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CRAWFORD v. BEARD

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


July 21, 2004.

MARSHA CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY A. BEARD, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CLARENCE NEWCOMER, Senior District Judge

ORDER and REASONING

AND NOW, this day of July, 2004, upon consideration of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 3), Plaintiff's response (Doc. 5), and Defendants' reply (Doc. 6), it is hereby ORDERED that Defendants' Motion is DENIED in part and GRANTED in part. Count III of Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED with PREJUDICE, and Count IV, as against Defendants Beard, Erhard, Vaughn, Owens, and Womack, is DISMISSED with PREJUDICE. Additionally, Plaintiff must file an amended complaint within ten (10) days of the date of this Order, eliminating any reference to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Sections 8 and 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

This case involves an attack on Plaintiff, a nurse employed by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, while she was examining an inmate at Graterford prison. Plaintiff brings this suit against several prison guards and their supervisors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She claims violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Sections 8 and 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and state tort law.

  In Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint, she alleges a state-created danger theory of liability under the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. State-created danger claims derive from a state's affirmative duty to protect individuals from harm by third persons when the state has created or increased the risk of harm. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1207 (3d Cir. 1996). A state-created danger claim requires the following five elements: 1) the state actors' conduct must shock the conscience; 2) the harm caused must be foreseeable; 3) the state actors must have acted in willful disregard of Plaintiff's rights; 4) there must be some relationship between Plaintiff and the state; and 5) the state actors must have used their authority to create an opportunity that otherwise would not have existed for the third party's crime to occur. See Kneipp, 95 F.3d at 1208; Schieber v. City of Philadelphia, 320 F.3d 409, 417 (3d Cir. 2003).

  In Plaintiff's Complaint, she alleges conduct that satisfies the elements of a state-created danger claim. First, by asserting that the inmate who attacked her was known to be violent and was classified by the prison as a high security level inmate, Plaintiff has met the foreseeability element. Specifically, the inmate had a history of assaults, including one where he poked out the eyeball of a prison staff member. Second, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants willfully disregarded her rights by failing to help her during the attack. The officers failed to stop the attack, failed to call for help, and allowed the inmate to continue strangling her. Third, at the time of the attack, Plaintiff worked for the state, which demonstrates her relationship with the state. Fourth, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Officers created the opportunity for the attack by escorting her to his cell, failing to secure him with handcuffs, and failing to take any other measures to prevent an attack. And last, while Plaintiff was being choked, feet dangling in the air, Defendant Officers still failed to call for backup or otherwise respond to the assault. Taking these allegations as true, this conduct could be found to shock the conscience. Therefore, Plaintiff has alleged a state-created danger claim upon which relief may be granted.

  In Count II of Plaintiff's Complaint, she asserts that Defendants Beard, Erhard, Vaughn, Owens, and Womack maintained a policy, custom, pattern, and practice of failing to train and supervise their staff. To prevail on this claim, Plaintiff must prove that an official policy existed and that the policy deprived Plaintiff of a constitutional right. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Plaintiff has alleged that Defendants Beard, Erhard, Vaughn, Owens, and Womack maintained a policy of poor employee training and ineffective response to prison attacks. Plaintiff asserts that prison directives and guidelines were not adequate, investigations into prison attacks were nonexistent, and disciplinary measures were not taken. Assuming these facts are true, Plaintiff has stated a cognizable Monell claim.

  In Count III of Plaintiff's Complaint, she alleges that Defendants conspired to deprive her of a constitutional right. In order for Plaintiff to prevail on this conspiracy claim, she must prove that Defendants made an agreement to deprive her of a constitutional right, and that her constitutional right was actually violated. Thompson v. City of Lawrence, 58 F.3d 1511, 1517 (10th Cir. 1995) (citing Dixon v. Lawton, 898 F.2d 1443, 1449 (10th Cir. 1990)). Plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted because she has not alleged that Defendants, especially those Defendants who were not present at the time of the incident, made any agreement. Accordingly, Count III of Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

  In Count IV of Plaintiff's Complaint, she alleges that Defendants intentionally caused her emotional distress. To prove intentional infliction of emotional distress, Plaintiff must prove Defendants' actions were willful or reckless, extreme and outrageous, and that these actions caused her severe emotional distress. Taylor v. Einstein Med. Ctr., 754 A.2d 650, 652 ( Pa. 2000) (quoting RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 46(1)). Plaintiff's Complaint only satisfies these elements as to Defendant Officers Gregoire, Seldon, Robinson, and Butler. The alleged conduct of these Defendants can be seen as willful or reckless, and extreme and outrageous. According to Plaintiff, these Defendants led her to the inmate's cell without securing the inmate, even though he had a history of psychiatric problems, escape attempts, and assaults on prison staff. Defendant Officers then failed to assist Plaintiff during the assault or call for help. Apparently, Officer Butler took the stethoscope from around Plaintiff's neck during the attack, but then stepped back and failed to offer further assistance.

  On the other hand, the conduct of Defendants Beard, Erhard, Vaughn, Owens, and Womack does not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous. According to Plaintiff, these Defendants merely failed to train or supervise their employees. These failures do not satisfy the test for intentional infliction of emotional distress. As a result, Plaintiff's intentional tort claim can go forward against Defendant Officers, but must be dismissed with prejudice as against Defendants Beard, Erhard, Vaughn, Owens, and Womack.

  Defendant Officers are not entitled to immunity. Generally, public employees receive immunity for negligent acts. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8521. Under Pennsylvania law, however, public employees do not receive immunity for their intentional torts. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8550. See also Brown v. Muhlenberg Township, 269 F.3d 205, 214 (3d Cir. 2001). Therefore, Plaintiff's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim can go forward against Defendants Gregoire, Robinson, Butler, and Seldon.

  In Count V of Plaintiff's Complaint, she alleges that Defendant Officers stood idly by as Plaintiff was attacked, and failed to intervene when they had a duty to do so. Under Plaintiff's failure to intervene claim, she must prove that: 1) the officers had a duty to intervene, 2) the officers had the opportunity to intervene, and 3) the officers failed to intervene. Smith v. Mensinger, 293 F.3d 641, 650-51 (3d Cir. 2002). Taking Plaintiff's alleged facts as true, Plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. The officers here are prison guards, and have a duty to intervene during an attack by an inmate in the prison in which they work. According to Plaintiff, although the officers had ample time to stop the attack, they failed to halt it. Viewing these facts in favor of Plaintiff, they establish a cognizable failure to intervene claim.

  Lastly, in Counts I, II, and V of Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff has alleged that Defendants' actions violated her constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Article I, Sections 8 and 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 8 both protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that would support an unreasonable search or seizure by a state actor. Plaintiff was "seized" by a prison inmate, not an officer of the law. The type of seizure that Plaintiff endured was not the type of seizure against which these provisions were designed to protect. Article I, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution protects the rights of the accused in criminal proceedings. This case has nothing to do with a criminal proceeding. These provisions, therefore, cannot support Plaintiff's causes of action. The proper basis for Plaintiff's Count I, II, and IV claims is the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which Plaintiff has cited in her Complaint. Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint within ten (10) days of the date of this Order eliminating any reference to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Sections 8 and 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

  AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

20040721

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