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Young v. Scott Township

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 20, 2019

JAMES M. YOUNG, SR., individually and as administrator of the ESTATE OF JONATHAN M. YOUNG, SANDRA E. YOUNG, individually and as administrator of the ESTATE OF JONATHAN M. YOUNG, Plaintiffs,
v.
SCOTT TOWNSHIP, COLUMBIA MONTOUR SNYDER UNION COUNTIES OF CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA SERVICE SYSTEM, RAYMOND KLINGLER, JOE GRASSLEY, VINCENT FIGUERIDO, PAUL KELLY, MEGAN FETTERMAN, and JOHN/JANE DOES I-X, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          MATTHEW W. BRANN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs James and Sandra Young moved to amend their complaint. The Youngs seek to add a count of “state-created danger” against the police officers that, in serving an involuntary commitment warrant, entered their son Jonathan's home and shot him.[1] Defendants Scott Township, Raymond Klingler, Joseph Grassley, Vincent Figueiredo, and Paul Kelly oppose the motion.[2]

         For the reasons that follow, the Youngs' motion to amend will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND [3]

         On the morning of November 13, 2016, Scott Township police officers Raymond Klingler, Joseph Grassley, Vincent Figueiredo, and Paul Kelly responded to a 911 call.[4] The call was precipitated by Jonathan Young's struggling with his schizophrenia. Jonathan was “agitated and hallucinating.”[5] He had “locked himself in his home, screwing and boarding the front door shut.”[6]

         Megan Fetterman, a CMSU employee who had spoken with James Young about the situation, arrived shortly after the four officers.[7] She brought with her a warrant authorizing Jonathan's involuntary commitment under state law.[8]

         James and Sandra told the responding defendants that Jonathan was barricaded alone in his home without any firearms, and that they believed Jonathan did not “appear” to be a danger.[9] They also told the responding defendants that Jonathan could not sporadically leave.[10] For one hour, the defendants attempted to talk Jonathan out of the home, to no avail; as a result, they used a battering ram to gain entry.[11]

         After battering down the door, the defendants entered Jonathan's home with their guns drawn.[12] Once inside the home, one of the defendants shot Jonathan, prompting him to retreat into his bedroom.[13] James Young had informed the defendants that Jonathan's bedroom had two entrances.[14] The defendants congregated at one of the entrances, forcing Jonathan out the other.[15] When Jonathan emerged from the other entrance, he was shot again, this time in the The warrant was obtained under 50 P.S. §§ 7301-7302, which authorizes the emergency examination and treatment of individuals who are “severely mentally ill and in need of immediate treatment.” abdomen, by defendant Grassley.[16] Jonathan died from this wound three days later.[17]

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standards of Review

         1. Motions to Amend

         “The court should freely give leave” for a party to amend their complaint “when justice so requires.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, interpreting a prior directive from the United States Supreme Court, has held that “prejudice to the non-moving party is the touchstone for the denial of an amendment. In the absence of substantial or undue prejudice, denial instead must be based on bad faith or dilatory motives, truly undue or unexplained delay, repeated failures to cure the deficiency by amendments previously allowed, or futility of amendment.” Lorenz v. CSX Corp., 1 F.3d 1406, 1414 (3d Cir. 1993) (internal citations and quotations omitted); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         “Futility” means that “the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997) (citation omitted). “In assessing ‘futility,' the district court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6).” Id. (citation omitted).[18] “Amendment of the complaint is futile if the amendment will not cure the deficiency in the original complaint or if the amended complaint cannot withstand a renewed motion to dismiss.” Jablonski v. Pan Am. World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 292 (3d Cir. 1988).

         2. Excessive Force Claims and Substantive Due Process

         A plaintiff cannot maintain a “pure” excessive force claim under a theory that the defendant officers have violated their substantive due process rights. These kinds of claims must proceed under the Fourth Amendment. Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 288 (3d Cir. 1999) (“[E]xcessive force in the course of an arrest is properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, not under substantive due process.”).

         But in “cases in which the police used both force and created a danger that harmed the individual, ”[19] the Third Circuit has allowed plaintiffs to seek substantive due process via the “state created danger” doctrine. See Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 506-11 (3d Cir. 2003) (applying doctrine when disturbed man suffered fatal heart attack due to overwhelming police response-including a SWAT team and helicopter-to a neighbor's complaint); Neuberger v. Thompson, No. 04-1690, 2005 WL 19275, at *4 n.1 (3d Cir. Jan. 5, 2005) (applying doctrine when armed troopers rushed distraught woman alone on a jetty and grasping a handgun, despite her pleas to stay away, inducing her to aim at a trooper and draw fatal fire).

         3. ‚ÄúState Created ...


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