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Robert Monastra v. Delaware County Sheriff's Office and Springfield Township Police Dept.

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


August 1, 2012

ROBERT MONASTRA, APPELLANT
v.
DELAWARE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE AND SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rochelle S. Friedman, Senior Judge

Submitted: June 22, 2012

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENEE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge

OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE FRIEDMAN

Robert Monastra (Monastra) appeals from the September 21, 2011, order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County (trial court), which granted the motions for summary judgment filed by the Delaware County Sheriff's Office (Sheriff's Office) and the Springfield Township Police Department (Police Department) (collectively, Appellees). We affirm.

On February 26, 2009, deputies from the Sheriff's Office went to Monastra's home to serve an arrest warrant on Monastra based upon child support arrearages. Upon arriving at the home, the deputies entered through an open door and observed Monastra exiting a powder room. The deputies identified themselves, announced their purpose, and placed Monastra under arrest without incident. The deputies then made a limited search of the house to insure that there were no weapons in the house or any other people or children on the premises. In the powder room from which Monastra had just exited, the deputies found plastic bags and rock crystals that appeared to be crack cocaine in plain view on the powder room vanity. The Sheriff's deputies called the Police Department, requesting an officer to come to Monastra's home to field-test and process the suspected narcotics.

The police arrived at Monastra's home, determined that the crystals were crack cocaine and charged Monastra with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Subsequently, Monastra pled guilty to possession and was sentenced.

On or about October 14, 2009, Monastra filed a complaint against the Sheriff's Office and the Police Department alleging that they abused their police powers, trespassed, and conducted an unreasonable search and seizure. Appellees filed motions for summary judgment alleging that they are not proper parties to this action and, alternatively, that they are immune from suit. The trial court granted Appellees' motions for summary judgment. Monastra now appeals to this court.*fn1

Monastra contends that the trial court erred in granting Appellees' motions for summary judgment because the Sheriff's Office and the Police Department are properly named defendants. We disagree.

The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure provide that "[a]n action shall be brought by or against a political subdivision in its name." Pa. R.C.P. No. 2102(b). A political subdivision is defined as "any county, city, borough, incorporated town, township, school district, vocational school district, county institution district or municipal or other local authority." Pa. R.C.P. No. 76.

This court has held that a fire department may not be sued as though it were a legal entity separate from the city because the fire department does not have an independent corporate existence. City of Philadelphia v. Glim, 613 A.2d 613, 616 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1992) (citing section 11 of the Act of April 21, 1855, P.L. 264, 53 P.S. §16257). The United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania determined that a municipal police department is not a proper defendant because it is "a sub-unit of the city government and, as such, is merely a vehicle through which the city fulfills its policing functions." Johnson v. City of Erie, 834 F. Supp. 873, 878-79 (W.D. Pa. 1993).

Here, Monastra filed suit against the Police Department and the Sheriff's Office. The Police Department is a sub-unit of Springfield Township (Township) and the Sheriff's Office is a sub-unit of Delaware County (County). However, Monastra did not file suit against the Township or the County. Monastra should have filed this action against the political subdivisions, not the sub-units. Because the Police Department and Sheriff's Office are not legal entities separate from their political subdivisions, the Police Department and the Sheriff's Office are not proper parties to this action. Therefore, the trial court properly granted the motions for summary judgment.*fn2

Accordingly, we affirm.

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Robert Monastra, : Appellant v. Delaware County Sheriff's Office : and Springfield Township Police Dept. :

No. 2 C.D. 2012

ORDER

AND NOW, this 1st day of August, 2012, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, dated September 21, 2011, is affirmed.

ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge


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