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Bills v. Monroe County

September 28, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court for disposition is the motion for summary judgment filed on behalf of Defendant Monroe County in this action involving alleged excessive use of force against an arrestee. The parties have briefed their respective positions and the matter is ripe for disposition.


Plaintiff Craig Bills is a former inmate of the Monroe County Correctional Facility (hereinafter "MCCF"). He filed the instant lawsuit alleging that four correctional officers, Defendants Damien Joynes, Clinton Dockery, William Starner and Megan Devers, used excessive force in carrying him from a police car to the MCCF intake unit. Plaintiff asserts that while he was laying face down on a cement floor immobilized by handcuffs and a carrying harness, the officers struck his head, face, arms and back. (Doc. 1, Complaint at ¶ 27). He further asserts that they twisted his ankles, ears and thumbs and repeatedly pushed his face into the cement floor. (Id.). Further, one of the defendants put his fingers into plaintiff's nostrils and forcefully pulled his head back while another pulled his ankles up toward his head causing severe strain to plaintiff's neck and back. (Id. at ¶ 28). According to the plaintiff, the officers also grasped plaintiffs thumbs and the handcuffs and pulled his arms back toward his feet causing severe strain to plaintiff's neck and back. (Id.). Plaintiff began screaming for help, and an officer put a hand over his mouth making it difficult for the plaintiff to breathe. (Id. at 30-31). One of the defendants struck plaintiff twice in the back of the head causing him to lose consciousness. (Id.). Plaintiff regained consciousness in a cell without the handcuffs or harness. (Id.). He asserts the guards then verbally harassed him.

Plaintiff asserts that the beating left him with severe injuries including a broken nose, multiple contusions, bilateral ankle sprains, left shoulder dislocation, left radial nerve injury, serve traumatic damage to his left wrist and thumb, damaged vertebrae in his neck and back and damage to his shoulders and knees. (Id. at 46).

Plaintiff instituted the instant five-count action raising the following five causes of action: 1) deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; 2) assault; 3) battery; 4) intentional infliction of emotional distress and 5) policy and custom liability against Monroe County. At the close of discovery, Defendant Monroe County (hereinafter "defendant") filed the instant motion for summary judgment.


As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Standard of review

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. Discussion

Defendant raises the following three issues: 1) Whether plaintiff can hold the County of Monroe liable for policies, customs and training in effect at the MCCF where it is the Prison Board and not the County that has the statutory authority to establish those policies and manage correctional officers? 2) Can the plaintiff establish that the policies and customs of Monroe County were unconstitutional or led to the deprivation of his constitutional rights? and 3) To the extent that plaintiff asserts state tort claims against Monroe County, are those claims barred by the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act? We will discuss these issues in seriatim.

I. Can Monroe County be held liable?

Defendant Monroe County (hereinafter "defendant") asserts that it is the Prison Board that possesses the statutory authority to establish the the policies, customs and training in effect at the MCCF. Therefore, the County cannot be held liable for those policies, customs and training. After a careful review, we disagree.

The County cannot be held liable as a municipality for the constitutional torts of its employees based solely on the doctrine of respondeat superior. Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 245 (3d Cir. 2006)(citing Monell v. Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)). "[A] municipality may be held liable for the conduct of an individual employee or officer only when that conduct implements an official policy or practice." Id. (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). A plaintiff, however, can demonstrate that a municipality's course of conduct amounts to government policy when "a decisionmaker possessing final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the ...

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