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Estate of andrea Yvonne Arrington v. Officer John Michael and the City of Chester

February 8, 2012

ESTATE OF ANDREA YVONNE ARRINGTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER JOHN MICHAEL AND THE CITY OF CHESTER, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OF LAW

February , 2012

Before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6) and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto (ECF No. 8). For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Aaron Michael, the son of Defendant Officer John Michael, lived with Andrea Yvonne Arrington and their son Aaron Michael, Jr. On July 1, 2009, Arrington contacted the Ridley Township Police Department to report that Aaron Michael was harassing and threatening her. On July 2, 2009, Arrington filed a petition for a protection order and the court issued a temporary protection order. Pursuant to a hearing on July 9, 2009, the local court issued a protection order that, inter alia, evicted Aaron Michael from his Chester, Pennsylvania home, in which he lived with Arrington and their son, and forbade Aaron from possessing, transferring or acquiring firearms. After his eviction, Aaron Michael went to live with his father, the defendant Officer John Michael. Despite the mandates in the protection order, Aaron Michael allegedly continued harassing Arrington and a warrant was issued for his arrest on or about July 15, 2009. Aaron Michael was never apprehended and on July 20, 2009 he used his father's service weapon to shoot Arrington eight to eleven times. Shortly thereafter, Arrington died and Aaron Michael was killed in a confrontation with the police.

Defendant Officer Michael allegedly knew that the July 2, 2009 and July 9, 2009 protection orders were issued against his son and was aware his son was violating the orders. Before the July 20, 2009 shooting, Defendant Officer Michael left for a vacation in Florida, leaving his service weapon and ammunition at home where his son resided. The present action was brought by the Estate of Andrea Arrington by and through Audra L. Thornton Arrington, Administratrix of her Estate ("Plaintiff"). Plaintiff sues Officer Michael under the state created danger doctrine and asserts a Monell claim against the City of Chester.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the district court must "accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom." Krantz v. Prudential Invs. Fund Mgmt., 305 F.3d 140, 142 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)). In so doing, the courts must consider whether the complaint has alleged enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Although the Court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, it need not credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429 (3d Cir. 1997).

III. DISCUSSION

A. State-Created Danger Plaintiff brings a claim against Officer Michael under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for depriving Andrea Arrington of her substantive due process rights pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff presents its claim under what the Third Circuit has called the state-created danger theory. "Individuals have a constitutional liberty interest in personal bodily integrity that is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing D.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1368 (3d Cir. 1992)). Generally, the Due Process Clause does not require the state to take affirmative steps to protect its citizens from violence inflicted by private parties. See DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 195-96 (1989). However, the state-created danger doctrine serves as a limited exception to the rule. See Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235. The doctrine has four elements:

(1) the harm ultimately caused to the plaintiff was foreseeable and fairly direct; (2) the state-actor acted in willful disregard for the plaintiff's safety; *fn1 (3) there was some relationship between the state and the plaintiff; and (4) the state-actor used his authority to create an opportunity for danger that otherwise would not have existed.

Id. (citing Bright v. Westmoreland Cnty., 443 F.3d 276, 281 (3d Cir. 2006)) (footnote omitted). Plaintiff has stated a facially plausible claim of a state-created danger.

Plaintiff contends that Defendant Officer Michael was aware that his son Aaron was subject to a protection order for harassing and threatening to kill Andrea Arrington, was violating that order, and was forbidden from possessing a firearm. Despite this knowledge, Defendant Officer Michael allegedly left his service weapon unsecured at home with his son and departed for ...


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