SHAYA v. WARMINSTER TOWNSHIP et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE C. DARNELL JONES, II ON 7/31/12. 7/31/12 ENTERED & E-MAILED.[FDC]
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
WARMINSTER TOWNSHIP, et al.,
Jones, II, J.
July 31, 2012
Plaintiff George Shaya (“Plaintiff”) pursues a Complaint against Warminster Township
and Corporal Casey E. Byrne1 (together, “Defendants”) for alleged violations of Plaintiff’s
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as for common-law
false arrest and false imprisonment.
Cogently stated, pursuant to judicial warrant, Corporal Byrne arrested Plaintiff on state
felony theft charges. Plaintiff was the manager of an automobile shop, and the charges arose as a
result of Plaintiff’s refusal to release a customer’s automobile due to the customer’s failure to pay
for parts and service related to a repair. Currently before the Court are Defendants’ Motion for
Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 22) (“Motion”)2 and Statement of Undisputed Facts (Dkt. No. 23)
Corporal Byrne is a police officer with the Warminster Township Police Department
On April 12, 2011, the Honorable John P. Fullam denied Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint “without prejudice to the filing of a motion for summary
judgment at the appropriate time.” Dkt. No. 10. The matter was then transferred to my docket
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(“SUF”), as well as Plaintiff’s response (Dkt. No. 24) (“Opp.”).3 For the reasons set forth below,
Defendants’ Motion will be GRANTED.
On July 11, 2007, customer Joseph Whelan’s car was towed to Sam’s Auto Repair in
Warminster, Pennsylvania for repairs. SUF ¶ 3 (citing Am. Compl. ¶ 6). On August 3, 2007,
Plaintiff, who is the manager at Sam’s, approximated the cost at about $4,000. SUF ¶¶ 2, 3
(citing Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6, 7, 11). About two months later, Sam’s completed the repairs and
billed Mr. Whelan for approximately $5,000 worth of parts and service. SUF ¶ 4 (citing Am.
Compl. ¶ 11). Mr. Whelan refused to pay, and as a result Sam’s began adding storage charges of
about $40 per day. Am. Compl. ¶ 12; SUF ¶¶ 5-6 (citing Am. Compl. ¶ 11); SUF ¶¶ 21-22, 2627; Ex. C to SUF (Deposition of Plaintiff George Shaya (“Pl. Dep.”)) at 45.
On May 29, 2008, Sam’s notified Mr. Whelan that it intended to execute on its common
law lien rights and liquidate the vehicle. Am. Compl. ¶ 13. About a week later, Mr. Whelan
reported to the WPD that his car had been stolen. SUF ¶ 9 (citing Am. Compl. ¶ 14).4 When
Corporal Byrne called Plaintiff to investigate, Plaintiff informed him that Plaintiff and Mr.
on April 21, 2011. Dkt. No. 11. Defendants filed their summary judgment motion on February
To the extent he even raises objections, Plaintiff’s submissions regarding competing
versions of disputed or undisputed facts does not comply with Chambers’ procedures.
Regardless, while Plaintiff suggests disagreement with Defendants over the propriety of the fees
allegedly charged to Mr. Whelan (the automobile owner), Plaintiff himself states that he
“generally agrees with defendants’ recitation of the facts.” Opp. at 1.
At the time Mr. Whelan provided proof of vehicle ownership to Corporal Byrne, Plaintiff
had not yet secured judgment on a lien pursuant to Pennsylvania law. SUF ¶ 45 (citing Pl. Dep.
at 17). Plaintiff failed to serve Mr. Whelan with copies of the invoice, as required to commence
a lien action, until June 12, 2008. SUF ¶ 24 (citing Pl. Dep. at 45, 47).
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Whelan were already engaged in ongoing civil litigation relating to the repairs and storage fees,
and that Plaintiff would not return the vehicle unless he received payment for the parts and
service. SUF ¶ 10 (citing Am. Compl. ¶ 16); Am. Comp. ¶ 15. Corporal Byrne then contacted
Bucks County Assistant District Attorney (“ADA”) Daniel J. O’Riordan on at least three
occasions to discuss possible criminal charges; the ADA ultimately recommended three felony
counts, partly in light of the “exorbitant rates for storage” being charged by Plaintiff, without Mr.
Whelan’s agreement. SUF ¶ 27 (citing Pl. Dep. at 76); SUF ¶ 49 (citing Deposition of Defendant
Casey E. Byrne (“Byrne Dep.” at 19); SUF ¶ 52 (citing Byrne Dep. at 63); SUF ¶ 70 (quoting Ex.
F to SUF (Deposition of ADA Daniel O’Riordan) at 12-14; SUF ¶ 74 (citing Byrne Dep. at 18).
Corporal Byrne contacted Plaintiff again, informing Plaintiff that the appropriate recourse would
be for Plaintiff to return the vehicle to Mr. Whelan and seek civil damages. SUF ¶ 50 (citing
Byrne Dep. at 28-29). Corporal Byrne warned Plaintiff of the potential for his arrest, should he
fail to return the car, five to eight times during their telephone conversation; Plaintiff replied that
he was “willing to go to jail for his...principles.” SUF ¶ 29 (citing Pl. Dep. at 88); SUF ¶ 55
(quoting Pl. Dep. at 35).
On June 12, 2008, Corporal Byrne filed an Affidavit of Probable Cause and Criminal
Complaint, setting forth the foregoing, with Bucks County District Justice Daniel Finello, who
issued said complaint. Am. Compl. ¶ 17.5 Corporal Byrne and other members of the WPD
arrived at Sam’s and handcuffed, patted down, and placed Plaintiff in a police car. SUF ¶¶ 34-35
(citing Pl. Dep. at 112, 115); SUF ¶ 54 (citing Byrne Dep. at 77). Plaintiff was taken to the WPD
Notably, Plaintiff admits that the information contained in Corporal Byrne’s Affidavit is
accurate. See Pl. Dep. at 135.
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headquarters to be fingerprinted, then Corporal Byrne transported him to the District Justice’s
chambers in Bensalem. SUF ¶ 58 (citing Byrne Dep. at 80-81); Am. Compl. ¶ 21. At his
arraignment, the judge asked to speak with Corporal Byrne, inquiring as to whether he had
provided Plaintiff the opportunity to return Mr. Whelan’s vehicle rather than face arrest;
Corporal Byrne confirmed that he had done so. SUF ¶¶ 60-63 (citing Byrne Dep. at 83-84). The
judge then set bail; as he was not immediately able to post said bail, Plaintiff was temporarily
detained in Bucks County Prison. SUF ¶¶ 65-66 (citing Byrne Dep. at 85-86, 88); Am. Compl. ¶
21. Subsequently, a different District Justice dismissed all charges against Plaintiff at a
preliminary hearing. Am. Compl. ¶ 22.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate “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 summary judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In order to defeat a motion for summary judgment, disputes must
be both (1) material, meaning concerning facts that will affect the outcome of the issue under
substantive law, and (2) genuine, meaning the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). Summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient
to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will
bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. An issue is genuine if the fact
finder could reasonably return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party with respect to that
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issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the court does
not make credibility determinations and must view facts and inferences in the light most
favorable to the party opposing the motion. Seigel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54
F.3d 1125, 1127 (3d Cir. 1995).
Section 1983 Claim
In Count One of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive
damages in connection with his arrest, contending that Corporal Byrne violated his constitutional
rights by (1) depriving him of physical liberty; and (2) subjecting him to an unreasonable search
and seizure.6 To establish a prima facie claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate
that Corporal Byrne’s actions deprived him of a constitutional right, and that the deprivation
occurred under color of state law. See Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d. Cir. 1996).
Here, Plaintiff claims that Corporal Byrne violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights
by arresting him and detaining him without probable cause. Because Byrne acted in his official
In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Corporal Byrne employed “unnecessary
and excessive force” in arresting Plaintiff, but later conceded this claim: “Plaintiff will not
belabor certain issues and will not pursue the excess[ive] force or assault and battery claim
against Officer Byrne.” Opp. at 6. In any event, Plaintiff’s handcuffing was the extent of the
excessive force claim that he outlined against Corporal Byrne. See Pl. Dep. at 121. In addition,
“[a]s to the Monell claim [alleging the WPD’s policy and/or practice of constitutional violations],
Plaintiff will not purs[u]e that matter.” Opp. at 6 (indicating that Plaintiff previously withdrew
its claim against the WPD as an agency of Warminster Township by amending his Complaint
accordingly). Accordingly, the Court considers Counts Two and Four of the Amended
Complaint to be withdrawn and addresses only Defendants’ arguments relating to Counts One
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capacity as a police officer, he was operating under color of state law when he arrested Plaintiff
and thus, the only issue is whether he deprived Plaintiff of a constitutional right.7
Fourteenth Amendment–Property Seizure
When a plaintiff seeks the return of property lawfully seized but no longer needed for
police investigation or criminal prosecution, the claim is properly advanced under the due
process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. City of West Covina v. Perkins, 525 U.S. 234,
236 (1999). Thus, to the extent that Plaintiff argues that the police seizure of Mr. Whelan’s car
violated his procedural due process rights, he must prove that he took advantage of the processes
available to him, or that such processes were “unavailable or patently inadequate.” Alvin v.
Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2000). In Pennsylvania, one may move for the return of
property “on the ground that he or she is entitled to lawful possession thereof.” Pa. R. Crim. P.
588(a) (emphasis added). Here, where Joseph Whelan–not Plaintiff–owns the vehicle in
question, and the record indicates that Plaintiff never instituted a lien action, any procedural due
process claim must fail as a matter of law.8
Fourth Amendment–Personal Seizure
In addition to his claim relating to the police seizure of Mr. Whelan’s vehicle, Plaintiff
argues that he was subjected to malicious prosecution arising from his arrest and appearance
Punitive damages are not available. See Turner v. City of Phila., 22 F. Supp. 2d 434,
440 (E.D. Pa. 1998) (punitive damages not available against municipality or individuals acting in
their official capacity for violations of Section 1983).
Aside from the seizure of the vehicle, an arrestee’s incarceration itself does not violate
his substantive due process rights pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, even where probable
cause is later invalidated. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994). Thus, Plaintiff may only
raise a substantive due process claim under the Fourth Amendment, id. at 272, which the Court
addresses in the next section of its opinion.
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before the District Justice. To make out a Section 1983 claim of malicious prosecution under the
Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must prove that: “(1) the defendants initiated a criminal
proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiff’s favor; (3) the proceeding was
initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than
bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty consistent
with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.” DiBella v. Borough of
Beachwood, 407 F.3d 599, 601 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497,
521 (3d Cir. 2003)). Plaintiff has satisfied the first two criteria; he may well satisfy the fifth. See
Gallo v. City of Phila., 161 F.3d 217, 225 (3d Cir. 1998) (plaintiff was indeed “seized” where he
was arrested, compelled to post bail, restricted from traveling out of state, and required to attend
court hearings). However, he cannot establish the third or fourth factor.
Probable cause is a “fluid concept turning on the assessment of probabilities and
particular factual context, not readily, or even usually, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.”
Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 232 (1983). Such a determination does “not require the fine
resolution of conflicting evidence that a reasonable doubt, or even a preponderance standard,
demands.” Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 121 (1975). Indeed, probable cause exists when a
police officer has “reasonably trustworthy information” to “warrant a man of reasonable caution”
to suspect that the accused had committed a crime. Renk v. City of Pittsburgh, 537 Pa. 68, 76
(1994) (quoting Commonwealth v. Rodriguez, 526 Pa. 268, 273 (1991)); see also Paff v.
Kaltenbach, 204 F.3d 425, 433 (3d Cir. 2000) (considering whether reasonable law enforcement
officer in like situation could have believed conduct was legal). Here, Corporal Byrne contacted
Plaintiff for his side of the story several times over the course of his investigation, consulted the
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Bucks County ADA on at least three occasions, and warned Plaintiff numerous times about his
potential arrest should he fail to release Mr. Whelan’s vehicle. When Plaintiff declined to
comply, Corporal Byrne filed an affidavit with the District Justice, who reviewed the facts and
issued the complaint. Indeed, Plaintiff has conceded that the information contained in the
affidavit of probable cause is accurate. While existence of probable cause in a Section 1983
action is typically a fact question, it may exist as a matter of law “if the evidence, viewed most
favorably to Plaintiff, reasonably would not support a contrary factual finding.” Sherwood v.
Mulvihill, 113 F.3d 396, 401 (3d Cir. 1997) (affirming summary judgment for police department
on grounds that probable cause existed for search of premises, even where initial affidavit
included false information, where district court considered affidavit rewritten for
misrepresentations and omissions). Given the loosely-defined, deferential standard for
establishing probable cause, Corporal Byrne’s course of action strikes this Court as eminently
Even if the Court were to determine that issues of material fact remained as to probable
cause, Plaintiff still has not satisfied the fifth element by showing that Corporal Byrne acted
maliciously, or otherwise acted with “reckless and oppressive disregard” of Plaintiff’s rights.
Lippay v. Christos, 996 F.2d 1490, 1503 (3d Cir. 1993). According to the Amended Complaint,
Corporal Byrne contacted Plaintiff, who informed Corporal Byrne of the nature of his dispute
with the Whelans. Only in his opposition to Defendants’ Motion does Plaintiff contend that
Corporal Byrne was “hostile” during the phone call and “demanded” the return of the vehicle.
Opp. at 1. Plaintiff provides no citations to any evidentiary support for these allegations. Even if
these characterizations were accurate, such conduct would not reach the threshold required to
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establish Corporal Byrne’s disregard or indifference to Plaintiff’s life or to the safety of others.
See Simmons v. Phila., 947 F.2d 1042, 1091 (3d Cir. 1991) (defining “recklessness”) (quoting
BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 1142-43 (5th edl. 1979)). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claim
under the Fourth Amendment fails as a matter of law on this front as well. See Donohue v.
Rineer, No. 11-3425, 2012 WL 2384249, at *1 (3d Cir. June 26, 2012) (affirming summary
judgment “[b]ecause the lack of evidence showing malicious intent is an adequate and
independent ground for the District Court’s judgment”). Defendants are therefore entitled to
summary judgment on Count One.9
False Arrest and Illegal Imprisonment
Pursuant to statute, if at any time before trial a District Court has dismissed all claims
over which it has original subject matter jurisdiction, the Court may, in its discretion, decline to
exercise supplemental jurisdiction over remaining supplemental state law claims. 28 U.S.C.
1367(c); Glaziers & Glassworkers Union Local 252 Annuity Fund v. Newbridge Sec.,
Inc., 823 F.Supp. 1191 (E.D. Pa. 1993). Here, in addition to his Section 1983 claim, Plaintiff
brings a pendant state law claim for false arrest and illegal imprisonment. Given that I have
Defendants also argue that Corporal Byrne is entitled to qualified immunity from
Plaintiff’s claims under Section 1983. See Motion at 16-19. An official’s entitlement to
qualified immunity rests on two inquiries: “(1) whether the facts alleged establish a violation of a
constitutional right, and (2) whether the constitutional right at issue was clearly established.”
Hopkins v. Vaughn, 363 Fed. App’x 931, 935 (3d Cir. 2010). While these questions might have
been addressed most efficiently at the motion to dismiss stage, this Court finds that Plaintiff has
failed to allege a violation of a constitutional right as a matter of law, and thus the Court need not
pursue any further analysis as to the applicability of qualified immunity. See Constitutional
Guided Walking Tours, LLC v. Independence Visitor Center Corp., 804 F. Supp. 2d 320, 338
(E.D. Pa. 2011). Even if Plaintiff did demonstrate the violation of his constitutional rights, he
has failed to demonstrate that any such right was clearly established and that Corporal Byrne
knew his conduct was unlawful. See id. at n.20.
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resolved the federal claim prior to trial, I will dismiss the remaining supplemental state law claim
(Count Three) without prejudice.10
An appropriate Order follows.
28 U.S.C. § 1367 tolls the statute of limitations over supplemental claims following
dismissal of all federal claims under Section 1367(c), so that a federal court’s decision to decline
to exercise supplemental jurisdiction does not prejudice a plaintiff regarding timing of his
pendant claims. Specifically, the statute of limitations for supplemental claims is tolled for the
entire period a plaintiff’s state law claims were pending in federal court plus a period of 30 days
following dismissal, unless state law provides for a longer tolling period. 28 U.S.C. 1367(d).
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