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William Spiess; Kasheen Thomas; Gene Thomas, Ii v. Pocono Mountain Regional Police Dept.; Tobyhanna Twp.; Mount

May 31, 2012

WILLIAM SPIESS; KASHEEN THOMAS; GENE THOMAS, II; JALEEL HOLDEN; AND JOSE LACEN, PLAINTIFFS
v.
POCONO MOUNTAIN REGIONAL POLICE DEPT.; TOBYHANNA TWP.; MOUNT POCONO BOROUGH; TUNKHANNOCK TWP.; COOLBAUGH TWP.; CHIEF HARRY W. LEWIS; RICHARD W. LUTHCKE; JOHN P. BOHRMAN; LUCAS BRAY; CHRIS WAGNER; KENNETH LENNING; MONROE COUNTY; A.D.A. MICHAEL RAKACZEWSKI; AND DET. WENDY BENTZONI, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is the plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint (Doc. 55). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Background

We will briefly recite the facts that are relevant to the instant motion. Plaintiffs William Spiess, Kasheen Thomas, Gene Thomas, II, Jaleel Holden and Jose Lacen (collectively "plaintiffs") bring this Section 1983 action alleging that the defendants violated their civil rights. The plaintiffs were arrested and charged with raping two girls--sixteen year old AJ and fifteen year old TM-- on the night of February 9, 2008. (Doc. 1, Original Compl. ¶ 1). Plaintiff Spiess alleges that he did not engage in any sexual acts with either girl. (Id. ¶ 38). The remaining plaintiffs allege that they engaged only in consensual sex acts with the two girls. (Id.)

On the morning of February 11, 2008, the two girls went to the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department (hereafter the "Department"). (Id. ¶¶ 12, 46). The plaintiffs allege that the two girls were interviewed separately and gave substantially conflicting stories regarding the occurrences of February 9, 2008. (Id. ¶¶ 47, 48).

The plaintiffs also allege that AJ had made two previous complaints of sexual molestation against a family member to the Department. (Id. ¶ 57). The plaintiffs alleged that the Defendant Detectives Lutchke, Borhman, Bray, Lenning, Wagner and Bentzoni (collectively "Defendant Detectives") as well as Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski (hereafter "ADA Rakaczewski") were involved in these prior rape allegations and "were fully aware of AJ's mental health issues and that she had a history of reporting unfounded rape allegations . . . [and that] she was a pathological liar." (Id. ¶ 63). Ultimately, these prior complaints were allegedly either recanted or closed as unfounded after detectives interviewed the girl's family and investigated her treatment at mental health facilities. (Id. ¶¶ 58-62).

Despite the apparent inconsistencies and with knowledge of AJ's history of unfounded sexual assault allegations, the Defendant Detectives, Chief Lewis and ADA Rakaczewski took the girls' statements as an opportunity to appear responsive to violent crime and gangs. (Id. ¶¶ 52, 55, 63, 81, 82, 83, 84, 94, 95). The plaintiffs also allege that their treatment by the defendants was racially motivated--with the exception of Plaintiff Spiess, the plaintiffs are either African American or Hispanic. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 55).

The plaintiffs allege that the Defendant Detectives, Chief Lewis and ADA Rakaczewski "crafted affidavits of probable cause wherein they knowingly[,] deliberately, or with reckless disregard for the truth, concealed material facts and exculpatory evidence while, at the same time, including statements that they knew or should have known were false." (Id. ¶ 96). Specifically, these defendants allegedly designed the affidavit to hide inconsistencies in the girls' statements. (Id. ¶ 97). The plaintiffs allege that the Defendant Detectives, Chief Lewis and ADA Rakaczewski withheld facts contradicting or undermining their affidavit. (Id. ¶ 98). The plaintiffs allege that, at the time of the initial interviews, the Defendant Detectives, Chief Lewis and the Monroe County District Attorney's Office had a statement signed by TM and her parents indicating that Plaintiff Spiess was not involved in the rape. (Id. ¶ 85).

Detectives arrested the plaintiffs and they "were charged with, inter alia, multiple felony counts of forcible rape, conspiracy to commit forcible rape, conspiracy to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and sexual assault." (Id. ¶ 77). The plaintiffs allege that their arrest and charges received widespread and harmful media coverage. (Id.)

The plaintiffs also allege that the Defendant Detectives and ADA Rakaczewski encouraged the girls to confer to iron out their stories before testifying at the preliminary hearing before a magistrate to bind the plaintiffs over for trial. (Id. ¶ 101). The plaintiffs allege that the defendants did not drop their charges even after the two girls gave testimony in the preliminary hearing that contradicted their earlier statements or other evidence. (Id. ¶ 102). The plaintiffs could not afford bail, which was set at $250,000.00, and were held at the Monroe County Correctional Facility.

(Id. ¶¶ 77, 78). Ultimately, the charges against the plaintiffs were dropped on the eve of trial. (Id. ¶ 108). AJ and TM allegedly admitted that their rape accusations were false. (Id. ¶ 5).

The plaintiffs filed the original complaint on February 8, 2010. (Doc. 1, Original Compl.). On March 8, 2010, Defendants Monroe County, the Monroe County District Attorney's Office, District Attorney E. David Christine Jr. (hereafter "DA Christine"), ADA Rakaczewski and Detective Wendy Bentzoni (hereafter "Detective Bentzoni") filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 10). On July 26, 2010, this court granted, in part, and denied, in part, the motion and pursuant to our rulings, the Monroe County District Attorney's Office and DA Christine were dismissed from the case. (Doc. 23).

The plaintiff filed the instant motion to amend the complaint on April 17, 2012, seeking to add another defendant and two failure to train/supervise claims. (Doc. 55). The plaintiffs filed a copy of the proposed amended complaint for the court's consideration. (Doc. 57, Attachs. 3, 4, 5). On April 23, 2012, Defendants Monroe County, ADA Rakaczewski and Detective Bentzoni filed a brief in opposition to the motion. (Doc. 58). On April 27, 2012, the Department, Chief Lewis and Detectives Lutchcke, Bohrman, Bray, Wagner and Lenning also filed a separate brief in opposition to the motion. (Doc. 60).*fn1

The parties have fully briefed the motion, bringing the case to its present posture. Jurisdiction

The court has federal question jurisdiction over this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief).

Discussion

The plaintiffs move to amend the complaint to add an additional defendant and two failure to train/supervise claims to the complaint.*fn2

Defendant Department addresses the new defendant, while Defendants Monroe County, ADA Rakaczewski and Detective Bentzoni primarily address the proposed failure to train/supervise claims. We will address the defendants' arguments as they relate to each proposed amendment.

1. Adding the Commission as a defendant

The plaintiffs seek to name the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Commission (hereafter the "Commission"), an administrative body that governs the Department, as a defendant in the instant case. (Doc. 57, Pl. Br. in Supp. at 3). At the time that they initiated this action, the plaintiffs believed that Chief Lewis was the sole decision-maker and policymaker of the Department. However, the plaintiffs recently learned that the Commission also serves in a policymaking capacity. (Id. at 10). The plaintiffs claim that they did not have access to an organizational document explaining the role of the Commission until discovery. The document states:

Generally, all orders, directives, inquiries, reports, hearings and policy information, will be transacted through the Chief of Police. However, the Commission members have the authority to assume control and direct the official action of the members of the Department when acting in their official capacity. In addition, the Commission members, when acting, may require manual accountability from individual members of the Department. (Doc. 57, Attach. 1).

Defendant contends that this proposed amendment is barred by the statute of limitations, thus, the motion should be denied. While a plaintiff may add a new defendant under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(1)(C), which allows for amendments to relate back to the filing date of the original pleading, defendant claims that the plaintiffs cannot satisfy all of the requirements under that Rule, particularly that the Commission knew or should have known that it would have been brought in as a party to this suit. See FED.R.CIV.P. 15(c)(1)(C)(ii). ...


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