Christopher v. Nestlerode, CIV.A. 104CV0977.

Citation373 F.Supp.2d 503
Decision Date22 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. CIV.A. 104CV0977.,CIV.A. 104CV0977.
PartiesRaphael CHRISTOPHER, Plaintiff v. Frederick NESTLERODE, et al., Defendants
CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
373 F.Supp.2d 503
Raphael CHRISTOPHER, Plaintiff
Frederick NESTLERODE, et al., Defendants
No. CIV.A. 104CV0977.
United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania.
June 22, 2005.

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Gary Scott Gildin, Carlisle, PA, Paula Kay Knudsen, Harrisburg, PA, for Plaintiff.

David L. Schwalm, Thomas, Thomas & Hafer, LLP, Harrisburg, PA, for Defendants.


CONNER, District Judge.

"Racial profiling" has become a familiar phrase in the last decade. Debate has swirled over the existence and persistence of the practice, in which law enforcement officials target individuals for investigation or detention based on race.1 The issue also pervades this case. Raphael Christopher asserts that members of a county sheriff's department stopped his vehicle and issued him a traffic citation because he was an African-American driving an expensive car in the wrong neighborhood. The officers, as might be expected, dispute these charges.

Presently before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff argues that the officers acted outside of their jurisdictional authority under state law, rendering their conduct presumptively unconstitutional. Defendants counter that their actions represented a good-faith fulfillment of law enforcement duties, entitling them to immunity from liability. After reviewing the summary judgment record in light of governing federal law, the court finds that it cannot agree with either position.

I. Statement of Facts

The stop occurred in the late morning of August 5, 2003. Christopher was driving his car, a 2000 Lexus, on a two-lane, one-way street in the City of York, Pennsylvania. The posted speed limit was twenty-five miles per hour, and the roadway was

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somewhat wet due to recent rains. Christopher passed a marked sheriff's vehicle operated by Frederick Nestlerode, a member of the York County Sheriff's Department. Nestlerode activated his warning lights, and effected a stop of Christopher's automobile. Christopher was cited for driving at an unreasonable speed under the conditions and for failing to notify the state transportation department of a recent change of address.2 The charges were later dismissed by Pennsylvania courts, which found that Nestlerode lacked probable cause to effect the stop.3 (Doc. 29 ¶¶ 6, 9, 34-49; Doc. 29, Ex. A at 57, 104, 122-23; Doc. 53 ¶¶ 6, 9, 34-49; Doc. 53, Ex. D at 34-36, 52-59, 70-76; Doc. 64, Ex. 1).

The details of the stop, which lasted for about ten minutes, are matters of significant debate. Christopher alleges that Nestlerode identified him as African-American before deciding to stop the car; Nestlerode maintains that he was not aware of Christopher's race until after he approached the latter's driver-side window. Christopher asserts that he was traveling at twenty-five to thirty miles per hour; Nestlerode estimates that Christopher was traveling at fifty to fifty-five miles per hour. Christopher contends that no pedestrians were in the area; Nestlerode argues that parked vehicles and people "in the general area" were threatened by Christopher's driving. Christopher states that Nestlerode was verbally abusive and refused to disclose the nature of the offense; Nestlerode recalls that he courteously requested Christopher's license and registration and informed him of the grounds for the stop. The competing versions of the event are each supported by evidence of record. (See, e.g., Doc. 57 ¶¶ 8-11; Doc. 79, Ex. B at 81-91; Doc. 79, Ex. F).

There is further dispute over other officials' participation in, or failure to prevent, the allegedly improper stop. Matthew Kerr, a deputy sheriff training under Nestlerode at the time of the stop, was sitting in the passenger seat of the sheriff's vehicle when Christopher's car passed by them. He agreed with Nestlerode that Christopher was driving too fast, and aided Nestlerode by notifying the sheriff's department of the stop and monitoring the car while Nestlerode spoke with Christopher. Kerr later testified in support of the charges against Christopher. The parties disagree whether these actions render Kerr responsible for the stop. (Doc. 29 ¶¶ 10-11; Doc. 29, Ex. A at 124; Doc. 53 ¶¶ 10-11).

Both Nestlerode and Kerr were, at the time of the stop, under the supervision of William Hose, Sheriff of York County. Hose possessed final authority in the County of York for the supervision and training of deputy sheriffs, all of whom were required to complete courses on cultural awareness and constitutional criminal procedure.4 He had previously suspended

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Nestlerode for an incident related to the prolonged detention of "two black and two Hispanic inmates." Nestlerode had also been issued misconducts (by officials other than Hose) for infractions involving breach of standard protocols and abuse of position. Nevertheless, Hose did not require Nestlerode to complete additional training on proper procedure. To the contrary, he assigned Nestlerode the responsibility for instructing other deputies, like Kerr, to effect traffic stops. Christopher argues that the failure to provide adequate training to Nestlerode and Kerr was a proximate cause of the stop on August 5, 2003. (Doc. 29 ¶¶ 20-24, 33, 84-104; Doc. 29, Ex. A at 11-18, 31-34, 96-98; Doc. 29, Exs. G, H; Doc. 52 at 21, 26-29, 36-37, 47, 54, 130-40, 186-94; Doc. 53 ¶¶ 20-24, 33, 84-104; Doc. 53, Ex. C at 92; Doc. 53, Ex. D at 34-36, 97, 111-13; Doc. 58 at 15; Doc. 63, Ex. A).

Christopher commenced the case sub judice in May 2004, seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of his constitutional rights. He alleges that Nestlerode and Kerr are liable for effecting the stop without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment and for racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. He asserts that Hose and the County of York are liable for failing to provide adequate training on issues of racial profiling. Cross-motions for summary judgment were filed in December 2004 and, with leave of court, in April 2005.5 Jury selection is scheduled to commence in July 2005. (Docs.1, 26, 32, 44, 50, 67, 69, 72).

II. Standard of Review

Through summary adjudication the court may dispose of those claims that do not present a "genuine issue of material fact," and for which a jury trial would be an empty and unnecessary formality. It places the burden on the non-moving party to come forth with "affirmative evidence, beyond the allegations of the pleadings," in support of its right to relief. Pappas v. City of Lebanon, 331 F.Supp.2d 311, 314 (M.D.Pa.2004); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). This evidence must be adequate, as a matter of law, to sustain a judgment in favor of the non-moving party on the claims. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-57, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-89, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), (e). Only if this threshold is met may the cause of action proceed. Pappas, 331 F.Supp.2d at 314.

III. Discussion

The Civil Rights Act of 1871, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1983, is the quintessential remedial statute. It does not confer rights, or expand those provided elsewhere under federal law. Rather, it simply provides a procedural vehicle by which individuals subjected to a deprivation of rights arising under the "Constitution and laws" of the United States may secure redress. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85, 122 S.Ct. 2268, 153

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L.Ed.2d 309 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir.1996). A person acting "under color of [state law]" who directly participates in, or casually facilitates, a violation of an individual's federally secured rights may be held liable for that violation under § 1983. See, e.g., Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 60, 119 S.Ct. 977, 143 L.Ed.2d 130 (1999).6

The claims sub judice implicate distinct issues of substance and causation. Defendants initially assert that plaintiff has failed to demonstrate a substantive violation of his federal rights. They alternatively argue that, assuming a violation occurred, it is not causally attributable to them. The court will address these contentions in turn.

A. Violation of Federally Secured Rights

Whether an individual may maintain an action under § 1983 depends, in the first instance, on whether he or she has suffered a cognizable violation of a right secured under the United States Constitution or the United States Code.7 See Kneipp, 95 F.3d at 1204; Elkin v. Fauver, 969 F.2d 48, 52 (3d Cir.1992). It is thus crucial to define the source and scope of the right asserted. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989). The inquiry is one of federal law, based exclusively on the provisions of the United States Constitution, the enactments of Congress, and the interpretations of the federal judiciary. See Gonzaga, 536 U.S. at 282-85, 122 S.Ct. 2268. Only if these sources demonstrate a clear legislative intent to confer an enforceable right on the plaintiff may a cause of action under § 1983 be maintained. See id.; Sabree ex rel. Sabree v. Richman, 367 F.3d 180, 183-90 (3d Cir.2004).8

There is no question that the individual liberties embodied by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, to freedom from unreasonable seizures and to equal protection of the laws, confer rights on Christopher that may be enforced through § 1983.9 The precise contours of these rights, however, are less clear. Each will be examined to determine whether the conduct of which Christopher complains impinges on the rights accorded by these provisions.

1. Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment guarantees "[t]he right of the people to...

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