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Mathias v. York County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 28, 2017

SHAHNAWAZ M. MATHIAS, Plaintiff
v.
YORK COUNTY, et al ., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          Susan E. Schwab Chief United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction.

         The plaintiff, Shahnawaz M. Mathias, claims that the defendants violated his rights in connection with parole revocation proceedings. Some of Mathias's claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, and his complaint otherwise fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Thus, we will grant the defendants' motions to dismiss the complaint. We will, however, grant Mathias leave to file an amended complaint.

         II. Background and Procedural History.

         On June 30, 2016, Mathias began this action by filing a complaint naming the following six defendants: (1) York County; (2) York County Adult Probation Department; (3) April Billet-Barclay, Chief Probation Officer; (4) Albert Sabol, former Chief of Adult Probation; (5) Amy Alu, Adult Probation/Parole Supervisor; and (6) Crystal Perry, Adult Probation/Parole Officer. The complaint names Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry in both their individual and official capacities. Mathias alleges the following facts in his complaint.

         Mathias pleaded guilty in the Court of Common Pleas of York County to indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor. On November 15, 2006, he was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of five years of probation. A series of direct appeals and appeals of Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) orders followed.

         A condition of Mathias's probation was that he attend counseling. On September 27, 2013, Mathias filed a petition with the trial court to change his counseling treatment provider. At that time, an appeal of the dismissal of his most recent PCRA petition was pending. Also, the York County Adult Probation Department filed a petition seeking a hearing to resolve how much time credit Mathias should receive toward his probation sentence.

         On October 17, 2013, Mathias filed a petition entitled “Petition for Hearing on Stay and Related Items, ” in which he highlighted that he had been under probationary supervision since 2006 even though he had been sentenced to only five years of probation in 2006. On December 3, 2013, the trial court held a hearing, at which defendant Sabol, among others, testified. Sabol had been employed with the York County Adult Probation Department for 12 years before he retired in 2012. He testified that in 2002, then President Judge Chronister issued an “unwritten directive” that “when a case is on appeal in an upper court [ ] the local court lacks jurisdiction and cannot change or alter a sentence, and he directed that [the Department] no longer supervises cases that have taken an appeal.” Doc. 1 at ¶22 (quoting Com. v. Mathias, 121 A.3d 558, 560 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015)) (brackets in original). According to Sabol, the directive was issued, in part, to avoid having to reimburse probationers who successfully appealed their sentences for the costs they incurred because of their probationary sentences. Judge Chronister's “unwritten directive” caused the York County Adult Probation Department to adopt a policy of not supervising probationers when those probationers appeal a trial court order. Mathias was never informed of the “unwritten directive.” Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.

         On December 5, 2013, the trial court held that because of multiple appeals, as of December 3, 2013, Mathias had served only 666 days of his five-year sentence. Thus, according to the trial court, Mathias had 1159 days remaining on his sentence. That trial court also denied Mathias's request to change counseling centers. Contending that Judge Chronister's “unwritten directive” and the Probation Department's policy was unconstitutional, Mathias filed a motion for reconsideration. Id. at ¶ 28. After the trial court denied that motion, Mathias filed an appeal, which the Superior Court quashed as untimely on May 5, 2014.

         In the meantime, on March 14, 2014, the York County Adult Probation Department petitioned the trial court for a hearing to determine whether Mathias had violated his probation by failing to enter and complete an approved sex-offender treatment program. At a hearing on April 21, 2014, Mathias moved to quash the York County Adult Probation Department's petition, citing the fact that his appeal challenging the constitutionality of the “unwritten directive” and the York County Adult Probation Department's related policy was pending before the Superior Court. Id. at ¶ 33. Mathias also argued that the York County Adult Probation Department was alleging that he had violated his probation by failing to attend counseling while his appeal was pending even though pursuant to the policy it had adopted based on the “unwritten directive, ” it was not supervising him at the time. Id. at ¶ 34. Concluding that Mathias had violated his probation, the trial court revoked Mathias's probation and sentenced him to serve 6 to 23 months in prison. Mathias was incarcerated.

         After the trial court denied his motion for reconsideration, Mathias appealed to the Superior Court. By an Opinion issued on May 28, 2015, the Superior Court concluded that Mathias's sentence was illegal. It reasoned that at the time the trial court purported to revoke Mathias's probation, over seven years had passed since Mathias was sentenced and his term of probation had already expired. It further reasoned that although the York County Adult Probation Department “may very well have a policy of not supervising probation when an appeal is pending, ” “that policy did not act to stay [Mathias]'s sentence and does not alter the fact that, during the pendency of his appeals, [Mathias] was serving his sentence.” Doc. 1 at ¶41 (quoting Mathias, 121 A.3d at 563) (emphasis in original). Because Mathias's term of probation had expired, the Superior Court concluded that the trial court lacked authority to revoke probation, and the sentence it imposed on Mathias was illegal. The Superior Court vacated Mathias's sentence.

         Mathias contends that defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry, acting in their capacity as probation and parole officers, falsely arrested him knowing that they had no probable cause to do so and that they had no basis in fact or law to do so. He contends that because of his false arrest, he was unlawfully detained. He also contends that defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry maliciously prosecuted him. According to Mathias, his probation was revoked on April 21, 2014, more than 7 years after his 5-year sentence was imposed, “causing his unlawful arrest and imprisonment.” Doc. 1 at ¶ 50 & ¶ 66. Mathias alleges that defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry acted in concert to secure his false arrest, that they intentionally and unlawfully deprived him of his liberty by illegally detaining and/or confining him, and that they conspired to “institute, procure, and continue” the criminal proceedings for a probation violation against him without probable cause. Id. at ¶ 94. Mathias further contends that there is no legal authority or justification for the proposition that his sentence ceased to run while his appeals were pending. Mathias also contends that he is a “member of a protected class, ” and he was arrested, detained, and maliciously prosecuted due to his race, national origin, and/or membership in a protected class. Id. at ¶¶ 107-109.

         He contends that defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry violated his rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and, according to Mathias, any reasonably well trained officer would have known or should have known of those rights. And he contends that defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry acted willfully, maliciously, in bad faith, and in reckless disregard of his constitutional rights. He alleges that because of the defendants' actions, he “suffered extensive and substantial injuries, including, but not limited to, loss of his freedom and severe emotional distress.” Id. 1 at ¶ 59.

         Mathias also contends that defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry were policymakers for York County and York County Adult Probation Department, and in that capacity, they established policies, procedures, customs, and/or practices. He contends that Judge Chronister's “unwritten directive” caused the York County Adult Probation Department to adopt a custom and/or policy of not supervising probationers while those probationers were appealing their cases. Id. at ¶ 81. And, he contends, his injuries were the result of the official policy and/or custom of York County, York County Adult Probation Department, Billet-Barclay, and Sabol. More specifically, he contends that because of the policy or custom he was subjected to a period of probation in excess of the five years to which he was sentenced, that he was unlawfully arrested and maliciously prosecuted for a probation violation after his probation had expired, and he was unlawfully detained and required to serve an illegal sentence.

         The complaint contains nine counts. Count 1 is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for false arrest. Count 2 is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for false imprisonment. Count 3 is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against defendants York County, York County Adult Probation Department, Billet-Barclay, and Sabol for municipal liability. Count 4 is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for malicious prosecution. Count 5 is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for racial discrimination. Count 6 is a state law claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for false arrest. Count 7 is a state law claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for false imprisonment. Count 8 is a state law claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for malicious prosecution. And Count 9 is a state law claim against defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Mathias is seeking compensatory and punitive damages as well as interest and costs.

         On July 21, 2016, defendant York County Adult Probation Department and defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry in their official capacities filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) and a brief in support of that motion. On August 8, 2016, defendant York County and defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry in their individual capacities filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and a brief in support of that motion. After those motions were briefed, the parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), and the case was referred to the undersigned.

         Having considered the motions to dismiss and the parties' briefs, including the letter briefs filed after the case management conference, we will grant the motion to dismiss.

         III. Motion to Dismiss Filed by Defendant York County Adult Probation Department and Defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry in Their Official Capacities.

         Defendant York County Adult Probation Department and defendants Billet-Barclay, Sabol, Alu, and Perry in their official capacities bring their motion to dismiss as both a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) motion and as a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) ...


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