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Mosley v. Wilson

December 11, 1996




On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

(D.C. No. 91-cv-00712)

Before: SLOVITER, Chief Judge, COWEN and ROTH, Circuit Judges

SLOVITER, Chief Judge.

Argued July 15, 1996

filed December 11, l996)


A federal jury was presented with four claims filed by James Mosley against Joseph Wilson, a police officer of East Fallowfield Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania: two claims for violations of Mosley's civil rights filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983, one of which was for arrest without probable cause and the other for use of excessive force, and two pendent state law claims, of which one was for malicious prosecution and the other for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury returned a verdict for plaintiff Mosley on the malicious prosecution claim, and for defendant Wilson on the other three claims.

The district court granted Wilson's post-trial motion and entered judgment as a matter of law for him on the malicious prosecution claim. Mosley appeals.


This action arose out of events that were the subject of a criminal prosecution brought in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Because Mosley's civil case was tried by a jury and the district court had no occasion to make detailed factual findings, we rely largely on the depiction of the relevant background events as set forth in Commonwealth v. Mosley, 535 Pa. 549, 637 A.2d 246 (1993), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's opinion on Mosley's appeal in the criminal case.

The initial events that transpired on the evening of January 31, 1989 are essentially undisputed. About midnight, Mosley, described by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as "somewhat disconcerted," arrived at the police station in East Fallowfield Township and met with defendant Officer Joseph Wilson, who was on duty that night. Id. at 247. Mosley told Wilson that he had had an argument with Sharon Smith, and that he had come to report his version of the events before he was arrested. While Mosley was in the police station, the police dispatcher informed Wilson that Smith had called in a complaint against Mosley. Officer Wilson then drove Mosley back to his residence in an attempt to mediate the dispute. Id.

After arriving at Mosley's home, Wilson went inside to speak to Smith, leaving Mosley in his patrol car. He returned a few minutes later and told Mosley that he was under arrest for assault and rape. (We note that Mosley was never charged with any crime in connection with the alleged assault and rape of Smith.) Wilson then locked Mosley in the police car and made a radio call for backup assistance from a neighboring municipality, and was shortly joined by his brother, Sergeant Lewis Wilson. The two officers went inside the house to continue interviewing Smith, and left Mosley locked in the back of the patrol car. Id.

From this point, the accounts of the evening's events diverge. The police officers maintain that while they were questioning Smith, Mosley began to bang violently and kick the inside of the police car, that Officer Wilson (the defendant in this case) attempted to handcuff him, that Mosley lunged at Officer Wilson and attempted to grab his gun while threatening to kill him, that they struggled and Sergeant Wilson ran outside and pulled Mosley off his brother, and that after several minutes of "wrestling," they handcuffed Mosley and took him to the hospital. Id.

Mosley's vastly different version of the story is that after he was locked in the car for 30 minutes while the officers spoke with Sharon Smith, he began to bang on the inside of the car to get the officers' attention and gain his release. Officer Wilson came outside, opened the car door and assaulted him, and then pulled him out of the car and continued the assault, aided by Sergeant Wilson, until they beat him into submission before finally taking him to the hospital. Id.

Mosley was prosecuted and tried before a state court jury on charges arising out of the events, which convicted him on charges of terroristic threats, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, and resisting arrest, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. Section(s) 2706, 2701(a)(1), Section(s) 2705, and Section(s) 5104, respectively. Mosley was acquitted of aggravated assault. In addition, the trial court found Mosley guilty of the summary offenses of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct, 18 Pa.C.S.A. Section(s) 3304(a)(2) and Section(s) 5503(a)(1).

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Mosley's conviction because a key prosecution witness, Sergeant Wilson, had an ex parte conversation outside the courtroom with a juror who eventually became the jury foreperson. During the conversation, the juror told Sergeant Wilson that he was from West Caln and was a friend of the Chief of Police there, and Sergeant Wilson "complimented the juror on the quality of his hometown police department." Id. at 249. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the trial judge erred in failing to question the juror about any possible taint that might have resulted from this conversation and therefore the judge was unable to determine whether the encounter constituted harmless error. Accordingly, the Court vacated Mosley's conviction and granted him a new trial. Id. at 250. Instead of retrying the case, however, the prosecutor granted Mosley nolle prosequi and dropped all criminal charges against him.

Before the resolution of his appeal of conviction, Mosley filed this civil suit against Officer Wilson, Sergeant Wilson, and police chief Peter Mango, alleging that the police committed battery, assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and malicious use and abuse of process. Mosley eventually dismissed the claims against Sergeant Lewis Wilson and Peter Mango, and trial proceeded before a jury on all claims against Officer Joseph Wilson in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, bifurcated as to liability and damages. The first trial ended in a hung jury. At the second trial, Mosley's claims were reduced to two federal civil rights claims filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983 alleging arrest without probable cause and use of excessive force, and two pendent state law tort actions of malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mosley on the state claim of malicious prosecution, but found for Wilson on all other counts.

Following the verdict, Wilson, arguing that the verdict on malicious prosecution was inconsistent with the verdict in his favor on the civil rights claims, moved to "mold the verdict into a consistent verdict." App. at 102. The district court granted the motion, issuing judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50 for Wilson on the malicious prosecution claim on the ground that the verdicts on the different counts were "blatantly inconsistent." Id. The district court reasoned that because the jury must have found that probable cause existed to find for Wilson on the unlawful arrest claim, and because probable cause for arrest is a "necessary element" in the malicious prosecution claim, the verdicts were legally inconsistent. The district court reasoned: "If probable cause existed for one claim, it had to exist for the other claim." Id. Consequently, the court "molded" the verdict in favor of Wilson on all counts.

Mosley's appeal brief states that he seeks reinstatement of the malicious prosecution verdict, and if he could present his damage claim to the same jury he would waive retrial on the civil rights claims. He states that if that jury is not available, he seeks remand for a new trial on both his malicious prosecution claim and on his civil rights claims, because the latter were marred by a legally erroneous instruction. Obviously, the same jury is not available, and we ...

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