Pahle v. Colebrookdale Tp.

Decision Date26 March 2002
Citation227 F.Supp.2d 361
PartiesTed R. PAHLE and Lynn Ann Pahle h/w, Plaintiffs, v. COLEBROOKDALE TOWNSHIP, Larry Mauger, Colebrookdale Township Police Department, Douglas/Berks Township, Tod Heckman, Douglas/Berks Township Police Department, Katherine M. Fryer And Dana Dotterer, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

William J. Fox, Philadelphia, PA, for Plaintiffs.

Bernard E. Jude Quinn, German, Gallagher & Murtagh, Philadelphia, PA, Daniel J. Divis, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

VAN ANTWERPEN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Ted and Lynn Pahle assert claims under § 19831 and state tort claims against several law enforcement officials and departments along with their associated municipalities, arising from Mr. Pahle's drunk driving arrest on June 28, 1998. We now find that a dispute of material fact exists as to whether Officer Katherine Fryer had probable cause for her detention and arrest of Mr. Pahle. A trier of fact must also determine whether she used excessive force in this arrest. Plaintiff's state law assault and battery and false imprisonment claims survive for the same reasons. Moreover, in an unsettled area of Pennsylvania law, after analyzing the seemingly conflicting precedents, we believe that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would allow Lynn Pahle's derivative, state loss of consortium claim against Officer Fryer to survive. If Mrs. Pahle shows that her husband was emotionally or physically injured by Officer Fryer's alleged unlawful conduct, such that she suffered damaged marital expectations, then she should be able to recover damages under Pennsylvania law for loss of consortium. We also believe that in the Third Circuit, Mrs. Pahle could have alleged that Defendants incurred § 1983 liability by interfering directly with her constitutional rights to marital integrity and spousal association. However, Mrs. Pahle did not adequately plead such a Due Process violation, and waived any federal claims. We will grant summary judgment as to all of Mr. Pahle's remaining state and federal claims.2

I. BACKGROUND

Though the parties allege vastly different factual accounts, our responsibility is to consider whether Plaintiffs' version of the events, viewed in its most favorable light, is sufficient to overcome summary judgment. 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). Plaintiffs' account is as follows:

Mr. Pahle suffered brain damage and a host of other serious injuries in a devastating fall down the stairs of his home in 1994. He spent years trying to regain functionality, and still has great difficulty with memory, other mental functions and many physical activities. His recovery has been impeded by bouts with alcoholism.

In June 1998, Mr. Pahle was not drinking and was just starting to reintegrate into society and resume working (he owned a welding business prior to his catastrophic injuries). Then early in the morning of June 28, 1998, Mr. Pahle was pulled over by Colebrookdale Township Police Officer Katherine Fryer on his way home from a local diner (hereafter, "the incident"). Though Mr. Pahle was driving normally, Officer Fryer stopped Mr. Pahle on a tip from two off-duty police officers. They contacted her after they saw Mr. Pahle in the diner parking lot and believed he was drunk and unfit to drive.

Mr. Pahle moved immediately to the side of the road upon being signaled to do so by Officer Fryer. She approached his vehicle and asked him for his driver's license and registration. Mr. Pahle was very nervous and began fumbling with his wallet to find disability identity cards, attempting to explain to Officer Fryer that his communication capacity was impaired by his brain injury. Officer Fryer grew impatient with Mr. Pahle's failure to produce the requested documents, and asked that he step out of his vehicle to undergo several sobriety tests. Mr. Pahle refused to take the tests, on account of his disabilities, but said he would consent to a blood test.

Thereupon, Officer Fryer asked Mr. Pahle to lie over the trunk of his vehicle and began to arrest Mr. Pahle, pulling his arms behind his back to place him in handcuffs. Because of Mr. Pahle's injuries, he experienced excruciating pain when Officer Fryer forced his right arm behind him, and he reflexively spun away from her and into the roadway. Officer Fryer perceived Mr. Pahle's action as an attempt to resist arrest, and she forced him to the ground and placed him in handcuffs. In the process, Mr. Pahle re-injured the shoulder and arm he had been rehabilitating, along with his face and head, which struck the pavement. While Mr. Pahle was on the ground, Officer Fryer kicked him several times.

Prior to the incident, Officer Fryer received training in handling individuals with disabilities, but none regarding brain-damaged individuals. Colebrookdale Township and the Colebrookdale Township Police Chief, Larry Mauger, did not learn Plaintiffs' version of the incident until this lawsuit was filed.

After the incident, Mrs. Pahle states that Mr. Pahle became paranoid, keeping the shades drawn and the doors secured at home with extra boards. He became antisocial, in that he stopped bathing, would not leave the house unaccompanied, became upset very easily and even turned suicidal. Moreover, he stopped performing household chores he had been doing, such as maintaining the lawn, and discontinued his efforts to resume working. Mrs. Pahle was required to be Mr. Pahle's keeper, nursemaid and cook. Though he had never done so previously, Mr. Pahle threatened to strike his wife by raising his hand toward her. Eventually, Mrs. Pahle believed her husband's mental state had deteriorated so much since the incident that she felt he was a danger to himself and others and that she could not safely return to her own home until she had him committed to a mental institution. Subsequently, the Pahles were divorced, though they had never been separated before the incident, and their house was repossessed.

At a limited oral argument on March 20, 2002, the parties agreed that Mr. Pahle accepted an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) regarding the criminal charges filed against him3 before he was tried on those charges. Thereafter, Defendants submitted the ARD hearing transcript, showing that Mr. Pahle accepted ARD without pleading guilty or otherwise admitting to any of the offenses.

II. DISCUSSION
A. Summary Judgment

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, 106 S.Ct. 2505. All inferences must be drawn, and all doubts resolved, in favor of the non-moving party — in this case, Plaintiff. Diebold, 369 U.S. at 655, 82 S.Ct. 993; Gans, 762 F.2d at 341. On a 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 322 n. 3, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (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. 2505.

B. Jurisdiction, Applicable Law

We have original, subject matter jurisdiction over § 1983 claims under 28 USC § 1331. We consider Plaintiffs' state law claims by exercising our supplemental jurisdiction under 28 USC § 1367(a), inasmuch as these claims arise from the same actions by Defendants that allegedly violated § 1983. On such state law questions, we apply the rules established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Bosch's, 387 U.S. 456, 465, 87 S.Ct. 1776, 18 L.Ed.2d 886 (1967).

Lower state court decisions are persuasive, but not binding, on the federal court's authority. If the State's highest court has not spoken on a particular issue, the "federal authorities must apply what they find to be the state law after giving `proper regard' to relevant rulings of other courts of the State." Smith v. Whitmore, 270 F.2d 741, 745 (3rd Cir.1959); see also Polselli v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins., 126 F.3d 524, 528 (3rd Cir.1997); Scranton Dunlop, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 2000 WL 1100779, *1 (E.D.Pa. 2000) ("Since this is a matter of state law that has not been decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a prediction must be made as to how that court would rule if confronted with the same facts.").

C. Section 1983 Generally

To state a claim for civil damages under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant, through conduct sanctioned under the color of state law, deprived her of a federal constitutional or statutory right. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.E.2d 420 (1986); Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3rd Cir.2000). Section 1983 does not create any new substantive rights, but instead provides a remedy for the violation of a...

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