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Benedict v. Sw. Pa. Human Servs., Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 24, 2015

BRENDA BENEDICT, ET AL, Plaintiffs,
v.
SOUTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN SERVICES, INC, ET AL, Defendants

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For BRENDA BENEDICT, DAVID BENEDICT, Co-Administrators of the Estate of Derek Benedict, Plaintiffs: Noah Geary, LEAD ATTORNEY, Washington Trust Building, Washington, PA.

For SOUTHWESTERN PENNSYLVANIA HUMAN SERVICES, INC, trading and doing business as SPHS SOUTHWEST BEHAVIORAL CARE, INC, trading and doing business as SPHS BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, Defendant: Susan L. Loughran, LEAD ATTORNEY, Marks, O'Neill, O'Brien, Doherty & Kelly, Pittsburgh, PA.

For BRUNO MEDIATE, in his Official Capacity as Director of the Westmoreland County Adult Probation/Parole Office, and in his individual Capacity, Defendant: Caroline Liebenguth, LEAD ATTORNEY, Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Pittsburgh, PA; Thomas P. Pellis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C, Greensburg, PA.

For WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Defendant: Thomas P. Pellis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C, Greensburg, PA.

For WESTMORELAND COUNTY DRUG AND ALCOHOL COMMISSION, INC, Defendant: Jason G. Wehrle, LEAD ATTORNEY, Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers LLP, Pittsburgh, PA.

OPINION

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Mark R. Hornak, United States District Judge.

Brenda and David Benedict (" Plaintiffs" or " the Benedicts" ), filed the Complaint in this action as co-administrators of the estate of their son, David. ECF No. 1-2, at ¶ 1. Defendants are (a) Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services, Inc., (b) Bruno Mediate in his official capacity as Director of the Westmoreland County Adult Probation/Parole Office, (c) Bruno Mediate in his individual capacity, (d) Westmoreland County, and (e) Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission. The Complaint alleges the same claims against all Defendants[1]: negligence (Count I); a survival action under 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3373 and 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8302 (Count II); a claim pursuant to Pennsylvania's Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8301 (Count III); a due process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV); and an Eighth Amendment claim, also asserted pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V).

Before the Court are all Defendants' Motions to Dismiss all counts of the Complaint, ECF Nos. 5; 10; 25; 27, along with the briefs in support and in opposition to these motions, ECF Nos. 6; 11; 24; 29; 32; 33; 34; 35. Based on the Court's consideration of the papers filed of record, stipulations of the parties, and the matters presented to the Court at the hearing/argument on September 22, 2014 as to the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, the Court will grant the Motions in part, dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as to Counts IV and V (the federal claims), dismiss certain other claims based on the stipulations and concessions of the parties, and remand the action and remaining claims to state court forthwith for further disposition.

I. BACKGROUND

In the spring of 2012, the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County sentenced Derek Benedict (" Mr. Benedict" ), the son of David and Brenda Benedict, to participate in a rehabilitation program for drug addiction at the Day Reporting Center (" DRC" ).[2] ECF No. 1-2, at ¶ 12. The DRC opened in approximately November, 2010, and its program served as an " alternative to incarceration at the Westmoreland County Jail." Id. at ¶ ¶ 13-14. The Complaint alleges that rather than fulfilling its role as a drug rehabilitation facility, the DRC instead functioned as a drug haven of sorts, complete with " drug dealers openly approaching and selling drugs to DRC residents at the DRC, [and] the use of drugs by residents in and around the premises of the DRC," among other issues. Id. at ¶ 15. The Defendants allegedly " fail[ed] to supervise the DRC residents . . . to protect [them] from drug dealers," " fail[ed] to monitor the DRC premises to prevent drug dealers from selling [to] residents," " fail[ed] to adequately staff the DRC," and failed in a host of other ways. Id. at ¶ 29(a)--(1). These problems allegedly became so severe that the facility needed to close for a period of time. Id. at ¶ 21. Once the DRC reopened, Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants' endemic failures in operating

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the facility were not remedied. Id. at ¶ 23. " As a direct result of the Defendants' continued failure to protect its residents from drug dealers," the Complaint alleges that on May 4, 2012, Mr. Benedict purchased heroin from a drug dealer while present at the DRC, subsequently ingested the heroin at home, and died of a drug overdose. Id. at ¶ ¶ 24-26.

The Complaint was originally filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County and was removed to this Court by Defendants Westmoreland County and Bruno Mediate in his individual capacity. ECF No. 1. All Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss the Complaint; Bruno Mediate in his official capacity has moved to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), while all other Defendants have moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).

The parties stipulated on the record in open court during oral argument as follows: Counts IV and V are dismissed with prejudice as asserted against Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission, Inc., and Southwestern Pennsylvania Hum an Services, Inc. Count I is also dismissed with prejudice as asserted against Westmoreland County and Bruno Mediate in his individual capacity based on stipulation. The parties also stipulated on the record in open court that Count IV, a claim purportedly based on the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, is to be deemed amended to instead implicate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and all references to the Fifth Amendment are deemed to refer to the Fourteenth Amendment.[3] Also on the record in open court, per the parties' stipulation, this Court denied Westmoreland Drug and Alcohol Commission, Inc., and Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services, Inc.'s Motions to Dismiss Counts I--III without prejudice to re-assertion of those arguments, if appropriate, in a summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings motion.

The Court also dismisses with prejudice Counts I-V as asserted against Bruno Mediate in his official capacity. Plaintiffs concede in their Response to Motion to Dismiss by Defendant Bruno Mediate in His Official Capacity that it " appears that Counsel for the Defendant is correct," ECF No. 24, at 2, and the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars the claims against Bruno Mediate in his official capacity. The Court agrees that a suit against Mr. Mediate in his official capacity constitutes a suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because county probation officers are part of the judiciary, which is an arm of the State. See Haybarger v. Lawrence Cnty, Adult Prob. & Parole, 551 F.3d 193, 198 (3d Cir. 2008) (" We have held that Pennsylvania's judicial districts, including their probation and parole departments, are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity." ); First Judicial Dist. v. Pa. Human Relations Comm'n, 556 Pa. 258, 727 A.2d 1110, 1112 (Pa. 1999). Since such suit is impermissible under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, Regelman v. Weber, No. 10-675, 2011 WL 1085685, at *3 n.2 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 21, 2011), and because Plaintiffs present no authority to the contrary, all claims against Bruno Mediate in his official capacity are also dismissed with prejudice.

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Lastly, the Court now dismisses with prejudice Counts I--ITT as asserted against Westmoreland County and Bruno Mediate in his individual capacity pursuant to Plaintiffs' statement in their Opposition that they " concede that the negligence, wrongful death and survival action counts (Counts I -- III in the Complaint) cannot proceed against these Defendants due to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act." ECF No. 32, at 5.

As for the matters not subject to these various stipulations and concessions, all that remains for consideration by the Court is the Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of both Bruno Mediate in his individual capacity and Westmoreland County (collectively, " Defendants" ) as to Counts IV and V. ECF No. 11.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for dismissal of a complaint when plaintiffs fail to allege a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Determining sufficiency of a complaint requires " accept[ing] all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but [courts] may disregard any legal conclusions." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009)). Courts " must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). " 'A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949)). The allegations of a valid complaint must " raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]." Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs allege claims implicating the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause and Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause. ECF No. 1-2, at ¶ ¶ 39-52. To advance a claim via 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs must allege that they were deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States by a person acting with the authority of state law. Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165-66 (3d Cir. 2013) (en banc), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 824, 187 L.Ed.2d 686 (2013). " The first step in evaluating a section 1983 claim is to identify the exact contours of the underlying right said to have been violated and to determine whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right at all." Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (2000) (en banc) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). This means that if the Court determines that the Complaint fails to allege a deprivation of a constitutional right, the Court will not reach Defendants' other arguments that (1) Mr. Mediate is entitled to qualified immunity, (2) Westmoreland County cannot be held liable and (3) supervisory liability is not established. See Kaucher v. Cnty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 n.2 (3d Cir. 2006) (" [T]he initial inquiry under the doctrine of qualified immunity and the doctrine of ...


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