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Freedman v. City of Allentown

filed: August 10, 1988.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 86-4347.

Sloviter and Stapleton, Circuit Judges, and Brotman, District Judge*fn*

Author: Sloviter


SLOVITER, Circuit Judge.

This is the second time this year that we must consider whether plaintiffs have pled a viable claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 based on a jailhouse suicide. In Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 838 F.2d 663 (3d Cir. 1988), we held that in light of the allegations of the complaint and those that were proffered in the memorandum opposing dismissal, plaintiff was entitled to a reasonable amount of discovery to help her make the necessary showing to prove her case. We now must examine the allegations in this case and decide the effect of Colburn on the disposition of this appeal.


The Complaint

Because the district court dismissed the complaint, we view the allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Estate of Bailey by Oare v. County of York, 768 F.2d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985). The complaint alleges that at midday, on February 7, 1986, Jerry Freedman "appeared" at the Allentown Police Station and was questioned for the next two and one-half hours by defendant Carl Balliet, a detective with the Allentown Police, concerning "possible violations of the State Prescription Law." App. at 7. Freedman was arrested at about 2:36 p.m. and was placed by unidentified police officers in a cell which was isolated from the other cells and could not be readily observed by defendants, rather than in a booking cell where prisoners could be watched closely. Sometime before 3:15 p.m. that day, Freedman hung himself from the air vent grating with his shirt.

The administrator of Freedman's estate, his father Albert Freedman, filed a complaint based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Allentown, its Chief of Police David M. Howells, Sr., Assistant Chief Gerald Monahan, Jr., Detective Carl Balliet, two individual police officers, George LaFaver and Robert Hendricks, and Frank Kroboth, Freedman's state probation officer, to which were appended various Pennsylvania tort claims. The complaint also included a claim by Albert and Estelle Freedman under section 1983 for damages they suffered as Freedman's parents.*fn1

The complaint charged that Balliet and the individual officers "knew or should have known" of Freedman's "suicidal tendencies and attempts," and "knew or should have known" that Freedman "posed a significant and substantial risk of suicide . . . if left unattended or in possession of items with which he could take his own life," and yet "failed to take the proper precautions concerning [his] custodial care." App. at 9.

The facts specified in the complaint to support these conclusions are that Freedman was asked by Balliet during the questioning whether he had any scars, and in response rolled up his sleeves and revealed "large prominent scars" on his wrists, the inside of his elbows, and his neck. App. at 7.*fn2 These scars were described post-mortem by the forensic pathologist as "suicide hesitation cuts." App. at 7. Furthermore, these scars were "readily apparent" when Freedman was "physically searched by the defendants" after his arrest. App. at 7. The complaint alleges that during the questioning period, Balliet spoke by telephone with defendant Frank Kroboth, Freedman's state probation officer, who allegedly knew but did not inform Balliet that Freedman had suicidal tendencies and had previously attempted suicide. Finally, the complaint alleges that there had been at least one attempted suicide by the manner used by Freedman in the jail, and one actual suicide. App. at 8.

The complaint alleges that the failure of the defendants to take necessary precautions to prevent suicides constituted "willful misconduct and were intentional and deliberate and in reckless disregard of [Freedman's] rights, not merely negligence," App. at 10; that Kroboth's failure to inform Balliet of Freedman's suicidal tendencies was intentional and in reckless disregard of Freedman's civil rights; and that there was a City policy not to institute any procedure, or any mechanical system, for the effective monitoring of detainees or prisoners with known suicidal tendencies, not to appropriate the necessary funds for adequate police training in the handling of mentally disturbed suspects, and not to train police officers.


The District Court's Decision

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), which the district court granted. Freedman v. City of Allentown, 651 F. Supp. 1046 (E.D. Pa. 1987). The district court concluded that the complaint alleged nothing more than mere negligence on the part of the individual officers because there were no facts alleged which supported the allegation that the policemen knew or should have known of Freedman's suicidal tendencies. The court recognized that plaintiff had pled the presence of scars on Freedman's body, which it referred to as "the only fact alleged which could even remotely support plaintiffs' theory" of knowledge, but stated that "there is no averment that the scars could or should have alerted the officers to Freedman's alleged suicidal tendencies, serious mental disabilities, prior hospitalizations and suicide attempts." Id. at 1048. The court stated that the complaint itself alleged that Kroboth, the one defendant who had actual knowledge of Freedman's history, failed to disclose those tendencies to the police. The averments against Kroboth, the court concluded, were insufficient to support the allegations of intentional or reckless misconduct, amounting at most to a lack of due care not actionable under section 1983. Id.*fn3

The district court also held that even if the theory of inadequate training were viable as a basis for the claims against the City and supervisory personnel under section 1983, the facts alleged were inadequate to state a claim under that theory. Id. Plaintiff appeals from the court's order dismissing the complaint.




A claim under section 1983 must allege conduct which deprives the victim of a right or privilege secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See Riley v. Jeffes, 777 F.2d 143, 145 (3d Cir. 1985). In order to ascertain whether a civil rights complaint is frivolous and provides adequate notice to enable the defendants to frame an answer, this court requires that the "complaint contain a modicum of factual specificity, identifying the particular conduct of defendants that is ...

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