Thompson v. Wagner

Decision Date29 September 2008
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:2005-375.
PartiesEddie M. THOMPSON, Plaintiff, v. Detective Lawrence WAGNER, individually and acting in the official capacity of the City of Johnstown as a Police Department Detective, Detective James Kopera, individually and acting in the official capacity of the City of Johnstown as a Police Department Detective, and City of Johnstown Police Department, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
631 F.Supp.2d 664
Eddie M. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
Detective Lawrence WAGNER, individually and acting in the official capacity of the City of Johnstown as a Police Department Detective, Detective James Kopera, individually and acting in the official capacity of the City of Johnstown as a Police Department Detective, and City of Johnstown Police Department, Defendants.
Civil Action No. 3:2005-375.
United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania.
September 29, 2008.

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James G. Cirilano, Cirilano & Associates, McKees Rocks, PA, for Plaintiff.

Paul D. Krepps, Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Pittsburgh, PA, for Defendants.


GIBSON, District Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 30) filed by the Defendants. For the reasons that follow, this motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


On September 25, 2003, Bruce Lester ("Lester") was assaulted by a black male. Document Nos. 32 & 34-3, ¶ 1. The black male was brandishing a shotgun, which discharged during the altercation. Id. Defendants Lawrence Wagner ("Wagner") and James Kopera ("Kopera"), both of whom were police detectives employed by the City of Johnstown ("Johnstown"), were dispatched to the 300 block of Gray Avenue in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which was the scene of the incident. Id., ¶ 2. They stopped a vehicle which they believed to contain the suspect who had assaulted Lester. Id., ¶3. Wagner and Kopera later interviewed three of the four passengers who had been riding in the vehicle. Id., ¶ 4. These individuals were not arrested.

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After conducting a follow-up investigation, Wagner and Kopera completed an affidavit of probable cause, alleging that Plaintiff Eddie M. Thompson ("Thompson") had committed the crimes of attempted aggravated assault, aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. Id., ¶ 7. Document No. 1, pp. 13-15. A warrant was issued for Thompson's arrest. Thompson was arrested by members of the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") on September 30, 2003. Document Nos. 32 & 34-3, ¶ 8.

Thompson's preliminary hearing was held on October 16, 2003. With the approval of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the charges against Thompson were dropped. Document No. 32, ¶ 9. Thompson commenced this action against Wagner, Kopera and Johnstown on September 22, 2005, alleging that representations made by Wagner and Kopera in their affidavit of probable cause, which resulted in Thompson's arrest, had constituted violations of both the United States Constitution and the law of Pennsylvania. Document No. 1; Compl. On October 31, 2007, after the completion of discovery, the Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Document No. 30; Mot. for Summary Judgment. That motion is the subject of this memorandum opinion.


Summary judgment is appropriate only when it is demonstrated that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-32, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552-57, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 273-280 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue of material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, 211-212 (1986). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant. Oritani [Sav. And Loan Ass'n v. Fidelity and Deposit Co., 989 F.2d 635, 638 (3d Cir.1993)].

Troy Chemical Corp. v. Teamsters Union Local No. 408, 37 F.3d 123, 125-126 (3d Cir.1994).

As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted. See generally 10A C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2725, pp. 93-95 (1983). This materiality inquiry is independent of and separate from the question of the incorporation of the evidentiary standard into the summary judgment determination. That is, while the materiality determination rests on the substantive law, it is the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant that governs. Any proof or evidentiary requirements imposed by the substantive law are not germane to this inquiry, since materiality is only a criterion for categorizing factual disputes in their relation to the legal elements of the claim and not a criterion for evaluating the evidentiary underpinnings of those disputes.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202, 211 (1986).


Jurisdiction in this case is predicated on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367(a). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

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Thompson is vague with respect to the precise legal bases for his claims.1 Nevertheless, his federal constitutional claims are actionable only pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Smith v. School District of Philadelphia, 112 F.Supp.2d 417, 430 (E.D.Pa.2000). That statutory provision provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 does not create substantive rights. Maher v. Gagne, 448 U.S. 122, 129, n. 11, 100 S.Ct. 2570, 65 L.Ed.2d 653 (1980). A plaintiff cannot prevail under § 1983 without establishing an underlying violation of federal law. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 119, 112 S.Ct. 1061, 117 L.Ed.2d 261 (1992). "Section 1983 itself contains no state-of-mind requirement independent of that necessary to state a violation of the underlying federal right." Board of County Commissioners v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 405, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A. The Fifth and Eighth Amendments

In his Complaint, Thompson makes repeated references to the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Document No. 1, ¶¶ 40-47; Compl, ¶¶ 40-47. Although he does not specify what provision of the Fifth Amendment he purports to rely on, the Court presumes that he bases his Fifth Amendment claims on the Due Process Clause. The other provisions of the Fifth Amendment, of course, are plainly inapplicable to the facts alleged by Thompson. U.S. Const, amend. V. The Fourteenth Amendment has its own Due Process Clause, which limits the actions of states. U.S. Const, amend. XIV, § 1 ("... nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ...") (emphasis added). The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment limits the actions of only the Federal Government. Huffaker v. Bucks County District Attorney's Office, 758 F.Supp. 287, 290 (E.D.Pa.1991). It does not limit the actions of state officials such as Wagner and Kopera. Id. Thompson asserts no claims based on the conduct of federal actors. Consequently, he has no viable claims under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted with respect to any claims based on the Fifth Amendment.

Thompson does not allege that he was subjected to an excessive bail, or that an excessive fine was imposed upon him. Accordingly, the Court assumes that

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his Eighth Amendment claims are based on the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. U.S. Const, amend. VIII. The Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause is applicable to state actors by virtue of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 157, 126 S.Ct. 877, 163 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006). Nevertheless, the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause applies only after a State has secured a formal adjudication of guilt against an individual. City of Revere v. Massachusetts General Hospital, 463 U.S. 239, 244, 103 S.Ct. 2979, 77 L.Ed.2d 605 (1983). It "has no application" where, as here, an individual seeks redress for the circumstances surrounding his or her pretrial detention. Id. Therefore, Thompson cannot proceed against the Defendants with claims under the Eighth Amendment. Summary judgment will be granted in favor of the Defendants with respect to any claims based on the Eighth Amendment.

B. The Fourth Amendment

For reasons unknown to the Court, Thompson's Complaint contains no explicit mention of the Fourth Amendment. Although Thompson expressly relies on the Fourteenth Amendment, the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that substantive due process analysis is inappropriate where the standards governing an alleged constitutional violation are provided under a specific provision of the Bill of Rights. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268-275, 114 S.Ct. 807, 127 L.Ed.2d 114 (1994) (plurality opinion). As the...

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