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Cheryl James, Warren James and Nicole James v. the City of Wilkes-Barre; Wright Township; Wilkes-Barre

February 9, 2012

CHERYL JAMES, WARREN JAMES AND NICOLE JAMES, PLAINTIFFS
v.
THE CITY OF WILKES-BARRE; WRIGHT TOWNSHIP; WILKES-BARRE HOSPITAL COMPANY, LLC, D/BA WILKES-BARRE GENERAL HOSPITAL; THE WYOMING VALLEY HEALTH CARE SYSTEM; THE WILKES-BARRE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT; THE WRIGHT TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT; DR. RUSSELL ELMER JAMES; DR. NOEL PACLEB ESTIOKO; AMY LYNN CRAIG; BETH ANN NOBLE; LORA DENISE PAULUKONIS; BRIAN THOMAS MORAN; TANYA LYNN OSTOPICK; RYAN RUSSELL SELTZER; CAROLE FLEMING PIROW; DENNIS MONK; BRIAN STOUT; MICHAEL MARSHALL; CHARLIE CASEY; KATHY PICKARSKI VIDUMSKI; JASON FRANK KILLIAN; AND DR. MAUREEN M. LICTCHMAN, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is the issue of whether Defendant Michael Marshall should be dismissed from this case on the basis of qualified immunity. For the following reasons, we find that he should not be so dismissed.

Background

The facts pertinent to Defendant Marshall's qualified immunity claim are as follows: On September 28, Plaintiff Nicole James, then fifteen years old, sent text messages from her mobile telephone to a friend informing that friend that James intended to commit suicide by taking an overdose of seventeen ibuprofen pills. (Complaint, Exh. 1 to Notice of Removal (Doc. 1) (hereinafter "Compl.") at ¶ 38). At 10:46 p.m., the Defendant Wright Township Police received a phone call informing them of the threatened suicide. (Id. at ¶ 39).

At the time of this phone call, Plaintiff Warren James, father of Nicole, was sleeping. (Id. at ¶ 40). Shortly before, he had taken heart medication, which made him extremely tired and sleepy. (Id. at ¶¶ 40, 12). Plaintiff Cheryl James, Nicole's mother, had also taken prescription medicine that evening. (Id. at ¶ 42). Like her husband, the prescription medication made Cheryl James tired and sleepy, and she was "unable to stay awake shortly after taking it." (Id. at ¶ 11). She also drank some alcohol on the night in question. (Id. at ¶ 43). All three members of the James family were in the basement of their home, either sleeping or watching television, at the time of the incident in question. (Id. at ¶ 41).

Wright Township Police officers Dennis Monk, Brian Stout and Michael Marshall arrived at the James home accompanied by emergency medical personnel at 10:49. (Id. at ¶¶ 44-45). They informed Cheryl James of Nicole's threats. (Id. at ¶ 44). The officers' noisy arrival awoke Warren James, and he and his wife spoke to the police. (Id. at ¶ 46). Warren and Cheryl James confronted their daughter about the ibuprofen and text message she had sent her friend. (Id. at ¶ 47). Nicole informed them that she had sent a text and had planned to kill herself, but she reconsidered and had not taken any of the pills. (Id.) Though Nicole James's parents believed her denials, the Wright Township police officers insisted that she be taken to the emergency room at Defendant Wilkes-Barre General Hospital ("the Hospital"). (Id. at ¶ 48). Warren and Cheryl James disagreed, wanting to handle the matter in their own home. (Id. at ¶ 49). The police officers then informed Warren and Cheryl James that they would charge the couple with "assisted manslaughter" if Nicole suffered an injury due to their actions. (Id. at ¶ 50). They felt compelled by the officers to give permission to have Nicole taken to the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 51).

The police also informed the Warren and Cheryl James that they would need to accompany Nicole to the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 52). Still feeling disoriented from their medication, neither parent felt it safe for them to travel. (Id. at ¶ 53). They informed the police officers of their fears. (Id.). The officers nonetheless insisted that at least one parent travel with Nicole James to the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 54). Cheryl James judging herself more capable and feeling compelled by the law, agreed to accompany her to the hospital. (Id. at ¶ 55).

Plaintiff's complaint proceeds to assert many more facts, but these are the facts pertinent to the claim against Defendant Marshall. The plaintiffs assert that Defendant Marshall's actions amounted to the false arrest and false imprisonment of Plaintiff Cheryl James.

Defendant Marshall filed a motion to dismiss these claims. The court referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Mildred E. Methvin for the issuance of a report and recommendation. Judge Methvin recommended the dismissal of the claims against Defendant Marshall. (Doc. 109). Plaintiffs filed objections to the report and recommendation. (Doc. 112). Defendant Marshall opposed the objections asserting both that the plaintiffs had failed to allege any valid claim against him and that even if they had, qualified immunity shielded him from liability. (Doc. 114, Br. in Opp'n to Objections at 14-17). On August 15, 2011, the court issued a memorandum and order which granted plaintiffs' objections in part. The court denied the motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claims for false arrest and false imprisonment brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 129, Mem. & Order dated Aug. 15, 2011 at 33). Our memorandum, however, did not address the issue of qualified immunity.

Defendant Michael Marshall appealed this court's decision denying him qualified immunity although our opinion did not explicitly address this issue. (Doc. 130, Notice of Appeal). Noting this court's silence on the qualified immunity issue, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case "for the limited purpose of providing a statement of [the court's] reasons for denying qualified immunity to [Defendant Marshall]." (Doc. 138, Order of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals dated Feb. 7, 2012). The court further noted "that the disposition of a motion in which a party pleads qualified immunity must include, at a minimum, an identification of relevant factual issues and an analysis of the law that justifies the ruling with respect to those issues." (Id.) This memorandum and order follows.*fn1

Discussion

Qualified immunity for police officers "absolves defendants if reasonable officers could have believed their conduct was lawful 'in light of clearly established law and the information the searching officers possessed.'" Karnes v. Skrutski, 62 F.3d 485, 491 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 641 (1987)). Determining whether qualified immunity applies is a two "step process:" "[f]irst, we must determine whether the defendants violated 'clearly established' rights . . .

[s]econd, we determine whether a reasonable officer would have believed that his or her conduct deprived plaintiff of his or her constitutional rights." Harvey v. Plains Twp. ...


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