Steven Crisanti was a City of Pittsburgh police officer who had secondary employment with Donzi’s Bar. On the night in question, Crisanti was wearing his police uniform, but was off-duty and working for Donzi's. Michael Kossler and his friend John Trelicki were leaving Donzi’s at about 2:00 a.m. and approached the parking lot where a fight was going on. Crisanti started over to break up the fight but somebody grabbed the back of his shirt. By the time Crisanti ran toward the fight, Donzi’s security men had already broken it up.
Crisanti claimed that he went to ask Kossler why he had grabbed him from behind and warn him not to touch a police officer again. His position was that Kossler then came at him and bent two of his fingers completely back on his left hand, necessitating medical attention.
Kossler admitted that he had several beers in Donzi’s, but denied that he was drunk. Kossler claimed that he had not touched Crisanti's back in the first place. Kossler claimed he recently had surgery on his nose and when Crisanti confronted him, he pushed Crisanti’s hand away in a non-violent manner to protect his nose. Trelicki said that he knew Crisanti, and that he was the one who touched Crisanti’s back, to let him know that he would assist him in breaking up the fight.
Crisanti arrested Kossler, who was subsequently charged with first-degree felony aggravated assault, later reduced to second-degree, and the summary offenses of disorderly conduct and public intoxication.
In a bench trial, a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge stated, “My own personal belief is this, I don’t see any misdemeanors or any felonies, it’s not an aggravated assault, it isn’t, simply isn’t.” He called the incident a series of misperceptions. He found Kossler not guilty of aggravated assault and public intoxication, but guilty of disorderly conduct. Kossler was fined $100.
Kossler filed suit against Crisanti and Donzi’s for excessive force, false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, as well as Pennsylvania common law claims for assault and battery, false arrest, and malicious prosecution, plus a failure to train claim against Donzi’s. The District Court (W.D. Pa.) granted partial summary judgment in favor of Donzi’s on both the state and federal malicious prosecution and false arrest claims. The remaining excessive force and assault and battery counts were eventually dismissed before trial.
Kossler appealed the summary judgment on the malicious prosecution and false arrest claims.
The District Court ruled that Kossler failed to satisfy an element of malicious prosecution, namely the favorable termination of his underlying criminal proceeding, and that was fatal to his claims. Kossler relied upon his acquittal of the charged felony as the basis for arguing a favorable termination. The Third Circuit noted several authorities that refer to the favorable termination of a “proceeding,” not merely a “charge” or “offense.”
The Court noted that case law in two other U.S. Courts of Appeals allowed malicious prosecution claims to proceed despite the plaintiffs’ conviction on some but not all of the charges; however in those cases the charges did not arise out of the same criminal conduct. It reasoned that if it reversed the mixed verdict in the instant case, it would risk placing Pennsylvania citizens in the worse position of having state court judges reach guilty verdicts on the more serious charges when facts support conviction, rather than exercise leniency, in part to avoid a federal court’s later finding of favorable termination.
The dissent posited that acquittal of a felony offense standing alone should be considered favorable termination and should not be rendered unfavorable merely because of a conviction of a summary offense, which does not carry the presumption that the underlying events leading to the conviction actually occurred.
The Third Circuit held that Kossler’s conviction for disorderly conduct was inconsistent of innocence of the misconduct which all three charges aimed to punish, and affirmed the District Court judgment.
Judge(s): Fisher, Circuit Judge
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit
Related Categories: Civil Rights , Criminal Justice
|Amicus Lawyer(s)||Amicus Law Firm(s)|
|Nancy Winkelman||Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP|
|Appellant Lawyer(s)||Appellant Law Firm(s)|
|Timothy P. O'Brien|
|Appellee Lawyer(s)||Appellee Law Firm(s)|