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HANSBERRY v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

October 22, 2002

HATTIE HANSBERRY, ET AL., PLAINTIFF,
V.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, District Judge

  EXPLANATION AND ORDER

On July 12, 2001, plaintiffs Hattie and Raleigh Hansberry, co-administrators of the estate of their son Raymond, filed an amended complaint against the City of Philadelphia ("the City"), Police Lieutenant Stacey Herring, Police Officer Thomas Hood, and Police Officer William Schneider. Plaintiffs' suit stems from the unfortunate events of April 8, 1999, when a third party fatally shot their son. They claim that the police officers who responded to the shooting increased Raymond's risk of dying by bringing him to the hospital in a police wagon rather than waiting for an ambulance. Their complaint also asserts that the officers' misconduct resulted from the City's policy of failing to train its employees properly. Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs claim that the defendants denied their son substantive due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs have also filed state law claims for wrongful death and survival.

On March 19, 2002, defendants filed a motion pursuant to both my Directive for Accelerated Judgment and Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This Directive allows the defendant to move for summary judgment by stating the issue or issues upon which the plaintiff's complaint rests and by then identifying those issues for which defendant believes there is no legal or evidentiary basis. In response to such a motion, as with summary judgment, a plaintiff must then state those claims that are still in controversy and document the evidentiary basis upon which a claim is being made. As plaintiffs have failed to raise or discuss their state law claims in their response to defendants' motion, I will consider those complaints withdrawn. Accordingly, the sole matter before me is whether there exists a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for plaintiffs' claim that defendants deprived Raymond Hansberry of his substantive due process rights. For the reasons discussed below, I find that there is insufficient evidence to support this claim and I will therefore grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.

Facts of the Case

On April 8, 1999, at 5:26:43 p.m., the Philadelphia Police 911 service received a call of a person with a gun at the corner of 30th Street and Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia, PA. At 5:28:04 p.m., police radio reported a call of a shooting at this intersection and dispatched officers to the scene of the crime. While monitoring police radio in his patrol car, defendant Lt. Herring heard the dispatcher send a fire rescue vehicle to the crime scene as well. Lt. Herring then drove to 30th Street and Ridge Avenue. After finding no one there, he spotted a crowd a few blocks away at 30th and Norris Streets. Approaching the crowd, Lt. Herring discovered Raymond lying on his back. When the Lieutenant reached Raymond, he found him breathing but unresponsive. An onlooker reported that Raymond had lost consciousness shortly before the police arrived. Because there was no ambulance and Raymond was in critical condition, Lt. Herring summoned an emergency police wagon.

Lt. Herring's co-defendants, Officers Hood and Schneider, responded to his call. At approximately 5:35 p.m. they arrived at 30th and Norris Streets in an emergency patrol wagon. As the fire rescue vehicle had still not come and Raymond remained unresponsive and in need of medical attention, Lt. Herring directed the officers to place Raymond on a stretcher, put him in the back of their patrol wagon, and take him to the nearest trauma center, MCP Hospital. Raymond and a friend, driven by Officers Hood and Schneider, arrived at MCP Hospital at approximately 5:37 p.m. The treating physician pronounced Raymond dead at 6:13 p.m.

Standard of Review

The standard of review for a summary judgment motion is the same as one for accelerated judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate 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). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)

Once the moving party has filed a motion for summary judgment or accelerated judgment, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The nonmoving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the [nonmoving] party's pleading," id., but must "support its response with affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file." See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). The "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; see also Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

Discussion

In general, state actors do not have an affirmative obligation to protect citizens from private violence. The Due Process Clause "is phrased as a limitation on the State's power to act, not as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security." DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Soc. Services, 489 U.S. 189, 195 (1989). For this reason, individuals usually have no right to "governmental aid, even where such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government itself may not deprive the individual." Id. at 196. Applying DeShaney "in the context of emergency services, state and federal courts have consistently held that the provision by the state of inadequate or incompetent emergency services does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation." Huston v. Montgomery County, No. Civ. 95-4209, 1995 WL 766308, at *3 (E.D.Pa., 1995). See also, Regalbuto v. City of Philadelphia, 937 F. Supp. 374, 379 (E.D.Pa. 1995) ("[T]he Due Process Clause does not impose an affirmative obligation on the state to provide the public with adequate emergency rescue services."), aff'd, 91 F.3d 125 (3d Cir. 1996)

There are, however, two exceptions to the presumption against state responsibility for the acts of private tortfeasors: (i) cases where there exists a "special relationship" between the individual and the state, such that the state has a duty to protect the health and safety of the individual, see DeShaney, 289 U.S. at 197-201; and (ii) cases where a "state-created danger" causes harm to an individual. See Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 807 n. 6 (3d Cir. 2000) (en banc); Kniepp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204-5 (3d Cir. 1996). The plaintiffs allege that Lt. Herring and Officers Schneider and Hood, acting in their capacity as state agents, created the dangerous condition that deprived Raymond of his life. Pl.'s Resp., ΒΆ 1. I will address the question of whether plaintiffs have presented legally sufficient evidence that defendants, through the actions of the individual officers, created a dangerous condition that led to Raymond's death. I will then decide whether ...


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