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Jennings v. Borst

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 16, 2019

SUSAN JENNINGS, et al., Plaintiffs,
OFFICER WILLIAM BORST, et al., Defendants.



         In this civil rights action, Plaintiffs allege that they suffered injuries at the hands of two police officers that the Borough of Slatington employed. They bring claims against the officers, their supervisors, and the Borough. Defendants ask the Court to dismiss the entire case for failure to state a claim. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have not pled viable claims against the supervisors or the Borough. The Court also concludes they have not pled and cannot, as a matter of law, plead claims for violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. However, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have adequately pled their remaining claims.


         A. The Arrests

         On January 2, 2017, Donald Jennings, Susan Jennings, and their twin sons Jonathan and Andrew Jennings were in their family home at 141 Center Street, Slatington, Pennsylvania. Shortly after 8 p.m., the family heard banging at the front door as someone screamed, “Police! Police.” (ECF No. ¶¶ 10, 13.) Susan opened the door, Donald and Andrew were just behind her, and Jonathan was standing in the living room. (Id. ¶ 14.) When Susan asked the purpose of the officers' visit, Officer William Borst said something to the effect of, “We're here for him.” (Id. ¶ 15). At that time, the officers had not secured a search warrant for the home or an arrest warrant for any member of the Jennings family. (Id. ¶ 29.)

         Andrew twice asked if the officers had a warrant. In response, Officer Borst entered the house and pushed Susan against the wall, causing her to fall over. (Id.) Officer Borst grabbed Andrew by his shirt, pulled him through the vestibule, and told him, “Stand up straight.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Andrew explained that he could not stand up because he had stitches on his foot. (Id. ¶ 17.)

         Officer Borst dragged Andrew onto the porch, told him that he was under arrest, and threw him against the wall. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Andrew slumped to the ground, supported by a bent knee and one foot. (Id.) Officer Borst then threatened to taser Andrew and kicked him, causing him to fall. (Id. ¶ 20.) While Andrew was on the floor, Officer Borst again kicked him, put his knee on Andrew's back, twisted Andrew's arms behind his back, and placed handcuffs on him. (Id. ¶ 21.) Officer Borst then pulled Andrew to his feet. (Id.) When Andrew asked what he had done and suggested Officer Borst did not know which twin he was, Officer Borst replied, “Yeah I know who you are-you're the one that likes to hit women.” (Id. ¶ 22.) Andrew indicated that he did not know what Officer Borst was referencing. (Id.)

         Given that Andrew and Jonathan are twins, Officer Borst might have misidentified Andrew as Jonathan, who was allegedly the subject of a verbal complaint made by his wife. (Id. ¶ 23.) While Officer Borst was arresting Andrew, Officer (now Sgt.) Deron Dorward entered the Jennings' house, searched it, located Jonathan in the living room, and detained him. (Id. ¶ 24.) Officer Dorward grabbed Jonathan's right arm and put it in a “chicken wing” behind his back. (Id.) Officer Dorward then pushed Jonathan forward onto the living room couch face first and cuffed both of Jonathan's wrists together. (Id. ¶ 27.) Officers Borst and Dorward then dragged both Andrew and Jonathan to a patrol car located on an adjacent street. (Id. ¶ 31.)

         Susan followed the officers to the door and asked where they were taking her sons. (Id. ¶ 32.) One of the officers replied that if Susan did not get back in the house, they were going to arrest her too. (Id.) Donald walked down the steps and asked, “What are they being charged with and where are you taking them?” (Id. ¶ 33.) Officer Borst replied, “Lehigh County Prison.” (Id.) When Donald inquired as to the specific charges, Officer Borst yelled at Donald to get back in the house and chased Donald up into his home. (Id.)

         B. Charges And Incarceration

         The officers took Jonathan and Andrew to the Slatington Police Department, where Jonathan was placed in a cell and Andrew was handcuffed to the bar. (Id. ¶ 34.) Officer Borst filled out sworn Affidavits of Probable Cause and Criminal Complaints against both. (Id. ¶ 35.) The Complaint against Jonathan included charges for simple assault/physical, disorderly conduct, obstructing administration of law, resisting arrest, and harassment/physical contact. (Id. ¶ 36.) The Complaint against Andrew included charges for obstructing administration of law, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. (Id. ¶ 37, 38.) Plaintiffs allege that Officer Borst's Affidavits of Probable Cause were false. (Id.) Andrew and Jonathan were transported to Lehigh County Central Booking and processing where they were arraigned by video. (Id. ¶ 39.) Based on Officer Borst's recommendation, bail was set in the amount of $15, 000 for Andrew and $25, 000 for Jonathan. (Id. ¶ 39.) On January 4, 2017, Officer Borst also swore out Citations for disorderly conduct against Donald and Susan Jennings for the events that took place on January 2, 2017. Plaintiffs allege that those citations were also false. (Id. ¶¶ 43-46.)

         A preliminary hearing was scheduled on February 17, 2017. At that time, Officer Borst agreed to withdraw the charges of obstruction, resisting arrest and simple assault against Andrew and Jonathan and to dismiss the remaining charges of disorderly conduct and harassment by way of Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (“ARD”). (Id. ¶ 48.) Susan and Donald Jennings, on the other hand, insisted upon proceeding with their hearing that day. At that point, Officer Borst threatened to bring additional misdemeanor charges for disorderly conduct if Susan and Donald Jennings contested their summary citations. (Id. ¶ 49, 50.) After Susan and Jonathan continued to insist upon proceeding with the hearing, Officer Borst withdrew the criminal charges brought against them. (Id. ¶ 51, 52.)

         C. Procedural History

         On December 31, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against Officer Borst, Sgt. Dorward, police Chief David Rachman, the Borough of Slatington (“Borough”), and Slatington Borough Council. (ECF No. 1.) On ...

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