Nicholas Malfitano Mar. 23, 2016, 8:37am


PHILADELPHIA – On Monday, a Bala Cynwyd man lost a case of alleged civil rights violations he filed against Harrah’s Philadelphia and two Pennsylvania State Police officers in federal court, through a pair of summary judgment orders levied against him.

In August 2014, Alan Greenberg filed suit against Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation, Chester Downs and Marina (both doing business as Harrah’s Philadelphia), Corporal Michael Gaines and Trooper William Shores of the Pennsylvania State Police and 10 John Doe employees of Harrah’s over an alleged incident that took place at the Harrah’s Philadelphia casino in December 2012.

On Dec. 6, 2012, Greenberg alleged he was playing poker at Harrah’s when security guard Nikiya Donatelli asked to speak with him and claimed he was overpaid $100 when playing poker at the casino the previous night.

Greenberg denied owing the money and asked to see surveillance video proving the allegation.

Donatelli responded the only way that was possible was through a court subpoena and told Greenberg to remain where he was so she could inform Officers Gaines and Shores as to the dispute and arrest Greenberg, the plaintiff claimed.

Greenberg returned to his table to continue playing poker, and then asserted he was arrested by Gaines and Shores in the casino approximately 30 minutes later.

Greenberg felt the officers violated his constitutional rights per the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, were liable for a Monell claim, and violated the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (FCEUA) by not investigating the supposed amount owed before arresting him, and were liable for conspiracy, false arrest, wrongful seizure and negligence violations.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the due process, FCEUA and conspiracy claims on Feb. 2, 2015 via the doctrine of sovereign immunity, and Greenberg filed a motion for reconsideration on Feb. 17, 2015. Judge Richard Barclay Surrick denied the reconsideration motion on May 5.

The defendants each filed motions for summary judgment against Greenberg in January. The Commonwealth Defendants did so for the remaining two claims against them: The substantive due process claim under the Fourteenth Amendment and the wrongful seizure claim, feeling the doctrine of qualified immunity entitles the defense to summary judgment in their favor.

Surrick explained a subsequent review of the casino surveillance footage showed Greenberg had indeed been overpaid by $100 and he acknowledged same.

“Plaintiff does not dispute that Harrah’s overpaid him and that the $100 did not belong to him. Therefore, plaintiff cannot show that he was deprived of his property. Even if plaintiff had not been overpaid, his procedural due process claim would nevertheless fail,” Surrick said.

As to the wrongful seizure charge against Gaines and Shores, Surrick felt that failed as well.

"Gaines and Shores also spoke to Donatelli, who…described her encounter with plaintiff, during which plaintiff refused to return the $100. Plaintiff does not dispute that he was overpaid $100 by Harrah’s,” Surrick stated. “Based upon the totality of the evidence, a reasonable jury could not find that Gaines and Shores lacked probable cause to arrest plaintiff for theft of property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake.”

With respect to Greenberg’s claims against Harrah’s, Surrick determined they would also be granted complete summary judgment on the claims of Monell violation, the FCEUA violation, conspiracy, false arrest, wrongful seizure and negligence.

“Plaintiff's Monell claim against Harrah’s fails for many reasons. Most notably, plaintiff has failed to present sufficient evidence to support a finding of the existence of a Harrah’s policy or custom that relates to plaintiff’s alleged constitutional violation,” Surrick said.

“Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims also fail because the evidence does not support a finding that Harrah’s participated in a joint action or conspiracy with the Pennsylvania State Police to violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights,” Surrick added.

Surrick said Greenberg made “legal conclusions without evidentiary support”, which is insufficient at the summary judgment stage. Surrick granted both motions for summary judgment from all of the defendants.

The plaintiff is represented by Matthew B. Weisberg of Weisberg Law, in Morton.

The defendants are represented by Russell L. Lichtenstein of Cooper Levenson April Niedelman & Wagenheim in Atlantic City, N.J. and Kevin R. Bradford of the Attorney General’s Office in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-04796

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

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