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Douglass v. Penn Hills Borough

October 2, 2007

THERESA E. DOUGLASS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENN HILLS BOROUGH, ET AL., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT SYNOPSIS

Plaintiff Teresa E. Douglass asserts three claims arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Officers Anthony N. Diulus, Snyder and William Long (collectively, the "Individual Defendants") and Defendant Penn Hills Borough ("Penn Hills"). In Count I of her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the Individual Defendants used excessive force in arresting her, specifically by applying handcuffs too tightly and failing to loosen them in response to her requests and cries of pain. In Count II, Plaintiff alleges a claim for malicious prosecution against Defendants Diulus and Snyder, based on her subsequent arrest pursuant to a warrant. In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Penn Hills Borough, by reason of improper training and policies, is liable for the Individual Defendants' use of excessive force.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the grounds that (1) Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for excessive force or malicious prosecution, (2) Plaintiff's expungement of her criminal case resulted in the destruction of crucial evidence; and (3) that the Individual Defendants are protected by qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss is denied in its entirety.*fn1

A. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), all factual allegations, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, must be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Haspel v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2007 WL 2030272, at *1 (3d Cir. July 16, 2007). "The issue is not whether the plaintiff will prevail at the end but only whether [she] should be entitled to offer evidence to support [her] claim." Williams v. Sebek, 2007 WL 790386, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 14, 2007) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989)).

B. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff alleges that on May 24, 2005, she had an adverse reaction to a prescription medication and began hallucinating. She suffered disorientation, paranoia, anxiety and extreme discomfort as a result of the medication. In an attempt to relieve her anxiety, and unable in her disorientation to open the door to the house, she exited her house through a window and began wandering around her Penn Hills property. As a result of exiting through the window, Plaintiff set off a burglar alarm which sounded in the Penn Hills Police Station. Plaintiff also alleges the possibility that one of her neighbors may have called the police.

Plaintiff acknowledges that she carried a purse which "apparently" contained a revolver licensed to her husband. According to Plaintiff, the revolver did not have a magazine and could not be discharged. She denies any experience with pistols. She also states that she "had discarded or lost a second firearm."

When officers from the Penn Hills Police Department, led by the Individual Defendants, arrived at the scene, Plaintiff claims that, due to the reaction to the medication, she was not even aware of their approach. She did not resist in any manner. The officers, including Defendants Diulus and Snyder, tackled her, sat on her chest, and handcuffed her.

The handcuffs, applied by Defendant Diulus to Plaintiff's wrists, were very tight and compressed her carpel tunnel nerve, causing excruciating pain. Plaintiff began screaming because of the pain, begging the Individual Defendants to loosen the handcuffs. The Individual Defendants ignored her cries and requests.

The Individual Defendants spoke with Plaintiff's husband and a witness at the scene. The Individual Defendants were informed that Plaintiff was likely having a psychotic episode, possibly as a result of medication she had taken.

Plaintiff was subsequently lifted off the ground and thrown into the back of the police cruiser, causing further pain. She continued to scream in pain during the ride to the police station. At the police station, the Individual Defendants, after discussion with their supervisors, decided that Plaintiff would be subjected to a 302 commitment at Forbes Regional Hospital. Despite her continued requests and cries of pain, the Individual Defendants' supervisors did not direct the Individual Defendants to loosen the handcuffs. She was then returned to a police vehicle, still cuffed and "scream[ing] in agony," and transported to the Hospital. The cuffs were not loosened until security at the Hospital took control of Plaintiff.

Plaintiff was admitted to the Hospital where she exhibited signs of drug-induced psychosis. Her wrists were "severely bruised, bloody, and injured." She remained in the Hospital for several days and her condition improved.

Despite having been informed that Plaintiff's behavior resulted from a reaction to medication, Defendant Snyder prepared a criminal complaint against her, with Defendant Diulus as affiant, and the complaint was filed. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Diulus lacked probable cause for the criminal ...


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