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Lamey v. Northumberland and County

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

January 22, 2014

JOHN LAMEY AS EXECUTOR FOR THE ESTATE OF MARIE LAMEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NORTHUMBERL AND COUNTY, et al.,

BRANN, J.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

This is a civil rights action, initiated upon the filing of the complaint in this matter on February 13, 2013, seeking an award of compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 1). In the complaint, the plaintiff pleads a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against each of the ten Defendants, asserting that the Defendants’ actions constituted a state-created danger that deprived the Plaintiff’s decedent of her life in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In addition, the Plaintiff pleads state negligence claims against each defendant based on the same conduct.

On May 17, 2013, the Northumberland County Defendants[1] filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 19). On May 21, 2013, they filed a brief in support of their motion. (Doc. 20). On June 5, 2013, the Plaintiff filed his response to this motion and a brief in opposition. (Doc. 21; Doc. 22).

On June 7, 2013, Defendant Rush Township filed a separate motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, together with a brief in support of its motion. (Doc. 23; Doc. 24). On July 5, 2013, the Plaintiff filed his response to this motion and a brief in opposition. (Doc. 25; Doc. 26). On July 12, 2013, Rush Township filed its reply brief. (Doc. 27).

The motions are now ripe for decision on the papers. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); L.R. 7.9.

I. Factual Background

Plaintiff’s complaint (Doc. 1) makes the following factual allegations, which for purposes of deciding the Defendants’ motions to dismiss, this Court will accept as true. On the evening of February 14, 2011, Marie Lamey and her husband, the Plaintiff, were at their home in Rush Township, located within Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, ¶17). Marie Lamey became unresponsive and lost consciousness. (Doc. 1, ¶18). A member of the family dialed 911 to call for medical assistance. (Doc. 1, ¶19). Although the Lamey home was located within Northumberland County, the call was routed to the 911 system in neighboring Montour County, resulting in the dispatch of an ambulance from Danville EMS, located approximately eight miles from the Lamey home. (Doc. 1, ¶¶20-22). The Danville EMS ambulance arrived at the Lamey home approximately fourteen minutes later. (Doc. 1, ¶23). Upon arrival, the Danville EMS personnel found Marie Lamey unconscious and immediately began administering CPR, and then they administered cardiac medications, inserted an endotracheal tube, and placed Marie Lamey on a ventilation machine. (Doc. 1, ¶¶24-27). Marie Lamey was then transported to the emergency department at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, ¶30). She passed away several days later. (Doc. 1, ¶31). The causes of death included respiratory failure, anoxic brain injury, and cardiac arrest. (Doc. 1, ¶32).

While Danville EMS was on scene, a second ambulance was dispatched from Elysburg EMS, located 1.6 miles from the Lamey home. (Doc. 1, ¶28). The Elysburg EMS ambulance arrived at the Lamey home just four minutes after being dispatched. (Doc. 1, ¶29). The complaint alleges that Marie Lamey’s death was caused by the delay in instituting emergency care at the scene, and that proper routing of the initial 911 call would have resulted in the prompt dispatch of an ambulance from Elysburg EMS and earlier commencement of emergency care on scene, which may have saved Marie Lamey’s life. (Doc. 1).

The complaint alleges that the call-routing error was caused by a problem in the mapping software used by the Northumberland County 911 system. A new computer-aided dispatch system for Northumberland County was instituted on January 25, 2011. (Doc. 1, ¶35). In its first few weeks of operation, the new dispatch system had experienced several technical issues, the nature of which are not specified in the complaint. (Doc. 1, ¶36). The particular technical problem that manifested on February 14, 2011, however, involved a discrepancy between the parcel numbers in each township within the county and the mailing addresses assigned to the individual houses or buildings, which was mishandled by the mapping software and resulted in dispatchers receiving the 911 call with an incorrect location for the caller. (Doc. 1). Northumberland County allegedly knew of this particular problem and had requested that the townships within the county modify their residential addresses to permit the software to correctly map each caller’s location. (Doc. 1). Rush Township allegedly failed to comply with this request, and Northumberland County allegedly failed to adequately train its dispatchers to handle the addressing issue. (Doc. 1, ¶).

The Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff’s claims lack facial plausibility.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555–56 (2007)). Although the Court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)).

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant has the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991); Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 32–33 (3d Cir. 1980); Holocheck v. Luzerne County Head Start, Inc., 385 F.Supp.2d 491, 495 (M.D. Pa. 2005). Although a plaintiff is entitled to notice and an opportunity to respond to a motion to dismiss, he has no obligation to do so – he may opt to stand on the pleadings rather than filing an opposition. The Court must nevertheless examine the complaint and determine whether it states a claim as a matter of law. Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (3d Cir. 1991); Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 174 (3d Cir. 1990). In deciding the motion, the Court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the ...


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