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Greensburg sues man, attorney over 'frivolous' case

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Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, 11:15 p.m.
 

A Greensburg man and his attorney who filed a federal suit against the City of Greensburg two years ago alleging police brutality are being sued by city officials to recoup money spent battling the case they deemed “frivolous.”

The original suit filed by attorney Robert Owsiany on behalf of Edward Wisneski, 43, stemmed from an incident on July 4, 2010, when Wisneski was stopped while driving by Greensburg police for swerving into another lane, according to the lawsuit, which was dismissed earlier this year.

Rather than stepping out of his car for a sobriety test, Wisneski grabbed the arm of an officer, then attempted to start his car and drive away, police reports indicate.

During the ensuing scuffle, one officer punched Wisneski in the face while another used a Taser to stun him, according to the city's lawsuit and police reports.

Wisneski drove away anyway, but was stopped 2.5 miles away, according to police and the city's suit.

“We countersued him because it was frivolous,” city administrator Sue Trout said Tuesday. “We felt he was almost abusing the system by pursuing charges that were frivolous.”

Owsiany said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit and would not comment. Wisneski could not be reached for comment.

City solicitor Bernard McArdle declined comment.

Wisneski was eventually convicted of driving under the influence, escape, fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, recklessly endangering another person and resisting arrest in September 2011, court records indicate.

Now that Wisneski's allegations against the city have been dismissed for lack of merit, officials are looking for reimbursement of the more than $50,000 spent fighting the case.

Greensburg's tactic is an unusual one, according to assistant professor Jessie Allen at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

In federal lawsuits, it is possible for the defendant to ask the court to impose financial sanctions on the plaintiff if the charges are found to be frivolous, Allen said.

It is rare for a plaintiff in a federal court case to file a separate case looking for restitution, rather than using this process, she said.

“It just seems odd that they would wait, not do this, and (then) file a separate case,” Allen said.

The city may be fighting an uphill battle, because it is rare that plaintiffs win when alleging that a lawsuit was frivolous. It will have to prove that Wisneski's claims were not only false, but an intentional waste of time and resources, she said.

“Simply losing doesn't mean that it was frivolous to file,” Allen said. “It's sort of an unusual action to try to get your money back.”

The city will have to pay more legal fees to cover the costs of this case.

Wisneski and Owsiany have 20 days to respond to the charges against them, once they are officially notified of the lawsuit.

Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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