United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
September 8, 2005.
JOAN STARR, individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Raienha P. Bechtel and Jacob Bechtel, Plaintiff,
SCOTT PRICE; ELIZABETH HONICKER; SCHUYKILL COUNTY; FRANCIS McANDREW; CHRISTOPHER BAYZICK; THOMAS POWELL; ROBERT BETNAR; and WESLEY LEVAN, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES MUNLEY, District Judge
Presently before the Court for disposition are two motions for
summary judgment, the first filed by Defendants Schuykill County
and Sheriff Francis McAndrew (collectively "Schuykill
Defendants"), and the second by Defendants Corporal Scott Price,
Police Communication Supervisor Elizabeth Honicker, Pennsylvania
State Trooper Christopher Bayzick, Trooper Thomas Powell, Trooper
Robert Betnar, and Trooper Wesley Levan (collectively
"Commonwealth Defendants"). Plaintiff Joan Starr ("Plaintiff") is
the mother of Raienhna Bechtel and grandmother of Jacob Bechtel,
both deceased. She seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
alleging that the defendants violated the deceased's
constitutional rights by returning a firearm to Raienhna's
husband, Michael Harvey Bechtel, which he subsequently used to
murder Raienhna, Jacob, and two other individuals.
The parties have fully briefed and argued these matters, and
thus, they are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, we will grant summary
judgment for the defendants and dismiss this case.
The background facts leading to the deaths of Raienhna and
Jacob are tragic and largely undisputed. Raienhna and Michael had
a history of domestic violence that included incidents on
September 23, 2001, and December 25, 2001, where the Pennsylvania
State Police intervened. (Pl. Counter Statement of Facts to
Commonwealth Motion ("Pl. Ex.") Ex. A at 24-26, Tarson Dep.; Pl.
Ex. B at 23, Bayzick Dep.; Pl. Ex. C at 24, Powell Dep.). During
the second incident, Michael informed the troopers he had
firearms on his person, but they did not seize the weapons. (Pl.
Ex. B at 23-26; Ex. C at 16, 20-22).
On March 14, 2002, Troopers Wesley Levan and Robert Betnar
arrived at the Bechtel residence following a report of domestic
violence. (Pl. Ex. E at 8, Levan Dep.; Pl. Ex. F at 7-8, Betnar
Dep.). Michael informed the officers that he had two firearms on
his person. (Pl. Ex. E at 12; Pl. Ex. F at 20). Both he and
Raienhna denied that he used the weapons in the incident. (Pl.
Ex. E at 15; Pl. Ex. F at 28). Troopers Levan and Betnar asked if
they could retain the firearms, and Michael provided the guns
without complaint. (Pl. Ex. E at 21; Pl. Ex. F at 30). The
troopers personally transported Michael to his friend's residence
for the evening. (Pl. Ex. E at 20-22; Pl. Ex. F at 30). Trooper
Levan suggested that Raienhna obtain a Protection From Abuse
Order ("PFA") and explained the application process. (Pl. Ex. E
After transporting Michael to his friend's house, Troopers
Levan and Betnar brought the firearms to the Frackville
Pennsylvania State Police barracks, determined that they were registered in Michael's name with the Schuykill County Sheriff's
office, and placed them in an evidence room. (Pl. Ex. E at 23;
Pl. Ex. F at 24-25, 35). Trooper Betnar then sent an e-mail to
Corporal Scott Price relating the facts of the incident and
explaining that he had confiscated two weapons. (Pl. Ex. G at
13-14, Price Dep.).
Later that same day, March 14, 2002, Raienhna obtained a
temporary PFA. (Pl. Ex. H, Temporary PFA). In the application
process, Raienhna completed a Schuykill Women in Crisis PFA
worksheet. (Commw. Def. Ex. J, PFA worksheet). The worksheet
contained a space for the applicant to describe the weapons that
were used in the incident of domestic violence, and Raienhna's
application provided no response in this space. (Commw. Def. Ex.
J). When the temporary PFA was issued, it did not refer to the
confiscated firearms or indicate that any firearm was used in the
incident. (Pl. Ex. H, Temporary PFA). It did provide notice to
law enforcement agencies that "[s]ubsequent to an arrest [for a
violation of the Final PFA], the law enforcement officer shall
seize all weapons used or threatened to be used during the
violation of this Order OR during prior incidents of abuse."
On March 18, 2002, pursuant to an agreement between Michael and
Raienhna, Raienhna obtained a Final PFA. (Commw. Def. Ex. O, PFA
Hearing Transcript, Pl. Ex. K, Final PFA). The PFA stated
"Defendant shall not abuse, stalk, harass, threaten the Plaintiff
or any other protected person in any place where they might be
found." (Pl. Ex. K ¶ 1). Regarding firearms, it directs,
"Defendant is prohibited from possessing, transferring or
acquiring any other firearms license or weapons for the duration
of this order. Any weapons and/or firearms license delivered to
the sheriff pursuant to this order or the Temporary Order shall
not be returned until further order of the court." (Pl. Ex. K ¶ 6). It
includes the following notice to law enforcement officers:
This Order shall be enforced by the police who have
jurisdiction over the plaintiff's residence OR any
location where a violation occurs OR where the
defendant may be located. . . . An arrest for
violation of Paragraphs 1 through 6 of this order may
be without warrant, based solely on probable cause,
whether or not the violation is committed in the
presence of the police. 21 PA.C.S. § 6113.
Subsequent to an arrest, the law enforcement officer
shall seize all weapons used or threatened to be used
during the violation of this Order OR during prior
incidents of abuse. The [sic] shall maintain
possession of the weapons until further order of this
(Pl. Ex. K).
In conjunction with the Final PFA, the Schuykill County
Prothonotary issued a Pennsylvania State Police data sheet. (Pl.
Ex. L at 4-5, 25-26). The data sheet contained Michael and
Raienhna's personal information, such as birthdays, names, and
addresses, and was created by a computer program called the
Protection From Abuse Database ("PFAD") for the benefit of the
Pennsylvania State Police. (Id. at 25-27). It also contained
protection codes describing the conditions of the Final PFA.
(Id. at 27). Raienhna's final data sheet contained numerous
protection order codes, including a code of "07". (Pl. Ex. M,
Pennsylvania State Police Protection from Abuse Datasheet). This
code indicates that "the subject is prohibited from possessing
and/or purchasing a firearm or other weapon." (Pl. Ex. O,
Protection From Abuse Datasheet Code Overlay). Her datasheet also
included a box entitled "Brady Indicator," marked "No." (Pl. Ex.
On April 15, 2002, Michael Bechtel returned to the Frackville
Barracks to retrieve his guns. (Id. at 38-39). Corporal Price
believed that he had no right to withhold the guns from Michael any longer. (Pl. Ex. G at 33-34, 40). Therefore, he
returned the two firearms, a nine millimeter Beretta and a nine
millimeter Kel-tec. (Id. at 38-39, Commw Ex. F at ¶ 10, Michael
On August 15, 2002, Michael used the nine millimeter Beretta to
kill Raienhna, Jacob, and two other adults. (Commw. Ex. F at ¶
11). At the time he committed the murders he had access to
another nine millimeter handgun. (Id. at ¶ 22). Michael's
housemate kept the weapon in a holster next to his bed in his
unlocked bedroom. (Id.). Thus, Michael admits that he would
have used this weapon to kill Raienhna and Jacob had Corporal
Price not returned his Beretta. (Id. at ¶ 20-22). On January
21, 2004, he pleaded guilty to four counts of first degree murder
and numerous lesser charges, and was sentenced to four
consecutive life sentences. (Commw. Ex. F. at ¶ 12-13).
Granting summary judgment is proper 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 judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v.
Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n. 4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R.
CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence
of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not
defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary
judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of
material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.
International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co.,
898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party
to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect
the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the
non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the
party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing
that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to
admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the
non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden,
the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its
pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits,
depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing
that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
Plaintiff advances eight counts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
("section 1983") for alleged violations of the deceased's
constitutional and federal statutory rights.
In pertinent part, section 1983 provides as follows:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United
States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,
shall be liable to the party injured in an action at
law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for
redress. . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, a plaintiff must establish two criteria to state a claim
under section 1983. First, the conduct complained of must have
been committed by a person acting under color of state law.
Second, the conduct must deprive the complainant of rights
secured under the Constitution or federal law. Sameric Corp. of
Delaware, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582
, 590 (3d
Plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated the deceased's
Fourteenth Amendment procedural and substantive due process
rights, as well as their Brady Act, 18 U.S.C. § 922(d)(g)
rights.*fn1 The defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed
to establish a protected right. We will analyze each alleged
right separately. For the reasons that follow, we find that no
genuine issue of material fact that neither the Due Process
Clause nor the Brady Act protects Plaintiff's interests.*fn2
A. Substantive Due Process
The substantive component of the Due Process Clause protects
"those fundamental rights and liberties which are, objectively,
`deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,' . . . and
`implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,' such that `neither
liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed.'" Washington v. Glucksberg,
521 U.S. 702, 720-21 (1997) (quoting Moore v. East Cleveland,
431 U.S. 494, 503 (1977); Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 105
(1934); Palko v. Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325, 326, (1937)).
A plaintiff asserting a substantive due process right must
provide "a `careful description' of the asserted fundamental
liberty interest." Id. at 721 (citing Reno v. Flores,
507 U.S. 292, 302 (1993); Collins v. City of Harker Heights,
503 U.S. 115, 125 (1992); Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of
Health, 497 U.S. 261, 277-78 (1990)).
Plaintiff advances a "state-created danger" substantive due
process claim. She asserts that by returning Michael's guns, the
defendants created the danger that lead to Raienhna's and Jacob's
deaths. The state created danger theory derives from DeShaney v.
Winnebago County Deparment of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189
(1989). In DeShaney, the plaintiff, four year-old Joshua
DeShaney, was repeatedly physically abused by his father. Id.
at 192. The defendant, Winnebago County Department of Social
Services ("DSS"), knew of numerous complaints and incidents of
abuse. Id. On one occasion, DSS temporarily took custody of
Joshua. Id. It returned him to his father's custody in exchange
for his father's agreement to comply with specific conditions.
Id. Later, DSS learned that his father violated the agreement,
but it did not remove Joshua from his custody. Id. at 192-93.
Thereafter, Joshua's father beat him so severely that he fell
into a coma, and suffered brain injuries "so severe that he is
expected to spend the rest of his life confined to an institution
for the profoundly retarded." Id. at 193.
Joshua and his mother sued DSS, alleging it violated his
substantive due process rights by "failing to intervene to
protect him against a risk of violence at his father's hands of
which they know or should have known." Id. The Supreme Court rejected
his claim, reasoning that "the Due Process Clauses generally
confer no affirmative right to governmental aid, even when such
aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property
interest of which the government itself may not deprive the
individual." Id. at 196. It rejected the "special relationship"
argument, which theorized that because DSS took steps to protect
Joshua, it "acquired an affirmative `duty' . . . to do so in a
reasonably competent fashion." Id. The Court explained that
"[t]he affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State's
knowledge of the individual's predicament or from its expressions
of intent to help him, but from the limitation which it has
imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf." Id. at 200.
Finally, the Court reasoned, "[w]hile the State may have been
aware of the dangers that Joshua faced in the free world, it
played no part in their creation, nor did it do anything to
render him more vulnerable to them." Id. at 201.
Courts have since seized upon this language to create a state
created danger theory of liability, which provides that where the
state creates a danger and renders an individual more vulnerable
to it, the individual has a substantive due process right to
state protection. See Morse v. Lower Merion School District,
132 F.3d 902, 907 (3d Cir. 1997) (holding that, following
DeShaney, the state created danger theory is a viable cause of
action under the Substantive Due Process Clause). A state actor
is 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; (4) the state actors used their authority
to create a situation that otherwise would not have
existed for the third party's crime to occur. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1208 (3d Cir. 1996).
In the instant case, the defendants argue that Plaintiff has
failed to establish any of these elements. Plaintiff argues that
the state rendered Raienhna and Jacob more vulnerable to Michael
because he would have been unable to murder them without the
firearm he obtained from Corporal Price. The defendants counter
that Michael admits that he had access to another gun and would
have used it to commit the murder whether or not Corporal Price
returned his gun to him. (Commw. Ex. F at ¶ 20-22). As we find
that no genuine issue of material fact exists regarding the
fourth element, we will grant the defendants' motions for summary
judgment on Plaintiff's substantive due process claim.
DeShaney illustrates that the defendants did not create the
danger in question. There, DSS took custody of Joshua but
subsequently returned him to his father. DeShaney,
489 U.S. at 192. The Court held:
That the State once took temporary custody of Joshua
does not alter the analysis, for when it returned him
to his father's custody, it placed him in no worse
position than that in which he would have been had it
not acted at all; the State does not become the
permanent guarantor of an individual's safety by
having once offered him shelter. Under these
circumstances, the State had no constitutional duty
to protect Joshua.
Id. at 201.
Similarly, although the defendants took custody of the gun,
when they returned it to Michael they placed Raienhna and Jacob
in no worse position than had they not acted at all.*fn3 Furthermore, the defendants have produced Michael Bechtel's
uncontradicted admission that he had access to another firearm.
(Commw. Ex. F at ¶ 20-22). Thus, whether or not Corporal Price
returned the weapon, Michael would have had the same opportunity
to murder Raienhna and Jacob. (Id.). Accordingly, we find that
Plaintiff has not established a genuine issue of material fact
that the defendants created the danger that lead to Raienhna's
and Jacob's deaths, and we will grant the motions for summary
judgment on Plaintiff's substantive due process claim.
B. Procedural Due Process
Plaintiff argues that the deceased had a property interest in
the enforcement of the PFA, which the defendants violated by
returning the firearms. "The Fourteenth Amendment procedural
protection of property is a safeguard of the security of
interests that a person has already acquired in specific
benefits." Roth v. Board of Regents of State Colleges,
408 U.S. 564, 576 (1972). "To have a property interest in a benefit, a
person clearly must have more than an abstract need or desire for
it. He must have more than a unilateral expectation of it. He
must, instead, have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it."
Id. at 577.
Plaintiff argues that under Roth, Raienhna and Jacob had a
legitimate claim of entitlement to police enforcement of the
terms of the PFA. She argues that the PFA created the property
interest, and emphasizes that, "[p]roperty interests, of course,
are not created by the Constitution. Rather, they are created and
their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state
law." Id. Plaintiff relies on Coffman v. Wilson Police
Department, 739 F. Supp. 257 (E.D. Pa. 1990), where the court
found that a Pennsylvania PFA created a legitimate claim of
entitlement. Coffman recognized that "the [PFA] statute itself
creates no property interest protected by Roth," but found that
the language of the PFA itself, which mandated that the police
enforce the order, created a legitimate claim of entitlement.
In light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Town of
Castle Rock v. Gonzalez, 125 S.Ct. 2796 (2005), we find that
Coffman is not an accurate statement of the law. In Castle
Rock, respondent Jessica Gonzales obtained a restraining order
against her estranged husband in Colorado State court. Id. at
2800. The restraining order contained a notice to law enforcement
outlining the Colorado statutory duties to enforce the order.
Id. at 2804-05. The notice included the following mandatory
A peace officer shall use every reasonable mens to
enforce a restraining order. . . . A peace officer
shall arrest, or, if an arrest would be impractical
under the circumstances, seek a warrant for the
arrest of a restrained person. . . . A peace officer
shall enforce a valid restraining order whether or
not there is a record of the restraining order in the
Id. at 2805 (emphasis added).
The restraining order specified that the respondent's husband
had the right to visit their three daughters solely "on alternate
weekends, for two weeks during the summer, and `upon reasonable
notice,' for a mid-week dinner visit." Id. at 2801. While this
order was in effect, he absconded with his daughters without
prior notice. Id. The police ignored the respondent's repeated
requests to apprehend her husband and enforce the order. Id. at
2801-02. The police took no action until her husband arrived at the police station,
opened fire, and was killed by their return fire. Id. "Inside
the cab of his pickup truck, they found the bodies of all three
daughters, whom he had already murdered." Id.
The Tenth Circuit found that Colorado law created an
entitlement to the enforcement of the restraining order because
the "`court issued restraining order . . . specifically dictated
that its terms must be enforced' and a `state statute commanded
enforcement.'" Id. at 2803. The Supreme Court reversed, stating
"[a]lthough the underlying substantive interest is created by `an
independent source such as state law,' federal constitutional
law determines whether that interest rises to the level of a
`legitimate claim of entitlement protected by the Due Process
Clause.'" Id. at 2803-04 (quoting Memphis Light, Gas & Water
Div. v. Craft, 436 U.S. 1, 9 (1978)). It found that the
mandatory language in the PFA was insufficient to create an
entitlement protected by the Due Process Clause because of the
"deep-rooted nature of law-enforcement discretion, even in the
presence of seemingly mandatory legislative commands." Id. at
In each and every state there are long-standing
statutes that, by their terms, seem to preclude
nonenforcement by the police . . . However, for a
number of reasons, including their legislative
history, insufficient resources, and sheer physical
impossibility, it has been recognized that such
statutes cannot be interpreted literally . . . [T]hey
clearly do not mean that a police officer may not
lawfully decline to make an arrest. As to third
parties in these states, the full-enforcement
statutes simply have no effect, and their
significance is further diminished.
Id. (quoting 1 ABA STANDARDS FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE 1-4.5,
commentary pp. 1-124 to 1-125 (2d ed. 1980)).
Thus, the Court found that a "true mandate of police action
would require some stronger indication from the Colorado Legislature than `shall use every
reasonable means to enforce a restraining order.'" Id. (quoting
COLO. REV. STAT. § 18-6-803.5(3)(a)). Turning to the terms of the
restraining order statute, the Court found no such indication.
Id. It reasoned that "[a]lthough Colorado's statue spoke of
`protected person[s]' such as respondent, it did so in connection
with matters other than the right to enforcement.'" Id. at
2808. It further contrasted the protected individual's "express
power to `initiate' civil contempt proceedings" with her "mere
ability to `request' initiation of contempt proceedings.'" Id.
Plaintiff attempts to distinguish Castle Rock by arguing that
it holds that the statute did not create an entitlement,
whereas her claim is based on the terms of the PFA itself.
Plaintiff misconstrues Castle Rock, which held that mandatory
terms in a restraining order are insufficient to create a
property interest protected by the Due Process Clause. Castle
Rock, 125 S.Ct. 2805-10. The restraining order in Castle Rock
contained specific mandates to law enforcement, which the police
ignored. Id. "A peace officer shall use every reasonable mens
to enforce a restraining order. . . . A peace officer shall
arrest. . . . A peace officer shall enforce a valid restraining
order." Id. at 2805. The terms of Raienhna's PFA are in no
sense more mandatory than the terms of the restraining order in
Castle Rock. Her PFA states, "This Order shall be enforced by
the police who have jurisdiction over the plaintiff's residence."
(Pl. Ex. K).*fn4 Castle Rock found such a mandate
insufficient to create an entitlement protected by the Due Process Clause because of the discretion typically afforded
to law enforcement. 125 S.Ct. 2805-10. In light of this
discretion, the Court turned to the statute for some additional
indicia of a mandate beyond the mere language of the protection
Plaintiff has highlighted no statutory provision that
demonstrates an entitlement to enforcement of the PFA. Our review
of the Pennsylvania PFA Act, 23 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 6101-14.1 ("the
Act") reveals no indication that the discretion typically
afforded law enforcement is inapplicable to the enforcement of
PFAs. The Act, just like the Colorado law in question in Castle
Rock, creates no connection between the protected class of
individuals and a right to police enforcement. See 23 PA.C.S.A.
§ 6105 (listing law enforcement's responsibilities under the PFA
Moreover, the Act grants government officials broad discretion
to decline to prosecute a violation of a PFA. If a defendant violates a PFA, the
plaintiff has the right to file either a petition for civil
contempt with the issuing court, 23 PA.C.S.A. § 6114, or to file
a private criminal complaint, 23 PA.C.S.A. § 6113.1. When an
individual files a private criminal complaint, the district
attorney has the discretion to refrain from proceeding for policy
reasons. In re Private Criminal Complain of John Wilson,
___ A.2d ___, No. 211-WDA-2003, 2005 WL 1324723, at * 10 (Pa. Super.
Ct. June 6, 2005).
A district attorney is permitted to exercise
discretion to refrain from proceeding in a criminal
case whenever he, in good faith, thinks that the
prosecution would not serve the best interests of the
state. This discretion not to prosecute may be
implemented by the district attorney's refusal to
approve the private criminal complaint at the
Id. (quoting Commonwealth v. Malloy, 450 A.2d 689, 692 (Pa.
Super. Ct. 1982)) (emphasis added).
This discretion demonstrates that a PFA does not create an
entitlement protected by due process. See Castle Rock,
125 S.Ct. at 2796 ("Our cases recognize that a benefit is not a
protected entitlement if government officials may grant or deny
it in their discretion."). The effect of this discretion is that,
just as in Castle Rock, the plaintiff has the express power to
initiate civil contempt proceedings to enforce the PFA, but has
the power merely to request that the government initiate criminal
proceedings. Id. at 2809.
Castle Rock additionally reasoned that "[e]ven if the statute
could be said to have made enforcement of restraining orders
`mandatory' because of the domestic-violence context of the underlying statute, that would not necessarily mean that
state law gave respondent an entitlement to enforcement of
the mandate." Id. at 2808. Criminal law serves the "public
rather than private ends." Id. Pennsylvania Courts have adopted
a similar view of the enforcement of PFAs, stating, "[A] PFA is
not merely an agreement between private parties in which the
Commonwealth has no independent interest. A violation of a PFA is
a violation of the law, a public wrong, punishable by a fine,
imprisonment, or both." Com. v. Majeed, 694 A.2d 336, 340 n. 6
Finally, Plaintiff has no entitlement to the enforcement of a
PFA because the benefit derived from enforcement is indirect.
"[T]he alleged property interest here arises incidentally, not
out of some new species of government benefit or services, but
out of a function that government actors have always performed
to wit, arresting people who they have probable cause to believe
have committed a crime." Castle Rock, 125 S.Ct. at 2809. The
defendants' actions did not directly affect Raienhna or Jacob,
and the return of the weapon had an effect solely because Michael
Bechtel independently decided to commit a heinous crime months
later. "[A]n indirect and incidental result of the Government's
enforcement action . . . does not amount to a deprivation of any
interest in life, liberty, or property." Id. at 2810 (quoting
O'Bannon v. Town Court Nursing Center, 447 U.S. 773, 787
Accordingly, we find that Raienhna's Final PFA, either alone or
in conjunction with the PFA Act, did not create a legitimate
entitlement to its enforcement. Therefore, Plaintiff has not advanced an interest protected by the Due Process Clause.
"[T]he framers of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights
Act of 1871, 17 Stat. 13 (the original source of § 1983), did not
create a system by which police departments are generally held
financially accountable for crimes that better policing might
have prevented."*fn5 Id. at 2810.
C. Brady Claim
Plaintiff's final section 1983 claim is based on an alleged
deprivation of the deceased's rights under the Brady Act,
18 U.S.C. § 922. The defendants argue that we should dismiss this
claim because 18 U.S.C. § 922 does not create a private cause of
action and instead is a criminal provision. Plaintiff counters
that, although 18 U.S.C. § 922 does not create a private cause of
action, section 1983 creates a cause of action for violations of
federal law, and thus she may pursue a remedy for a violation of
the Brady Act under section 1983.
Plaintiff misreads section 1983. This statute provides a remedy
for deprivations of rights created by federal law, not for
violations of federal law. If a federal law creates no
substantive right, then a violation of that law does not give
rise to a section 1983 claim. "Every person who . . . subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or
other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation
of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an
action at law." 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (emphasis added). The plain language of section
1983 establishes that "[a] plaintiff asserting a statutory claim
under § 1983 has the initial burden of demonstrating that the
statute creates a substantive right." Nextel v. Kingston
Township, 286 F.3d 687, 694 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Blessing v.
Freestone, 520 U.S. 329 (1997)). Plaintiff has not carried this
burden. A federal statute creates a substantive right if it
satisfies the following three conditions:
First Congress must have intended that the provision
in question benefit the plaintiff. Second, the
plaintiff must demonstrate that the right assertedly
protected by the statute is not so "vague and
amorphous" that its enforcement would strain judicial
competence. Third, the statute must unambiguously
impose a binding obligation on the States. In other
words, the provision giving rise to the asserted
right must be couched in mandatory, rather than
Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683
, 689 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting
Blessing, 520 U.S. at 3404-1).
The Brady Act provision relied upon by Plaintiff does not
satisfy these criteria.*fn6 It creates no class of protected
individuals and imposes no binding obligation on the state.
Therefore, we find that 18 U.S.C. § 922 does not create a
substantive right, and we will dismiss Plaintiff's section 1983
claims based on this statute. D. Failure to Train
In Counts III and IV, Plaintiff alleges that the defendants'
failure to train their subordinate officers caused the violations
of the deceased's constitutional and Brady Act rights, which she
alleges is actionable under section 1983 pursuant to Monell v.
Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). To succeed under a
failure to train theory, Plaintiff must first establish that the
failure to train caused a constitutional violation. Grazier v.
City of Philadelphia, 328 F.3d 120, 124-125 (3d Cir. 2003). As
we have determined that the defendants did not deprive the
deceased of a right secured by the Constitution or the Brady Act,
Plaintiff cannot maintain a "failure to train" cause of action.
Thus, we will grant the summary judgment motions and dismiss
Plaintiff's section 1983 claims.
The sole remaining claims are pendent state law claims against
the Municipal Defendants. As we will dismiss Plaintiff's federal
claims in their entirety, we will dismiss the pendent state law
claims for lack of jurisdiction. See United Mine Workers v.
Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966).
In DeShaney, the Supreme Court observed:
Judges and lawyers, like other humans, are moved by
natural sympathy in a case like this to find a way
for Joshua and his mother to receive adequate
compensation for the grievous harm inflicted upon
them. But before yielding to that impulse, it is well
to remember once again that the harm was inflicted
not by the State of Wisconsin, but by Joshua's
father. DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Soc. Servs.,
489 U.S. 189, 202-203 (1989). Here too, we note that
Plaintiff has suffered a grievous loss. Michael
Bechtel, however, inflicted this loss, not the
defendants. Section 1983 is not a "font of tort law . . .
but it does not mean States are powerless to
provide victims with personally enforceable
remedies." Castle Rock, 125 S. Ct. at 2810
(citations omitted). Thus, Plaintiff has no section
1983 remedy for her claims, although she may have an
enforceable state law remedy. Absent a pendent
federal claim, however, we have no jurisdiction over
the state law claims. Therefore, we will grant the
motions for summary judgment and dismiss this case.
An appropriate order follows. ORDER
AND NOW, to wit, this 8th day of September 2005, the
defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. 51, 53) are
hereby GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this
case and enter judgment on behalf of the defendants.
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