April 13, 2024

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Court Lowers Damages In PA Wrongful Repossession Award

A federal appeals court has upheld a district judge’s decision to reduce a civil jury award for punitive damages against a state police trooper assigned to the Ebensburg Station from $500,000 to $30,000, noting that while the trooper may have violated the constitutional rights of a Nanty Glo woman, his actions were not “sufficiently egregious” to support such a large amount.

The civil case involved state police actions that occurred on Oct. 5, 2016, during attempts by a Mechanicsburg company to repossess a 2014 Toyota Corolla from the property of 57-year-old Angela Hyman.

Hyman in 2014 had financed the vehicle through Capital One Auto Finance Co., but in 2016, she became ill and fell behind on her payments.

The company refused her request to defer payments during her illness, and Capital One hired Commonwealth Recovery Group Inc. to repossess the vehicle.

When the “repo man,” identified as Jeff Brunner, showed up at Hyman’s home and started to take her vehicle, her partner, Shyree Johnson, entered the vehicle and locked the doors.

Brunner called state police in Ebensburg, and several troopers responded to the scene.

One was Trooper Bryan Devlin, who during the ensuing standoff was handed a cellphone and had a conversation with Hyman’s daughter, a law student, who informed him that police may not assist a private company in the repossession process.

According to the testimony in the case, the trooper told the daughter that she could file a complaint against him, but at that moment, he insisted Johnson get out of the car or he was going to break a window and remove her.

In addition, he threatened to charge her with disorderly conduct.

The trooper gave Johnson 30 seconds to get out of the vehicle.

She relented, and Hyman’s vehicle was removed from the property.

Hyman sued, contending Devin overstepped his authority and violated her constitutional rights by assisting a private company to repossess her vehicle.

During trial in January 2019, the jury awarded Hyman $5,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.

In reviewing the jury’s verdict on appeal…

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