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Collura v. City of Philadelphia

August 9, 2010


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


This is an unlawful retaliation case. Jason Collura brought a pro se civil rights action against the City of Philadelphia on February 15, 2008, challenging what he alleged to be a policy of the Independence Branch of the Philadelphia Free Library to reserve three of the library tables at the branch during certain hours for the exclusive use of people who are Chinese or Asian. Civil Action No. 08-746. The 08-746 lawsuit was served on March 6, 2008, and the City answered on March 27, 2008. The employees of the Independence Branch of the Free Library were informed of the filing of the lawsuit in March of 2008.*fn1

On April 25, 2008, Mr. Collura was expelled from the Independence Branch of the library. He then filed this lawsuit, alleging that he was retaliated against for the filing of Civil Action No. 08-746. The Court conducted a bench trial in this case on September 10, 2009. Although Mr. Collura was pro se during most of this litigation, he retained counsel prior to the bench trial and he was represented by counsel during the trial.

I. Findings of Fact

Jason Collura became a regular user of the Independence

Branch of the public library on April 1, 2001, 30 days after the library opened. Starting in January, 2007, he was told by two security guards, Corey Dorsey and "Gwenn," that he could not sit in a section of the library near the shelves of Asian books because the tables were reserved for Chinese or Asian people.

Mr. Collura wrote anonymous letters to the library, complaining of this policy. He also contacted outside agencies to complain but nothing came of his complaints. Mr. Collura filed the lawsuit described above, Civil Action NO. 08-746, on February 15, 2008, alleging that the City violated his constitutional rights. The City was served on March 6, 2008, and answered on March 27, 2008. The library employees were told about Mr. Collura's lawsuit in March 2008.

When Jennifer Chang, the manager of the Independence Branch Library, learned about Mr. Collura's lawsuit prior to April 10, 2008, she asked her union representative, Steve Baron, to come in and observe. Mr. Baron told her that Mr. Collura had a previous conviction for terroristic threats. She was told by her union representative to document all behavior that may be inappropriate or pose a danger to the staff.

On April 10, 2008, Ms. Chang wrote a memorandum to Julie Doty, Area Administrator for the library, with the re line: "BAN access to IND of Jason Collura." Ms. Chang stated in the memo that Mr. Collura had been "aggressively staring" at staff and young girls and had harassed a municipal guard, Corey Dorsey. She concluded the memo by stating: "He clearly poses extreme danger to the safety of the patrons who visit us."

On April 11, 2008, Steffen Boyd, supervisor of the mental health unit of the Adult Probation Department, received a call from Steve Baron of District Council 47, the union that represents library employees. Mr. Baron told Mr. Boyd that he had received a complaint or concern about Mr. Collura staring at Asian people in the library. Mr. Boyd also got a call from Richard Somers, supervisor of the security guards for the Free Library of Philadelphia. Mr. Somers reiterated what Mr. Baron had said: Mr. Collura was in the Asian section of the library and was staring at people and making them feel uncomfortable.

Mr. Boyd was the supervisor of David O'Brien, Mr. Collura's probation officer. Mr. Collura was on probation for unlawful use of the computer, terroristic threats, and intimidation. Mr. O'Brien learned about these two calls from Mr. Boyd and told Mr. Collura about them on May 5, 2008. Nothing negative happened to Mr. Collura's probation status as a result of these calls.

On April 25, 2008, Corey Dorsey was working as a municipal guard at the Independence Branch Library. Shortly after 10:00 a.m., he was wiping down the front door when Mr. Collura came into the library. Mr. Dorsey felt Mr. Collura "nudge" or "bump" him on his forearm when Mr. Collura came through the door. Mr. Dorsey was aware of Mr. Collura's lawsuit and Mr. Chang's April 10 memo before this incident. Mr. Dorsey went into the library and told Ms. Chang about the incident and then called the police. The police came and Mr. Dorsey told the police that Mr. Collura had bumped his forearm. The police did not arrest Mr. Collura.

Mr. Dorsey and Ms. Chang approached Mr. Collura later that day. Ms. Chang gave to Mr. Collura a notice of expulsion from the library. Exhibit P-3. Mr. Collura accepted the expulsion notice and left the library. Prior to the April 25th incident, Mr. Dorsey talked with Ms. Chang and Margaret Bernardi, the Children's Librarian, about the lawsuit. Mr. Dorsey admitted that he told Mr. Collura that he could not sit in the section of the library near the Asian books because the area was reserved for Chinese people. The actual notice, D-11, that limits access to several tables in the library, states that the area is reserved "for people using Chinese materials only."

Mr. Collura appealed the notice of expulsion that was limited to one branch. He appealed to Joe Benford, as the notice directed. In the middle of the meeting with Mr. Benford, Richard Somers, Mr. Dorsey's boss, walked in. Mr. Collura learned that he would have to appeal to Claudia Martinez, the Acting Director of Library Operations. He did so and met with Ms. Martinez on May 14, 2008. Ms. Martinez sent Mr. Collura a letter dated June 5, ...

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