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PAHLE v. COLEBROOKDALE TOWNSHIP

March 26, 2002

TED R. PAHLE AND LYNN ANN PAHLE H/W, PLAINTIFFS
V.
COLEBROOKDALE TOWNSHIP, LARRY MAUGER, COLEBROOKDALE TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT DOUGLAS/BERKS TOWNSHIP, TOD HECKMAN, DOUGLAS/BERKS TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, KATHERINE M. FRYER AND DANA DOTTERER DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Franklin Van Antwerpen, United States District Judge.

    OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Ted and Lynn Pahle assert claims under § 1983*fn1 and state tort claims against several law enforcement officials and departments along with their associated municipalities, arising from Mr. Pahle's drunk driving arrest on June 28, 1998. We now find that a dispute of material fact exists as to whether Officer Katherine Fryer had probable cause for her detention and arrest of Mr. Pahle. A trier of fact must also determine whether she used excessive force in this arrest. Plaintiff's state law assault and battery and false imprisonment claims survive for the same reasons. Moreover, in an unsettled area of Pennsylvania law, after analyzing the seemingly conflicting precedents, we believe that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would allow Lynn Pahle's derivative, state loss of consortium claim against Officer Fryer to survive. If Mrs. Pahle shows that her husband was emotionally or physically injured by Officer Fryer's alleged unlawful conduct, such that she suffered damaged marital expectations, then she should be able to recover damages under Pennsylvania law for loss of consortium. We also believe that in the Third Circuit, Mrs. Pahle could have alleged that Defendants incurred § 1983 liability by interfering directly with her constitutional rights to marital integrity and spousal association. However, Mrs. Pahle did not adequately plead such a Due Process violation, and waived any federal claims. We will grant summary judgment as to all of Mr. Pahle's remaining state and federal claims.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

Though the parties allege vastly different factual accounts, our responsibility is to consider whether Plaintiffs' version of the events, viewed in its most favorable light, is sufficient to overcome summary judgment. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 341 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1010, 106 S.Ct. 537, 88 L.Ed.2d 467 (1985). Plaintiffs' account is as follows:

Mr. Pahle suffered brain damage and a host of other serious injuries in a devastating fall down the stairs of his home in 1994. He spent years trying to regain functionality, and still has great difficulty with memory, other mental functions and many physical activities. His recovery has been impeded by bouts with alcoholism.

In June 1998, Mr. Pahle was not drinking and was just starting to reintegrate into society and resume working (he owned a welding business prior to his catastrophic injuries). Then early in the morning of June 28, 1998, Mr. Pahle was pulled over by Colebrookdale Township Police Officer Katherine Fryer on his way home from a local diner (hereafter, "the incident"). Though Mr. Pahle was driving normally, Officer Fryer stopped Mr. Pahle on a tip from two off-duty police officers. They contacted her after they saw Mr. Pahle in the diner parking lot and believed he was drunk and unfit to drive.

Mr. Pahle moved immediately to the side of the road upon being signaled to do so by Officer Fryer. She approached his vehicle and asked him for his driver's license and registration. Mr. Pahle was very nervous and began fumbling with his wallet to find disability identity cards, attempting to explain to Officer Fryer that his communication capacity was impaired by his brain injury. Officer Fryer grew impatient with Mr. Pahle's failure to produce the requested documents, and asked that he step out of his vehicle to undergo several sobriety tests. Mr. Pahle refused to take the tests, on account of his disabilities, but said he would consent to a blood test.

Thereupon, Officer Fryer asked Mr. Pahle to lie over the trunk of his vehicle and began to arrest Mr. Pahle, pulling his arms behind his back to place him in handcuffs. Because of Mr. Pahle's injuries, he experienced excruciating pain when Officer Fryer forced his right arm behind him, and he reflexively spun away from her and into the roadway. Officer Fryer perceived Mr. Pahle's action as an attempt to resist arrest, and she forced him to the ground and placed him in handcuffs. In the process, Mr. Pahle re-injured the shoulder and arm he had been rehabilitating, along with his face and head, which struck the pavement. While Mr. Pahle was on the ground, Officer Fryer kicked him several times.

Prior to the incident, Officer Fryer received training in handling individuals with disabilities, but none regarding brain-damaged individuals. Colebrookdale Township and the Colebrookdale Township Police Chief, Larry Mauger, did not learn Plaintiffs' version of the incident until this lawsuit was filed.

After the incident, Mrs. Pahle states that Mr. Pahle became paranoid, keeping the shades drawn and the doors secured at home with extra boards. He became antisocial, in that he stopped bathing, would not leave the house unaccompanied, became upset very easily and even turned suicidal. Moreover, he stopped performing household chores he had been doing, such as maintaining the lawn, and discontinued his efforts to resume working. Mrs. Pahle was required to be Mr. Pahle's keeper, nursemaid and cook. Though he had never done so previously, Mr. Pahle threatened to strike his wife by raising his hand toward her. Eventually, Mrs. Pahle believed her husband's mental state had deteriorated so much since the incident that she felt he was a danger to himself and others and that she could not safely return to her own home until she had him committed to a mental institution. Subsequently, the Pahles were divorced, though they had never been separated before the incident, and their house was repossessed.

At a limited oral argument on March 20, 2002, the parties agreed that Mr. Pahle accepted an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) regarding the criminal charges filed against him*fn3 before he was tried on those charges. Thereafter, Defendants submitted the ARD hearing transcript, showing that Mr. Pahle accepted ARD without pleading guilty or otherwise admitting to any of the offenses.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment

The court shall render summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248. All inferences must be drawn, and all doubts resolved, in favor of the non-moving party — in this case, Plaintiff. Diebold, 369 U.S. at 655; Gans, 762 F.2d at 341. On a motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must respond with facts of record that contradict the facts identified by the movant and may not rest on mere denials. Id. at 321 FN 3 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see First Nat'l Bank of Pennsylvania v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 824 F.2d 277, 282 (3d Cir. 1987). The non-moving party must demonstrate the existence of evidence that would support a jury finding in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.

B. Jurisdiction, Applicable Law

We have original, subject matter jurisdiction over § 1983 claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We consider Plaintiffs' state law claims by exercising our supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), inasmuch as these claims arise from the same actions by Defendants that allegedly violated § 1983. On such state law questions, we apply the rules established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. See Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Bosch's, 387 U.S. 456, 465, 87 S.Ct. 1776, 18 L.Ed.2d 886 (1967).

Lower state court decisions are persuasive, but not binding, on the federal court's authority. If the State's highest court has not spoken on a particular issue, the "federal authorities must apply what they find to be the state law after giving `proper regard' to relevant rulings of other courts of the State." Smith v. Whitmore, 270 F.2d 741, 745 (3rd Cir. 1959); see also Polselli v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins., 126 F.3d 524, 528 (3d. Cir. 1997); Scranton Dunlop, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 2000 WL 1100779, *1 (E.D.Pa.) ("Since this is a matter of state law that has not been decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a prediction must be made as to how that court would rule if confronted with the same facts.").

C. Section 1983 Generally

To state a claim for civil damages under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant, through conduct sanctioned under the color of state law, deprived her of a federal constitutional or statutory right. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.E.2d 420 (1986); Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3rd Cir. 2000). Section 1983 does not create any new substantive rights, but instead provides a remedy for the violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right. Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979); Gruenke, 225 F.3d at 298.

Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges a wide range of constitutional claims, including violations of the First, Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, Plaintiffs contend that Officer Fryer breached Mr. Pahle's constitutional rights by stopping, detaining, arresting and transporting him without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and by using excessive force in effectuating his arrest. Colebrookdale Township ("the Township"), the Colebrookdale Township Police Department ("the police department") and Chief Larry Mauger allegedly infringed upon Plaintiffs' constitutional rights through their poor training on arrest tactics and interaction with disabled individuals and their deliberate indifference to the use of excessive force in incidents like the one involving Mr. Pahle.

D. Federal Claims Against Colebrookdale Township Police Department

In § 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities, because the police departments are merely administrative agencies of the municipalities — not separate judicial entities. See, e.g., Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir. 1992); Rhodes v. McDannel, 945 F.2d 117, 120 (6th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1032, 112 S.Ct. 872, 116 L.Ed.2d 777 (1992); Open Inns, Ltd. v. Chester County Sheriff's Dept., 24 F. Supp.2d 410, 417 (E.D.Pa. 1998); Irvin v. Borough of Darby, 937 F. Supp. 446, 451 (E.D.Pa. 1996); Regalbuto v. City of Philadelphia, 937 F. Supp. 374, 377 (E.D.Pa. 1995). Because the police department is merely an arm of the Township, and thus a redundant party, we will grant summary judgment to the police department on all federal claims.

E. State Claims Against Colebrookdale Township and Colebrookdale Township Police Department

Under the PSTCA, local agencies are not liable for injuries caused by their own acts or the acts of their employees that constitute "crime[s], actual fraud, malice or willful misconduct." 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. § 8542(a). Intentional torts are "willful misconduct" under § 8452(a).Therefore, the PSTCA bars all of Plaintiffs' remaining state law claims against the Township and the police department. We will grant summary judgment as to all state law claims against these entities.*fn4

F. Federal Claims Against Colebrookdale Township

Showing that Mr. Pahle was mistreated by Officer Fryer during the incident would be insufficient, in and of itself, to establish the Township's liability. Municipalities cannot be liable under § 1983 based on the theory of respondeat superior.*fn5 Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Moreover, proving one incident of misconduct, however severe, cannot in and of itself engender municipal liability. Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823-824, 105 S.Ct. 2427, 85 L.Ed.2d 791 (1985). The Township may only be held liable under § 1983 if Plaintiffs provide evidence indicating that it had a general policy or custom which allowed the use of excessive force or other constitutional violations in detaining, taking into custody and arresting suspects. Id.

Plaintiffs contend that Defendants deliberately or negligently failed to train their officers as to the proper use of force and the proper way to engage disabled individuals. But the bare assertion that the city failed to provide training does not establish that the entity failed to train officers or acted with deliberate indifference. Recall that Plaintiffs must demonstrate evidence that would support a jury finding in their favor, and may not rest on their pleadings. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.

Here, the only relevant evidence of record suggests that Officer Fryer and others received consistent training on proper arrest procedures, and specifically received instruction as to how to cope with people with physical and mental impairments. See Lawrence J. Mauger Deposition, pp. 60-69; Katherine M. Fryer Deposition, pp. 7-17, 76-78. In addition to more generalized training, Officer Fryer, Chief Mauger and others attended a seminar at Norristown State Hospital on dealing with mentally ill individuals. Id., Mauger at p. 67, Fryer at p. 77.

Though the Township had no written policy concerning arrests of disabled suspects, an explicit policy prohibited excessive force. The policy, "Use of Force (8-28-96)," limits "the use of force to those situations of absolute necessity. All officers will only use the amount of force reasonable and necessary on any particular occasion." Defendant's Summary Judgment Motion, Exhibit I.

While it is conceivable that such training and policies could be widely ignored, Plaintiffs have offered no evidence that Township officials did so. Plaintiffs' only allegations concern the single incident with Mr. Pahle. Plaintiffs failed to show a pattern of excessive force violations or inadequate training sufficient to establish municipal liability. We will grant summary judgment as to all claims against the Township.

G. Federal and State Claims Against Chief Mauger in his Individual Capacity

As with municipal liability, supervisory liability under § 1983 cannot be based solely upon the doctrine of respondeat superior — Plaintiffs must affirmatively show conduct by the Township's Police Chief Mauger that played a role in the constitutional violations. Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1478 (3d Cir. 1990), citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 377, 96 S.Ct. 598, 46 L.Ed.2d 561 (1976). The Third Circuit explains, "Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.

Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence . . . must be made with appropriate particularity." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Plaintiffs must show at the very least that Chief Mauger acted with deliberate indifference to the alleged constitutional violations. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989).

Here, Plaintiffs have neither alleged nor offered evidence that Chief Mauger personally directed Officer Fryer to apprehend Mr. Pahle or to use force. Nor have Plaintiffs provided evidence suggesting that Chief Mauger knew of the alleged wrongdoing and acquiesced. The Plaintiffs do not show that Chief Mauger acted with deliberate indifference. On the contrary, Chief Mauger testified without rebuttal that he did not learn of the incident involving Mr. Pahle until after Plaintiffs filed suit. Furthermore, upon learning of the incident, he immediately investigated the matter with Officer Fryer, though he eventually concluded ...


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