False arrest lawsuit 'presents no substantial question,' Third Circuit says

By Nicholas Malfitano | Apr 14, 2016

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit  

PHILADELPHIA -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said a Philadelphia man’s appeal of the dismissal of his suit for false arrest and subsequent weapon possession charges “presents no substantial question”, and the dismissal would therefore be upheld.

In a per curiam opinion issued Tuesday, Judges Thomas L. Ambro, Patty Shwartz and Richard L. Nygaard ruled David C. Tate’s action against Officer Robert Redanauer of the Philadelphia Police Department for civil rights violations was once again defeated by a motion for summary judgment issued in favor of Redanauer.

Redanauer executed a search warrant for Tate’s apartment on Jan. 18, 2011, specifically the apartment’s third floor. However, Redanauer’s search included both the second and third floors and yielded the discovery of a hidden firearm, which led to criminal charges against Tate.

During a preliminary hearing for those charges on May 23, 2011, Redanauer incorrectly testified the warrant was for the second floor instead. Per testimony Tate presented in a hearing before the district court on June 30, 2011, Tate’s attorney received a copy of the search warrant for the purposes of the proceeding.

On Sept. 16, 2013, Tate initiated an action for alleged civil rights violations in the district court, due to the supposedly false warrant, the subsequent arrest and charges that resulted from the discovery of the firearm.

The district court ultimately ruled Tate failed to file his lawsuit against Redanauer within the applicable two-year statute of limitations, and Tate appealed to the Third Circuit.

“Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims applies to Tate’s action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Pennsylvania’s tolling rules apply as well,” the federal appeals court wrote in its opinion. “The discovery rule tolls the statute of limitations until a plaintiff, exercising reasonable diligence, actually discovers his injury.”

The Third Circuit labeled the facts in the case as “inarguably clear.”

“Tate’s lawyer in his prior criminal proceeding received a copy of the search warrant on June 30, 2011. Any discrepancy between the scope of the warrant and the search as executed -- or any other purported defect in the warrant -- would have been perceptible as of that date,” the court wrote.

Therefore, the appeals court said the discovery rule tolls the statute of limitations up until June 30, 2011, at the very latest, and would remain effective until June 30, 2013.

“Tate’s Section 1983 action, filed on Sept. 16, 2013, was over two months out-of-time,” the Third Circuit wrote.

In his appeal, Tate argued the discovery rule should toll the statute of limitations for a longer period of time, his criminal trial, when the warrant in question was presented as evidence. Tate chose this time because he did not himself receive the discovery, including the search warrant, on June 30, 2011.

But the Third Circuit said such an argument “misunderstands the ‘reasonable diligence’ component of the discovery rule.”

“The relevant question is not when Tate had actual knowledge of the grounds for his lawsuit. Rather, the question is when ‘the knowledge was known, or through the exercise of diligence, was knowable to the plaintiff,'” the court wrote.

“Once Tate’s lawyer received a copy of the warrant, the basis for Tate’s Section 1983 action was reasonably ‘knowable’ to him, and he then had two years to file his claims. For these reasons, we will affirm.”

The appellee was represented by Aaron Shotland and Rebecca Prosper of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3685

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-05404

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

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