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Wall v. Dauphin County

January 5, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kane


Before the Court is Magistrate Judge J. Andrew Smyser's Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 39) on Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 23), Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 27), and Defendant's motion to strike (Doc No. 28). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. Magistrate Judge Smyser recommended that Defendants' collective motion for summary judgment be denied in its entirety. The Court has conducted a de novo review of the record and will adopt certain of Magistrate Judge Smyser's recommendations and decline to adopt others. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment will be denied in part and granted in part, the motion to strike will be granted, and Plaintiff's cross-motion will be stricken as untimely.


A. Procedural Background

The case before the Court involves civil rights claims brought by the mother of a decedent who died on August 6, 2001 while incarcerated in the Dauphin County Prison.

Plaintiff, as Administratrix for the Estate of Thomas Wall, initiated this civil action by a complaint filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on July 22, 2003. The action was subsequently transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania on February 2, 2004. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiff's complaint names the following Defendants: Dauphin County; Dauphin County Sheriff J.R. Lotwick; and Deputy Sheriffs Bob Mylnek and Tom Wong. The complaint alleges that Defendants violated Decedent's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by directing, participating in, and/or condoning the allegedly unlawful detention of Decedent from July 23, 2001 until his death on August 6, 2001.

Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on February 5, 2004. (Doc. No. 2.) By Order dated April 26, 2004, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim. (Doc. No. 17.) On November 19, 2004, Defendants moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's remaining due process claims. (Doc. Nos. 23, 24.) Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition on December 6, 2004, by which Plaintiff also cross-moves for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 27.) Subsequently, Defendants filed a reply brief in support of their motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 29) and a motion to strike Plaintiffs cross-motion for summary judgment as untimely (Doc. No. 28).

On February 14, 2005, Judge Smyser issued a Report and Recommendation in which he recommended that Defendant's motion for summary judgment be denied, Defendant's motion to strike be granted, and Plaintiff's cross-motion be stricken as untimely. The Defendants timely filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 41), to which Plaintiff filed a response (Doc. No. 42).

B. Factual Background

On July 13, 1999, Plaintiff's decedent*fn1 was arrested and charged in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with a drug offense. On July 26, 1999, District Justice Solomon reduced Decedent's bail to $10,000 and Decedent was released on bail. He was arraigned in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas on September 10, 1999. Decedent appeared on October 11, 1999, for his scheduled trial; however, Decedent was advised by court personnel that his trial had been continued to an unspecified date. Decedent was told that he would be mailed written notice of a later trial date. Plaintiff, who accompanied Decedent, provided her Philadelphia address to an unidentified Dauphin County Court employee, requesting that notice of the new trial date be sent to that address. All mailings after that, however, were sent to the Harrisburg address given by Decedent to the District Justice at his initial appearance.

The conditions of Decedent's bail required that he provide written notification of a change of address to the bail authority (the District Justice), the Clerk of Courts, the District Attorney and the Court bail agency within 48 hours of any change of address. (Doc. No. 33, Ex. 3.) There is no evidence that Decedent complied with this condition of release.

As indicated in a letter from the District Attorney, dated December 9, 1999, Decedent's trial was rescheduled to January 10, 2000. (Doc. No. 33, Ex. 8.) The letter was mailed to Decedent at his Harrisburg address and a copy was sent to the Decedent's attorney of record. (Doc. No. 33, Ex. 9.) Decedent failed to appear at the rescheduled trial.

Presiding Judge Morrison issued a capias warrant for Decedent's arrest and ordered the forfeiture of bail. (Doc. No. 33, Exs. 10, 11.) The capias directed Defendant Sheriff Lotwick to "take [Decedent], . . . and him safely keep, so that you have his body before our Judges at Harrisburg . . ." (Doc. No. 33, Ex. 12.) On June 3, 2001, Decedent was arrested in Philadelphia pursuant to the capias warrant following a traffic stop. The Philadelphia Police Department notified the Dauphin County Sheriff's Office on June 3, 2001, that Decedent was in their custody and waiting to be picked up. (Doc. No. 27, Ex. 3.) On July 23, 2001, Decedent was transported from Philadelphia to Dauphin County Prison by Defendant Deputies Mylnek and Wong. (Doc. No. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 13-15.) On July 24, 2001, Sheriff Lotwick notified the Dauphin county District Attorney that Decedent was being held in Dauphin County Prison. (Doc. No. 33, Ex. 12.) On July 26, 2001, the District Attorney sent a notice to the Harrisburg address of Decedent and to counsel of record for Decedent that Decedent's trial had been rescheduled to September 10, 2001. (Id., Ex. 13.) On August 6, 2001, the Decedent died in the Dauphin County Prison. (Doc. No. 1, Compl. ¶ 15.)


When objections to a report and recommendation have been filed, the Court must make a de novo consideration of those portions of the report to which objections relate. Carter v. Apfel, 220 F. Supp. 2d 393, 395 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (citing Samples v. Deicks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989)). In so doing, the Court may accept, reject, or modify the findings and recommendations contained in the report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.1. Further, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, the Court may rely on the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings and recommendations. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980); Govey v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984) ("[t]he Supreme Court has recognized the discretion afforded federal district courts in their use of magistrate's reports").

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is proper when "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 a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine only if there is sufficient evidentiary basis which would allow a reasonable fact-finer to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 249. When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, who is "entitled to every reasonable inference that can be drawn from the record." Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000).

Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the claims of the non-moving party, the non-moving party may not simply sit back and rest on the allegations in his complaint; instead, he must "go beyond the pleadings and by [her] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). Summary judgment should be granted where a party "fails to make a showing ...

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