Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


December 12, 2005.

CATHERINE CRUISE, In Her Own Right and as the Administratrix of the Estate of her deceased daughter, DEBORAH CRUISE, Plaintiff,

The opinion of the court was delivered by: MALACHY MANNION, Magistrate Judge


Presently pending before the court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 41). Based upon a review of the materials before the court, the defendants' motion will be granted.


  On October 26, 2001, the plaintiff initiated the instant action in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas as the result of the tragic suicide of her daughter, Deborah Cruise, in a Scranton Police Department holding cell. The plaintiff alleges that her daughter's civil rights were violated, during her detention for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, by members of the Scranton Police Department. In addition, the plaintiff raises state law wrongful death and survivor claims. On December 5, 2001, a notice of removal was filed on behalf of the defendants. (Doc. No. 1). The defendants filed an answer to the plaintiff's complaint on April 16, 2002. (Doc. No. 2).

  Discovery having concluded, on June 21, 2005, the defendants filed the instant motion for summary judgment, (Doc. No. 41), along with a statement of material facts, (Doc. No. 42), and supporting exhibits, (Doc. No. 43). On July 6, 2005, the defendants filed a brief in support of their motion for summary judgment with additional documentation. (Doc. Nos. 47 & 48). On August 8, 2005, the plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgment with supporting exhibits, (Doc. No. 53), a response to the defendants' statement of material facts, (Doc. No. 54), and a counter statement of material facts, (Doc. No. 55).*fn1 A reply brief was filed by the defendants on August 24, 2005. (Doc. No. 56).


  On the evening of December 18, 1999, Scranton Police Officers were dispatched to the Nativity Social Club, ("Club"), in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the bartender had complained that Deborah Cruise, a patron at the Club, had been fighting with another patron, Mr. Brown. When the officers arrived, Ms. Cruise was taken out of the Club. She became belligerent and began to yell and scream. The officers noted that Ms. Cruise smelled of alcohol and was staggering. As a result, Officer Thomas Genovese, in his capacity as a backup officer, arrested Ms. Cruise for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Ms. Cruise did not resist arrest and was transported to the City of Scranton Police Headquarters by Officer Paul Reed.

  According to the record, Ms. Cruise had been arrested on numerous occasions by the Scranton Police Department for excessive drinking. She had previously been detained overnight in the Scranton Police Department's holding cells without incident.

  On this occasion, upon arriving at police headquarters, Officer Reed testified that he assisted Officer Genovese in preparing the citations for Ms. Cruise's arrest. In response to inquiries by Officer Reed, Ms. Cruise gave two different spellings for her name. She also refused to provide a telephone number or name of someone that the officers could call to pick her up from headquarters.*fn3 During this time, Officer Reed testified that he asked Ms. Cruise to sit in front of the Desk Officer's desk. Officer Reed testified that he did not observe Ms. Cruise crying or physically confronting any officers at any time.

  While at the Desk Officer's desk, Ms. Cruise began yelling at the Desk Officer, Ann Marie Stulgis. She also began to take off her coat, shoes and socks, and she attempted to take off her pants. Ms. Cruise then began fighting with Mr. Brown, who was also brought to the Scranton Police Headquarters. Officer Stulgis testified that Ms. Cruise exhibited an unsteady gait and failed to sit down at the desk despite numerous requests to do so. At some point, Officer Stulgis testified that Ms. Cruise stumbled in the direction of a glass case and that she tried to convince Ms. Cruise to sit down before she fell and got hurt. Ultimately, Officer Stulgis determined that she needed to place Ms. Cruise in a holding cell for her safety because of her refusal to sit down and cooperate. Officer Stulgis testified that when she approached Ms. Cruise to search her, prior to putting her in a holding cell, Ms. Cruise attempted to take off her pants and became confrontational. Between 9:10 p.m. and 9:15 p.m., Officer Stulgis testified that she placed Ms. Cruise in a female holding cell with the assistance of another officer. At that time, Officer Stulgis testified that she did not observe Ms. Cruise exhibit any signs or symptoms of suicidal behavior, nor had Ms. Cruise been identified by any other officer as suicidal.

  After placing Ms. Cruise in the holding cell, Officer Stulgis returned to the desk to take a missing person's report. Sometime between returning to the desk and prior to her leaving her shift shortly before 10:00 p.m., Officer Stulgis testified that she observed Ms. Cruise through the video monitor standing at the cell doors and moving her mouth, but did not observe her making any gestures.

  Between 9:25 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., Officer Steven Marino arrived to relieve Officer Stulgis as the Desk Officer for the 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. shift. According to Officer Stulgis' testimony, she believed that she advised Officer Marino about Ms. Cruise being in the holding cell and the fact that she refused to provide a telephone number of anyone who could pick her up. Although Officer Marino testified that it would generally be his practice to find out the status of inmates in the holding cells upon arrival for a shift, he had no specific recollection on, this occasion, of Officer Stulgis informing him regarding the prisoners in lock-up. Officer Stulgis testified that Officer Marino indicated that he would have the Wagon Officer, coming in on the next shift, go in to see Ms. Cruise to determine whether should would then be willing to give a telephone number of someone who could pick her up.

  On the date in question, Officer David Yatko was the Wagon Officer working the 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift. Officer Stulgis advised Officer Yatko that Ms. Cruise had been placed in a holding cell and that she was loud and drunk. Sometime between 9:50 p.m. and 10:05 p.m., Officer Yatko left police headquarters to take Sergeant Ralph Mifka, the Acting Sergeant on the 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. shift, to the Scranton Police roll call, located in the basement of the Steamtown Mall and to get his car. It took approximately five to ten minutes for Officer Yatko to take Sergeant Mifka to his vehicle. If there are prisoners in the holding cells, it was the practice of Officer Yatko to tell the Desk Officer that he was leaving and to tell the Desk Officer to watch the prisoners on the monitor. Officer Yatko testified that he did not recall physically checking on Ms. Cruise, although he believed that he observed her on the video monitor. After taking Sergeant Mifka to his car, Officer Yatko responded to a call at the Broadway Bar assisting other officers on the call at 10:08 p.m. That call was "cleared" at 10:17 p.m. Officer Yatko testified that it took him approximately three to five minutes from the time the call was cleared to return to Scranton Police Headquarters.

  Officer Dennis Lukasewicz relieved Sergeant Mifka as the Acting Sergeant for the 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. shift. Although he was aware of the fact that Ms. Cruise was in a female holding cell, he was not aware of her name. At some point, he observed Ms. Cruise on the video monitor, but was unable to determine exactly what she was doing.

  Approximately two to three minutes after Officer Yatko arrived back at the Scranton Police Headquarters, Officer Robert Olecki noted that something did not look right on the monitor when viewing Ms. Cruise's cell. Officer Olecki was on light duty as a result of an injury and was assisting Officer Marino as the Desk Officer on the evening in question. When Officer Olecki arrived on his shift, Officer Marino had already relieved Officer Stulgis as the Desk Officer. He had not been advised by any officer that any prisoner detained in the holding cells on the evening in question was at risk for suicide. Officer Olecki observed something peculiar on the monitor when the female cells were depicted and asked Officer Marino to switch back to the female cells. Officer Marino was on the telephone at the time Officer Olecki asked him to switch to the female cells and was typing something into the NCIC computer on the Desk Officer's desk. It took approximately two to three seconds for Officer Marino to switch the monitor to view the female cells. Based upon his observation of the monitor, Officer Olecki surmised that Ms. Cruise was in distress. He observed that she appeared to be hanging from the bars in her cell, her arms were limp, her posture was odd and she was not moving.

  Officer Olecki yelled the code for a suicide attempt and went back to the cell as fast as he could. Ms. Cruise had tied her shirt around her neck. When Officer Yatko ran back to the female cells, he testified that he found Ms. Cruise in a sitting position with her buttocks approximately one-half to one inch off of the floor of the cell as she leaned against the door. At approximately 10:27 p.m., Officer Marino requested an ambulance to respond to the Scranton Police Headquarters. Officer Lukasewicz called the Lackawanna County Communication Center to make sure an ambulance had been dispatched.

  Officer Olecki lifted Ms. Cruise up and unsuccessfully attempted to remove the shirt from the bars. Officer Yatko cut the garment from the door at which time Ms. Cruise collapsed to the cell floor. Officer Yatko then ran to get the cell door key and a CPR bag. Officer Lukasewicz testified that he believed that he ran to the back with the keys and retrieved the CPR bag from the patrol wagon and gave it to Officer Yatko. Officer Yatko, who is the CPR instructor for the Scranton Police Department, returned to the cell and repositioned Ms. Cruise to a prone position to administer CPR. Officer Olecki and Officer Yatko administered CPR. At some point, Officer Olecki had to stop administering CPR because he was unable to balance himself due to his injured leg. At this time, Officer Lukasewicz began to assist Officer Yatko.

  Shortly thereafter, ambulance personnel arrived. Officer Olecki testified that he believed that the ambulance personnel were able to re-establish Ms. Cruise's pulse prior to transporting her to the hospital. Officer Yatko testified that he detected Ms. Cruise's vital signs during his attempts to resuscitate her. Based upon his understanding as a CPR instructor that you are not able to re-establish a pulse more than eight minutes from when the heart stops beating, Officer Yatko testified that he believed that Ms. Cruise had been hanging for less than eight minutes. Ms. Cruise was transported to the hospital by ambulance where she subsequently died on December 31, 1999.

  The record reflects that approximately seven months prior to Ms. Cruise's suicide, another detainee, Joseph Pifcho, committed suicide in the Scranton Police Headquarters' holding cells. The parents of Joseph Pifcho filed an action, similar to the one at hand, in which they alleged violations of the decedent's constitutional rights pursuant to § 1983.*fn4 See Pifcho v. Walsh, et al., Civil Action No. 3:01-0893 (Jones, J.). In ruling upon a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants in that action, the Honorable John E. Jones set forth the following undisputed facts:
On the evening of May 20, 1999, Joseph Pifcho was detained in the Scranton Police Department with two of his friends, Donald Brennan and Mark Stanko, upon suspicion of being intoxicated and being involved in a hit and run accident.
Joseph Pifcho was transported to the police station by one of the defendants, Officer Walsh. Prior to being transported to the station, Officer Walsh spoke with the detainees in a firm tone and at times used profanities toward them. According to Mark Stanko, Officer Walsh told Joseph Pifcho that he would be going to jail for the rest of his life because someone had died as a result of the car accident.
The Pifchos allege that Officer Walsh's conduct amounted to verbal abuse and harassment which had the effect of placing Joseph Pifcho in a mental state whereby he was a danger to himself. Complaint at ¶ 20. For purposes of this Motion for Summary Judgment, Defendants "acknowledge Officer Walsh was rude to Decedent [and that] [h]e may have . . . intimidated Decent (sic) in his attempts to get him to admit that he was driving the car involved in the hit and run accident." (Defs.' Br. Reply Mot. Summ. J. 4).
In accordance with Scranton Police Department policies,*fn5 after arriving at the police station Joseph Pifcho was given an opportunity to call someone sober to pick him up and take him home. Because he did not choose to make a phone call, Joseph Pifcho was booked by Officer Monahan and then placed in Cell No. 4 in the police station.*fn6 According to Officer Monahan, Joseph Pifcho was joking with him during the booking process. Prior to placing Joseph Pifcho in the cell, Officer Monahan removed Joseph's shoe laces from his shoes. Officer Monahan maintains that he did not observe any behavior in Joseph Pifcho which would lead him to believe that he would hurt himself.
At the time that the events relevant to this matter occurred, the Scranton Police Department had four cells reserved for males. Cells No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 had cameras trained on them. Cell No. 4, however, did not have a camera on it. For this reason, prisoners housed in this cell could only be observed if an officer physically walked to the cell to look inside it. Officer Monahan placed Joseph Pifcho in Cell No. 4 because the other three cells were occupied.
At approximately 4:30 a.m., Officer Monahan told the desk officer, William Wagner, that all of the detainees were safe and then left the building in order to have dinner. He returned at approximately 5:10 a.m. When he went to check on the prisoners, sometime between 5:10 a.m. and 5:18 a.m., he found that Joseph Pifcho had hung himself in his cell.*fn7 Scranton Police Rules and Regulations in place at the time of this incident mandated that desk officers were to check on the condition of detainees every half hour and then indicate that they had done so on a prisoner log sheet. Officer Wagner was unaware that this was one of his duties. Consequently, he failed to check on any of the prisoners that evening. Indeed, Officer Wagner was not aware that Joseph Pifcho had even been placed in Cell No. 4.
See Pifcho v. Walsh, et al., Civil Action No. 3:01-0893, (Jones, J.), Doc. No. 27, pp. 4-7.

  In bringing the above action, the Pifchos alleged that the individual defendants were deliberately indifferent in placing Joseph Pifcho in a cell without a camera and in failing to adequately supervise him.*fn8 With respect to the City of Scranton, the plaintiff set forth two theories of liability. Initially, the plaintiffs alleged that the City was deliberately indifferent to the needs of intoxicated and suicidally prone individuals as evidenced by the deficient policies instituted by the City to prevent suicides among detainees. Second, the plaintiffs alleged that the City was deliberately indifferent in that it failed to train its police officers in a manner by which they could adequately prevent suicides by detainees.

  Turning back to the instant action, Deborah Cruise's suicide, the record reflects that the Scranton Police Department's protocol regarding the detention of intoxicated persons still required that, if a person was detained only as a result of their intoxication, they were given an opportunity to call a responsible adult who could pick them up and take them home. If a responsible adult could not be contacted, the detainee would be placed in a holding ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.