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Davis v. Borough

October 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, J.


I. Introduction

On April 27, 2009, Plaintiff Warren Davis ("Davis") filed a complaint against Defendants Darby and Yeadon Borough, as well as Darby Borough Police Officer Matthew Rinderer, Yeadon Borough Police Officer Ferdie Ingram, and Pennsylvania State Constable Michael Connor ("Constable Connor") in their official and personal capacities. Davis's complaint also alleges claims against GEO Group, Inc., a Florida corporation that operates the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, and two unnamed Defendants, John and Jane Doe, who Davis believes are police officers employed either by Darby or Yeadon Borough. Davis brings five overlapping claims against Defendants, including federal and state due process violations, violations of his First Amendment right to freedom of political speech and association, First Amendment retaliation, and wrongful and/or false imprisonment.*fn1 Constable Connor moves to dismiss all counts against him in his personal capacity based on the theory that he is entitled to either absolute judicial or qualified immunity.*fn2

II. Jurisdiction and Legal Standard

This Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because many of Davis's claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This Court has jurisdiction over Davis's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. In deciding a motion to dismiss under FED. R. CIV. P. 12 (b)(6), a court must "accept all factual allegations as true [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002). A motion to dismiss should be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) if the moving party has established that the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any reasonable reading of the complaint. Brown v. Card Serv. Ctr., 464 F.3d 450, 452 (3d Cir. 2006).

III. Factual Background*fn3

On April 26, 2007, Davis was arrested at his residence pursuant to a bench warrant issued in 1993. While being handcuffed, Davis repeatedly told the arresting officers that the warrant had been rescinded in 2000. He also informed the officers that inside his house he had the documentation to prove that the warrant was no longer valid. The arresting officers took Davis to Darby Police Station and then transferred custody of him to Constable Michael Connor, who took Davis to George W. Hill Correctional Facility. Constable Connor and the correctional facility's employees then committed Davis to the prison. Throughout the process, Davis repeatedly told Defendants that the warrant had been rescinded and that his wife possessed the documentation.

Davis was strip-searched, fingerprinted, and forced to remain in prison until the following morning. At 11:30 a.m. on April 27, 2007, Davis was released from the correctional facility with no explanation or paperwork.

IV. Discussion

Constable Connor's Motion to Dismiss is based upon two theories: judicial immunity and qualified immunity. Judicial immunity affords judges absolute immunity from civil liability under § 1983 "for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction." Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967). Constable Connor is not a judge, but I understand his requested defense to be that derivation of judicial immunity known as quasi-judicial immunity, which is reserved for non-judicial officials whose duties "have an integral relationship with the judicial process." Ashbrook v. Hoffman, 617 F.2d 474, 476 (7th Cir. 1980). This type of immunity was established to prevent "a non-judicial officer who is delegated judicial duties in aid of the court [from becoming] a 'lightning rod for harassing litigation' aimed at the court." Id. (quoting Kermit Constr. Corp. v. Banco Credito y Ahorro Ponceno, 547 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1976)). See also Valdez v. City of Denver, 878 F.2d 1285, 1289 (10th Cir. 1989) ("Officials must not be called upon to answer for the legality of decisions which they are powerless to control.").

Qualified immunity also serves as a strong protection against civil liability for government officials. "A government official is entitled to qualified immunity if his 'conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 272 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). "[P]articularly in § 1983 cases involving alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court has emphasized that the inquiry is whether a reasonable officer could have believed that his or her conduct was lawful, in light of the clearly established law and the information in the officer's possession." Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 826 (3d Cir. 1997). The qualified immunity defense was established to "avoid[] unnecessarily extending the scope of the traditional concept of absolute immunity." Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 224 (1988).

In determining whether to afford government officials absolute immunity above and beyond their presumptive qualified immunity, courts are to take "a 'functional' approach." Id. As the Supreme Court has explained,

Under that approach, we examine the nature of the functions with which a particular official or class of officials has been lawfully entrusted, and we seek to evaluate the effect that exposure to particular forms of liability would likely have on the appropriate exercise of those functions. Officials who seek exemption from personal liability have the burden of showing that such an exemption is justified by overriding considerations of public policy.

Id. Constable Connor has not met his burden of showing that he deserves absolute (i.e., quasi-judicial) immunity. After analyzing why absolute immunity is inappropriate, I will explain why, based on the facts alleged in the Complaint, Constable Connor also has not established that he is entitled to qualified immunity, although further discovery may uncover ...

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