danger exception which permits a plaintiff to recover "when, under certain
circumstances, a state actor creates a danger that causes harm to an
individual." Cannon v. City of Philadelphia, 86 F. Supp.2d 460, 465
(E.D.Pa. 2000)(citations omitted). While we hold that plaintiffs may not
proceed on the basis of a special relationship, we hold that plaintiffs
have plead sufficient facts so as to allow them to advance their case on
the basis of the state created danger exception.
Under the state created danger exception, a state actor may be held
liable if: "(1) the harm ultimately caused was foreseeable and fairly
direct; (2) the state actor acted in willful disregard for the safety of
the plaintiff (3) there existed some relationship between the state and
the plaintiff and (4) the state actors used their authority to create an
opportunity that otherwise would not have existed for the third party's
crime to occur." Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1208 (1996) (citations
omitted). In this case, plaintiffs allege that the Pike County defendants
knew that James Hand had violent propensities towards the women he was
romantically involved with, that the defendants knew that James Hand had
gotten married, and that the defendants' actions and omissions after Mr.
Hand's release from prison created the opportunity to harm Lori Hand. For
purposes of the instant motion to dismiss, we find that plaintiffs have
plead sufficient facts so as to be permitted to proceed.
However, we hold that plaintiffs, as a matter of law, may not proceed
with their claim on the basis of the special relationship theory of
liability. "Under this doctrine, a state assumes [a duty to protect
citizens from private harm] when it takes physical custody of a person or
otherwise prevents him from helping himself." Susavage v. Bucks County
Schools Intermediate Unit No. 22, 2002 WL 109615, *9 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 22,
2002)(citing D.R. by L.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical
Scale, 972 F.2d 1364 (3d Cir. 1992)(en banc.)). In DeShaney, the Supreme
Court found that a special relationship existed where the state "by the
affirmative exercise of its power so restrains an individual's liberty
that it renders him unable to care for himself, and at the same time
fails to provide for his basic human needs — e.g., food, clothing,
shelter, medical care, and reasonable safety . . ." DeShaney, 489 U.S. at
200. Here, because plaintiffs have not alleged facts demonstrating that
defendants, through their affirmative conduct, placed Lori Hand in a
custodial environment or otherwise restrained her personal liberty, we
hold that the special relationship exception may not be utilized by
plaintiffs as a basis for establishing defendants' liability. See
Susavage, 2002 WL at *12 (stating that in order for a plaintiff to
establish § 1983 liability on the basis of a special relationship, a
plaintiff must allege facts that defendant, "through its affirmative
conduct, . . . placed [the injured party] in a custodial environment or
otherwise restrained her personal liberty," that defendant "left [the
injured party] without a reasonable means of self protection," that the
defendant "knew or should have known of the risk" to the injured party,
and that the defendant "failed to protect [the injured party] under
circumstances demonstrating deliberate indifference").
Since we are ultimately denying the Pike County defendants' motion to
dismiss Count I of plaintiffs' complaint, plaintiffs pendent state law
claims will likewise endure.
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT:
1. Defendants' Pike County Probation Department and Pike County
Probation Officers Titanski and Angrotti's Motion to
Dismiss (doc. 8) is granted in part and denied in part.
2. The motion to dismiss plaintiffs' punitive damage claim as against
these defendants is granted.
3. Plaintiffs' remaining claims against these defendants remain intact.