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PAHLE v. COLEBROOKDALE TOWNSHIP
March 26, 2002
TED R. PAHLE AND LYNN ANN PAHLE H/W, PLAINTIFFS
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
B. Jurisdiction, Applicable Law
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
Both the police department and the Township are political subdivisions
and local agencies. As to Plaintiffs' state law claims against the police
department and the Township, the Pennsylvania Political
Claims Act (PSTCA), 42 Pa. Cons.Stat. §§ 8541-64, grants governmental
immunity to political subdivisions against claims for damages on account
of any injury to a person or to property except for negligent acts
falling within one of eight categories: (1) vehicle liability, (2) care,
custody or control of personal property, (3) real property, (4) trees,
traffic controls and street lighting, (5) utility service facilities, (6)
streets, (7) sidewalks, and (8) care, custody or control of animals. 42
Pa. Cons.Stat. § 8542(b). Plaintiffs do not allege negligence within
any of § 8542's enumerated categories, and thus cannot allege common
law negligence by the police department or the Township.
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.
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
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
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 ...