The opinion of the court was delivered by: John E. Jones III, District Judge
THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:
The facts underlying this dispute are well known and need not be
restated here. For purposes of this order it is sufficient to note that
this is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983*fn1
by plaintiffs Frances Petrone and Joann Petrone in their capacities as
co-administratrixes of the Estate of Lori Hand. Ms. Hand was murdered by
her husband James Hand on or about October 4, 2000. Plaintiffs have
brought suit against defendants alleging inter alia that defendants Pike
County Probation Department and Pike County Probation Officers Titanski
and Angrotti ("the Pike County defendants" or "defendants") violated Ms.
Hand's substantive due process rights by failing to inform Ms. Hand of
her husband's long history of violent behavior towards women.
Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a complaint in the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania. The case was transferred to District Judge
Richard Caputo in this Middle District of Pennsylvania on June 6, 2002.
Thereafter, on September 18, 2002, the case was transferred to the
On July 16, 2002, the Pike County defendants filed the instant motion
to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Defendants argue that Count I of plaintiffs' complaint, asserting
violations of the deceased Lori Hand's substantive due process rights,
should be dismissed. Defendants also move to dismiss the punitive damages
claims asserted against them on the ground that punitive damages are not
available against a public entity defendant or individuals in their
official capacities for violations of § 1983. Finally, in the event
that this Court dismisses Count I of the complaint, defendants argue that
this Court should decline to exercise pendent jurisdiction over
plaintiffs' Pennsylvania state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1338
In considering a motion to dismiss, a court must accept the veracity of
a plaintiff's allegations. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974);
White v. Napoleon, 897 F.2d 103, 106 (3d Cir. 1990). In Nami v. Fauver,
82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996), our Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
added that in considering a motion to dismiss based on a failure to state
a claim argument, a court should "not inquire whether the plaintiffs will
ultimately prevail, only whether they are entitled to offer evidence to
support their claims." Furthermore, "a complaint should not be dismissed
for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). See
District Council 47 v. Bradley, 795 F.2d3 310 (3d Cir. 1986). The court
will now discuss defendants' motions in light of the standards set forth
above and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
At the outset, we note that plaintiffs concede and we agree that the
punitive damages claims against the Pike County defendants must be
dismissed. See City of Newport v. Fact Concert, Inc., 453, U.S. 247, 271
(1981)(holding that punitive damages are unavailable under § 1983
against municipalities or against local officials acting in their
official capacity); see also Agresta v. Goode, 797 F. Supp. 399, 410
(E.D.Pa. 1992). Our order will reflect this determination.
According to the United States Supreme Court, "[t]he first inquiry in
any § 1983 suit . . . is whether the plaintiff has been deprived of a
right `secured by the Constitution and laws'" of the United States.*fn2
Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140 (1979). See also Pokrandt v.
Shields, 773 F. Supp. 758, 765 (E.D. Pa. 1991), Gomez v. Whitney,
757 F.2d 1005, 1006 (9th Cir. 1985), Althouse v. Dallas County District
Court, 2002 WL 255478, *2 (N.D. Tex. 2002). Here, defendants argue that
plaintiffs have not adequately stated a claim for relief under § 1983
because the constitutional deprivation alleged cannot be fairly
attributable to defendants' conduct.
Defendants' argument rests upon the Supreme Court's holding in Martinez
v. State of California, 444 U.S. 277 (1980). In Martinez, the survivors
of a murdered girl brought suit against a parole board and its
officials, claiming that the defendants were liable for the damages
caused by the parolee who murdered the deceased girl five months after
his release from prison. The Supreme Court dismissed the § 1983
claims against the parole board and its officials, holding inter alia
that the allegations contained within the complaint were too remote and
therefore insufficient to demonstrate that appellees deprived the
deceased of life within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. See id.
at 285. The Court noted, however, that its holding was limited to the
particular circumstances in that case, where the parolee "was in no sense
an agent of the parole board . . . and was not aware that [the]
decedent, as distinguished from the public at large, faced any special
danger." Id. (citations omitted).
We agree with plaintiffs that the facts surrounding the instant matter
are sufficiently distinct from those in Martinez so as to warrant a
denial of defendants' motion.
In general, the state and its officials have no affirmative obligation
to protect citizens from the violent acts of private individuals. See
Deshaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189,
195-95 (1989). Two exceptions to this general rule exist: (1) the special
relationship exception, which "allows a plaintiff to recover when the
state enters in to a special relationship with a particular citizen . . .
and fails, under sufficiently culpable circumstances, to protect the
health and safety of the citizen to whom it owes an affirmative duty,"
Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 907 (1997)(internal
citations and quotations omitted), and (2) the state created
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 ...