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Dunn v. Graham

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 2, 2017

JEFFREY DUNN and ANN DUNN, his wife, Plaintiffs
v.
JAMES GRAHAM and PITTSTON TOWNSHIP, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          A. Richard Caputo, United States District Judge

         Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 63). Plaintiffs have conceded that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted with respect to Counts II, III and V of the Amended Complaint (Doc. 15). Defendants are not owed summary judgment on Count I of the Amended Complaint because Defendant James Graham is not immune from suit in his individual capacity under the doctrine of qualified immunity. But, Defendants are owed summary judgment on Count IV of the Amended Complaint because there is no material dispute of fact regarding the training received by Defendant Graham, and Plaintiffs have offered no evidence to suggest that Defendant Pittston Township was “deliberately indifferent” in failing to train or supervise Defendant Graham. For these reasons, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The facts presented in the summary judgment record, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, are as follows:

         Plaintiff Jeffery Dunn is a property owner in Pittston Township (“the Township”), Pennsylvania. (Plaintiffs' Statement of Undisputed Material Fact (“PSMF”), at ¶ 1.) He and his wife (collectively “Plaintiffs”), Ann Dunn, are the co-owners of a corporation JD Custom Pools and Services, Inc., and own property at 1018 Suscon Road, Pittston, Pennsylvania. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Fact (“DSMF”), at ¶¶ 2, 4.)

         At all times material to this action, Defendant James Graham (“Graham”) was a part-time police officer for the Township. (PSMF, at ¶¶ 2.) Graham completed the Municipal Police Training Academy and obtained Act 120 certification, a certification required to be employed as a municipal police officer in Pennsylvania. (PSMF, at ¶ 39.) Further, Graham had experience working as a police officer. Prior to joining the Pittston Township Police force, Graham worked as a part-time police officer in Avoca Borough. (Id.) During his time as a member of the Pittston Police force, Defendant Graham received at least one complaint from a colleague about his conduct. (PSMF, at ¶¶ 53-56.) Specifically, Officer Stefanie Aversa filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission claiming that Graham grabbed her arm, repeatedly poked her in the chest, and yelled at her until another officer stepped in to stop him. (Id.)

         On October 12, 2010, and again on April 1, 2011, the Township issued a Notice of Zoning Ordinance Violation to Plaintiffs with regard to the use of their property for commercial business operations. (DSMF, at ¶ 18, 19.) Following the issuance of these violations, a hearing was conducted. (DSMF, at ¶ 20.) At this hearing, Plaintiffs-represented by counsel-were found to have violated the Township zoning ordinances. (Id.) Plaintiffs appealed the hearing officers decision to no avail. (DSMF, at ¶ 21.)

         On or about July 25, 2012, Plaintiff Ann Dunn applied for a permit to build a large garage on Plaintiffs' property. (DSMF, at ¶ 22.) The permit application suggested that the garage would be approximately 2, 400 square feet and would be used to park vehicles and store Plaintiffs' personal property. (Id.) The Township's zoning ordinance prohibited detached garages from exceeding 750 square feet. (DSMF, at ¶ 23.) For this reason, Plaintiffs' permit application was denied on August 3, 2012. (Id.) That day, Zoning Officer Terry Best issued a letter to Plaintiffs advising them that their application had been denied. (Id.)

         After it appeared that Plaintiffs had started construction without the requisite permit, Officer Best issued, and planned to deliver, a Stop Work Order on September 7, 2012. (DSMF, at ¶¶ 24, 25.) Because Best knew that Mr. Dunn had a reputation as a “hot head” he requested that the Township assign a police officer to accompany him to serve the Stop Work Order. (DSMF, at ¶ 28.) The Township's Officer-in-Charge, Sergeant Lena Angelella accommodated Best's request and assigned Graham to accompany Best to Plaintiffs' property. (DSMF, at ¶ 29.)

         When Best and Graham arrived at Plaintiffs' property they noticed that approximately six workers were in the process of erecting the garage at issue. (DSMF, at ¶ 31.) Best proceeded onto the property to serve the Stop Work Order on those constructing the garage. (DSMF, at ¶33; Plaintiffs' Answer to DSMF, at ¶ 33.) At that time, Mr. Dunn confronted both Best and Graham.[1] The events that follow the initial confrontation are vehemently contested. Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Dunn informed Best and Graham that they had no authority to be on his property and that he planned to contact the State Police. Upon picking up his phone to call the State Police, Plaintiffs allege that “Graham abruptly hit” Mr. Dunn.[2] (PSMF, at ¶ 12.) Conversely, Defendants' claim that Mr. Dunn was threatening both Best and Graham, and approached Graham swinging his cell phone in front of Graham's face. As a result, Graham “hit the cell phone” so that his view of the others on the property was not obstructed.[3] (DSMF, at ¶¶ 35-38; PSMF, at 47-48.)

         Following the physical altercation between Graham and Mr. Dunn, Mr. Dunn began to complain of pain in his wrist. (PSMF, at ¶ 50.) While Graham believed that Mr. Dunn was “overreacting, ” Mr. Dunn was ultimately taken to the hospital via an ambulance for treatment. (PSMF, at ¶ 17, 51.)

         As a result of the injury Mr. Dunn sustained during the altercation with Graham, on February 26, 2016, Mr. Dunn had surgery on his right thumb. (PSMF, at ¶ 59.) While the surgery addressed pre-existing symptoms, Mr. Dunn's doctor claimed that “the need for surgical intervention was a direct result of the injury sustained on September 7, 2012.” (PSMF, ¶ 61.) Notably, Defendants obtained an independent evaluation of Mr. Dunn's condition that did not dispute that Mr. Dunn's surgery was required due to the injury sustained on September 7, 2012. (Defendants' Answer to PSMF, at ¶ 61.) Rather, Defendants' expert disputed the recovery time required following surgery. (Id.)

         B. Procedural Background

         Plaintiffs filed a Complaint on September 6, 2014 (Doc 1). On December 19, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint in its entirety, which this Court granted in part and denied in part. While this Court granted Defendants' ...


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