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Wichterman v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 17, 2017

DAVID WICHTERMAN, JR., as Administrator of the Estate of Daniel Wichterman, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, CORIZON HEALTH, POLICE CORRECTIONAL OFFICER JUSTIN AVERY, POLICE CORRECTIONAL OFFICER WILLIAM GWALTHNEY, and TAIRU WAHABU, RN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          DuBois, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This is a civil rights survival and wrongful-death action arising out of 29-year-old Daniel Wichterman's (“Mr. Wichterman”) death while in the custody of the Philadelphia Police Department. Plaintiff, David Wichterman, Jr., filed suit as Administrator of the Estate of Daniel Wichterman against several defendants, including the City of Philadelphia (“the City”). Plaintiff asserts a Monell claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City for violation of Mr. Wichterman's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Presently before the Court is the City's Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The facts as alleged in plaintiff's Complaint are as follows. On January 30, 2015, at approximately 3:45 p.m., Philadelphia police found Mr. Wichterman in the driver's seat of a car that had been involved in an earlier accident in Northeast Philadelphia. Compl. ¶ 13. Police removed Mr. Wichterman from the vehicle and noted that he had “slow speech, was wobbly while standing, and had trouble keeping his eyes open.” Compl. ¶ 14. After Mr. Wichterman told the police he had been using heroin, they arrested him for driving under the influence. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16.

         The police transported Mr. Wichterman to the Police Detention Unit (“PDU”), the only police unit in the city which has medical staff available at all times. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18. Any person who is arrested and charged with driving under the influence in Philadelphia is taken to PDU for blood testing and monitoring. Compl. ¶ 20.

         Mr. Wichterman arrived at the PDU at approximately 5:40 p.m., roughly two hours after his arrest. Compl. ¶ 32. A nurse at the PDU, Tairu Wahabu, drew Mr. Wichterman's blood as part of the driving under the influence investigation at 6:12 p.m. Compl. ¶ 33. A police officer, present during the blood draw, noted that Mr. Wichterman was “observed to have constricted pupils, slow lethargic speech and movements, [and a] raspy voice.” Compl. ¶ 35. Despite observing these signs, the nurse and police officer allowed Mr. Wichterman to be placed in a cell. Compl. ¶¶ 36-40. From 6:12 p.m. until approximately 8:00 p.m., Mr. Wichterman remained in a cell, unmonitored and untreated. Compl. ¶ 41.

         Police Correctional Officers Justin Avery and William Gwalthney (“officers”) went to Mr. Wichterman's cell at approximately 8:00 p.m. to escort him to another area of the PDU for fingerprinting. Compl. ¶ 42. Mr. Wichterman appeared to be asleep, and the officers unsuccessfully attempted to wake him. Compl. ¶¶ 43-44. Despite knowing that Mr. Wichterman was arrested for driving under the influence and admitted to using heroin, the officers left Mr. Wichterman in his cell without seeking medical assistance. Compl. ¶¶ 45-47. For the next two hours, Mr. Wichterman remained in his cell, unmonitored and untreated. Compl. ¶ 48.

         Between 10:00 and 10:15 p.m., the officers returned to Mr. Wichterman's cell to escort another man to the restroom. Compl. ¶ 49. That man informed the officers they should examine Mr. Wichterman because he appeared ill. Compl. ¶ 50. The officers again attempted to wake Mr. Wichterman but were unable to do so. Compl. ¶ 51. They then summoned a nurse on staff, who noted that Mr. Wichterman was unresponsive and began CPR. Compl. ¶¶ 52-53. Mr. Wichterman was transported to Hahnemann Hospital and arrived there just after 11:00 p.m. Compl. ¶¶ 54-56. He remained unresponsive and, shortly after 11:31 p.m., was pronounced dead. Compl. ¶ 56. A later autopsy confirmed that Mr. Wichterman's death was caused by “drug intoxication.” Compl. ¶ 57.

         III. APPLICABLE LAW

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to respond to a pleading by filing a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must allege facts that “‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A district court first identifies those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than “legal conclusions” or “naked assertions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are “not entitled to the assumption of truth” and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The court then assesses “the ‘nub' of the plaintiff['s] complaint-the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]”-to determine whether it states a plausible claim for relief. Id.

         A. Claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived him of a right secured by the United States Constitution or federal law. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). Typically, a prisoner challenging the conditions of his confinement or the adequacy of his medical treatment asserts claims under the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. In this case, however, the Eighth Amendment does not apply because, at all relevant times, plaintiff was a pretrial detainee-not a convicted prisoner. See Natale v. Camden Cty. Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2003). Instead, plaintiff's claims are evaluated, in part, under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which encompasses the same standards applied under the Eighth Amendment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 538 (1979); see also Montgomery v. Ray, 145 F.App'x 738, 740 (“While the due process rights of a pre-trial ...


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