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Media Alerts - Reed Dempsey v. Bucknell University - Third Circuit
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September 22, 2016
  Reed Dempsey v. Bucknell University - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit Finds Bucknell Police Not Liable for Damages as a Result of Bringing Assault Charges against Bucknell University Student

Area of Law: False Arrest, Malicious Prosecution

Issues Presented: Did recklessly omitted facts from a charging affidavit lead to the issuance of a faulty warrant against a Bucknell University student?

Brief Summary:

The Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's grant of summary judgment for the malicious prosecution claim of Bucknell student Reed Dempsey, because the court determined that, even taking into account certain facts recklessly omitted from the charging affidavit, a reasonable jury could still not find a lack of probable cause for the original charges filed against Dempsey. Dempsey had been accused of assaulting a fellow Bucknell University student, Kelly Stefanowicz, in their residence hall. After a couple of months, the charges against Dempsey were dropped by the District Attorney. A year later Dempsey filed a civil rights suit against Bucknell University and Bucknell University Public Safety (BUPS) Officers (the Bucknell Defendants") alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. To analyze Dempsey's claim, the Third Circuit first identified those material facts describing the alleged assault that were omitted from the sworn affidavit Bucknell police used to obtain the original arrest warrants against Dempsey. The Court then reconstructed the affidavit with the omitted facts included, and ultimately decided that no reasonable jury could conclude that this revised affidavit lacked probable cause for issuing an arrest warrant. The summary judgment dismissal of Dempsey's claims by the trial court was affirmed.

Extended Summary:

On September 7, 2010, Reed Dempsey was charged with assaulting fellow Bucknell University student Kelly Stefanowicz in their residence hall. Two days later, additional charges of indecent assault and false imprisonment were brought against Dempsey. In the course of investigating the alleged crime, BUPS Officers interviewed Stefanowicz, Dempsey, and ten other undergraduate students and also obtained a written statement from Stefanowicz. They also reviewd text messages from Dempsey to Stefanowicz that were sent after the events in question and which demonstrated remorse for his actions. Not surprisingly, not all of the witnesses agreed on all the details of the alleged crimes. It was on the basis of this evidence that BUPS Officers charged Dempsey with wrongdoing.

Less than two months later, the District Attorney of Union County, Peter Johnson, withdrew all charges against Dempsey, explaining that "the nature of the alleged crime and the surrounding circumstances make it difficult to prove what happened beyond a reasonable doubt." A year after that, Dempsey brought suit against the Bucknell Defendants claiming false arrest, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment, among other claims. The District Court dismissed some of the claims and, after discovery, granted summary judgment as to the rest. Dempsey appealed and argued that the District Court incorrectly concluded that information omitted from the charging affidavit by Officer Julie Holtzapple was not material to the probable cause determination. Dempsey contended that Officer Holtzapple's affidavit reflected a false version of events and that an accurate affidavit would not have established probable cause to charge him with any crime.

In analyzing Dempsey's appeal, the Third Circuit noted that a plaintiff alleging malicious prosecution must show two things - first, that the charging officer's affidavit recklessly made false statements or omissions, and second, that those false statements or omissions were necessary to the finding of probable cause for violation of the law. The Court also made clear that once a determination is made that false information was included or that important information was omitted in an affidavit of probable cause, the court must then create a reconstructed affidavit which includes essential omitted facts and which corrects material falsehoods. In this case, because the District Court did not perform the necessary reconstruction, the Third Circuit undertook the task on its own.

After a close examination of the record, the Court agreed with Dempsey that a number of material facts had been omitted from the affidavit. But even after adding those facts to the affidavit - including the contradictory eyewitness testimony and the disagreement over how much time Dempsey and Stefanowicz had spent in his room alone together - the Court concluded that no reasonable jury could have found that probable cause for the charges did not still exist, especially given the extent of Stefanowicz's injuries, the strength of her allegations, and Dempsey's subsequent text messages expressing remorse. Accordingly the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Bucknell Defendants.

Find the full opinion at:

Panel: Vanaskie, Shwartz and Krause, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: January 26, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: August 22, 2016

Docket Number: No. 15-1328

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Jessica Wood

Counsel: Dennis E. Boyle, Esq., Kenneth E. Raleigh, Esq., Counsel for Appellants

Amy C. Foerster, Esq., James A. Keller, Esq., Cory S. Winter, Esq., Counsel for Appellee

Author of Opinion: Krause, Circuit Judge

Circuit: Third

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Mark Anderson

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 09/22/2016 08:53 AM     3rd Circuit  

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