Debellis v. Kulp

Decision Date10 September 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00-3386.,00-3386.
Citation166 F.Supp.2d 255
PartiesNicholas W. DEBELLIS, III, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Patrol Officer Charles KULP, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

John P. Karoly, Allentown, PA, for plaintiffs.

Robert J. Magee, Allentown, PA, for defendants.


VAN ANTWERPEN, District Judge.


Plaintiffs Nicholas W. DeBellis, III and Patricia DeBellis, the parents and natural guardians of Karisa DeBellis ("DeBellis"), have brought the instant action on her behalf pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants Patrol Officer Charles Kulp ("Kulp"), Patrol Officer Keith Morris ("Morris"), Youth Officer Carol Bennis ("Bennis"), Youth Officer David Moyer ("Moyer"), Captain Carl W. Held, the City of Allentown Department of Police, Mayor William L. Heydt and the City of Allentown violated DeBellis' rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.1 They have also brought state law claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress against all of the defendants.

Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims, filed by the Defendants on July 30, 2001. We have jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 and 1367.


The court shall render summary judgment "if 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248, 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202. All inferences must be drawn, and all doubts resolved, in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 341 (3d Cir.1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1010, 106 S.Ct. 537, 88 L.Ed.2d 467 (1985).

On motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must respond with facts of record that contradict the facts identified by the movant and may not rest on mere denials. Id. at 321 n. 3, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see First Nat'l Bank of Pennsylvania v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 824 F.2d 277, 282 (3d Cir. 1987). The non-moving party must demonstrate the existence of evidence that would support a jury finding in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. at 2505.


The following is a review of the factual background of this case.

A. Events Preceding Police Encounter with Karisa DeBellis

In the early spring or summer of 1998, Allentown Youth Officer Carol Bennis ("Bennis") learned that a juvenile known as K.L. was a chronic runaway, and in early July of 1998, learned that K.L. had again run away from home. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶¶ 3,5) At around 3:00 p.m. on July 6, 1998, Bennis received a report from one J.B. (whom Bennis knew to be the fiancé of K.L.'s father) that K.L. had been spotted by a relative walking in the 800 block of Gordon Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Based on information provided to her prior to July 6, 1998, Bennis believed K.L. to be between 5'4 and 5'7 in height and to weigh a maximum of 145 pounds; Bennis also knew that K.L. had been involved in drug use, and may have lost weight. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Bennis had never met K.L.; nor had she seen a photograph of her. (Id.) Bennis believed that K.L. posed a flight risk, that K.L. had on at least one prior occasion provided a false name to police and that K.L. had mental health issues. (Id. at ¶ 6.)

At approximately 3:00 p.m. (K. DeBellis Dep. at 47), Karisa DeBellis ("DeBellis"), a seventeen-year-old (Id. at 7), 5'2 or 5'3 woman weighing approximately 90 pounds (Id. at 31-32), had left the home of a friend to go to work at a "Subway" sandwich shop located at 9 American Parkway in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Id. at 42; K DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 1.) Taking her normal route, DeBellis walked up 10th Street and cut through a cemetery located at Turner Street. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 2; K. DeBellis Dep. at 43.)

Upon receiving the report that K.L. had been spotted, Bennis asked fellow youth officer David Moyer ("Moyer") to accompany her, and they proceeded to the general vicinity. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 7; D. Moyer Aff. at ¶¶ 5-6.) Bennis and Moyer observed a young female entering a cemetery approximately three blocks from the area where K.L. was reportedly seen. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 8; D. Moyer Aff. at ¶ 6.) According to Bennis, she had no doubt that the woman was K.L. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 10). Although Moyer had no prior involvement with K.L. and had never met her or seen a photograph of her, given Bennis' positive identification of DeBellis as K.L., he exited the vehicle, in an effort to take her into custody. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 11; D. Moyer Aff. at ¶ 10.) A call was placed on the police radio for assistance in apprehending the juvenile; Bennis then drove to the south side of the cemetery in the event that the juvenile fled in that direction. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 12).

According to DeBellis, when she was several yards into the cemetery, a man dressed in a jacket and a tie2 approached her, yelling for her to wait. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 4; K. DeBellis Dep. at 45-47.) This man turned out to be Officer Moyer.

B. Police Encounter with Karisa DeBellis
1. Plaintiffs' Version

DeBellis waited for Moyer to reach her, at which time he asked DeBellis what her name was and if she had any identification. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 5; K. DeBellis Dep. at 47, 58.) She replied "Karisa DeBellis" and stated that she did not have any identification. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 6; K. DeBellis Dep. at 47.) DeBellis alleges that Moyer then grabbed her arm and, at the same time, flashed something resembling a calculator case; DeBellis did not at that time know what the object was. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 8; K. DeBellis Dep. at 47-49.) Fearing that he was going to try to rape her, DeBellis tried to pull away from him, at which point Moyer held her more forcefully and attempted to drag her towards Turner Street. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 9-11; K. DeBellis Dep. at 50-51.) DeBellis repeatedly screamed for him to get away from her. (K. DeBellis Dep. at 50, 52, 60.) In an effort to free herself, DeBellis grabbed onto a tombstone with her left hand. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 13; K. DeBellis Dep. at 51-54.) According to DeBellis, Moyer pulled her body so hard that she lost her grip on the tombstone. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 14; K. DeBellis Dep. at 54.) He then kicked her feet out from underneath her, such that she spun in a 180 degree turn and landed hard on her back. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 14-15; K. DeBellis Dep. at 54-56.) He then straddled her, holding her hands above her head and pinning her legs to the ground so that all DeBellis could move was her head. (K. DeBellis Dep. at 56-57.) Still believing that she was going to be raped, DeBellis continued to scream for help. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 17; K. DeBellis Dep. at 60.)

According to DeBellis, while she was still pinned on the ground, a woman (later identified as Bennis) and two uniformed officers (later identified as Patrol Officer Keith Morris ("Morris") and Patrol Officer Charles Kulp ("Kulp")) — one on a bike (Kulp) — arrived. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 18; K. DeBellis Dep. at 60-62.) DeBellis asserts that someone removed her back pack from her back and that Morris handcuffed her hands behind her back. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 21; K. DeBellis Dep. at 63, 69.) Throughout the encounter, Bennis repeatedly referred to DeBellis as "Cassandra." (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 22-23; K. DeBellis Dep. at 64.) DeBellis protested that she was not "Cassandra." (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 22; K. DeBellis Dep. at 64.) DeBellis did not have any identification with her, but provided her date of birth and her mother's and father's names in order to prove her identity. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 24; K. DeBellis Dep. at 64-66.) She also requested that the officers check her bag to see that her Subway uniform was inside and to call her father, the Subway manager. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 25; K. DeBellis Dep. at 66.) Bennis opened the back pack and removed DeBellis' uniform. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 26; K. DeBellis Dep. at 66.) The officers did not call her father, but instead pulled her to her feet and transported her to the police station. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 27; K. DeBellis Dep. at 66-70.) DeBellis was crying and insisting that her name was not Cassandra. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 27.) At no point did the officers tell her that she was under arrest or that she was suspected of being a runaway or of having committed a crime. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 58.)

Once at the station, the officers shackled her to the floor in front of Bennis' desk. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 31; K. DeBellis Dep. at 72.) Bennis called K.L.'s father, and then called DeBellis' father (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 35, 43-44; K. DeBellis Dep. at 73-74), at which point Bennis told someone in the next room that they had the wrong person. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 46.) The police then drove DeBellis to...

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