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Karen Romano, In Her Individual Capacity, and v. Christopher S. Young

February 1, 2011


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


Plaintiff Karen Romano brings a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of herself and her child, Sierra Cardwell. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Christopher Young, a former Plainfield Township police officer, sexually assaulted Cardwell numerous times when she was a minor. Along with claims against Young, Plaintiffs have filed § 1983 claims against Defendant Plainfield Township ("Plainfield") and Defendant Dean Ceraul, Plainfield's police chief. Plainfield and Ceraul allegedly failed to verify Young's credentials before hiring him, failed to adequately train him, and harassed Plaintiffs in retaliation for reporting Young's sexual relationship with Cardwell. Plaintiffs' Complaint also includes state-law claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. Currently before the Court is Plainfield and Ceraul's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


A. Young's Hiring and Background Investigation

Young was employed by Plainfield as a police officer beginning in 2001 until his arrest in 2006. (Pls.' Counter Statement of Facts in Opp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. 1.) Young applied to the Plainfield police department on June 18, 2001. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. B [Young Appl.].) Ceraul reviewed the application. (Id. Ex. C [Ceraul Dep.] 130].) The application indicated that Young had been a police officer in Lebanon, New Jersey and had previously completed some police training. (Young Appl.) His application included a certificate from the State of New Jersey's Police Training Commission indicating that he had completed a "Basic Course for Class One Special Law Enforcement Officers." (Id.) It also included a certification from the Ocean County, New Jersey Police Academy that Young had completed a course of study in "Basic Special Police Training Class

I." (Id.)

After Ceraul reviewed the application, he concluded that Young could not be hired because he was not a resident of Plainfield Township and because he did not have the certification required by Pennsylvania law. (Ceraul Dep. 130-32.) Ceraul advised Young that in ordered to be considered for the position, he would need to obtain a waiver of mandatory basic training based on his New Jersey police experience from the Municipal Police Officers Education Training Commission ("MPOETC"), which sets hiring and training standards for police departments in Pennsylvania. (Id. at 131.) On December 21, 2001, Young submitted an Application for Certification to MPOETC. (Defs.' Mot for Summ. J. Ex. E [Appl. for Certification dated Dec. 21, 2001].) Ceraul signed a certification on the application indicating that Plainfield had completed: (1) a criminal history and fingerprint check, (2) a credit check; (3) personal interviews of three persons the applicant knows; (4) interviews of the applicant's employers for the past five years; and (5) a driver's license check. (Id.) The application indicated that any misrepresentation contained therein constituted cause for termination and criminal prosecution. (Id.) Young was provided with a temporary certification by MPOETC as a Pennsylvania-eligible police officer on January 22, 2002. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. G [Allentown Police Academy Grade Sheet]; Ex. D [Beverly Young Dep.] 47.) As of March 12, 2002, MPOETC determined that Young had complied with its requirements to be certified as a Pennsylvania police officer. (Beverly Young Dep. 55)

After being advised that Young had completed the training required by MPOETC, Plainfield began another review of his application. Plainfield investigated Young's criminal history, driving record, personal credit history, and also required a urine test. (Ceraul Dep. 140-42.) Young was also required to undergo physical and psychological examinations, which he passed. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. I [Aff. of Anthony Drago dated May 15, 2010]; Beverly Young Dep. 38.) Ceraul also checked three of Young's personal references. (Ceraul Dep. 141-42.) On December 13, 2001, Young was appointed as a Probationary Patrol Officer for Plainfield. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. J [Letter from Joyce Lambert, Plainfield Bd. of Supervisors dated Dec. 13, 2001].)

In 2006, Pennsylvania State Police investigators alerted MPOETC officials that Young had falsified certain information in his waiver application; MPOETC therefore revoked his certification. (Id. at 57-58). MPOETC determined that Young had misrepresented his credentials and falsified the number of hours of training he had completed in New Jersey. (Id. at 65, 90.) It also came to light that Young had been accused of stalking women in the past. (Pls.' Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Dated Sept. 25, 2008 Ex. M [George Duckworth Dep. 5].)

B. Young's Relationship with Cardwell

Young and his wife were neighbors and friends with Romano and Cardwell. (Id. Ex. A [Romano Dep.] 12-13.) Beginning in 2002, however, Young began making sexual advances and acting inappropriately towards Cardwell. In June of 2002, when Cardwell was twelve years old, she signed up to participate in a junior police academy partly supervised by Young. When she was there, Young "would stare at [her] breasts, stare at [her] body. Look at [her] in a sexual way and lick his mouth." (Id. Ex. G [Cardwell Dep.] 145-46.) This behavior caused Cardwell to drop out of the junior police academy after two or three days. (Id.) On December 31, 2004, Young offered to "check on" then-fourteen year old Cardwell and some of her friends who were home alone. When Young came over, he made multiple inappropriate remarks to Cardwell as she and her friends were bathing in a hot tub. (Id. Ex. N [PSP Report of Tpr. Hulbert dated Sept. 15, 2005 (PSP Report)] at 8.) Later that evening, Young sexually assaulted Cardwell in the kitchen. (Id.)

Young and Cardwell had sexual relations approximately five times between May of 2005 and July of 2005; Cardwell was fourteen to fifteen years old during this period. In May of 2005, Cardwell attended a party at a friend's home. (Id. at 2.) Young and Cardwell were sitting around a fire in the backyard when Cardwell decided she wanted marshmallows. (Id.) Young offered to take her to a local grocery store. (Id.) On the way back from the store, Young and Cardwell had sexual relations. (Id.) A few weeks later, Young called Cardwell and picked her up at her home at approximately 2 a.m. (Id. at 3.) Young drove to a nearby housing development and had sexual intercourse with Cardwell in his truck. (Id.) On July 4, 2005, Young attended a party at Cardwell's home. (Id. at 4.) Young and Cardwell left the party in Young's car to get beer. (Id.) Young drove to the Wind Gap Kidney Center, where Young and Cardwell had sex in Young's car. (Id.) Young and Cardwell had two more sexual encounters in August of 2005. (Id.)

Towards the end of August 2005, Romano stumbled upon Caldwell's diary, which described a number of the sexual encounters with Young. (Id. at 5.) Approximately two days after she discovered the diary, Romano reported Young to Plainfield Chief of Police Dean Ceraul, Young's supervisor. (Romano Dep. 58-59.) When Ceraul spoke to Young about the allegations, Young allegedly said that Romano and Young were having an affair, and that Romano "made up the story," because Romano was upset that Young wanted to end their relationship. (Id.) Young and Ceraul allegedly spread the false rumor-subsequently repeated in the press-that Young had been having sex with Romano, which injured Romano's reputation. (Id. at 63, 66-69.) Romano alleges that Ceraul did not take the allegations seriously at first; the Plainfield Police Department were "sitting on it," and "nothing was done." (Id. at 62-63; 66.) After Romano reported to Ceraul that Young had been having sex with Cardwell, she observed uniformed Plainfield police officers parked in their patrol vehicles outside of her home "six or seven times." (Id.) Romano "felt that they were parked there for a reason, to either scare us, to shut us up." (Id. at 178.) Police officers also pulled Romano over on at least four occasions in 2005 and 2006: once for speeding; once for a problem with her inspection sticker; once for failing to stop at a red light; and once for no stated reason. (Id. at 159-170.) Romano alleges that the traffic stops were designed to intimidate her and to retaliate against her for making the complaint against Young.

In September 2005, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Northampton County District Attorney investigated the sexual assault allegations against Young. (PSP Report 1.) Based on the investigation, Young was arrested on April 18, 2006. (Id. at 26.) After pleading guilty to statutory sexual assault and no contest to unsworn falsification related to his employment application, Young ...

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