Judge dismisses poker player's claims against state troopers over incident at Harrah's Philadelphia

By Nicholas Malfitano | May 29, 2015

PHILADELPHIA – A Bala Cynwyd man’s motion for reconsideration in a case of alleged civil rights violations against Harrah’s Philadelphia and two Pennsylvania State Police officers was denied in federal court recently.

PHILADELPHIA – A Bala Cynwyd man’s motion for reconsideration in a case of alleged civil rights violations against Harrah’s Philadelphia and two Pennsylvania State Police officers was denied in federal court recently.

Alan Greenberg initially 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 in August 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 an employee 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.

The employee responded the only way that was possible was through a court subpoena and told Greenberg to remain where he was so the employee could inform Gaines and Shores as to the dispute and arrest Greenberg, Greenberg 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, violated the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (FCEUA) by not investigating the supposed amount owed before arresting him, conspiracy, false arrest, wrongful seizure and negligence.

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

“Plaintiff’s motion is difficult to understand. We presume that he argues that the Court erred in concluding that sovereign immunity shields the Commonwealth defendants from claims based on intentional conduct,” Surrick wrote.

“In other words, plaintiff seems to argue that when Commonwealth officials are sued in their individual and not official capacity, claims based on intentional conduct—whether statutory or common law—are exempted from the sovereign immunity doctrine. Plaintiff is simply wrong. His argument reveals a misunderstanding about sovereign immunity.”

Surrick opined that “nothing in the Sovereign Immunity Act can be construed as a waiver of claims based on intentional conduct.”

“State and federal cases in Pennsylvania overwhelmingly conclude that the Commonwealth and its officials are immune from claims based on intentional conduct when the officials were acting within the scope of their duties,” Surrick said.

Surrick also disagreed with Greenberg’s raising of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (PSTCA) in his motion for reconsideration.

“The PSTCA bars suits against local municipalities. In contrast, the Sovereign Immunity Act bars suits against the Commonwealth and its officials. Plaintiff brings suit against state troopers, not local municipal police offices. The PSTCA plays no part in determining whether the state troopers are immune from liability with respect to Plaintiff’s state law claims,” Surrick said.

Surrick concluded his ruling by denying the motion for reconsideration.

“Plaintiff is confused about the doctrine of sovereign immunity as it applies to this case. For these reasons, plaintiff’s motion to reconsider will be denied,” Surrick wrote.

The plaintiff is seeking judgment against all defendants individually, jointly and severally in this case, for an amount in excess of $75,000, plus compensatory, statutory, and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, court costs and injunctive relief.

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. Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-04796

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

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