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Myron Williams, Individually and As Administrator Ad Prosquendum of the v. City of Scranton

April 1, 2013

MYRON WILLIAMS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR AD PROSQUENDUM OF THE
ESTATE OF BRENDA WILLIAMS, LOUISE WILLIAMS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR ALANA WILLIAMS, A MINOR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF SCRANTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

(JUDGE CAPUTO)

MEMORANDUM

This case arises from the May 28, 2009 fatal shooting of Brenda Williams by three officers of the Scranton Police Department. Plaintiff Myron Williams, the administrator of the decedent's estate, and Plaintiff Louise Williams, the mother of the decedent and guardian of her minor daughter, bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania state law. Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 90) filed by Defendants City of Scranton (the "City"); Scranton Police Department (the "Department" or "SPD");*fn1 SPD Officers James Smith, Jason Knoch, and Eric Jordan; and Corporal Robert Stanek (hereinafter referred to either individually or as the "Scranton Defendants"). The Scranton Defendants seek summary judgment as to all claims brought against them by Plaintiffs. For the reasons that follow, the motion for summary judgment will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On the evening of May 28, 2009, the SPD was called by Louise Williams' next door neighbors about a domestic disturbance. (Jordan Dep. at 26:15--17, 27:17--21; Smith Dep. at 59:13--16.) SPD Officers James Smith and Eric Jordan responded to the call and arrived at the complainants' house shortly after 10:00 P.M. (Jordan Dep. at 26--27; Smith Dep. at 58:3--5.) The complainants told the officers that Brenda Williams, Louise's adult daughter, had been harassing them by repeatedly banging on their front door and yelling at them. (Jordan Dep. at 26:15--22, 27:5--22; Smith Dep. at 60:12--22.) They also stated that they feared being assaulted by Ms. Williams, whom the female complainant was "terrified" of. (Smith Dep. at 60:12--61:2.) Prior to this event, Officer Smith had interacted with Ms. Williams multiple times in person and over the telephone (Id. at 44:8--45:20) and thought that she may have had "mental health issues" based on their interactions (Id. at 56:13--17). On one such occasion, he backed away from her because she had gotten very close to him and appeared to want to assault him. (Id. at 47:16--48:10.)

After speaking with the complainants, Officers Smith and Jordan proceeded to Ms. Williams' apartment, which was one block away. (Jordan Dep. at 28:23--29:1; Smith Dep. at 62:3--17.) When the officers arrived and knocked on the apartment building's front door around 10:40 P.M., Ms. Williams answered the door without any clothing on, asked them an unintelligible question, slammed the door, and ran upstairs. (Jordan Dep. at 30:20--32:9; Smith Dep. at 68:25--69:25.) The officers entered the building, walked upstairs to Ms. Williams' apartment, and entered through the open front door, as her appearance and behavior led them to determine that she was not taking care of herself. (Jordan Dep. at 32:10--16, 33:12--18; Smith Dep. at 71:2--72:10.) They found her lying in bed, partially covered with a sheet, and smoking cigarettes. (Jordan Dep. at 34:18--35:1; Smith Dep. at 76:6--19.) Although the officers attempted to speak with her, she would not respond and instead cursed and yelled incoherently at them, including statements about "Janie" or "Jamie" going to heaven. (Jordan Dep. at 36:10--37:24; Smith Dep. at 80:9--81:9.) Officer Smith, who goes by "Jamie" (Flynn Dep. at 18:13--15), was unsettled by those statements (Smith Dep. at 80:24--81:9). The officers looked around the apartment for weapons or drugs. (Jordan Dep. at 48:25--50:24; Smith Dep. at 82:3--83:15.) Although they observed several knives on top of the oven, the officers did not secure them because Ms. Williams did not have immediate access to them. (Jordan Dep. at 50:6--51:10; Smith Dep. at 83:16--24, 84:14--85:9.) Officer Smith called for an ambulance and EMTs for a possible "302 commitment."*fn2 (Jordan Dep. at 38:7--23; Smith Dep. at 85:10--19.) The officers also notified their shift supervisor that they would possibly be going over their shift, which ended at 11:00 P.M, and were told that someone would come to relieve them. (Jordan Dep. at 38:2--6; Smith Dep. at 86:9--23, 88:2--7.)

Kevin Yetkowskas and David Flynn, who worked as an EMT and paramedic, respectively, for Community Life Support (Flynn Dep. at 6:2--6, 15:20--25) responded to the call with an ambulance (Jordan Dep. at 42:16--21; Smith Dep. at 91:7--13). Corporal Stanek and Officer Jason Knoch arrived soon afterward at approximately 11:00 P.M. (Smith Dep. at 87:25--88:13). Corporal Stanek discussed the situation with Officers Smith and Jordan. (Jordan Dep. at 41:17--42:15, 43:24--44:15; Smith Dep. at 90:8--25; Stanek Dep. at 42:13--43:18.) He then turned off Ms. Williams' television, which was very loud, and Ms. Williams responded by leaving the bed and turning it back on. The two proceeded to turn the television off and on several times in until Corporal Stanek unplugged it. (Jordan Dep. at 51:11--52:18; Smith Dep. at 92:3--93:7; Stanek Dep. at 44:12--23.) In addition to talking with Officers Smith and Jordan, Corporal Stanek spoke with Mr. Flynn to determine whether a 302 commitment of Ms. Williams should occur. (Flynn Dep. at 22:14--24:10; Stanek Dep. at 35:14--24, 38:5--15.) Mr. Flynn did not think that Ms. Williams should be involuntarily committed (Flynn Dep. at 24:1--6; Stanek Dep. at 35:14--24, 38:5--15), but Officers Smith and Jordan thought that a 302 commitment was proper (Jordan Dep. at 38:24--39:13; Smith Dep. at 97:2--6). As the ranking officer on the scene, Corporal Stanek, who had previously performed about seventy 302 commitments, decided that Ms. Williams should not be involuntarily committed because she did not pose a danger to herself or others. (Stanek Dep. at 36:17--24, 43:19--44:4.) Instead, he ordered Officer Knoch to copy her information from a previous citation lying on a nearby table so that a disorderly conduct citation could later be sent to her. (Knoch Dep. at 43:2--23; Stanek Dep. at 51:1--23.) The officers were preparing to leave the apartment after Officer Knoch did so. (Jordan Dep. at 54:2--10.)

While Officer Knoch was copying down Ms. Williams' information, she quickly exited her bedroom, passed behind him, and entered her kitchen. (Knoch Dep. at 48:1--24; Stanek Dep. at 52:18--20.) Corporal Stanek did not prevent her from going to the kitchen because she was not under arrest and was not a danger to herself or others. (Stanek Dep. at 52:21--53:3.) The officers heard metal clinking sounds coming from the kitchen and Officer Smith informed them that knives were in there. (Jordan Dep. at 55:18--25; Smith Dep. at 101:13--102:4.) Ms. Williams then emerged from the kitchen with a large knife. (Jordan Dep. at 56:4--13; Knoch Dep. at 50:1--19; Smith Dep. at 105:9--11; Stanek Dep. at 56:6--12.) The officers pulled their service weapons and ordered her to stop and put down the knife. (Jordan Dep. at 59:17--24; Knoch Dep. at 52:5--8; Smith Dep. at 112:19--24, 126:21--127:3; Stanek Dep. at 57:19--22.) As she refused and continued toward Officer Smith while pointing the knife at him, he backed up from the living room to the bedroom. (Smith Dep. at 112:14--18, 116:16--117:4; Stanek Dep. at 56:20--24, 57:15--22, 58:5--12, 59:1--6.) After issuing several warnings, which Ms. Williams refused, Corporal Stanek, Officers Smith, and Officer Knoch shot her. (Knoch Dep. at 57:5--8; Smith Dep. at 120:9--122:24; Stanek Dep. at 61:1--63:3.) It was a matter of seconds between Ms. Williams appearing with the knife and being shot. (Knoch Dep. at 53:11--15; Smith Dep. at 104:12--16.) Ms. Williams was several feet away from Officer Smith when she was shot. (Knoch Dep. at 55:11--13; Smith Dep. at 118:23--119:2; Stanek Dep. at 58:18--25.)

After being shot, Ms. Williams fell to the ground and on top of the knife. (Jordan Dep. at 64:4--10; Smith Dep. at 122:25--123:5; Stanek Dep. at 63:6--22.) The officers called for the medical personnel on the scene to attend to Ms. Williams. (Jordan Dep. at 69:2--15; Knoch Dep. at 65:3--12; Stanek Dep. at 66:10--67:5.) The medical personnel arrived within seconds, began attending to Ms. Williams, and moved her to the ambulance within minutes. (Stanek Dep. at 66:10--67:5; Jordan Dep. at 69:2--20.) Although Ms. Williams was examined, given CPR, and taken to the Community Medical Center ("CMC") in Scranton by ambulance, she was pronounced dead in CMC's trauma center. (Flynn Dep. at 36:12--18, 37:13--17, 38:18--40:18.)

Following the incident, the SPD created a Crisis Intervention Team ("CIT") Program which trains officers about mental illness and how to interact with mentally ill individuals in certain situations. (Gerrity Dep. at 16:8--17:5.) Although some of the officers involved remembered taking police academy classes that addressed dealing with mentally ill individuals (Jordan Dep. at 9:7--11; Smith Dep. at 11:15--22; Stanek Dep. at 11:6--18), the SPD did not provide similar training before establishing the CIT Program (Gerrity Dep. at 17:6--9). In 2000, the SPD issued a policy memo outlining proposed procedures for dealing with mentally ill individuals and effecting voluntary and involuntary commitments. (Doc. 99, Ex. C.) The memo instructed officers resolving a situation involving a possible mental patient to determine whether the individual is an immediate threat to him or herself or others and if any weapons are involved or accessible to the individual. (Id.) The proposed policy was never formally implemented because the officers' union, which had no input in drafting it, rejected it, but the procedures were implemented. (Stanek Dep. at 20:2--21:6.)

On February 22, 2010, Plaintiff Myron Williams, the administrator of Brenda Williams' estate, and Plaintiff Louise Williams, the guardian of Brenda Williams' minor daughter, Alana, commenced this action against numerous defendants, alleging various state and federal claims. (Doc. 1.) As a result of the Court granting several motions to dismiss (Doc. 33, Doc. 73), the Scranton Defendants are the only defendants remaining in this matter. The Scranton Defendants filed for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims on July 6, 2012. (Doc. 90.) The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for this Court's review.

ANALYSIS

I. Legal Standard

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "Summary judgment is appropriate when 'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Wright v. Corning, 679 F.3d 101, 103 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See 2D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2727 (2d ed.1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

"When considering whether there exist genuine issues of material fact, the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256--57. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). And, "[t]o defeat summary judgment, [the non-moving party] 'cannot rest simply on the allegations in the pleadings,' but 'must rely on affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file.'" GFL Advantage Fund, Ltd. v. Colkitt, 272 F.3d 189, 199 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Bhatla v. U.S. Capital Corp., 990 F.2d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 1993)); see also Tilden Fin. Corp. v. Palo Tire Serv., Inc., 596 F.2d 604, 608 (3d Cir. 1979).

"To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must show specific facts such that a reasonable jury could find in that party's favor, thereby establishing a genuine issue of fact for trial." Galli v. N.J. Meadowlands Comm'n, 490 F.3d 265, 270 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). "While the evidence that the non-moving party presents may be either direct or circumstantial, and need not be as great as a preponderance, the evidence must be more than a scintilla." Id. (quoting Hugh v. Butler Cnty. Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

B. Section 1983

Plaintiffs' claims against the Scranton Defendants are asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides that "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen ... or any other person ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured." Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes." City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes, 526 U.S. 687, 749 n. 9 (1999) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3 (1979)). "To establish liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendants, (1) acting under color of law, (2) violated the plaintiff's ...


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