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Benjamin v. Fassnacht

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 15, 2014

JOSHUA BENJAMIN, a minor, by THOMAS BENJAMIN and JANET BENJAMIN, Plaintiffs,
v.
JAMES B. FASSNACHT, PA STATE POLICE CORPORAL BRAY, LANCASTER COUNTY, DAVID MUELLER, CAROLE TROSTLE, ROBERT KLING, DREW FREDERICKS, DAREN DUBEY and JOSEPH CHOI, Defendants

Decided August 14, 2014

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For JOSHUA BENJAMIN, A MINOR, BY THOMAS BENJAMIN AND JANET BENJAMIN, PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS, Plaintiff: KEVIN C. ALLEN, LEAD ATTORNEY, CRYSTLE, ALLEN & GIMES, LLC, LANCASTER, PA.

For JAMES B. FASSNACHT, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE OFFICER, in his individual capacity, BRIAN BRAY, PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE CORPORAL, in his individual capacity, Defendants: KELI M. NEARY, LEAD ATTORNEY, PA. OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL, HARRISBURG, PA; BARRY N. KRAMER, PA OFFICE OF ATTY GENERAL, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For LANCASTER COUNTY, DAVID MUELLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR OF THE LANCASTER COUNTY OFFICE OF JUVENILE PROBATION, CAROLE TROSTLE, Individually and in her official capacity as Probation Officer at the Lancaster County Office of Juvenile Probation, DREW FREDERICKS, Individually and in his official capacity as Director of the Lancaster Country Youth Intervention Center, ROBERT KLING, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HI OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS PROBATION OFFICER AT THE LANCASTER COUNTY OFFICE OF JUVENILE PROBATION, JOSEPH CHOI, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICAL CAPACITY AS SECURITY OFFICER AT THE LANCASTER COUNTY YOUTH INTERVENTION CENTER, JOSEPH CHOI, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICAL CAPACITY AS SECURITY OFFICER AT THE LANCASTER COUNTY YOUTH INTERVENTION CENTER, Defendants: DAVID J. MACMAIN, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE MACMAIN LAW GROUP LLC, MALVERN, PA.

For DAREN DUBEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SECURTIY OFFICER AT THE LANCASTER COUNTY YOUTH INTERVENTION CENTER, Defendant: DAVID J. MACMAIN, LEAD ATTORNEY, THE MACMAIN LAW GROUP LLC, MALVERN, PA; CHARLES R. STARNES, LAMB MCERLANE PC, WEST CHESTER, PA.

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MEMORANDUM OPINION

Jeffrey L. Schmehl, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, Thomas Benjamin and Janet Benjamin, bring this suit on behalf of their minor son, Joshua Benjamin. Plaintiffs contend that Joshua's civil rights were violated when he was arrested and charged with summary offenses and committed to the Lancaster County Youth Detention Center after he threatened several girls in his neighborhood. Before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants, Officer James B. Fassnacht and Corporal Brian Bray (Docket No. 39) and the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants, Lancaster County, David Mueller, Carole Trostle, Drew Fredericks, Joseph Choi, Robert J. Kling, Jr. and Darren Dubey (Docket No. 41). Defendants have filed a Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts, Plaintiffs have filed their own Statement of Facts, as well as an opposition to both Motions, and all Defendants have filed replies. For the following reasons, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment should be granted if the record, including pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and answers to interrogatories demonstrate " 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." Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 56(c). In making that determination, the " evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A fact is " material" if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law and " genuine" if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party based on the evidence presented on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On July 1, 2009, twelve year old Joshua Benjamin (hereinafter " Benjamin" ) and a

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friend made a flamethrower in Benjamin's backyard and were using it to shoot flames approximately one and a half feet long. (See Benjamin Dep, Ex. 1 to Defs' Statement of Facts, pp. 23-24.) Several neighborhood girls saw the flames and told their babysitter, who approached Benjamin and told him to stop playing with the flamethrower. (See Ex. 1, p. 27, Pennsylvania State Police Incident Report, Ex. 24; Thomas Benjamin Dep., Ex. 4, p. 13.) Later that day, the same neighborhood girls came to Benjamin's front yard and began teasing him. (Ex. 1, pp. 27, 29, 31.) Eventually, this turned into " hand to hand type fighting" between Benjamin and the girls. (Ex. 1, p. 31.) Benjamin admitted to grabbing the arm of one girl and saying that he could break it. (Id.) Benjamin also admitted to having a small piece of aluminum that he had fashioned into a knife in his pocket at the time of the altercation which he held about an inch above the head of one of the girls. (Ex. 1, pp. 32-33.)

Later that night, Michael McLucas, the father of two of the neighborhood girls involved, called the Pennsylvania State Police and reported the incident with Benjamin. (See Dep of PSP Trooper Fassnacht, Ex. 2, pp. 28-29; Ex. 24.) Pennsylvania State Police Trooper James Fassnacht (" Fassnacht" ) received the report and went to the McLucas residence, where he interviewed Mr. McLucas, as well as the girls who were involved in the incident. (Ex. 2, p. 30.) One of the girls told Fassnacht that Benjamin said he was older than the girls, " so I can overpower you and kill you." (Ex. 2, pp. 30-31; Ex. 24.) The girls also informed Fassnacht that Benjamin held a metal knife above the head of one of the girls and said that he was going to kill her (Ex. 2, p. 31; Ex. 24.) and grabbed another girl by the throat and pushed her backwards. (Ex. 24.)

Fassnacht then interviewed Benjamin in the presence of his father. (Ex. 2, pp. 34-35.) Benjamin admitted to Fassnacht that he threatened to break one of the girl's arms and that he held a homemade knife over another girl's head. (Ex. 1, pp. 31-33; Ex. 2, p 44; Dep of Thomas Benjamin, Ex. 4, p. 18.) Benjamin also showed Fassnacht the homemade knife. (Ex. 2, p. 44; Ex. 4, p. 14.) The next day, Fassnacht contacted Thomas Benjamin and informed him that charges of terroristic threats and summary harassment would be filed against Benjamin. (Ex. 2, pp 47-49; Ex. 4, pp. 23-24; Ex. 24.)

On Wednesday, July 22, 2009, three weeks after the incident in question, Fassnacht filed a juvenile petition against Benjamin with Lancaster County Juvenile Probation Intake Officer Carole Trostle (hereinafter " Trostle" ). (Ex. 2, pp. 38, 62; Dep of Carole Trostle, Ex. 5, pp. 12, 16.) On Friday, July 24, 2009, Trostle informed Fassnacht that Lancaster County Juvenile Probation was ordering Benjamin to be detained due to the seriousness of the charges and asked Fassnacht to prepare an affidavit of probable cause. (Ex. 2, pp. 39, 41, 43, 70-71; Ex. 5, pp. 19-20.) Fassnacht prepared an affidavit of probable cause, which he faxed to Lancaster County Juvenile Probation. (Ex. 2, pp. 37, 43; Affidavit of Probable Cause, Ex. 6.) On July 24, 2009, Trostle submitted a Juvenile Petition, along with Fassnacht's affidavit of probable cause, to the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas. (Ex. 5, pp. 23-24; Juvenile Petition, Ex. 7.)

Although all County Defendants testified that Benjamin's detention was authorized pursuant to a signed warrant or detainer approved and signed by a judge, as that was procedure that was followed in this type of situation, a copy of the court order authorizing Benjamin's detention is unavailable. (Ex. 5, pp. 21-24, 37; David

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Mueller Dep, Ex. 8, pp. 22-26.; Robert Kling Dep., Ex. 10, pp. 22-23.) Fassnacht does not recall if he ever saw a court order authorizing Benjamin's detention. (Ex. 2, pp. 41, 72.) Further, Bray does not recall if Fassnacht showed him a copy of a court order authorizing Benjamin's detention. (Brian Bray Dep., Ex. 13, p. 11.)

On July 24, 2009, Fassnacht called Thomas Benjamin to inform him that his son would be detained, and Mr. Benjamin stated that he would surrender his son that afternoon at the Ephrata barracks. (Ex. 2, pp. 72-73; Ex. 4, pp, 25-26.) That evening, Benjamin's parents took him to the Ephrata police barracks, where they met with Corporal Brian Bray (" Bray" ), as Fassnacht's shift had ended earlier in the day. (Ex. 2, pp. 76-77; Ex. 1, pp. 42-42; Ex. 4, pp. 26-27; Janet Benjamin Dep., Ex. 3 at pp. 36-37.) Bray then transported Benjamin to Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center. (Ex. 13, p. 18.) Upon arrival at the Youth Intervention Center, Benjamin was processed and Daren Dubey (" Dubey" ) completed an " Unclothed/Body Cavity Search Checklist" form, on which he checked yes next to the line that stated " Juvenile detainee being committed to L.C.Y.I.C. for an offense, which if committed by an adult, would be a felony charge." (Unclothed/Body Cavity Search Form, Ex. 14.) Benjamin underwent a strip search of his person and clothing which was conducted by Dubey, during which he stood behind a curtain so only Dubey could see him as he removed his clothing. (Ex. 1, p. 21; Daren Dubey Dep., Ex. 15, pp. 39-40; Joseph Choi Dep., Ex. 16, pp. 31, 33; Ex. 14.) Defendant Joseph Choi (" Choi" ) sat ten to fifteen feet away during the strip search, where he could see Dubey but not Benjamin. (Ex. 15, pp. 39-40, Ex. 16, pp. 31, 33.) Benjamin was told to remove his clothing, drop his pants and underwear and bend over. (Ex. 1, pp. 21-22.) Benjamin's pants were off for about 90 seconds. (Id.)

Benjamin was detained at the L.C.Y.I.C. from Friday, July 24, 2009 through Monday, July 27, 2009, when he was released to his parents at a hearing. (Ex. 1, p. 45; Ex. 3, p. 42; Ex. 4, pp. 30-31.) On October 28, 2009, a Juvenile Hearing was held before the Honorable Christopher A. Hackman, where Benjamin entered into a Consent Decree to charges of terroristic threats and summary harassment. (Consent Decree, Ex. 19.) As part of the Consent Decree, Benjamin was required to write a letter of apology to the victims and abide by other probationary requirements. (Id.) Benjamin completed his probation and complied with the terms of the Consent Decree and on October 10, 2010, his juvenile criminal record was expunged. ...


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