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Hess v. Smyers

November 14, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Before the Court are two motions for summary judgment filed by the above-captioned Defendants (Doc. Nos. 94, 97), together with Magistrate Judge Smyser's report and recommendation on the motions (Doc. No. 107), Plaintiff's objection thereto (Doc. Nos. 108, 111), and Defendant Fetterman's reply (Doc. Nos. 110, 112). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.


A. Factual Background

On December 8, 1999, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence (DUI) before the Honorable Judge John H. Chronister, in York County, Pennsylvania. He was given a sentence of 22 days (7 days of work release followed by 15 days of house arrest) to one-year imprisonment and was paroled on January 9, 2000, with 343 days remaining on his maximum sentence.

On May 4, 2000, Plaintiff was arrested in neighboring Lancaster County for another DUI offense and possession of a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Plaintiff was freed on conditions of release from Lancaster County upon these May 4th charges, which were later bound over for trial at a July 3, 2000, preliminary hearing. Plaintiff remained free on these conditions until August 3, 2000, when he was arrested and charged in Lancaster County with new charges of arson, criminal trespass, and criminal conspiracy.

Lancaster County conducted a preliminary hearing regarding these new charges on August 4, 2000, at which time bail was set for Plaintiff. Although Plaintiff posted bail on August 8, 2000, Defendant York County Adult Probation Department placed a 72-hour temporary detainer upon Plaintiff. As a result of this detainer, Plaintiff was not released from the Lancaster County jail. On August 10, 2000, Judge Chronister issued a permanent detainer with respect to Plaintiff for a possible criminal violation committed while Plaintiff was on parole from York County.

On September 18, 2000, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to the Lancaster DUI and drug charges. He was sentenced to serve between 3 and 23 months imprisonment and was granted parole on February 13, 2001. Plaintiff was transferred from the Lancaster County prison to the York County prison on March 13, 2001.

From April through May, 2001, Plaintiff implored his sister to telephone Defendant Smyers, a York County parole officer, requesting relief from being held under the detainer. Defendant Smyers ignored several of Plaintiff's letters but eventually responded on May 12, 2001, with a note reading, "[p]olicy with severe new offenses, we detain." (Doc. No. 1, ¶ 33.)

On June 14, 2001, Plaintiff's attorney filed a habeas corpus petition, which Judge Chronister denied, refusing to remove the detainer on the grounds that "the Court can not determine whether a violation has occurred, or the appropriate disposition until the new charges are resolved." (Doc. No. 103, Plaintiff's Ex. 5.) Between July 24, 2001 and August 6, 2001, Plaintiff applied for assistance with the Defendant York County Public Defender's Office but received no response. On August 10, 2001, Plaintiff's attorney again contacted Judge Chronister to request that the detainer be lifted, but Judge Chronister denied the request. Judge Chronister agreed that Plaintiff was being held under the York County Detainer beginning on February 13, 2001 -- the date upon which he was granted parole from Lancaster County -- and that he would not consider releasing Plaintiff until he served the entire one-year sentence for his York County DUI. After Defendant Smyers calculated that date to be January 22, 2002 Judge Chronister entered an order directing that Plaintiff be released on January 22, 2002, and Plaintiff was released from York County Prison on that day.*fn1 By that point, Plaintiff still had not faced trial on the Lancaster County arson charges.

Plaintiff alleges that he filed a pro se habeas corpus petition with Defendant York County Clerk of Court on December 28, 2001, but no action was ever taken on that petition.*fn2 Plaintiff filed a second pro se habeas corpus petition on January 18, 2002, docketed on January 23, 2002, but no action was taken on it. Plaintiff additionally filed a pro se appeal of Judge Chronister's January 2, 2002, decision, but the Pennsylvania Superior Court dismissed it as moot on July 11, 2002.

B. Procedural History

On December 29, 2003, Plaintiff filed the instant action pro se. (Doc. No. 1.) The complaint alleges that Defendants collectively and individually violated Plaintiff's rights under the First, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The York and Lancaster Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on April 30, 2004. (Doc. Nos. 14, 17.) On January 19, 2005, Plaintiff's claims against Judge Chronister were dismissed on the basis of absolute judicial immunity. (Doc. No. 32.) On February 28, 2005, the remaining motions to dismiss were denied. (Doc. No. 39.)

On December 8, 2005, the parties stipulated that "Lancaster County District Attorney's Office, Lancaster County and Donald R. Totaro, only are dismissed from this case with prejudice." (Doc. No. 93) (emphasis in original). This stipulation left ...

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