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Regan v. Upper Darby Township

March 11, 2009

LYNNE A. REGAN
v.
UPPER DARBY TOWNSHIP, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Surrick, J.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Presently before the Court is Defendant GEO Group, Inc., and the Delaware County Prison's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 75). For the following reasons, the Motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This case arises out of Plaintiff's arrests for violations of a Protection from Abuse Order ("PFA order") and other charges. The instant Motion for Summary Judgment relates to one of Plaintiff's arrests, which occurred in December 2004 and which resulted in Plaintiff's incarceration over the Christmas holiday. We recite only those facts that are material to this Motion.*fn1

At 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 22, 2004, Plaintiff was arrested on two separate criminal cases. (Pl.'s Dep. 317-18.) The first criminal case was a charge of stalking and harassment in violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 2709. The second was a charge of violation of a PFA order in violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6114. Plaintiff was arraigned on the charges that evening and bail was set at $10,000.00. (Pl.'s Dep. 319.) Unable to post bail, Plaintiff was transported to the Delaware County Prison where she was processed and placed into a cell. (Id. at 325, 329). The next morning, Thursday, December 23, 2004, Plaintiff spoke with her mother by telephone and arranged for her brother, Michael Regan ("Regan"), to post bail.*fn2 (Id. at 336; Regan Dep. 13.) Regan arrived at the district court between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m. to post Plaintiff's bond. (Regan Dep. 15-16.) When the paperwork was ready at 11:30 a.m., Regan asked for a second copy since "[i]t's nice to have a copy of something." (Id. at 21-22, 25.) Regan left the district court with two copies of Plaintiff's release paperwork. (Id. at 25, 28.) He arrived at the prison at "about noon" and gave a copy of the paperwork to the guard at the front gate, keeping the second copy for himself. (Id. at 28-29.) Within five or ten minutes, Regan saw the front gate guard give the paperwork to a K-9 officer who "took [the paperwork] in the van" and then drove "back towards the prison area." (Id. at 31.) Regan saw the van drive into the prison but does not know where the van went after that. (Id. at 32.)

At "[a]bout every hour on the hour until about 4:00 p.m.," Regan "asked [the front gate guard] what was going on with [Plaintiff's release]," and the guard replied "that they were processing her." (Id.) Regan returned to his car in the parking lot, where he waited. He observed the guard call the Records Department twice, though he could not hear the conversation. (Id. at 33-34.) At 4:00 p.m., Regan asked the guard for another update. (Id. at 35.) The guard told him to "give me a few minutes" and Regan returned to his car. (Id.) Fifteen minutes later, the guard called Regan back and told him that Plaintiff "wasn't getting out today" and "I think she has a detainer." (Id.) Regan explained to the guard, "I believe Upper Darby checked for detainers before I came out here," which prompted the guard to make another phone call. (Id. at 36.) At 4:15 p.m., after the guard spoke with an unknown person, the guard told Regan that "the paperwork is lost." (Id.) Regan handed the guard the second copy of the paperwork that he received from the district court. (Id.) The guard apologized, took the paperwork, "got in his own personal vehicle," and "went down towards the prison." (Id. at 36-37.)

At this point, Regan called the prison's Records Department and spoke with someone who identified himself as Frank DellaSorda. (Id. at 39-40.) DellaSorda told Regan that "it was K-9 [that lost the paperwork,] paperwork gets lost all the time" and the K-9 probably "left it in the truck" or "threw it in the doorway and it blew away." (Id. at 40, 47.) As Regan was speaking with DellaSorda, the guard from the front gate arrived in the Records Room and handed DellaSorda the second copy of the paperwork. (Id. at 40.) At approximately 4:30 p.m., Regan called DellaSorda again. (Id. at 41.) This time DellaSorda told him that the paperwork "didn't have a number on it" and Plaintiff "wasn't going to get out today." (Id.)

Indeed, the paperwork did have a missing number. For case management purposes, criminal charges in Delaware County are assigned an Offense Tracking Number ("OTN"). (Grear Dep. 31.) The exception to this rule is that criminal charges for violations of PFA orders are assigned Miscellaneous Docket ("MD") numbers. (Id.) In this case, the court clerk -- not an employee of Defendant GEO Group -- mistakenly assigned an OTN to Plaintiff's charges for violation of a PFA order. (Id. at 37.) As a result, Plaintiff's commitment paperwork did not match her release paperwork.*fn3 (Id.) It is Defendant GEO Group's policy to halt an inmate discharge when the OTN numbers do not match. The policy specifically provides that "[t]he Intake/Release Officer will decline the discharge if [the] OTN (Original Tracking Number) on the discharge does not match the OTN (Original Tracking Number) in the inmate's folder." (Policy 2500.01, Doc. No. 75, Ex. H.) David Owens, Defendant GEO Group's expert, a former Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, indicated in his report that the policy is consistent with the American Correctional Association's national standard "and sound correctional practices." (Owens Report, Doc. No. 75, Ex. K.) Owens opined that "[i]t is far beyond the scope and responsibility of a prison records clerk to correct a court release document without court approval" and that releasing an inmate without proper documentation "could lead to disciplinary action or possibly dismissal of the prison employee." (Id.)

The problem of mis-matching OTN numbers has been occurring at the prison for "[a] long time," and whenever it does happen, Defendant GEO Group's procedure is to call the district justice to resolve the discrepancy. (Grear Dep. 32.) At one point on December 23rd, DellaSorda suggested that Regan try to call the district justice in Upper Darby but Regan was unable to get through to anyone. (Regan Dep. 42-43, 50.) Regan also tried to call the prison warden, the assistant warden, a captain, and a lieutenant, but was unable "to get a hold of anybody that would help [him]." (Id. at 48.) There is no evidence that Defendants GEO Group or the Delaware County Prison did or did not attempt to call the district justice on December 23, 2004, to resolve the discrepancy with Plaintiff's paperwork. (See Grear Dep. 37.) Because of the discrepancy, Plaintiff was not released and Regan returned home.

The next morning was Christmas Eve, Friday, December 24, 2004. Regan again tried to call the district court in Upper Darby but "didn't get anybody on the phone." (Regan Dep. at 51.) He then called the Records Department at the prison and spoke with a woman who identified herself as Nicole. (Id. at 53-54.) Regan asked Nicole about his "problem the day before with the numbers and getting [Plaintiff] released," and Nicole told him, "I can't really comment on that, but I could tell you I had nothing to do with it and I would make a complaint to the warden." (Id. at 54.) Regan does not recall making any telephone calls in the following days concerning Plaintiff's release. (Id. at 58-59.) The district court was closed over the Christmas holiday and did not reopen until December 28, 2004. (See Doc. No. 94 at 9; Doc. No. 75 at 24.) On Tuesday, December 28, 2004, Plaintiff was released after the prison staff called the court and resolved the discrepancy with Plaintiff's OTN number.*fn4 (See Pl.'s Am. Omnibus Resp., Doc. No. 94 at 10.) Because of the delay in processing Plaintiff's paperwork, Plaintiff had remained in prison over the Christmas 2004 holiday.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 21, 2006, Plaintiff filed a Complaint and thereafter filed an Amended Complaint alleging violation of her civil rights, false imprisonment and arrest, and negligence against the moving Defendants arising out of her delayed release from jail. (See Am. Compl., Doc. No. 21.) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains five counts, three of which relate to the moving Defendants. (See id.) In Count I, Plaintiff asserts multiple civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn5 (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 93-99.) In Count III, Plaintiff asserts claims of false imprisonment and false arrest. (See id. ¶¶ 105-07.) In Count V, Plaintiff asserts a negligence claim only against Defendant GEO Group. (See id. ¶¶ 113-15.) The other counts in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint do not relate to the moving Defendants.

Defendants GEO Group and the Delaware County Prison filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Amended Complaint in its entirety.

III. LEGAL 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists only when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating that there are no facts supporting the nonmoving party's legal position. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986). Once the moving party carries this initial burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (explaining that the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts"). The nonmoving party "cannot 'rely merely upon bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions' to support its claim." Fin. Software Sys., Inc., v. Lecocq, No. 07-3034, 2008 WL 2221903, at *2 (E.D. Pa. May 29, 2008) (quoting Fireman's Ins. Co. v. DeFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982)). Rather, the party opposing summary judgment must go beyond the pleadings and present evidence through affidavits, depositions, or admissions on file to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. When deciding a motion for summary judgment, we must view facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1127 (3d Cir. 1995). However, we must not resolve factual disputes or make credibility determinations. Siegel Transfer, 54 F.3d at 1127.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. "Delaware County Prison" as a Party Amenable to Suit under § 1983

Defendant Delaware County Prison, now known as the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, contends that it is not a proper party amenable to suit because it is "merely the name of a collection of buildings" not unlike "the Empire State Building" or "the Eiffel Tower." (Doc. No. 97 at 4.) Defendant Delaware County Prison also contends that Delaware County owns the facility and the Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors operates it pursuant to special legislation. The Board of Prison Inspectors contracted with Defendant GEO Group to operate the prison. (Id.) Neither Delaware County nor the Delaware County Board of Prison Inspectors is a defendant in this lawsuit. Plaintiff argues that the Delaware County Prison, a/k/a the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, "is a proper party to the instant action" since it "is also a correctional facility" and "the identity of the party intended is undisputed." (Doc. No. 94 at 19.)

In the Third Circuit, it is well-settled that a prison or correctional facility is not a "person" that is subject to suit under federal civil rights laws. See Amaro v. Montgomery County, No. 06-3131, 2008 WL 4148610, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 8, 2008) (noting that the Montgomery County Correctional Facility was not a "person" for purposes of § 1983); Ramalho v. Montgomery County Corr. Facility, No. 06-2036, 2007 WL 1810700, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Jun. 21, 2007) (dismissing county jail since "for purposes of the § 1983 claim" it was "not a 'person' amenable to suit"); Meyers v. Schuylkill County Prison, No. 04-1123, 2006 WL 559467, at *8 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 7, 2006) (holding that a county prison is not a "person" within the meaning of § 1983); Jackson v. Pennsylvania, No. 08-1297, 2008 WL 4279544, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 11, 2008) (holding same); Kelly v. York County Prison, No. 08-1813, 2008 WL 4601797, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 15, 2008) (noting that a "prison or correctional facility is not a person within the meaning of § 1983" and "the York County Prison is clearly not a person and may not be sued under § 1983"); Sponsler v. Berks County Prison, No. 95-1136, 1995 WL 92370, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 28, 1995) ("A prison is not a 'person' subject to suit under the civil rights laws.") (citation omitted); Dixon v. Montgomery County Corr. Facility, No. 89-0972, 1989 WL 14073, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 21, 1989) (dismissing complaint against correctional facility since "[a] prison is not a 'person' for the purposes of § 1983"); Wiggins v. Montgomery County Corr. Fac., No. 87-6992, 1987 WL 14721, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 16, 1987) ("[T]he Montgomery County Correctional Facility is not a person under § 1983."); Mitchell v. Chester County Farms Prison, 426 F. Supp. 271, 274 (E.D. Pa. 1976) ("Defendants assert that Chester County Farms Prison is not a 'person' subject to suit under the federal civil rights law. I agree."); see also Adams v. Hunsberger, 262 Fed. App'x 478, 481 (3d Cir. 2008) (unpublished opinion) ("The District Court properly concluded that [the plaintiffs'] claims against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections were barred, as it is not a 'person' within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983."); Phippen v. Nish, 223 Fed. ...


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