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BALDI v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

May 8, 1985

CHARLOTTE BALDI, in her own right, as Trustee Ad Litem and as Administratrix of the Estate of WILLIAM BALDI, Deceased,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VANARTSDALEN

VANARTSDALEN, J.

 The primary question before the court is whether a twenty minute police detention of the driver of a motor vehicle, stopped for a minor traffic violation while transporting plaintiff's decedent to the hospital, creates a cause of action on behalf of the decedent under section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act as a deprivation of life or liberty without due process of law. This case brings to mind the admonition of Judge Posner of the Seventh Circuit:

 
No problem so perplexes the federal courts today as determining the outer bounds of section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the ubiquitous tort remedy for deprivations of rights secured by federal law (primarily the Fourteenth Amendment) by persons acting under color of state law.

 Jackson v. City of Joliet, 715 F.2d 1200, 1201 (7th Cir. 1983).

 The issue presented in this case requires analyzing the "outer bounds" of section 1983 liability. It presents an unusual factual situation. Care must be taken to assure that the complaint sets out a cause of action under section 1983. Actions of police officers are only actionable under section 1983 if done under color of state law and deprive an individual of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws. Section 1983 was not intended to transform all common law torts (whether negligent or intentional) committed by police officers into causes of action under federal law capable of redress in federal court. Likewise, a policy or custom of a municipality is actionable under section 1983 only if the policy itself is unconstitutional or in violation of law and the implementation of the policy or custom caused the plaintiff's harm. King v. Ware, 522 F. Supp. 1206, 1210 (W.D. Pa. 1981).

 Plaintiff's complaint sets forth three causes of action, two under state law and a third alleging a violation of plaintiff's decedent's rights under the fourteenth amendment. Defendant removed plaintiff's complaint to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). Before the court are defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint and amended complaint and plaintiff's motion to remand. The motions will be addressed in turn. *fn1"

 Plaintiff's complaint and amended complaint with regard to section 1983 liability present difficult and perplexing issues. Unfortunately, neither of the briefs submitted by the parties was particularly helpful in isolating and addressing the novel issues presented in a case that clearly stretches to the "outer bounds" of section 1983 liability.

 Section 1983 of Title 42, United States Code provides:

 
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.

 In order to establish the liability of the four defendant police officers under section 1983, plaintiff must establish that her decedent was deprived of a constitutional or statutory right and that such deprivation was caused by the officers acting under color of law. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142, 90 S. Ct. 1598 (1970).

 There is no doubt that the defendant police officers were acting under color of state law in this case. Liability under section 1983 attaches, however, only if the defendants deprived plaintiff's decedent of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Determining whether such a deprivation occurred under the facts alleged is the difficult question presented by this case.

 Plaintiff contends that a number of cases "have affirmed an individual's right to medical care under the Constitution." Plaintiff's contention is far too broad. There is no provision in our Constitution, as I read it, guaranteeing citizens the right to receive medical care. What courts have frequently held is that prisoners (not the broad category "individuals") are entitled to "reasonable medical care, as needed." Bowring v. Godwin, 551 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1977). The "failure or refusal to provide treatment, when indicating a 'deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners' results in 'the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain,' . . . proscribed by the Eighth Amendment." Bowring, 551 F.2d at 47 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285 (1976)).

 Although Estelle was decided under the eighth amendment, which prevents cruel and unusual punishment to those convicted of crimes, courts have determined that the deliberate failure or refusal to provide necessary medical treatment to persons held in police custody also violates the ...


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