Third Circuit upholds summary judgment ruling for City of Bethlehem and police officer in civil rights case

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jul 14, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – A federal appeals court decided last week that the appeal of a Coal Township man who claimed his civil rights were violated when he was unlawfully incarcerated for more than three months presented no substantial question.

In a per curiam ruling, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judges Julio M. Fuentes, Cheryl Ann Krause and Anthony J. Scirica unanimously ruled Daniel Bradley did not have grounds to appeal a trial court’s summary judgment ruling, in favor of the City of Bethlehem and Bethlehem Police Department Officer Blake Kuntz.

“Bradley’s claims stem from an incident in which Rosemary Johnson directly accused Bradley of stealing $150.00 from her while being allowed to stay at her residence; Johnson alleged that Bradley was the single person with access to her home when the money went missing,” the Third Circuit explained.

“Kuntz, who was already familiar with Johnson due to his work with Bethlehem’s community policing program, met with Johnson as part of his investigation into her claims. Although Kuntz was aware that Johnson suffered from mental health issues, he found that she appeared to be very clear, specific, and coherent when discussing the facts of the theft,” the appellate court judges added.

Subsequent to meeting with Johnson, Kuntz arrested Bradley for cause with an arrest warrant, and later met with Bradley on that same day. At a preliminary hearing where Johnson testified, an unlawful taking charge was held for trial while a receiving stolen property charge was dismissed.

“Sometime after the preliminary hearing, Kuntz received a telephone call from an Assistant District Attorney (ADA) regarding the charges that Bradley faced. The ADA explained to Kuntz that “there had been a paper provided by Mr. Bradley or his attorneys, documenting that Mr. Bradley had been in a mental health facility or hospital type facility on the date of the offense – reported date of the offense,” the Third Circuit said.

“This information had not been disclosed by either Bradley or his attorney at the preliminary hearing. Rather, Bradley and appellees have agreed that the first time that Kuntz learned that Bradley was in a mental health facility on the reported date of the offense was when he received the ADA’s phone call after the preliminary hearing,” the Third Circuit added.

Bradley brought federal claims against Kuntz for: (1) illegal seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) deprivation of liberty and due process in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) false arrest/imprisonment; and (4) malicious prosecution. Also, Bradley brought a failure-to-train claim against the City of Bethlehem, in reference to Kuntz.

When the defense filed for summary judgment, it was granted on all counts, leading Bradley to appeal to the Third Circuit Court.

The appeals court said to prove malicious prosecution occurred, it was incumbent upon Bradley to prove the defendants acted without probable cause and with malice when they arrested him, that is to say there was “no reasonable ground for belief of guilt.”

It was the belief of the Third Circuit judges that Bradley failed to do this.

“The District Court correctly concluded that Kuntz had probable cause to believe that Bradley had committed the crime with which he was charged – namely, the specific testimony of Johnson in light of his experience with her in the community. Second, Bradley did not identify any evidence that Kuntz acted with malice when he initiated the criminal proceedings against him,” the Third Circuit said.

The appellate court said the existence of probable cause also precluded Bradley’s false arrest and imprisonment claims.

“Bradley was arrested pursuant to an arrest warrant that was obtained by Kuntz. Bradley concedes that Kuntz did not have the information about Bradley being in the hospital on the day of the theft when he applied for the warrant,” the Third Circuit said.

“Moreover, in his deposition, Kuntz testified that when he spoke with Bradley after his arrest, Bradley said nothing about his hospital admission. The evidence in the record confirms that Kuntz had conducted a good faith investigation in which he had interviewed the victim and confirmed that she would have had the money at her home when she alleged that Bradley was a guest. The District Court correctly concluded that Kuntz did not knowingly and deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth, make false statements or omissions that create a falsehood in applying for the warrant in this case,” the Third Circuit added.

Lastly, the appellate court ruled summary judgment was properly granted on Bradley’s claims of deprivation of liberty and due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, on the basis of being duplicative of other claims of Bradley’s.

While labeling the failure-to-train claim against the Bethlehem Police Department as “an alternative theory of liability”, the Third Circuit Court was “not persuaded that Bradley has demonstrated a disputed issue of material fact sufficient to survive summary judgment.”

“The evidence indicates that Bradley’s case is not one where the police demonstrated deliberate indifference to the rights of others,” the Third Circuit stated. “The City of Bethlehem was entitled to summary judgment because Bradley had not identified a specific training or type of training that the City had failed to provide Kuntz that would have prevented Bradley’s alleged injuries.”

“For these reasons, we conclude that this appeal presents no substantial question,” the Third Circuit said. “Accordingly, we will summarily affirm the District Court’s order granting the defendants summary judgment on Bradley’s complaint. Given our disposition of this appeal, we deny the motion for appointment of counsel.”

The appellant is represented by Daniel A. Pallen in Media.

The appellees are represented by David J. MacMain and Nicole Freiler of The MacMain Law Group in Malvern.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-1626

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 5:14-cv-03221

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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