United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 1, 2004.
MICHAEL ARNOLD, ET AL., Plaintiffs
CITY OF YORK AND MICHAEL R. HILL, Police Chief of the City of York Police Department, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN E. JONES, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Pending before this Court is the Motion to Dismiss of
Defendants, City of York ("City"), and Michael R. Hill, Chief of
the York Police Department. We have jurisdiction pursuant to
28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343 and 1367, and have reviewed the submissions
of the parties. For the reasons discussed below, we will deny
Michael Arnold and Linda Julius ("Plaintiffs") initiated this
action on August 11, 2003 on behalf of their deceased son,
Christopher Arnold ("Arnold" or "Decedent"). At issue in this
case are the events of August 12, 2002 that resulted in Arnold's
death. At the time of his death, Arnold was 29 years old and had
been suffering from long-term schizophrenia. Plaintiffs allege
that shortly before August 12, 2002, Arnold, through no fault of
his own, was unable to take his medication for his schizophrenia
and thus was his mental condition rendered him agitated,
paranoid, and hallucinatory. Thereafter, on August 12, 2002,
Arnold was observed wandering the streets of York in a delusional
state. A woman who witnessed Arnold talking to himself called the
York Police Department to report him. The Department classified
the call as a "code 96," or person with mental illness, and
dispatched officers to the area.
The police searched the neighborhood and were told by neighbors
where Arnold lived. A police officer and chaplin who was riding
along arrived at Arnold's apartment at approximately 12:15 a.m.
They heard Arnold talking to himself inside and called for
back-up. When officers called to Arnold to exit his apartment, he
jumped through a porch window and fled.
Plaintiffs claim that while in the process of apprehending
Arnold, police officers and the chaplin engaged in a physical
struggle with him in which they applied O.C. spray, struck him
with a flashlight and batons, forced him to the ground, knelt on
his back, held him in a face down position, and cuffed his hands
and shackled his legs, strapping them together in a "hog-tie"
position. At some point the officers called for an ambulance and
a patrol wagon to come to the scene. When the patrol wagon
arrived, the officers lifted Arnold off of the ground and placed
him in the face down position in the back of patrol wagon. The
officers transported Arnold to York County Hospital for treatment
of a head wound he incurred in the struggle. Plaintiffs claim
that the officers noticed Arnold's irregular or "agonal"
breathing while transporting him but did not adjust his position
or inform the hospital. Based on these actions on the part of the
officers, Plaintiffs allege Arnold died from a condition known as
Plaintiffs' Complaint pleads the following Section 1983 and
Pennsylvania state law claims against the City of York and its
Police Chief, Michael R. Hill: 1) Defendants failed to train the
City's police officers regarding the risks of positional
asphyxia, in violation of Decedent's Fourteenth Amendment rights;
2) Defendants violated Decedent's rights under the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 ("Rehabilitation Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 794, by treating
Arnold, who was disabled under the Act, in a discriminatory
manner; 3) Defendants violated Decedent's rights under the
Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12132, by
treating Arnold in a discriminatory manner; 4) a survival action
on behalf of Decedent's estate; and 5) a wrongful death claim
This case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion
for preliminary review. On June 28, 2004, Magistrate Judge
Mannion issued a report recommending that Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss be granted in part and denied in part, to the following
extent: as to Count I, the Motion should be denied; as to Counts
II and III, the Motion should be granted as to Defendant Police
Chief Hill and denied as to Defendant City of York.
Defendants filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report
and Recommendation on July 12, 2004, and Plaintiffs filed a brief
in opposition to Defendants' objections on July 29, 2004. As
Defendants filed a reply brief on August 11, 2004, the issues
have been fully briefed and this matter is now ripe for
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When objections are filed to a report of a magistrate judge, we
make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or
specified proposed findings or recommendations made by the
magistrate judge to which there are objections. United States
vs. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local
Rule 72.3l. Furthermore, district judges have wide discretion as
to how they treat recommendations of a magistrate judge. Id.
Indeed, in providing for a de novo review determination rather
than a de novo hearing, Congress intended to permit whatever
reliance a district judge, in the exercise of sound discretion,
chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and
recommendations. Id. See also Mathews vs. Weber,
423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney vs. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984).
Defendants objections are in essence restatements of the issues
and arguments presented in their brief in support of their Motion
to Dismiss submitted to Magistrate Judge Mannion. Defendants
argue that the Magistrate Judge erred in deciding that the
Plaintiffs stated a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process
claim, or alternatively, that he failed to limit the claim
appropriately. Defendants also argue that the Magistrate Judge
erred in deciding that the Plaintiffs stated claims pursuant to
the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, or alternatively, that he
failed to limit the applicability of the Acts appropriately.
At the outset of our analysis we will observe that time and
again Defendants object to Plaintiffs' form of pleading, claiming
that Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts sufficient to support
their claims. We disagree and direct Defendants to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 8, which requires only a "short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief." Rule 8 also states that "[e]ach averment of a pleading
shall be simple, concise, and direct. No technical forms of
pleadings or motions are required." We find that Plaintiffs have
properly pled claims pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment, the
Rehabilitation Act, and the ADA. Accordingly, we shall deny
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss to the extent recommended by
Magistrate Judge Mannion.
Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process Claim
Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants' failure to train its
police officers and/or Defendants' customs, practices or policies
resulted in a violation of Decedent's and Plaintiffs'
constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. We find
that Plaintiffs have properly pled a Section 1983 claim against
Defendants by alleging that they acted with deliberate
indifference in failing to provide adequate training for handling
encounters with mentally ill and emotionally disturbed persons,
and that this failure to train resulted in Decedent's death.
See Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 389-90 (1989).
Defendants argue that because Plaintiffs are not suing the
individual officers involved in the incident, this fact somehow
establishes that the officers did not violate Decedent's
constitutional rights and, in turn, the City and its Police Chief
cannot be held liable. We disagree. As Magistrate Judge Mannion
correctly noted, the Third Circuit has held that a municipality
can be liable under Section 1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment for
a failure to train its police officers, even if no individual
officer violated the Constitution. (Rep. & Rec. at 10-11.) The
Third Circuit so held because claims against officers at the
scene differ from claims against a municipality in that they
"require proof of different actions and mental states." Fagan v.
City of Vineland, 22 F.3d 1283, 1292 (3d Cir. 1994). Even if we
were to agree with Defendants' argument that Fagan's holding is
on dubious grounds,*fn1 based on Plaintiffs' allegations and
at this early stage in the litigation, we are unwilling to hold
that no constitutional violation occurred.
We further disagree with Defendants' argument that Plaintiffs'
Complaint alleges "two distinct events" or that this is material
to the viability of Plaintiffs' claims, and therefore decline to
define the claim as a `pre' or `post' seizure claim. (Br. Supp.
Obj. to Rep. & Rec. at 8-12.) Defendants seek for us to dismiss
Plaintiffs' Complaint regarding the actions of the police
officers up to and including the point when Decedent was
handcuffed because they argue that Plaintiffs' claims are
grounded in the subsequent actions of the officers, such as when
they "hog-tied" and transported Decedent. Further, they argue
that these subsequent actions fail to meet the "shocks the
conscience" standard. See County of Sacramento v. Lewis,
523 U.S. 833, 846-47 (1998).
We find that Plaintiffs have pled sufficient facts regarding
the apprehension of Decedent, ensuing struggle and handcuffing of
him, as well as the type of restraint used and manner of his
transport, to support their claims. In addition, we find the
forgoing constitutes a continuing series of events that, taken
together and if proven, could support Plaintiffs' claims that the
actions of the police officers on the scene demonstrate
Defendants' failure to provide proper training.
Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs failed to allege
facts sufficient to demonstrate "the need for more or different
training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in
the violation of constitutional rights." (Br. Supp. Obj. at 9,
12) (quoting Canton, 489 U.S. at 389-90.) They claim,
alternatively, that Plaintiffs failed to identify which federal
law requires specialized programs for handling confrontations
with mentally ill persons, that Plaintiffs failed to allege
"why these particular defendants should have provided training
on this particular topic," i.e., the hog-tying of agitated,
mentally ill persons, and further that Plaintiffs failed to
allege that "defendants knew that hog tying was commonly used in
York or that the defendants knew of a previous death in York
related to this type of conduct." (Br. Supp. Obj. at 9, 12)
(emphasis in original). Again, we disagree. First, Plaintiffs
have alleged claims under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA,
which place special duties on government entities dealing with
disabled persons. Second, we find it somewhat disingenuous for
Defendants to argue that unless Plaintiffs identify another
factually similar death occurred in the jurisdiction of the City
of York, they cannot allege that Defendants were deliberately
indifferent in their failure to train. The instant case is hardly
novel, and in fact this Court has had several similar actions on
our docket during the past two years. We are confident that
Defendants and their attorneys are familiar with claims such as
these, as municipalities and police departments both within and
outside of this district are increasingly sued for similar
alleged violations. See e.g., Sherwood v. City of
Williamsport, No. 02-736 (M.D.Pa. July 7, 2004). Accordingly, we
find that Plaintiffs have pled sufficient facts to state a
Fourteenth Amendment claim against Defendants.
Rehabilitation Act and ADA Claims
Magistrate Judge Mannion found that Plaintiffs properly pled
claims against the City of York pursuant to the Rehabilitation
Act and the ADA. Magistrate Judge Mannion also noted that there
is no individual liability under the ADA and the Rehabilitation
Act, and thus those claims should be dismissed against Defendant
Police Chief Hill.
As before, Defendants here argue that "an arrest is not the
type of government service that is covered by the ADA" (Rep. &
Rec. at 16), and that the Magistrate Judge's Reliance on our
Court's recent decision in Schorr v. Borough of Lemoyne,
243 F.Supp.2d 232 (M.D.Pa. 2003), is misplaced. We agree with
Magistrate Judge Mannion's analysis of Plaintiffs' claims against
the City as to Counts II and III and will adopt it as our own.
Further, we reject Defendants' contention that Schorr is
distinguishable from the case before us because in that case the
officers were attempting to serve a warrant, giving them "a high
level of control over how and when to contact the
suspect."*fn2 (Br. Supp. Obj. at 14) (emphasis in original).
Based on the facts alleged by Plaintiffs, which again we must
accept as true for the purpose of disposing of the Motion, it
appears that these cases are factually similar, and we find the
lack of a warrant in this case to be immaterial.
In addition and as noted above, we decline to split the events
of August 12, 2002 into two distinct, pre- and post-seizure
events and accordingly will not limit Plaintiffs' ADA and
Rehabilitation Act claims against the City of York. Finally, we
adopt the Magistrate Judge's findings and dismiss Counts II and
III against Defendant Police Chief Hill.
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED THAT:
1. The Report and Recommendation (doc. 16) filed on
June 28, 2004, is adopted in its entirety.
2. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (doc. 4) is granted
in part and denied in part, to the following extent:
i. the Motion is DENIED as to Counts I, II, and III
against Defendant City of York;
ii. the Motion is DENIED as to Count I and GRANTED as
to Counts II and III against Defendant Police Chief
3. The Clerk of Court shall send a copy of this Order
to Magistrate Judge Mannion.