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Cortlessa v. Chester County

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 9, 2014

VINCENT ANTHONY CORTLESSA, SR. Plaintiff,
v.
CHESTER COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM RE: MOTIONS TO DISMISS

MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This lawsuit involves a civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against Chester County, the Borough of Downingtown ("the Borough" and, collectively, "the Counties"), and Detective Pamila Fentner ("Fentner"). Plaintiff alleges violations of his constitutional rights based on (1) the search of his wife's truck by Fentner, and (2) the failure to investigate the veracity of an affidavit - signed by another individual, who confessed to the crime with which Plaintiff had been charged - that Plaintiff provided to various individuals employed by the Counties, including Fentner. Plaintiff seeks $2.5 million for the loss of his wife who divorced him and the destruction of his family as well as $2, 500 per day for every day that he was falsely imprisoned, $50, 000 in lost wages, and $2, 500 in legal fees and filing fees.

II. Background

On April 1, 2013, pro se Plaintiff, Vincent Anthony Cortlessa ("Plaintiff"), filed an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("Application") and initiated this lawsuit. ECF 1. Plaintiff attached his Complaint to his Application at that time, and named as Defendants Chester County Pennsylvania; Chester County Court of Common Pleas; the Honorable James P. MacElree, II; the Chester County District Attorney's Office; Thomas Hogan, the District Attorney; Mark Conte, the District Attorney; John Doe; Jane Doe, an Assistant District Attorney; the Honorable Stanley Scott; the Borough; the Downingtown Borough Police Department, Fentner; and two parties "to be named at a later date." ECF 1.

On April 11, 2013, this Court granted Plaintiff's Application but dismissed, sua sponte, Plaintiff's Complaint against the Chester County Court of Common Pleas; the Honorable James P. MacElree, II; the Honorable Stanley Scott; Thomas Hogan; Mark Conte; the Chester County District Attorney's Office; Jane Doe; and Downingtown Borough Police Department. ECF 2 (Apr. 11, 2013 Order).

Plaintiff then filed his Complaint on April 11, 2013 against Chester County, Fentner, and the Borough. ECF 3.

On June 7, 2013, Defendant Chester County of Pennsylvania filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. ECF 15. On June 10, 2013, Defendants Fentner and the Borough also filed a Motion to Dismiss. ECF 16. Plaintiff responded to those motions on June 20, 2013. ECF 17.

IV. Parties' Contentions

A. Complaint

On or about January 22, 2012, Plaintiff alleges that he was approached by the Downingtown Borough Police Department employee, Fentner ("Fentner"), who told him that she knew he had broken into a locked construction trailer, removed boxes from the trailer, and placed them into a Toyota truck. ECF 3 at 8. Plaintiff alleges that he told Fenter that he operated a construction and scrap business and had not done anything illegal. Plaintiff alleges that while he had given Fentner permission to search the premises - which she did - that she also searched his wife's Toyota truck without authorization. then requested to search the premises and that he gave her permission to do so. Id. at 9. According to Plaintiff, Fentner found nothing incriminating but, nevertheless, had the truck towed 40 miles to an impound lot. Five days later, Plaintiff alleges that he had to use all of his monthly bill money and borrow additional money, in total spending $478.00, to retrieve the truck from the lot. Plaintiff alleges that Fentner returned on or about January 26, 2013 with a second search warrant, which she presented to a minor and pursuant to which she searched the residence without an adult present.

Plaintiff alleges that he subsequently learned that his friend and employee, Mr. Jones, used Plaintiff's wife's truck and committed the crime of which Plaintiff had been accused. Plaintiff asserts that he had Mr. Jones sign - and have notarized - an affidavit admitting that he, Mr. Jones, committed the crime and that Plaintiff had no knowledge of it. Plaintiff alleges that he tried to notify Fentner of the affidavit but she did not return his calls. Plaintiff alleges that he was then arrested by his state parole officer on or about February 22, 2012. Id. at 10. When he did discuss the affidavit with Fentner, around the time of his trial, Plaintiff alleges that Fentner stated that she and the Assistant District Attorney believed that Plaintiff had falsified the affidavit. Plaintiff asserts that Fentner never questioned his wife, the owner of the truck, and otherwise failed to properly investigate the veracity of the exculpatory affidavit.

Plaintiff also alleges that he was held in violation of his constitutional rights because he notified all relevant parties of the existence of the affidavit in which Mr. Jones admitted to the crime for which Plaintiff had been charged and detained. Plaintiff asserts that, despite having sent the affidavit on or around August 30, 2012, the Chester County District Attorney's Office did not question Mr. Jones until around December 17, 2012, at which time he ...


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