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Estate of andrea Yvonne Arrington v. Officer John Michael

December 18, 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 AND ORDER

Before the Court are the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 21) and the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF No. 24). For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum, we grant the Defendants' Motion in part and deny it in part, and we deny the Plaintiff's Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

This matter arises out of the tragic deaths of the Plaintiff's decedent, Andrea Yvonne Arrington, and Aaron Michael, the son of Defendant Officer John Michael. (Def.'s Stmt. of Material Facts (the "Def.'s SMF") ¶¶ 1-2.) The Plaintiff principally asserts that, because Aaron Michael shot and killed Ms. Arrington with Officer Michael's inadequately secured police-issued service weapon, Officer Michael and his employer, the City of Chester (the "City"), deprived Ms. Arrington of her constitutional rights and should bear liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (See generally Compl.)

A. The Relationship Between Aaron Michael and Ms. Arrington Ms. Arrington and Aaron Michael shared an apartment with their young son in Chester beginning in 2007. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 3.) On July 2, 2009, Ms. Arrington filed a petition in the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County seeking a Temporary Protection From Abuse Order. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. The petition alleged that Aaron Michael had assaulted Ms. Arrington three to four days earlier and recited other occasions when Aaron Michael had hit or threatened to hit Ms. Arrington. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. The court granted the petition, issued the order (the "July 2 Order"), and scheduled a hearing for July 9, 2009. Id. ¶ 9. The July 2 Order evicted Aaron Michael from the couple's shared apartment, granted custody of the couple's son to Ms. Arrington, and forbade Aaron Michael from possessing, transferring or acquiring firearms. Id. ¶ 8; (Def.'s Ex. D-1 (the "July 2 Order"), at 10). Following the hearing on July 9, the court issued a final Protection from Abuse Order (the "July 9 Order") which extended the terms of the July 2 Order for six months. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 10; Pl.'s Ex. K (the "July 9 Order"), at 3.)

On July 14, Aaron Michael violated the July 9 Order by going to the apartment from which the July 9 Order had evicted him and threatening Ms. Arrington. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 11.) Specifically, Aaron Michael threatened physical harm if Ms. Arrington contacted law enforcement to report the violation of the July 9 Order. Id. Ms. Arrington reported the violation after Aaron Michael fled the apartment. Id.

A Chester police officer, William Swanson, responded to Ms. Arrington's call. Id. ¶ 12. Officer Swanson investigated, prepared a police report, and filed a criminal complaint against Aaron Michael for violation of the July 9 Order. Id. ¶¶ 12-13; (Def.'s Ex. D-5, at 1-2). Officer Swanson also requested a warrant for Aaron Michael's arrest. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 13.) Despite Officer Swanson filing the request for the arrest warrant on July 15, the warrant did not issue until July 20. Id. ¶¶ 14-15; (Def.'s Ex. D-6, at 1).

After Aaron Michael violated the July 9 Order, he went to stay with another woman with whom he had a romantic relationship, Ashley Miller. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 39.) Between July 14 and July 20, Aaron Michael primarily stayed with Ms. Miller, believing that Officer Michael had "set him up" to be arrested. Id.; (Def.'s Ex. D-23 (the "Miller Dep."), at 26:19-27:17 (Feb. 15, 2011)).

B. Officer Michael's Actions After the July 2 Order issued, a colleague on the police force informed Officer Michael about it. (Def.'s Ex. D-24 (the "Michael Dep."), at 11:23-12:16 (Oct. 24, 2011).) The same day, July 2, Officer Michael told Aaron Michael about the July 2 Order. Id. at 12:13-13:12. Aaron Michael then came to Officer Michael's home. Id. at 13:13-15:9.

Aaron Michael had a key to the front door of Officer Michael's home. Id. at 9:17-11:22. Aaron Michael stored some of his personal effects at Officer Michael's home and continued to receive mail there through July 2009. Id. at 14:20-20:20, 62:22-63:9. Sometimes, he would come to Officer Michael's home when Officer Michael was not present. Id. at 19:5-25. Officer Michael also knew of his son's extensive criminal history, including threatening a former romantic partner, check fraud, and theft. Id. at 6:6-8:22.

After Officer Michael told his son about the July 2 Order, the two men discussed its accusations; Officer Michael also advised his son that, should he need to go to the apartment he shared with Ms. Arrington to retrieve certain of his personal effect, he should go escorted by police officers. Id. at 21:6-27:6. Aaron Michael, citing the upcoming holiday weekend, left Officer Michael's house to stay with certain unspecified friends. Id. at 25:24-26:12.

Early on the morning of July 15, a friend of Aaron Michael's called Officer Michael to tell him that Aaron Michael had violated the July 9 Order. (Def.'s SMF ¶ 32.) Officer Michael then telephoned a superior of his in the Chester Police Department (the "Department"), Captain Amaro, who told Officer Michael that a warrant for his son's arrest would issue.

(Michael Dep. at 69:15-70:25 (Oct. 24, 2011).)

Although Officer Michael tried to reach his son by telephone, he could not do so. Id. at 71:1-73:3. As a result, on July 16, Officer Michael wrote his son two notes, id. at 66:14-67:21, and left them on the dining room table in his home, next to mail addressed to Aaron Michael, in the hope that, if Aaron Michael came to retrieve his mail, he would see the notes, id. at 73:9-74:8.

The first note, four pages long, asked Aaron Michael to turn himself in based on the outstanding warrant and discussed the benefits of surrendering in comparison to attempting to evade the warrant. (Michael Dep. Ex. 6, at 1-4.) This note also offered Aaron Michael a $1,500 "bonus" for surrendering, offered to pay any bail imposed, and referred to the situation as "not that serious." Id. at 4. The second note, two pages long, also pleaded with Aaron Michael to surrender himself and noted that Aaron Michael's probation officer "will do what he can for [Aaron Michael], he knows [Officer Michael] is a police officer. They will give you a courtesy break. [Officer Michael] already talked to people, but in order to get this one time break, [Aaron Michael] ha[s] to turn [him]self in." (Michael Dep. Ex. 7, at 1-2; Michael Dep. at 81:16-21 (Oct. 24, 2011).) It appears that Officer Michael also left a copy of Officer Swanson's police report about the July 14 incident with the two notes. (See Def.'s Ex. D-10, at 23; Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ¶ 39; Def.'s Response to Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 39.)

On Friday, July 17, Aaron Michael called his father and left a message on the answering machine at Officer Michael's home. (See Michael Dep. at 74:12-75:3 (Oct. 24, 2011).) In the message, Aaron Michael told Officer Michael that he intended to surrender to the authorities once the warrant for his arrest issued. Id. at 74:17-21. When Officer Michael returned to his home on July 17 and listened to the message, the notes to Aaron Michael appeared as they had on July 16, and mail addressed to Aaron Michael was still on the dining room table of the house as before. Id. at 78:20-79:5. It is not clear how Aaron Michael discovered that a warrant would issue for his arrest based on the July 14 incident. Evidence exists in the record suggesting that Aaron Michael believed that his father "had set him up to get arrested" (Miller Dep. at 18:10-22 (Feb. 15, 2011)), but the record is silent about whether Officer Michael knew that his son thought so.

Officer Michael left Chester for a vacation in Florida on July 20. (Michael Dep. at 27:7-10 (Oct. 24, 2011).) Before leaving for Florida, Officer Michael left his service weapon in his locked bedroom and secured the weapon with a Department-issue gun lock. Id. at 36:6-37:20. Officer Michael stored the key to the single-bolt bedroom lock in a kitchen cabinet. See id. at 53:22-55:16. Officer Michael put the weapon, empty of ammunition and secured by the gun lock, in the bedroom's closet hidden under some bedroom linens. (Def. Ex. D-33, at 6.) Officer Michael hid the ammunition inside a duffel bag located in the bedroom. Id. Officer Michael stored the only key *fn1 to the gun lock separately, inside a sock in a bureau drawer in the bedroom. Id.; (see also Def.'s SMF ¶ 21.)

C. The City's Relevant Policies

The Department officially encouraged, but did not require, officers to take their service weapons home with them when they were not on duty. (Pl.'s Ex. U (the "Chubb Dep."), at 45:20-46:24 (May 23, 2012).) The Department trained officers to store their service weapons unloaded, preferably in a locked container, and separately from the weapon's ammunition. Id. at 36:9-37:8. The Department also trained officers to secure a service weapon with a Department-issue gun lock, but the Department did not specifically train officers about where or how to store the key to the gun lock. Id. at 37:9-38:5. Department training materials do address the security of a service weapon stored at an officer's home, directing officers to "secure [a weapon] in a safe place with consideration as to children, friends & family." (Pl.'s Ex. X, at 2.)

The Department also had a regulation which "establish[ed] Department policy, guidelines, and procedures in the enforcement, reporting, and prosecution of domestic of domestic violence / Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order violations." (Pl.'s Ex. W, at 1.) This directive established Department policy as, among other things, strictly enforcing Protection From Abuse Orders and arresting violators of such orders and other perpetrators of crimes of domestic violence. Id. at 1,4-5.

Finally, the Department issued a directive which established a policy of preventing officers from becoming involved in law enforcement situations with family members or relatives. (Pl.'s Ex. V.) The directive called upon officers involved in non-emergency situations with family members or relatives to make superiors aware of the relationship and arrange for alternate personnel to respond. Id. The directive specifically excepted emergency situations from its operation. Id.

None of these regulations, nor any other Department policy, specifically addressed how they should apply or interact when the perpetrator of a crime of domestic violence or the subject of a Protection From Abuse Order was a relative of a police officer and had access to a police officer's home where the officer typically stored his service weapon. (Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ¶¶ 49-50; Def.'s Response to Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. ¶¶ 49-50.) The Department did not have any new or different procedures or policies which specifically addressed such a situation, nor did the Department conduct specific training sessions about how to respond to such a situation. (Pl.'s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. ¶ 49; Def.'s Response to Pl.'s Cross-Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 49.)

D. The July 20, 2009 Incident

Sometime on July 20, 2009, Aaron Michael went to his father's home. (Def.'s Ex. D-10, at 8.) It appears that he drank a great deal of alcohol there. Id. at 22. He moved the notes that his father had written him several days earlier, along with the copy of Officer Swanson's police report about the July 14 incident, from the kitchen table to one of the ...


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