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Bridget Festa v. William Jordan

July 25, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)


Presently before the Court is Defendant Paul Ware's motion for summary judgment on the plaintiff's claims. (Doc. 43.)

This action arises out of the events allegedly taking place on May 13, 2008. In her complaint, Bridget Festa alleges she was in her car, pulling away from her home in Scranton, Pennsylvania, when she noticed Dunmore police cars following her. Several blocks later, they pulled her over, pointed guns at her, instructed her to lay face down on the ground, and searched her car.After being told her children would be taken from her if she did not consent to a search of her home, she relented and permitted the search. She alleges she was locked into a police cruiser, taken to the station, interrogated without an attorney present and against her will, and had her property taken and destroyed.

Bridget Festa filed her amended complaint against five Borough of Dunmore police officers and Paul Ware, an assistant district attorney for Lackawanna County. She brought constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the defendants violated her Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and her Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law. She also brought state common law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and false arrest and imprisonment. The police officers subsequently settled the claims against them, so Ware is the only remaining defendant.

Ware moves for summary judgment in his favor. (Doc. 43.) The only specific allegations of misconduct against Ware in the amended complaint are that he agreed with the police officers that they should stop, search, and seize Festa. Ware claims that no evidence supports these allegations and submits evidence that he simply provided the police with information that Edward Coss may have been located at Bridget Festa's home. The police had a warrant for Coss's arrest, and Ware argues that he had a reasonable basis to provide this information to the police.

Ware argues that Festa's claims cannot withstand summary judgment. As to the federal claims, Ware invokes the affirmative defense of absolute immunity. As to the state law claims, he invokes immunity under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8501 and Pennsylvania common law. The defendants filed their opposition to the motion, but have withdrawn the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The motion is ripe for review.

I. Background

Paul Ware was a Deputy District Attorney for Lackawanna County. (Def. Statement of Material Facts (SOF) ¶ 1; admitted Pltf. SOF). Claire Festa had known Paul Ware since high school and he handled all her legal affairs. (Pltf. SOF ¶ 1; not controverted by Def.) At some point before May 13, 2008, Claire Festa contacted Ware to notify him that she believed that Edward Coss, whom she heard was sought by the police, might be at the home of her daughter, Bridget Festa. (Def. SOF ¶ 4; admitted Pltf. SOF.)

On May 13, 2008, the Dunmore Police Department had a warrant to arrest Coss. (Def. SOF ¶ 3; admitted Pltf. SOF.) Ware called Dunmore Police Officer William Jordan to say he had information that Coss might be at Bridget Festa's house. (Def. SOF 5; admitted Pltf. SOF.)

At some point on May 13, several Dunmore Officers stopped Bridget Festa, searched her vehicle and home, and questioned her. Precisely what happened with respect to the searches and questioning is in dispute, but is not material. In his briefing, Ware does not argue that Festa did not suffer constitutional injuries. His only bone of contention is that there no evidence connects him to the actions of the Dunmore officers such that liability can be imposed on him.

This is where the plaintiff disagrees. While Ware claims he was not present at the scene of the vehicle search, (Def. SOF ¶ 15), the plaintiff points out that Ware testified he went to Heil's bar-the scene of the search-after having learned from a Dunmore officer by phone call that the car was there. He arrived after the search was conducted and while the vehicle was still in Heil's parking lot. (Pltf. SOF ¶ 15; Ware Dep. 29-30.)

Ware contends he was not involved in the search of Festa's home, but the plaintiff notes that Ware's own testimony reveals he was present during the search and was standing in the driveway of his assistant's parent's home, which was in a driveway on the other side of the street.*fn1 (Ware Dep. at 63.) Additionally, Clare Festa testified that Ware spoke with her before the searches because he wanted to be sure that her grandchildren would not be present at Bridget Festa's residence. (Claire Festa Dep. at 16.)

Ware claims that he was present on the scene because if Edward Coss were found, he wanted to be present. (Ware Dep. at 19.) He denied that he was advising the police officers, (id. at 20), but agreed that in his role as assistant district attorney he is frequently at the scene of arrests to advise the police because district attorney approval is necessary to file felony charges, (id. at 22).

II. Discussion

As noted above, whether underlying constitutional violations occurred is not at issue in this motion.*fn2 On the § 1983 claims, Ware moves for judgment solely on the basis of whether, assuming a constitutional violation was committed, he can be held liable.

In their briefing, the parties argue past each other. Ware argues that he cannot be held liable on a theory of supervisory liability. The plaintiff primarily argues that Ware can be held liable on a theory of failure to intervene and civil conspiracy. Because Ware only moves for summary judgment on the ยง 1983 claims on the basis that no evidence supports imposing supervisory liability, the Court will only address this issue. Because the plaintiff has introduced sufficient evidence to support a finding of supervisory liability, summary judgment on this issue must be denied. Because Ware is not entitled to immunity, judgment as a matter of law on ...

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