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A repo man has been awarded more than $1.2 million by a federal judge in his suit against a man who shot him several times when he was trying to repossess a car. In his 11-page opinion in Simmons v. Galin, Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O’Neill Jr. of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania rejected Jacques Galin’s argument that his shooting of Edward Simmons was legally justified because he feared for his life and believed he was acting to prevent a theft. O’Neill found that the self-defense argument failed because Galin “pursued” Simmons to a nearby gas station and “was the first to introduce a weapon by arriving on the scene with gun in hand.” Likewise, O’Neill found that Pennsylvania law does not allow the use of deadly force to prevent a theft unless the thief enters the victim’s home. “A good faith belief that one’s car is being stolen does not justify shooting at the supposed thief,” O’Neill wrote. According to court papers, Galin was living with Rosita Conroy in 1995 when Mellon Bank decided to repossess her car because she had fallen behind in making loan payments. Although her mother had paid the overdue balance, Mellon had already asked D&D Adjustment, a repossession company, to retrieve the car. In the early morning of Oct. 4, 1995, Simmons, a D&D employee, and his boss, David Hermes, both armed with licensed handguns, went to Conroy’s address. Simmons used a newly minted key to open and start the car and proceeded to back it out of a dead-end alley into a gas station parking lot. Galin testified that he awoke to sounds of a neighbor’s barking dog and, upon seeing the car’s taillights, grabbed a gun from his dresser drawer and left the house in his underwear to chase down what he thought was a thief. In the gas station parking lot, Galin stood in front of the car, holding his gun, and ordered Simmons to get out of the car. Hermes, who was nearby in a truck, testified that he tried to show Galin the repossession papers but was forced to duck when Galin turned the gun on him. Simmons said Galin then turned back to the car and fired a single shot through the windshield, striking Simmons in the face. Simmons said that his own gun jammed and that he was forced to slump down behind the dashboard to avoid being shot again. At that point, Simmons said, the car was still in gear and started to move forward, hitting Galin who, lying face down on the hood, continued to fire shots through the windshield, striking Simmons several more times. The shooting stopped after Hermes shot Galin in the head and called 911. “Miraculously,” O’Neill wrote, “both plaintiff and defendant survived.” Simmons’ lawyer, Stephen J. Fendler, sued Galin, citing claims of battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. O’Neill found that although there were disputes about who fired first and exactly what occurred during the face-off, Galin had admitted “two critical facts” that made him liable: that Simmons had already retreated from the alley and that Galin was the first to introduce a deadly weapon by arriving on the scene, gun in hand. In a footnote, O’Neill noted that Galin had acted as his own lawyer during the trial and “testified with commendable candor” about the incident. He also noted that Galin was courteous to the court, the plaintiff and his lawyer and “expressed great regret” over the incident. But O’Neill found that neither of Galin’s justification defenses held water. In rejecting Galin’s defense-of-property argument, O’Neill found that “under Pennsylvania law, an individual can be justified in using force to protect his property. The severity of the force applied, however, is limited.” Deadly force is allowed only where the purported thief has entered the shooter’s home and the shooter has no reason to believe that anything less than deadly force would be adequate to terminate the illegal entry, O’Neill found. O’Neill found that the facts of the case “mirror” those of Commonwealth v. Emmons, a 1945 decision from the Pennsylvania Superior Court that said car owners who witness an alleged theft of a car cannot shoot the supposed thief to prevent larceny. Instead, O’Neill said, “the use of deadly force in the protection of property is only justified when attempting to remove a trespasser from one’s dwelling.” Since Simmons never entered Galin’s dwelling and was attempting to leave when Galin pursued him, the justification defense failed, O’Neill said. The self-defense argument also failed, O’Neill said, because Pennsylvania law forbids the use of deadly force when a reasonable person would know that he would be safe by simply retreating. “Moreover, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has recognized that the justification of self-defense is unavailable when the defendant was the party who first introduced a weapon into the confrontation,” O’Neill wrote. In his final paragraphs, O’Neill awarded Simmons $242,805 for medical bills and $1 million for past and future pain and suffering. But O’Neill ruled against Simmons on his claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, saying Pennsylvania courts require that the existence of emotional distress be proved by competent medical evidence. “Plaintiff did not submit any expert medical testimony. Accordingly, he cannot prevail,” O’Neill wrote.

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