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Searles v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Authority

filed: April 27, 1993.

HESTER LEE SEARLES, INDIVIDUALLY, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF METZ JOHN SEARLES, DECEASED, AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF SIMILARLY SITUATED INDIVIDUALS, APPELLANT IN NO. 92-1573,
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY HESTER LEE SEARLES, INDIVIDUALLY, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF METZ JOHN SEARLES, DECEASED, AND ON BEHALF OF A CLASS OF SIMILARLY SITUATED INDIVIDUALS, APPELLANT IN NO. 92-1574, V. J. CLAYTON UNDERCOFLER; FRANK W. JENKINS; MARY C. HARRIS; THOMAS M. HAYWARD; RICHARD E. KURTZ; H. PATRICK SWYGERT; ANDREW L. WARREN; LOUIS J. GAMBACCINI; HOWARD J. ROBERTS, JR.; CHARLES W. THOMAS; R. O. SWINDELL; PATRICK NOWAKOWSKI; RICHARD L. FASY; JOSEPH RUSSELL; JOHN T. PRADER; SANDRA E. PEOPPLES; GEORGE SPENCE; JEFF MCCORMICK; HAL S. DAVIDOW; W. ERIC VOGEL; R. M. HERGENRADER; CHARLES BAUM; STEPHEN C. STITSWORTH; HENRY DAVID, JR.; GERALD P. LYNCH, JR.; ANTHONY THEODORO; WILLIAM SWENT; WILLIAM C. GLENN; DOMINIC PRINCIPE; GINO ROMAN; CARMEN DIGAETANO; WILLIAM GULDEN; DENNIS MILLER; ROBERT BURRELL; MIGUEL MONCAYO; GENE YEE; LARRY JACKSON; R. LYMAN; PAUL GARY EL; JAMES SWEENEY; ROBERT PERAZZO; RICHARD LINEMAN; JOSEPH FARKUS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. D.C. Civil Action Nos. 91-CV-6687 & 92-CV-1065.

Before: Hutchinson, Nygaard and Seitz, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Hester Lee Searles, individually and in her capacity as administratrix of the estate of her husband, filed the first of two complaints on October 28, 1991, seeking damages for the fatal injuries sustained by her husband in the derailment of a Market/Frankford Elevated ("El") railcar on March 7, 1990.*fn1 The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA") which operates the El was the named defendant in the first complaint. On February 20, 1992, plaintiff filed a second complaint against a number of individual SEPTA employees and officers. Both complaints contain similar allegations.

The derailment occurred after a motor that had fallen from the bottom of a moving railcar struck a switch and caused the rear wheels of the car in which decedent was traveling to go onto a different track than the front wheels of that car. The car, which was then travelling on two different tracks, struck the pillars that separated the tracks. As a result, decedent was killed.

Plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to secure the motor properly and also failed to discover the alleged dangerous condition despite numerous purported maintenance inspections. Plaintiff asserts liability based upon SEPTA's alleged "policy or custom of following a maintenance inspection and repair program . . . which was grossly negligent, in reckless disregard for the safety of the public, and . . . continued with deliberate indifference to the rights of others." Plaintiff also asserts that one or more of the individual defendants "adopted and approved" this policy. Plaintiff alleges that "as a result of defendants' acts or omissions, defendants deprived persons in SEPTA's care as users of public transportation of safe and continued enjoyment of life, and liberty without due process of law, entitling plaintiff to bring these actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983."

Defendants filed identical motions to dismiss the two complaints for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The district court, in a consolidated memorandum and order, granted both motions to dismiss. Subsequently, plaintiff filed timely appeals from the district court's order.

The district court had jurisdiction over these Section 1983 actions to redress an alleged violation of constitutional rights under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1988) and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3) (1988). We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988) over these appeals from the district court's order granting defendants' motions to dismiss. Our review is plenary. See Ditri v. Coldwell Banker Residential Affiliates, Inc., 954 F.2d 869, 871 (3d Cir. 1992).

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants assert, and the district court concluded, that dismissal of the complaints in these cases was compelled by the Supreme Court's decision in Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Texas, 117 L. Ed. 2d 261, 112 S. Ct. 1061 (1992). Plaintiff finds this case distinguishable. Accordingly, we turn to a detailed review of the Collins decision and a comparison of the complaint in that case with plaintiff's complaints in these cases.

A. Collins v. City of Harker Heights

In Collins, the Section 1983 action plaintiff was the wife of a city sanitation worker who died of asphyxia after being overcome by sewer gas. Liability was predicated on a violation of substantive due process.*fn2 The policy asserted in Collins was a "custom and policy of not training [city] employees about the dangers of working in sewer lines and manholes, not providing safety equipment at job sites, and not providing safety warnings." Id. at 1064. The constitutional right asserted was the decedent's "constitutional right to be free from unreasonable risks of harm to his body, mind and ...


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