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Evans v. Borough of Emsworth

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 16, 2014



Arthur J. Schwab, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

This is a civil rights action with supplemental state law claims. Plaintiff-Mother Camilla Evans (“Plaintiff Evans” or “Plaintiff Camilla Evans”) and Plaintiff-Daughter Camilla Conners (“Plaintiff Conners” or “Plaintiff Camilla Conners”) alleged that Defendants, Borough of Emsworth and Defendant Adams, as fire marshal (“municipal Defendants”), acting in their official capacity, and individual capacity, violated their constitutional rights and deprived them of Due Process of Law under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, while acting under color of state law, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, when they unlawfully seized and condemned property in which Plaintiff-Mother had resided and had rented for 50 years, without proper notice and due process of law, and provided Plaintiffs with only 24-hours to vacate the premises. Plaintiff also alleged that the Borough of Emsworth was subject to municipal liability under Section 1983 for failing to properly train and supervise Defendant Adams. Furthermore, Plaintiffs also alleged that Defendant Adams acted in concert with (conspired with) Defendant- Son David Evans, and Defendant-Daughter-in-Law Judith Evans (“individual Defendants” or “Evans Defendants”), who were the lawful owners of the property and with whom Plaintiffs were entangled in a family dispute over distribution of an estate, to violate their civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

However, crucially, a second ordered mediation of this matter was held on September 10, 2014 at which a settlement was obtained between Plaintiffs and Defendant Adams, and the Borough of Emsworth. On September 11, 2014, a notice of voluntary stipulation of dismissal was filed by Plaintiffs and Defendant Adams/Borough of Emsworth pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pr. 41 therefore arguably negating the merits of any allegations that Defendant Adams conspired with the Evans Defendants to violate Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. The only other remaining claims are state law claims including conspiracy, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, conversion, trespass, and invasion of privacy against the Evans Defendants alleging that they wrongfully evicted Plaintiffs, attempted on numerous occasions to have Plaintiff-Mother committed to a nursing home on the basis of incompetence (they were unsuccessful in this regard), that they drilled in the locks, leaving Plaintiffs without a way to retrieve their possessions, and requiring them to live in a hotel since November of 2012.

The Court previously denied Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss without prejudice to readdressing the same arguments, if appropriate, at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings. That stage of the proceedings is now upon the Court, and currently pending are the Motions for Summary Judgment by both the municipal Defendants, and the individual Defendants. Doc. Nos. 49, 51, and 45, respectively.[1] After careful consideration of the pending Motion, and responses in opposition thereto (including Plaintiffs Amended Brief in opposition filed on September 15, 2014), this Court will GRANT the Evans Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment as to the civil rights claim under Section 1983, and will to decline exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. The crux of this dispute is a family/property/landlord-tenant matter that is more appropriately resolved in state court.

II. Factual Background

The Court has assimilated approximately118 pages of joint material facts submitted by the parties. However, since only the claims against the Evans Defendants remain, the Court will briefly recount the factual history related to the Evans Defendants and only facts related to the alleged conspiracy between the Evans Defendants and the municipal Defendants.

Judging the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the factual history is as follows. Plaintiff Camilla Evans, is an eighty-six year old mother of five (5) children, including Defendant David Evans, who is married to Defendant Judith Evans, as well as Plaintiff Camilla Evans Conners. Plaintiff Evans lived in the home for over 50 years and had previously paid rent to the prior owner. Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 33. On July 7, 2005, the Evans Defendants purchased the property at 161 Neville Street and agreed to allow Mrs. Evans to reside in the house if she paid the utilities and kept the property in good repair, but did not require her to pay rent in the sense of a monthly payment to them. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 34-36. The Evans Defendants were aware for years that Plaintiff Camilla Conners had moved in with their mother, an arrangement allegedly recommended by Camilla Evans physician. Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 37.

The Evans Defendants contend that Plaintiffs were hoarders which prevented access to the electrical outlets, switches and fixture; Plaintiffs deny that they were hoarders. The Evans Defendants posit that recognizing the danger to their mother, Defendant David Evans attempted to convince Plaintiff Evans to voluntarily vacate the premises so that the house could be cleaned and necessary repairs be made. Approximately three electricians were called in to attempt to repair electrical issues in the Neville Property in the weeks leading up to the November 6, 2012 inspection. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 9-11.

According to the deposition testimony of Mr. Schmigel, one of the electricians who did some temporary repairs, he made ‘a few phone calls’ to find out who owned the house. Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 52. Mr. Schmigel then contacted Defendant David Evans and informed him sternly of his concerns about the unsafe condition of the house, namely (1) the condition of the furnace; (2) the lack of electricity in the house for 4-5 days; (3) lack of working smoke detectors; (4) the amount of clutter; and (5) the risk of fire caused by the space heater. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 55-56 On October 30, 2012, the police were called on the alleged basis that Plaintiffs would not permit Defendant David Evans to enter the home. Id. at 61. In late October of 2012, Defendant Adams received an anonymous phone call about a potential fire hazard at the Neville Property. Id. at 74. Borough Officials contacted Defendant David Evans regarding the same. Id. at 75.

On November 1, 2012, Plaintiffs Camilla Evans and Camilla Conners filed a Protection from Abuse (PFA) action against Defendant David Evans in the Family Division, of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Doc. No. 47 at ¶ 23. By letter dated November 3, 2012, Defendant David Evans wrote to his mother that she is placing herself in danger by continuing to live in the property. Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 69. Plaintiffs contend that they hired an electrician, Mr. O’Shea who was working on the property, but that he received a call from a Borough Official stating he was better off to stay out of it because Plaintiffs were not the owners of the property and it was going to be condemned. Doc. No. 48.

On November 5, 2014, Council President Paul Getz was informed that the Neville Property was uninhabitable due to an electrical condition, and as of that date, Mr. Getz had never met the owner of the property. Id. at 78. Borough Officials spoke with each other on the morning of the November 6, 2012 inspection to discuss the condition of the property, and prepared a condemnation placard citing to Section 109.1 of the International Property Maintenance Code. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 89-90.

On November 6, 2012, pursuant to the earlier conversation, Defendant Adams, who served as Emsworth Borough Fire Marshall from 2000 to December 31, 2013, conducted an inspection of the property, took photographs of the home, and condemned the home, declaring it unfit for human habitation because of an alleged imminent danger from the electrical system, and other conditions in the house. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶ 5, 99-115. Plaintiffs were afforded 24 hours to vacate the premises, which according to Plaintiffs negates the contention that there was an unsafe condition on the property. Doc. No. 71 at ¶ 5; Doc. No. 48 at ¶ 116. Nonetheless, prior to inspecting the property and condemning it, Defendant Adams contacted Mr. Schmigel to seek his opinion on the conditions of the home, and Mr. Schmigel advised him of his opinion that it was very unsafe. Doc. No. 48 at ¶¶82-85.

According to Plaintiffs, Defendant Adams was incompetent to inspect the premises because he did not have any electrical experience, training, knowledge as an electrical inspector. Defendant Adams claims that he acted pursuant to the 2009 International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) which states in pertinent part that when a code official is of the opinion that there is actual or potential danger to the building occupants or others in proximity to the building, the code official is “empowered” to order ...

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