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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

 

DANA SKUBON, SUSAN BIMLER and                               :

KENDRA KLAHR                                                                  :

            Plaintiffs                                                                        :

                                                                                                :  

v.                                                                                                                   :

:

                                                                                                :

MARK PEIFER, BRIAN TATARA, both in their                     :

individual capacities as police officers for the Borough               :

of Millersville, JOHN D. ROCHAT, in his individual                 :

and official capacities as Police Chief for the Borough               :

of Millersville and the BOROUGH  OF                                    :

MILLERSVILLE                                                                     :

            Defendants                                                                   :

                                                                                                : 

 

JURY TRIAL DEMANDED                                                                                       : 

 

 

COMPLAINT

 

I. Introduction

 

  1. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. & 1983, Plaintiffs Dana Skubon, Susan Bimler and Kendra Klahr file this civil rights action against Defendants Mark Peifer and Brian Tatara for recklessly and wantonly violating Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights by llegally entering Plaintiffs’ townhouse in the middle of the night without a search warrant and without permission and proceeding into Plaintiffs’ bedroom when Plaintiffs were sleeping.  Defendants Peifer and Tatara then seized, interrogated and intimidated Plaintiffs and also searched their entire house, leaving Plaintiffs emotionally distraught, scared and violated.  Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages for Defendants outrageous conduct in violating Plaintiffs’ fundamental rights to be free in their home from unreasonable searches, seizures and detentions.

 

II. Jurisdiction

 

  1. This claim concerns the violation of civil rights and this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. &&1331 and 1343.

 

III. Venue

 

  1. Plaintiffs currently reside in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania which is in this District and Division; the claims alleged arose in this District.  Accordingly, venue properly lies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. & 1391.

 

                  IV. Parties

 

  1. Plaintiffs DANA SKUBON, SUSAN BIMLER and KENDRA KLAHR are adult individuals residing at 108 Pickwick Place, Millersville, PA  17551.

 

  1. Defendants MARK PEIFER and BRIAN TATARA were police officers employed by the Borough of Millersville at all times relevant to this action who committed the acts and omissions alleged in this complaint.  They are sued in their individual capacities.

 

  1. Defendant JOHN D. ROCHAT was the police chief for the Borough’s police department at all times relevant to this action.  Defendant ROCHAT was responsible to hire, retain and supervise police officers and to provide training to police officers.  It is believed that he also established customs and policies for the Borough’s police department.  He is sued in his individual and official capacities.

 

  1. Defendant BOROUGH OF MILLERSVILLE is a local municipality of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that owns, operates, manages, directs and controls the Borough’s Police Department.  The BOROUGH OF MILLERSVILLE directly or through its Chief of Police or other police officers sets and implements the local policies and customs that govern the Borough of Millersville Police Department.

 

  1. At all times herein mentioned, all the individual Defendants were acting under color of state law.

 

V. Factual Allegations

 

  1. Paragraphs 1 through 8 are incorporated herein by reference.

 

  1. Plaintiffs are three young women that live together at a townhouse they rent in Millersville Borough.  Bimler and Klahr are college students at Millersville University and Skuban works at a local hospital as a surgery tech clerk.

 

  1. The townhouse is laid out as a bilevel.  There is a one car garage and bedroom on the first floor.  The second floor has a second bedroom, a living room, kitchen and two bathrooms.  There are exterior steps to the front door, which opens to a landing on the stairs midway between the first and second floors.  There is a garage door on the one car garage and an interior door from the garage into the first floor of the Townhouse.

 

  1. On the evening of September 2, 2005, the three women were all in their townhouse by approximately 11:30 p.m.

 

  1. They were watching television and talking in the upstairs bedroom because the air conditioning unit in the first floor bedroom was not working.  Eventually they all fell asleep in the upstairs bedroom.

 

  1. At no time after 11:30 p.m. did any of the three women leave their townhouse.

 

  1. Sometime around 3:00 a.m., Skubon was awakened by a noise on the first floor.

 

  1. Skubon got out of bed, left the bedroom where she and her roommates were sleeping and looked down the stairs from the second floor to the interior door on the first floor (i.e. the door that leads from the garage to the Townhouse).

 

  1. Standing inside the doorway were Defendants Peifer and Tatara, dressed in police uniform.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer stated “police” and ordered Skubon to come down.

 

  1. Frightened by the presence of two police officers standing inside her house at 3:00 a.m. in the morning, Skubon stated “hold on – stay right there” and went back into the bedroom, where she shut the door.  Scared and not sure what to do, she crawled back into bed terrified as to what the police officers might be doing.

 

  1. Within just a few minutes, Defendants Peifer and Tatara came up the stairs, opened the bedroom door without knocking and shone their flashlights into Plaintiffs’ faces.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer then ordered all of the women out of their beds into the living room.

 

  1. Skubon was crying and shaking, while Bimler and Klahr were extremely scared, haven been suddenly awoken in the middle of the night by strangers shining flashlights in their faces.

 

  1. Confused and scared, the Plaintiffs went out to the living room and sat on the couch.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer then ordered the Plaintiffs to retrieve identification.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer also began searching the rooms on the second floor.  He opened the pantry door, went into the bathrooms and opened the closet at the top of the steps.

 

  1. Skubon and Klahr returned to the second floor bedroom for their identification while Bimler went downstairs to the first floor bedroom for her identification.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer followed Bimler downstairs into her bedroom and searched Bimler’s bedroom, her closet and the closet underneath the steps.

 

  1. Bimler then went back upstairs into the living room with Peifer.

 

  1. Upon reviewing the girls’ identification, Peifer became upset with Skubon and yelled at her because she had provided him with her identification card from work and not a driver’s license.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer then ordered Skubon back into the bedroom where he partially closed the bedroom door and proceeded to interrogate her.

 

  1. Bimler and Klahr remained in the living room with Defendant Tatara.

 

  1. While in the bedroom, Defendant Peifer accused Skubon of “streaking” in the neighborhood and pressured Skubon by saying “tell me it was you, don’t lie to me.  I know it was you.”

 

  1. Skubon told Defendant Peifer that she did not know what he was talking about and that she had not even been outside but had been asleep with her roommates.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer then continued his interrogation of Skubon, telling Skubon that “if you lie I will read you your Miranda rights.”

 

  1. Skubon was extremely frightened during Defendant Peifer’s interrogation particularly because Defendant Peiper is a large, intimidating police officer who was attempting to coerce a confession out of her alone in her bedroom.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer finally allowed Skubon, who had again begun to cry, to return to the living room with her roommates.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer then radioed in the license numbers for the Plaintiffs to do background checks.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer next asked all three Plaintiffs, who were sitting on their couch in the living room, to stand up and turn around so that Defendant Peifer could observe their buttocks.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer said he saw a girl outside in a g-string and he though he would know her from behind.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer then proceeded to observe all three Plaintiffs’ buttocks and commented how Skubon’s shape was different from the others.

 

  1. Defendant Peifer then stated that he was going to check the community pool and if there was any damage to the pool he would come back and slap handcuffs on Skubon and arrest her.

 

  1. After nearly forty-five (45) minutes, Defendants Peifer and Tatara finally left the women’s house.

 

  1. Defendant Tatara was in the house assisting Defendant Peifer throughout the entire incident and, accordingly, Defendant Tatara participated in the unconstitutional acts and conduct as described above.

 

  1. The conduct of Defendants Peifer and Tatara caused severe emotional trauma to the Plaintiffs who were left distressed, scared and humiliated.  Plaintiffs were terrified and felt completely violated by the conduct and actions of Defendants Peifer and Tatara.

 

VI. Constitutional Violation

 

  1. The Fourth Amendment provides: 

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,  against unreasonable searches ad seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

 

  1. “'It is a basic principle of Fourth Amendment law’ that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.”  Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 651 (1980).

 

  1. The United States Supreme Court has stated that “the physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed.”  Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 748 (1984) (quoting United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313 (1972).

 

  1. Defendants Peifer and Tatara did not have a search warrant to enter into Plaintiffs’ house.

 

  1. Defendants Peifer and Tatara violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights when they, without permission or any other legal justification, entered Plaintiffs’ house in the middle of the night by lifting open the garage door, pushing open the interior door from the garage to the first floor, opening Plaitiffs’ bedroom door and then proceeding to engage in the illegal and unconstitutional conduct as described above, all under color of state law as police officers for the Borough of Millersville.

 

  1. Moreover, Defendants Peifer’s and Tatara’s search of Plaintiffs’ house, their seizure of Plaintiffs and their custodial interrogation of Skubon in her own bedroom all violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

 

  1. Defendants Peifer and Tatara acted with reckless indifference and wanton disregard to the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs.

 

  1. It is believed and therefore averred, that Defendant Rochat failed to properly train Defendants Peifer and Tatara and / or had knowledge of Defendant Peifer’s past misconduct and knew (or reasonably should have known) that Defendant Peifer would violate the constitutional rights of others but Defendant Rochat failed to take steps to prevent Defendant Peifer from doing so.

 

  1. The inaction of Defendant Rochat was a product of deliberate indifference to the risk that Defendants Peifer and / or Tatara would violate the constitutional rights of individuals and Rochat’s indifference was a moving force behind the violations of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

 

  1. It is believed and therefore averred that Defendant Rochat is the final policy / decision maker for the Borough related to training, hiring and supervising police officers in Millersville Borough.

 

  1. It is believed and therefore averred that the Borough of Millersville had a custom or policy of

 

a)      hiring or retaining police officers known to have engaged in misconduct such that it was obvious or apparent that such officers were likely to violate the constitutional rights of others so as to reflect a deliberate indifference by the Borough’s policymakers to the constitutional rights of others; and

b)     failing to train officers in the most basic aspects of constitutional law such that the lack of such training was so obvious and inadequate so as to reflect a deliberate indifference by the Borough’s policymakers to the constitutional rights of others.

 

VII. Causes of Action

 

First Cause of Action

             2 U.S.C. & 1983 for violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments)

 

  1. Plaintiffs incorporate by reference paragraphs 1 through 55 as if fully set forth herein.

 

  1. Defendants Peifer, Tatara and Rochat are state actors who acted under color of state law in a manner that deprived Plaintiffs of their Constitutional rights to be free from improper entries, searches, seizures, arrests and detentions into one’s home as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.

 

  1. The Borough of Millersville had a custom or policy, as described above, demonstrating a deliberate indifference on the part of the Borough to the constitutional rights of individuals under the Fourth Amendment, which was the cause of the violations of Plaintiffs’ rights alleged herein.

 

  1.  The actions of the Defendants violated the clearly established federal constitutional rights of the Plaintiffs.

 

  1. As a proximate result of the Defendants’ actions, Plaintiffs have suffered the following injuries and damages:

 

a.      Violation of their constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution;

b.      Emotional distress, humiliation, suffering and the violation of themselves and their home;

c.       Costs, fees and expenses arising out of Defendants’ actions.

 

     Second Cause of Action

(Supplemental State Law Claims)

 

  1. Plaintiffs incorporate by reference paragraphs 1 through 60 as if fully set forth herein.

 

  1. The acts and conduct of all Defendants alleged above constitute trespass, assault and battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, interference with state constitutional rights, negligence, gross negligence and negligent hiring, training, retention and supervision under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and this Court has supplemental jurisdiction to hear and adjudicate these claims.

 

 

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff’s request the following relief:

 

a.     Declare that Defendants’ actions violated Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights as guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution;

b.      Grant Plaintiffs compensatory damages for violation of their Constitutional rights and for the injuries they suffered as a result of this incident;

c.       Award Plaintiffs punitive damages as against Defendants in such amounts as the jury determines because Defendants’ liability is based upon reprehensible actions and / or inaction;

d.      Award the Plaintiffs prejudgement interest, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs as permitted by law; and

e.       Award such other and further relief, as this Court may deem appropriate.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

GIBBEL, KRAYBILL & HESS

 

By:  JDY4714___________________

        J. Dwight Yoder

       Attorneys for Plaintiff

       41 East Orange Street

       Lancaster, PA  17602

       (717) 291-1700

       Sup. Ct. Atty. ID. #81985