The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lowell A. Reed, Jr., S.J.
Defendant Alfred Campbell now moves for summary judgment (Document No.
52) in this civil rights case, seeking a ruling that the evidence could
not support a jury finding that he violated the equal protection rights
of plaintiff Sharon Williams, and that regardless, he is entitled to
qualified immunity. Upon consideration of the arguments and the evidence
of record, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
On a prior motion for summary judgment in this case, the Court ruled
that there remained a genuine issue of material fact as to whether
defendant Alfred Campbell violated the right of plaintiff to equal
protection through his personal involvement in the decision to place
plaintiff on restricted duty in the course of her employment with the
Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control and Enforcement
("Bureau"). See Williams v. Pennsylvania State Police, 108 F. Supp.2d 460,
472-73 (E.D.Pa. 2000). In the months that have passed since this Court
rendered that decision, the Bureau terminated plaintiff's employment.
Plaintiff then amended her complaint to include Title VII and equal
protection claims arising out of that termination, which allegedly flowed
directly from the decision to place plaintiff on restricted duty.
Campbell now moves for summary judgment as to the equal protection
claim against him, not only as to her termination-related claim, but also
as to her claim arising out of her placement on restricted duty. This
Court cannot and will not revisit its prior decision to deny summary
judgment as to the restricted duty claim. Thus, the sole question this
Court will address today is whether summary judgment is appropriate as to
plaintiff's claim that Campbell violated her equal protection rights by
causing her to be terminated.
Campbell's central argument is that there is insufficient evidence
linking him to the decision to terminate plaintiff, largely because he
was not employed by the Bureau at the time the decision to terminate
plaintiff was made. This motion presents an issue that is not often
discussed in the civil rights setting; the issue of proximate causation.
Although it is not frequently addressed, the element of proximate cause
is implicit in 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and thus must be established in
order to prove liability.
Section 1983 places liability on a person who "subjects, or causes to
be subjected" another to a constitutional deprivation. See
42 U.S.C. § 1983. This language suggests that there are two ways a
defendant may be liable for a constitutional deprivation under §
1983: (2) direct, personal involvement in the alleged constitutional
violation on the part of the defendant, or (2) actions or omissions that
are not constitutional violations in themselves, but foreseeably lead to
a constitutional violation. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
offered a most cogent discussion of this issue in Arnold v. International
Bus. Machines Corp., 637 F.2d 1350 (9th Cir. 1981):
A person `subjects' another to the deprivation of a
constitutional right, within the meaning of section
1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in
another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act
which he is legally required to do that causes the
deprivation of which complaint is made. . . .
Moreover, personal participation is not the only
predicate for section 1983 liability. Anyone who
"causes" any citizen to be subjected to a
constitutional deprivation is also liable. The
requisite causal connection can be established not
only by some kind of direct personal participation in
the deprivation, but also by setting in motion a
series of acts by others which the actor knows or
reasonably should know would cause others to inflict
the constitutional injury.
Id. at 1355 (emphasis added) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740,
743-44 (9th Cir. 1978)).
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has not directly addressed
this issue of proximate causation in § 1983 cases. Defendant cites
Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) for the
proposition that a plaintiff may only prevail on a § 1983 claim
against an individual defendant if the plaintiff shows that the defendant
was personally involved in the actual constitutional violation. The
passage from Rode upon which defendant relies reads, "A defendant in a
civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged
wrongs; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of
respondeat superior." Id. at 1207. As is clear from the quotation, the
observations of the court of appeals in Rode concerning personal
involvement were made in the context of a discussion of plaintiff's
theory of liability, not proximate causation. The cases the Rode court
cited for in support of its "personal involvement" proposition also dealt
only with respondeat superior liability, and not with causation.
Respondeat superior liability and proximate causation are distinct
concepts*fn2 and therefore have distinct analyses. Therefore, I do not
believe that the observations of the court of appeals in Rode are
controlling in this context, where the question is not whether a
supervisor could be responsible for the actions of her subordinates, but
whether there is a sufficient nexus between the actions of an individual
and an alleged constitutional wrong.
Because I can find no controlling law from the Court of Appeals for the
Third Circuit on this issue, and because I consider the analysis of the
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Arnold to be persuasive and
most consistent with the language of § 1983, I adopt the Arnold
analysis today and hold that causation by an individual defendant in a
§ 1983 action may be established in two ways: (1) with evidence of
direct personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation by
the defendant, or (2) with evidence that the defendant set in motion a
series of acts by others that the defendant knew or reasonably should
have known would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury.*fn3
It is not disputed that Campbell had no direct, personal involvement in
the decision to terminate plaintiff. Plaintiff urges liability on the
second ground; that Campbell set in motion a series of events that he
knew or reasonably should have known would cause others to terminate
her. The crux of the motion for summary judgment, then, is whether there
is evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Campbell knew or
reasonably should have known that his acts ultimately would cause
Plaintiff presents no new evidence on this point. Rather, she relies on
the evidence presented on the prior motion for summary judgment, upon
which this Court based its conclusion that there was a genuine issue of
material fact as to whether Campbell violated her equal protection rights
by placing her on restricted duty. That evidence consisted primarily of a
memorandum from Campbell memorializing the decision to place plaintiff on
restricted duty. ...