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Renda v. King

October 16, 2003

VALERIE RENDA
v.
PAUL KING; DAVID B. KELSEY PAUL KING, APPELLANT IN DOCKET NO. 01-2421 VALERIE RENDA, APPELLANT IN DOCKET NO. 01-2498



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civil Action No. 97-cv-00721) District Judge: Honorable William L. Standish

Before: Roth and Stapleton, Circuit Judges POLLAK,*fn1 District Judge

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

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued: May 2, 2002

OPINION OF THE COURT

In this appeal, defendant Trooper Paul King contends that the District Court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of his good character for truthfulness and that the jury's verdict against him and in favor of plaintiff Valerie Renda*fn2 is irreconcilable with its verdict against Renda and in favor of co-defendant Corporal David Kelsey. As discussed below, we conclude that the District Court abused its discretion in excluding evidence of King's good character for truthfulness because Renda opened the door for such evidence when she argued that King was corrupt in his conduct of an official police investigation. Since we will remand for a new trial as to Trooper King on this ground, there is no need to address his argument that the jury's verdict was inconsistent.

Plaintiff Valerie Renda cross-appealed on the ground that the District Court abused its discretion in denying her motion to vacate the grant of summary judgment to defendants King and Kelsey on her claim that they violated her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by engaging in a custodial interrogation opinion without providing warnings pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966). As discussed below, we conclude that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Renda's motion to vacate. The Supreme Court's recent holding in Chavez v. Martinez, ___ U.S. ___, 123 S.Ct. 1994 (2003) reaffirms our holding in Giuffre v. Bissell, 31 F.3d 1241 (3d Cir. 1994) that a plaintiff may not base a § 1983 claim on the mere fact that the police questioned her in custody without providing Miranda warnings when there is no claim that the plaintiff 's answers were used against her at trial.*fn3

I. Facts and Procedural History

This case began with a domestic dispute between Renda and her boyfriend Joe Sonafelt, a Pennsylvania State Trooper. In May 1995, Renda was living with Trooper Sonafelt and their two year old son, Joe, Jr., in Lower Burrel, Pennsylvania. On May 15, Renda left Sonafelt and, together with her son went to the apartment of her friend Tina Stone. Sonafelt called the local police, claiming that Renda had abducted their son in violation of a custody order. The local police then contacted the Pennsylvania State Police. Defendant Kelsey, a Pennsylvania State Police Corporal, determined that the complaint, along with a complaint from Renda that Sonafelt had kicked her in the back on May 14, would be handled by the Pennsylvania State Police. Corporal Kelsey assigned the matter to defendant King, a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper.

Trooper King contacted Renda by telephone on the night of May 15. She told him that Sonafelt had slammed her into a wall at their residence earlier that day during an argument. Renda also indicated that she did not want to give a statement or file charges and that she wanted to be left alone. Based on Renda's allegations of domestic abuse, Trooper King conducted a tape recorded interrogation of Trooper Sonafelt at approximately 10:00 p.m. at the station house. Trooper King provided Miranda warnings, and Trooper Sonafelt waived his rights.

Despite an earlier request that the police not interview her, at 2:30 a.m. on May 16, Trooper King and Corporal Kelsey conducted an in-person interview of Renda at Stone's apartment. They did not provide Miranda warnings to Renda, but she gave them a written statement. The statement did not mention the assault of May 15 that she had reported earlier that evening. King and Kelsey both testified at trial that, when they asked Renda why she did not mention the incident, she responded that she did not include the allegation in the written statement because she had lied about it earlier on the telephone. Renda on the other hand testified at trial that the alleged May 15 assault did occur and that she never told King and Kelsey that she had lied. She testified that she did not mention the May 15 incident in the written statement because she did not want to file a complaint against Sonafelt nor did she want him to go to prison. She stated that she provided the written statement because King and Kelsey threatened her.

On June 7, 1995, Trooper King filed a charge of giving false reports to law enforcement authorities against Renda and obtained an arrest warrant. The local police in Altoona, Pennsylvania, arrested Renda at her place of employment. She was arraigned and bond was set at $10,000. She was incarcerated at Westmoreland County Jail until June 20, at which point she was released on her own recognizance. On August 28, 1996, the Court of Common Pleas, Westmoreland County, suppressed any statements from the morning of May 16, 1995, because defendants had not provided plaintiff Miranda warnings prior to the custodial interrogation. The case was nolle prossed by the District Attorney of Westmoreland County because of the evidence problems.

Renda then filed this § 1983 civil action alleging that King and Kelsey violated her constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments when they subjected her to a coercive interrogation; she also claimed that she was interrogated without Miranda warnings and subjected to an unlawful search, arrest, imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all of Renda's claims, except the allegation of coercive interrogation. On May 14, 1999, the District Court granted the motion on Renda's First Amendment, false arrest, false imprisonment, and Miranda warnings claims but denied the motion as to the rest. A jury trial followed on plaintiff 's malicious prosecution and coerced interrogation claims. During the trial, the District Court dismissed the coerced interrogation claim. The jury returned a verdict on the malicious prosecution claim, finding against Trooper King and in favor of Renda in the amount of $80,000, and against Renda and in favor of Corporal Kelsey.

Renda then moved for relief from the judgment relating to her Miranda claim. The District Court denied the motion on July 17, 2000.

A separate trial was held on the punitive damages issue. The jury could not reach a decision, and a mistrial was declared. The District Court ordered a new trial on the punitive damages issue. On May 21, 2001, pursuant to an agreement by the parties, the District Court dismissed the ...


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