Nicholas Malfitano Feb. 24, 2016, 12:38pm


PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge has granted summary judgment to several police officers and Upper Providence Township, in finding they did not violate a Media woman’s federal and state civil rights when arresting her on theft charges.

Judge Anita B. Brody ruled Feb. 16 to grant summary judgment to Upper Providence police officers Sgt. William Haines, Sgt. Michael Langdale and Chief David Montella along with the township itself, leaving John W. Burgy as the only remaining defendant in the case

Plaintiff Grace Laphan and Burgy jointly owned a home in Media, but according to the suit, ended their relationship in 2009. Laphan then filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court to resolve the ownership and disposition of the house, which was finalized in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas in June 2012.

Per that June order, Burgy was to immediately vacate the premises; Burgy was to remove any accumulated supplies and equipment from the premises within 10 days and endorse and turn over to Laphan an insurance proceeds check of $35,516.03 for application towards the mortgage; the property was to be listed for sale immediately and Laphan was granted sole access to prepare the property for sale.

More than 10 days after the order, Laphan had two vehicles still on the premises towed to a storage facility; a 1966 Ford Mustang belonging to Burgy and a Ford F-350 pickup truck owned by a friend’s company and used for parts. This action led Burgy to notify police on July 6, 2012 and claim Laphan stole his property in removing it from the premises.

Confusion among police and court officials over the June order and its appeal paperwork produced by Burgy led to Laphan being arrested by the police and municipal defendants for theft by unlawful taking or disposition, receiving stolen property, and unauthorized use of an automobile.

A subsequent bench trial led to Laphan’s acquittal on the criminal charges and her instant lawsuit, alleging “(1) Fourth Amendment false arrest against the officers; (2) Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution against the officers and Burgy; (3) state law malicious prosecution against the officers and Burgy; (4) conspiracy to violate her federal and state civil rights against the officers and Burgy; (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress against the officers and Burgy; and (6) a Monell claim against Upper Providence Township for failure to train, supervise, and discipline the officers.”

Brody said in order to succeed on her claims, it was necessary under the law for Laphan to prove there was no probable cause to arrest her. Laphan pointed to the June order as proving that lack of probable cause, but Brody said even while viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Laphan, the officers had reason to arrest her.

“The officers committed no constitutional violation in arresting and prosecuting Laphan. Because their conduct was not unlawful – let alone extreme or outrageous,” Brody stated.

“Laphan stakes her federal and state-law false arrest and malicious prosecution claims on the June order. That order, however, does not create a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of probable cause,” Brody said. “Even taking the June order into consideration, the officers had probable cause to arrest and prosecute Laphan for theft and receiving stolen property.”

On this basis, Brody explained Laphan’s Fourth Amendment false arrest and malicious prosecution claims, and her state-law malicious prosecution claim, lacked merit. Brody added in the absence of any constitutional violation, Laphan’s conspiracy, Monell, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims also fail.

As Burgy did not move for summary judgment, the remaining claims against him will proceed.

The plaintiff is represented by Joseph S. Oxman of Oxman Goodstadt Kuritz, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Michael P. Laffey of Siana Bellwoar & McAndrew in Chester Springs, Robert P. DiDomenicis of Holsten & Associates in Media and Hans Edward Solum, Jr in Ridley Park.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-04063

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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