48, ¶ 10). Defendant Pall then entered the vehicle. (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 12; Doc. 48, ¶ 12). Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff fled from the police cruiser while handcuffed. (Doc. 1-2, ¶ 16).[2]

         Defendants Foux and Pall then chased Plaintiff to a nearby lot, tackled him to the ground, and returned him to the back of their squad car. (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 16; Doc. 48, ¶ 16). Defendants Zukowsky, McDaniel, and Douglas arrived on the scene when Plaintiff was again in the back of the squad car. (Doc. 41-2 ¶ 17; Doc. 48, ¶ 17). Plaintiff was subsequently put in leg restraints. (Doc. 41-2 ¶ 19; Doc. 48, ¶ 19). Although the timing is in dispute, Defendant Pall admitted that he struck Plaintiff in the face. (Doc. 41-2, ¶¶ 13, 21; Doc. 48, ¶¶ 13, 21).

         III. Standard of Review

         Through summary adjudication, the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "As to materiality, ... [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once such a showing has been made, the non-moving party must offer specific facts contradicting those averred by the movant to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). Therefore, the non-moving party may not oppose summary judgment simply on the basis of the pleadings, or on conclusory statements that a factual issue exists. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record ... or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A)-(B). In evaluating whether summary judgment should be granted, "[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). "Inferences should be drawn in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert, denied 507 U.S. 912 (1993).

         However, "facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a 'genuine' dispute as to those facts." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007). If a party has ...


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