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Doe v. Allegheny County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 28, 2014

JANE DOE, Plaintiff,
v.
ALLEGHENY COUNTY, RAMON C. RUSTIN, JOHN JOHNSON, JR., and ALLEGHENY CORRECTIONAL HEALTH SERVICES, INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AWARDING DAMAGES TO PLAINTIFF AGAINST DEFENDANT JOHN JOHNSON, JR.

LISA PUPO LENIHAN, Chief Magistrate Judge

On March 27, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment against Defendant Johnson. The case settled with all Defendants other than Johnson, and a damages hearing as to Johnson was scheduled for June 19, 2013. At the hearing, counsel for Plaintiff appeared and advised the Court that his client was incarcerated. The case was administratively closed and counsel was instructed to file a status report with the Court within 30 days. Subsequent status reports were filed, and on July 24, 2014, the Court was advised that Plaintiff had been released. A damages hearing was held on August 8, 2014. Both Plaintiff and Defendant Johnson were present. The Defendant appeared pro se.

Damages

Plaintiff testified and was cross examined by Defendant Johnson. She gave brief testimony about what occurred and how it affected her. In addition to the testimony, counsel asked that the Court refer to her deposition, which had been filed with the Motions for Summary Judgment. He also requested that the Court read the reports of Lawson Bernstein and Nurse Floro. All of these items were reviewed by the Court following the hearing. Counsel for Plaintiff provided the Affidavit of Joann Zacharias, which was also part of the Summary Judgment submissions (ECF No. 150-1). No medical records were provided and no other documents were introduced other than a multiple page listing of entities, dates, and brief descriptions of instances where Plaintiff sought mental health treatment or counseling. The entities on this list were Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, Allegheny Correctional Health Services (the organization providing all health services within the Allegheny County Jail), and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. The dates of the services were both before, and after, the alleged assaults by Defendant Johnson.

In setting a damages award, it is important to determine what occurred, and how often it occurred. Plaintiff's testimony was confusing at best. At the hearing, she testified that Johnson had touched her inappropriately between 2 and 20 times. She could not be more specific. She testified that she arrived at the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ") on March 23, 2010, and started receiving methadone two days later. She stated that the touching started approximately the third week in April. She testified that the touching went on for 2 months. Mr. Johnson testified, and Plaintiff stipulated, that his last day of employment at the ACJ was April 25, 2010.

In Plaintiff's deposition, she testified that the touching did not start until she had been receiving methadone and Phenergan injections from Johnson for approximately 2 to 3 weeks. (Depo. p. 61, ECF No. 140-8.) By this calculation, 2 weeks from March 25 would have been April 8, 2010. She also testified that the touching went on for 2 months, until the second or third week of June. (Depo. p. 64, ECF No. 140-8.) In her Statement of Material Facts (ECF No. 95, ¶ 44) Plaintiff states that "prior to April 14, 2010... Johnson performed indecent sexual acts upon Doe." In its review of all the documents and briefs submitted with the Summary Judgment Motions, the Court concluded that Johnson had "sexual contact" with Doe "5 more times" between April 15 and April 26, 2010. (ECF No. 160 at 5.) In Johnson's guilty plea, he pleaded guilty to institutional sexual assault against this Plaintiff, but there is no indication of how many assaults occurred. In his arguments and cross examination, Johnson argued that no assault ever occurred. It is not possible to accept this argument as the Defendant has entered a guilty plea in his criminal case.[1]

While any assault in an institutional setting is abhorrent, the matter of determining damages implicates the issue of how often the assaults occurred, as well as what occurred. Taking Plaintiff at her word, the assaults began, at the earliest, on April 8, 2010. Johnson was discharged on April 25, 2010. This fact is undisputed. That leaves a potential of 17 days. Plaintiff testified in her deposition that sometimes she received her shot and methadone from a nurse named Linda. Obviously Johnson did not work continuously for 17 days. In addition, the assaults could not have gone on for two months as claimed. The numerous inconsistencies give the Court pause.

As requested, the Court reviewed the opinions of Dr. Bernstein and Nurse Floro. They were brief and simply stated that by the sexual contact, Nurse Johnson violated the standard of care. That much is obvious. Dr. Bernstein further stated that the "transgression would be expected to have adverse psychiatric consequences." Again, there is no doubt that this would be the case; however, given this Plaintiff's history of psychological conditions prior to the incidents in question, and without any medical testimony or records, it is difficult to determine the extent of the damage caused by Defendant's actions. For example, Plaintiff testified both at the hearing and in her deposition, that she has been seeing a psychiatrist since age 9. She is a long time drug user (both before and after the assaults), has been in at least 4 drug treatment programs, and attempted suicide multiple times before and after the assaults.

It is against this backdrop of inconsistencies and lack of specific evidence that the Court is asked to determine damages. The Court concludes that an appropriate amount of compensatory damages is $40, 000.

Plaintiff also requested punitive damages. The extent to which a particular amount of money will adequately punish a defendant and deter or prevent future misconduct may depend on the defendant's financial situation. As such, if the court finds that punitive damages are warranted, it may consider the financial resources of the Defendant in fixing the amount of such damages. Third Circuit Model Jury Instructions (Civil) § 4.8.3 (2013). To determine whether punitive damages are appropriate the following factors may be considered: (1) the character of the act; (2) the nature and extent of the harm caused; and (3) the wealth of the defendant. McDermott v. Party City Corp., 11 F.Supp.2d 612, 630 (E.D. Pa. 1998) (citing Kirkbride v. Lisbon Contractors, Inc., 555 A.2d 800, 803 (Pa. 1989) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2) (1978))).

At the hearing, Defendant submitted documentation reflecting a monthly income of $1, 164.50, monthly expenses of $951.10, leaving him a difference of $213.40 to live on, including food. Defendant appears to be living a very modest existence based upon the information provided. The document was submitted under seal as it contained personal identifiers for Defendant. Plaintiff had no objection to the admission of the document and did not cross examine Defendant on its contents.

Based upon Defendant's wealth, the Court awards an additional $10, 000 in punitive damages.

Legal Fees and Costs

At the damages hearing, counsel for Plaintiff submitted an untitled document containing descriptions of his legal work, time spent and costs incurred, commencing on November 30, 2010 and ending on May 29, 2013. He requested that the Court order this Defendant to pay the full amount of his fees and ...


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