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Rudzik v. City of Philadelphia

December 10, 2008

DONNA RUDZIK, ADMINISTATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JOSEPH M. KOVACH, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Timothy R. Rice U.S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff Donna Rudzik alleges defendant Officers Joseph Purfield, Jonah Conway, and Andrew Langhuber were deliberately indifferent to the serious medical and safety needs of her deceased son, Joseph Kovach. Kovach died from an accidental drug overdose while in police custody. Rudzik also alleges the City of Philadelphia failed to properly train its police officers, and failed to promulgate policies, regarding the administration of medical assistance to those with serious medical needs and its oversight of pretrial detainees assigned to suicide watch cells. The police officer defendants seek summary judgment, arguing they are entitled to qualified immunity. The City seeks summary judgment, arguing Rudzik failed to produce any evidence to support her claims of municipal liability. For the following reasons, I will grant the City's motion, but deny the police officers' motion.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party bears the burden of showing the record reveals no genuine issue as to any material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings to set forth "specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(2). The party opposing summary judgment, however, "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts;" it must produce competent evidence supporting opposition. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

I must resolve all justifiable inferences in the non-moving party's favor. Sommer v. Vanguard Group, 461 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2006). I may not consider evidence on a motion for summary judgment that would not be admissible at trial. Pamintuan v. Nanticoke Mem'l Hosp., 192 F.3d 378, 387 n.13 (3d Cir. 1999). I may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Therefore, "where the non-moving party's evidence contradicts the movant's, then the non-movant's must be taken as true." Big Apple BMW, Inc., 974 F.2d at 1363.

To defeat a motion for summary judgment, factual disputes must be both material and genuine. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue is "material" if it is predicated upon facts that are relevant and necessary and that may affect the outcome of the matter pursuant to the underlying law. Id. An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 248-49. Summary judgment is mandated against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, because such a failure as to an essential element necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-23. Thus, if there is only one reasonable conclusion from the record regarding the potential verdict under the governing law, summary judgment must be awarded to the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

II. Discussion

A. Qualified Immunity

Qualified immunity is an entitlement not to stand trial, not a defense from liability. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). Qualified immunity protects police officers from "undue interference with their duties and from potentially disabling threats of liability," Wright v. City of Philadelphia, 409 F.3d 595, 599 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Elder v. Holloway, 510 U.S. 514 (1994)), if their conduct did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional law of which a reasonable person would have been aware. Wright, 409 F.3d at 599 (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 806 (1982)). Thus, the qualified immunity doctrine "gives ample room for mistaken judgments by protecting all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Rowe v. Romano, 940 F. Supp. 798, 802 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (Joyner, J.); Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 229 (1991).

First, I must decide whether the facts, taken in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, establish a constitutional violation. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. If not, the inquiry ends. Gilles v. David, 427 F.3d 197, 203 (3d Cir. 2005). If a constitutional violation is established, I must determine whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202. "If an official could have reasonably believed that his or her actions were lawful, the official receives immunity even if in fact the actions were not lawful." Forbes v. Twp. of Lower Merion, 313 F.3d 144, 148 (3d Cir. 2002). The officer may be entitled to immunity even if he is mistaken as to what the law requires. Carswell v. Borough of Homestead, 381 F.3d 235, 242 (3d Cir. 2004).

Thus, I must decide whether the facts taken in a light most favorable to Rudzik demonstrate Officers Purfield, Conway, and Langhuber were deliberately indifferent to Kovach's need for serious medical attention while in police custody. See Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201.

B. Deliberate Indifference

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides detainees the right to receive medical treatment for serious medical needs while in police custody. See Baldi v. City of Philadelphia, 609 F. Supp. 162, 166 (E.D. Pa. 1985). Like a convicted prisoner, the Due Process rights of a detainee are examined under the Eighth Amendment standard. See County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 849-50 (1998); Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 946 F.2d 1017,1023 (3d Cir. 1991). Prison officials commit a constitutional violation when they are "deliberately indifferent to the serious medical needs of an inmate." Despaigne v. Crolew, 89 F.Supp. 2d 582, 585 (E.D. Pa. 2000). The "requirement of reckless or deliberate indifference implies that there must be 'a strong likelihood, rather than a mere possibility,'" that harm will occur. Colburn, 946 F.2d at 1024 (quoting Torraco v. Maloney, 923 F.2d 231, 239 (1st Cir. 1991). For Eighth Amendment protections to apply, the injury must be either a medical condition diagnosed by a physician as requiring treatment or "one that is ...


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