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Schieber v. City of Philadelphia

February 20, 2003


On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 98-cv-05648) District Judge: Honorable Norma L. Shapiro

Before: Nygaard and Stapleton, Circuit Judges , and SLEET,*fn1 District Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stapleton, Circuit Judge


Argued January 25, 2002


In the early morning hours of May 7, 1998, Shannon Schieber was raped and murdered in her second floor apartment at 251 S. 23rd Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ms. Schieber's parents, Sylvester and Vicki, brought this civil rights suit on their own behalf and as representatives of her estate against the City of Philadelphia and Steven Woods and Raymond Scherff, the police officers who responded to a 911 call from one of Schieber's neighbors on the night of her murder. After extensive discovery, Officers Woods and Scherff moved for summary judgment based in part on their claim to qualified immunity. The District Court denied their motions and they now appeal. For the reasons that follow in this opinion and in Judge Nygaard's separate opinion, the District Court's order denying summary judgment will be reversed, and this matter will be remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of Officers Woods and Scherff.


The following account of the relevant facts reflects the undisputed evidence in the summary judgment record except where the contrary is expressly noted.

At approximately 1:00 A.M. on May 7, 1998, Ms. Schieber's neighbors, Leah Basickes and Parmatma Greeley, were watching television when they heard a noise that made Greeley think that Schieber was in a "serious domestic dispute." App. at 64. Basickes thought it had come from the adjacent Manning Street and went to the window to check. They discussed their differing views about the source of the noise before Basickes went to bed.

Shortly after 2:00 A.M., while still watching television, Greeley heard what he believed to be a scream and a choking noise coming from Schieber's apartment. He was sufficiently concerned that he left his apartment, crossed the hall, and knocked on Schieber's door. He tried unsuccessfully to open the door and then shouted, but heard no response.

At 2:04 A.M., Greeley called 911 and reported:

My next door neighbor, I just heard her yelling for help . . . Uh, sh-we're on the second floor, . . . we're on one side and she's on the other. And I just heard . . . her yell help. I knocked on the door and I just heard like a . . . choking type sound and I just called. App. at 432.

When Greeley's call was received by the 911 dispatcher, Officers Woods and Scherff were on patrol in different patrol cars. The dispatcher sent a Priority 1 radio dispatch passing on the "report of a female screaming" at 251 S. 23rd Street and calling for immediate assistance. Less than five minutes later, Woods and Scherff arrived simultaneously at the 23rd Street address. They proceeded immediately to the door at that address and encountered a woman inside her living room on the first floor with two windows open. They asked if she had called police with reference to a woman screaming. She responded that she had heard no scream and directed them to another entrance to the building around the corner on Manning Street.

At the Manning Street entrance, Woods and Scherff encountered Greeley and Amy Reed, who lived in the first floor apartment immediately under Ms. Schieber's second floor apartment. Reed had been awakened by Greeley after he heard the scream. The four of them then proceeded to the door of Schieber's apartment where the officers knocked and received no response.

During the next few minutes, the officers interviewed Greeley, Reed, and Christine Ritter, who lived on the third floor directly above Schieber's apartment and appeared on the second floor landing in response to the noise occasioned by the officers knocking on Schieber's door. Reed and Ritter informed the officers that they had been asleep and had heard no scream.*fn2 Greeley advised that he believed he had heard a scream and a choking noise coming from Schieber's apartment, but upon being questioned about this, expressed some uncertainty. In his deposition, Greeley recounted what he told the officers in the following manner:

Q: What I really want to know is what you told the police about the events that occurred before their arrival?

A: I said I heard my neighbor scream for help and a choked off sound.

Q: And a choked off sound?

A: Yes.

Q: That's what you told them?

A: Yes.

Q: What else did you tell them with regard to what you heard?

A: They asked me if I was sure it came from her place or did it come from outside. I said -- I said I'm not --

I said maybe, when they said are you sure it didn't come from outside

Q: Did the police ask you if the noise came from a different location other than Miss Schieber's apartment?

A: Yes.

Q: Let me ask you the question, did the police ask you if you believed that the noise came from the outside?

A: Something like that, yes.

Q: That's paraphrasing what you remember them saying?

A: Yeah.

Q: Now, in response to that, were you 100 percent certain at that time that the noise did come from Miss Schieber's apartment?

A: Well, I said maybe it came from the outside.

Q: Maybe indicating that you may not have been 100 percent sure?

A: Yes.

Q: So it's possible that the noise in your mind did not come from Miss Schieber's apartment?

A: At this point I was getting a little insecure, the whole neighborhood was up, and I was -- when they asked me that, I said maybe.

Q: Did you shrug your shoulders like you did just now?

A: Maybe, I can't remember that, that far.

Q: So when the police were there, it's possible that you could have shrugged your shoulders?

A: It's possible. App. at 74-75.

Ritter described Greeley's report to the officers as follows:

Q: With respect to the discussion about what Parm [Greeley] had heard, did the police officers inquire whether the noises that he heard could have come from the outside?

A: I believe they did, yes.

Q: And what was Mr. Greeley's response to those questions?

A: His response was uncertain. His response was it could have possibly come from outside, but he believed he heard something inside.

Q: Do you remember hearing him say that it could have possibly come from outside?

A: I do not remember that specific statement specifically. But certainly in the tone of voice and phrasing of his statements, he implied uncertainty.

Q: As you listened to this, was it very clear to you in your own mind that he was expressing uncertainty?

MS. APPEL: Objection to the form of the question.


Q: I'm just asking for your observations. Based on your observations, in your mind, did you believe that he was expressing uncertainty?

A: Yes. I understood him to be uncertain, indeed believed him to be uncertain.

Q: When I asked you questions earlier this afternoon, you testified that at some point Mr. Greeley expressed uncertainty regarding whether or not the sound had come from outside the apartment complex; is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: Is that your --

A: Although I might say he expressed uncertainty whether it had come from inside as opposed to outside.

Q: In other words, he expressed at some point that he might not be so sure where the sounds ...

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