Yeager v. Lackawanna County Commissioners et al
MEMORANDUM and ORDER granting 30 32 Motions for Summary Judgment; The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of the defendants and CLOSE this case. Signed by Honorable James M. Munley on 7/2/12 (sm, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CORRECTIONAL FACILITY and :
Before the court for disposition are the Defendants Lackawanna
County Correctional Facility and Lackawanna County Sheriff’s
Department’s motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 30, 32). The
motions have been briefed and are ripe for disposition.
Plaintiff Michael Yeager (“Yeager”) was charged with Theft by
Unlawful Taking, Receiving Stolen Property and Criminal Mischief and a
warrant was issued for his arrest. (Doc. 31, Def.’s Statement of
Undisputed Materials Facts (“DSF”) ¶ 1; Doc. 31, Ex. 1, Def.’s Summ. J. R.
(“SJR”) at 2).2 He was arrested on March 20, 2009, taken to the
Plaintiff failed to submit a brief in opposition to the defendants’
motions for summary judgment. According to the local rules, the
statements of material facts as submitted by defendants are deemed
admitted. L.R. 7.6, 56.1. We must determine whether “the deficiencies in
the opponent’s evidence designated in or in conjunction with the motion
entitle the moving party to judgment as a matter of law.” Anchorage
Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175 (3d Cir.1990).
Defendants Lackawanna County Correctional Facility and the
Lackawanna County Sheriff’s Department submitted identical statements
of undisputed material facts and “Summary Judgment Record.” (Docs. 31,
Lackawanna County Correctional Facility (“Correctional Facility”) and
released on bail that same day. (DSF ¶ 3; SJR at 8-9). Yeager failed to
appear for a preliminary hearing on March 25, 2009, which prompted the
issuance of a bench warrant by the Honorable Michael J. Barrasse of the
Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas on March 30, 2009. (DSF ¶¶
2, 4; SJR at 4, 36). The bench warrant is stamped as filed on March 31,
2009. (SJR at 36) Generally, after the bench warrant is ordered, the
arresting police department, in the instant case the Scranton Police
Department, would enter the warrant into the system for distribution. (Doc.
31, Ex. 1, Attorney Prejean’s Statement at 88).
On March 30, 2009, Yeager appeared in the Public Defender’s Office
and spoke with Attorney Sidney Prejean.3 (Id.) Yeager explained that he
had a family emergency which prevented him from appearing at the
preliminary hearing. (Id.) Yeager provided a postal money order for his
restitution and completed an application for representation. (Id.) Attorney
Prejean then called, or “checked,” with the Lackawanna County Sheriff’s
Department (“Sheriff’s Department”), speaking with whom he believes to
be “Sergeant Oakey” or “Deputy Patrick.” (Id.) They indicated that there
was no warrant in the system. (Id.) Also on March 30, 2009, Attorney
Prejean recalls speaking with Assistant District Attorney Hayes and Judge
Barrasse. (Id.) Attorney Prejean explained to them that it was his belief
that no bench warrant had been issued for Yeager, therefore, Judge
33). We will cite to the Correctional Facility’s documents. (Doc. 31).
Attorney Sidney Prejean provided his “best narrative” of the
circumstances surrounding Yeager’s arrest in an email to Lackawanna
County. (DSF ¶ 12; Doc. 31, Ex. 1, Attorney Prejean’s Statement at 88).
Barrasse did not issue a “lift order.” (Id.) After the meeting, Yeager left the
courthouse and awaited notification of his next court appearance. (Id.)
On April 9 or 10, 2009, the Scranton Police Department arrested
Yeager pursuant to the bench warrant that was issued for his failure to
appear at the preliminary hearing and he was brought to the Correctional
Facility. (Id.; DSF ¶ 9). Attorney Prejean believed that between the
ordering of the warrant on March 25 and Yeager’s appearance in his office
on March 30, the Scranton Police Department did not have the opportunity
to enter the warrant into the system. (Doc. 31, Ex. 1, Attorney Prejean’s
Statement at 88). At some point after Yeager appeared in Attorney
Prejean’s office, the Scranton Police Department entered the warrant into
the system and executed it. (Id.) A computer search done by the
Correctional Facility at the time of Yeager’s incarceration indicated that
there was an outstanding warrant for Yeager due to his failure to appear at
the preliminary hearing. (DSF ¶ 6; SJR at 50). A copy of the bench
warrant indicates that it was filed on March 31, 2009, the day after he
appeared in Attorney Prejean’s office. (See Doc. 31, Ex. 1, “Bench
Warrant Failure to Appear” at 36).
Upon admittance to the Correctional Facility, Yeager was provided
with an Admission Kit, which contained a writing instrument, paper,
envelopes and three stamps. (DSF ¶ 5; SJR, “Inmate Initial Issue Form” at
42). Yeager was also provided with a “Inmate Telephone ID Number
Release Form,” explaining the Lackawanna County Prison’s telephone
system. (DSF ¶ 7; Doc. 31, Ex. 1 at 56.). Yeager’s form was signed and
dated on April 10, 2009. (Doc. 31, Ex. 1 at 56).
Yeager’s telephone record indicates that he attempted to make
twenty phone calls during his incarceration. (DSF ¶ 14; Ex. 1, “Inmate
Attempted Call Search Results” at 89). A prisoner may make a telephone
call from the prison by either depositing money into an account or by
making a collect call. (DSF ¶ 14; Doc. 31, Ex. 1, “Affidavit of Timothy M.
Betti,” at 91-93). Yeager did not place a deposit into his account,
therefore, the individual to whom the calls were being placed would have to
agree to accept the charges. (Id.) Unfortunately, during his incarceration,
no one accepted the charges. (DSF ¶ 14). Yeager was incarcerated from
April 10, 2009, Good Friday of the Easter holiday, until April 15, 2009.
(DSF ¶ 9).4 Yeager was released when a correctional counselor
contacted the Lackawanna County Public Defender’s Office on Yeager’s
On July 23, 2010, Yeager filed a complaint. (Doc. 1). He asserts
claims against the Correctional Facility and the Sheriff’s Department
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983"). On October 4, 2010, the
Correctional Facility and the Sheriff’s Department filed motions to dismiss
the complaint. (Docs. 9, 10). On March 28, 2011, this court granted in
part and denied in part the motions. We found that the Yeager sufficiently
alleged claims against the Correctional Facility for violation of his
constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, Sixth and Fourteenth
Amendments and claims against the Sheriff’s Department for violations
under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 19). We also
dismissed Yeager’s state-law claim. (Id.)
Yeager alleged in the complaint that he was detained from April 9,
2009 when he was taken into custody by the Scranton Police Department
at 11:00 p.m. until April 16, 2009 when he met with his counselor and given
an opportunity to call Attorney Prejean. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 23, 25).
On February 28, 2012, the Correctional Facility and the Sheriff’s
Department filed the instant motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 30,
32). Yeager’s counsel requested and we granted two extensions of time
to file a brief in opposition to the defendants’ motions. (Docs. 39, 41). On
May 23, 2012, after counsel failed to file a brief by the appropriate
deadline, the court ordered that Yeager to file a brief within ten days from
the date of the order. (Doc. 42). Yeager has not submitted a brief in
opposition and the time for such filing has elapsed. These motions are,
therefore, ripe and will be treated as unopposed with all of defendants’
factual averments accepted as true. See Anchorage Assocs. v. V.I. Bd. of
Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 175-76 (3d Cir.1990); L.R. 56.1.
The court has federal question jurisdiction over this case brought
under Section 1983 for violation of plaintiff’s constitutional rights. See 28
U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil
actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States.”); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction
over civil actions brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or
statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief).
Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v.
Boury Corp., 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P.
56(c)). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged
factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly
supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be
no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the
motion. Int’l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949
(3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the
non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A fact is material when it
might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where
the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving
for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary
materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient
to carry the non-movant’s burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the
burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond its pleadings,
and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions,
admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial. Id. at 324.
Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights.
Rather, it provides remedies for deprivations of rights established
elsewhere in the Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d
1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). In pertinent part, Section 1983
provides as follows:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any
State or Territory or the District of Columbia,
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of
the United States or other person within the
jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party
injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other
proper proceeding for redress . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a claim under Section 1983, two
criteria must be met. First, the conduct complained of must have been
committed by a person acting under color of state law. Sameric Corp. of
Del., Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir. 1998). Second, the
conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights secured under the United States
Constitution or federal law. Id. The parties do not dispute whether the
defendants acted under color of state law, only whether Yeager’s
constitutional rights were violated.
Municipalities and local government units are deemed “persons”
subject to suit under Section 1983. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Because they are parts of Lackawanna County, the
Correctional Facility and the Sheriff’s Department may be liable for
Yeager’s alleged constitutional violations under theory of municipal liability.
The United States Supreme Court has rejected attempts to hold
municipalities liable under the theories of respondeat superior or vicarious
liability. Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 736 (1989). The
Court has stated that “for purposes of § 1983 an act could not be attributed
to a municipality merely because it was an act of a municipal agent
performed in the course of exercising a power delegated to the municipality
by local law.” Bd. of Cnty Com’rs of Bryan Cnty, Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S.
397, 416-17 (1997) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694). Instead, “‘it is [only]
when execution of a government’s policy or custom, whether made by its
lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent
official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is
responsible under § 1983.’” Id. at 417 (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694).
This policy requirement is satisfied “where no rule has been announced as
‘policy’ but federal law has been violated by an act of the policymaker itself.
In this situation, the choice of policy and its implementation are one, and
the first or only action will suffice to ground municipal liability simply
because it is the very policymaker who is acting.” Id. at 417-18 (citing
Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1986)).
Liability only exists when “‘there is a direct causal link between a
municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation.’”
Brown v. Muhlenberg Twp., 269 F.3d 205, 214 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting City
of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989)). If a municipality has a
policy or custom of not training its police officers, then the municipality will
be liable for that failure “‘only where the failure to train amounts to
deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come
into contact.’” Brown, 269 F.3d at 215 (quoting City of Canton, 489 U.S. at
In the instant case, we find that Yeager has failed to establish that
either of the defendants had an established policy or custom that violated
his constitutional rights and, thus, cannot demonstrate municipal liability.
Therefore, we will grant the Correctional Facility and Sheriff’s Department’s
motions for summary judgment. We will address each of the defendants’
motions, in turn.
The Correctional Facility5
The Correctional Facility submits that it did not have a policy or
custom that caused Yeager’s alleged constitutional violations. Under the
First, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, Yeager alleges that the
Correctional Facility failed to have an adequate policy in place to allow him
to contact his family, friends or attorney to inform them of his whereabouts
and the circumstances surrounding his incarceration. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶
13). After careful review, we agree with the Correctional Facility.
“The rights of access to the courts, the telephone, and to counsel are
rooted in the First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.” Aruanno v. Main,
Civ. No. 07-3867, 2010 WL 2710564, at *7 (D.N.J. July 7, 2010) (citing
Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996); Monroe v. Beard, 536 F.3d 198,
205 (3d Cir. 2008). “Inmates must be afforded reasonable access to
telephones so as not to infringe the First Amendment or impede
meaningful access to the courts in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Richardson v. Morris Cnty. Corr. Facility, Civil Action No. 06-2340, 2006
We also find that the Correctional Facility cannot be liable because
it is not recognized as a “person” under Section 1983. See Williams v.
Lackawanna Cnty. Prison, No. 4:CV-07-1137, 2010 WL 1491132, at *1 n. 2
(M.D. Pa. April 13, 2010) (dismissing all claims against Lackawanna
County Prison because it is not a person for the purposes of Section
1983); Reynolds v. Lackawanna Cnty. Prison, No. C.V. 4:CV-06-1190,
2006 WL 1896178, at *1 (M.D. Pa. July 7, 2006) (dismissing Lackawanna
County Prison as a party because it is not a person who may be sued
under § 1983); Antoine v. Belleville Mun. Cnty., Civ. Action No. 10–1212,
2010 WL 2989991, at *3 (D.N.J. July 27, 2010) (citing a number of Third
Circuit cases finding that a prison or correctional facility is not a person
within the meaning of Section 1983). For purposes of completeness, we
will discuss in the main body of this memorandum the Correctional Facility
and municipal liability.
WL 3000234, *4 (D.N.J. Oct. 20, 2006) (citing Inmates of Allegheny Cnty.
Jail v. Wecht, 565 F. Supp. 1278, 1284 (E.D. Pa.1983); Owens-El v.
Robinson, 442 F. Supp. 1368, 1386 (W.D. Pa. 1978), aff'd in part and
vacated in part on other grounds sub nom., Inmates of Allegheny Cnty. Jail
v. Pierce, 612 F.2d 754 (3d Cir. 1979)). “[L]imited access to telephone
calls . . . is not a constitutional violation so long as inmates can
communicate with their counsel in writing or in person by visits.” Ingalls v.
Florio, 968 F. Supp. 193, 204 (D.N.J. 1997). “[I]f an inmate has an
alternative method to communicate freely and privately with his counsel, it
is less likely that the restrictions on telephone use will rise to the level of a
constitutional violation.” Royal v. Rochford, Civil Action Nos. 11-7149, 115248, 2012 WL 259388, at *7 (D.N.J. Jan. 27, 2012) (citation omitted).
In the instant case, Yeager asserts in his complaint that he requested
several opportunities to contact his family, friends and attorney or talk with
one of the courselors at the prison and was denied. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 13,
24). At Yeager’s deposition he explained that when he was admitted to the
Correctional Facility he was advised that he needed to have ten dollars “on
the books” in order to make a phone call. (DSF ¶ 8; Doc. 31, Ex. 1 at 67).
Timothy M. Betti, Assistant Warden for Treatment at the Correctional
Facility, provided an affidavit explaining the intake policy and procedure
that was in effect on April 10, 2009. (Doc. 31, Ex. 1, “Affidavit of Timothy
M. Betti,” at 91-93). After a review of Yeager’s call log, Assistant Warden
Betti indicated that Yeager was permitted to access the phone during the
period of his incarceration. Yeager was not denied access to the
telephone, but had not placed any money in his account that would permit
him to have unrestricted use. (Id. ¶ 3). Instead, Yeager had to make
collect calls, which he did, although no one ultimately accepted the
We find that the Correctional Facility had an adequate policy in place
that permitted Yeager to contact individuals outside of the prison. As
explained in the “Inmate Telephone ID Number Release Form,” Yeager
would be allowed unlimited telephone access, however, he needed to
either have money deposited in his account or have the party whom he
was contacting accept the charges. Unfortunately for Yeager neither
occurred. However, he also had alternative means of communication by
way of the paper, envelops and stamps. Based upon the Correctional
Facility’s policy, we find that the Correctional Facility’s telephone policy did
not violate Yeager’s constitutional rights. We will grant the Correctional
Facility’s motion for summary judgment as to Yeager’s First, Sixth and
Fourteenth Amendment claims.
We will also grant the Correctional Facility’s motion for summary
judgment as to his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. A plaintiff
may assert a Section 1983 claim for unlawful detention under the Fourth
and Fourteenth Amendments. Potts v. City of Phila., 224 F. Supp. 2d 919,
936 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 143
(1979)). However, in order to find a municipality liable, Yeager must
demonstrate that the Correctional Facility was executing a governmental
policy or custom which caused his constitutional violations. See Bd. of
Cnty Com’rs of Bryan Cnty, Okl., 520 U.S. at 416-17 (quoting Monell, 436
U.S. at 694).
Yeager asserted in his complaint that the Correctional Facility had
the following policies concerning his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights: subjecting persons to unlawful confinement; failing to have a policy
in place or adequate implementation of a policy allowing plaintiff to be
taken before a judge, court or magistrate; failing to allow plaintiff to post
bond or be released on his own recognizance; and failing to implement
policies concerning the detention status of new inmates. We found that
such allegations were sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss. However,
at this stage of litigation, these bare allegations, absent any evidence that
such policies or customs exist, are not sufficient to survive a motion for
summary judgment. Therefore, Yeager has not demonstrated municipal
liability. We will grant the Correctional Facility’s motion for summary
judgment as to his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights for unlawful
The Sheriff’s Department
Yeager asserts Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims against the
Sheriff’s Department. In our memorandum ruling on defendants’ motions to
dismiss, we found that Yeager alleged that the Sheriff’s Department failed
to implement a policy for recalling warrants and that it had a policy of
condoning deputies’ violations of citizens’ rights against unlawful seizure.
(Doc. 19, Memorandum & Order at 10; Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 13). The Sheriff’s
Department contends that it does not have a policy or custom that resulted
in Yeager’s alleged violations.
Based upon the undisputed facts, the only allegations asserted
against the Sheriff’s Department is that Yeager and Attorney Prejean
consulted the Sheriff’s Department to determine whether a warrant existed
based on Yeager’s failure to appear at the preliminary hearing. The
Sheriff’s Department informed them that there was no warrant in the
system. The record demonstrates that the warrant was not filed until after
Yeager made the inquiry. Based on the single allegation against the
Sheriff’s Department, we find that there is no evidence of a policy
condoning deputies’ violations of citizens’ rights against unlawful seizure.
See Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 637 (3d Cir. 1995) (“‘a
single incident of unconstitutional activity is not sufficient to impose liability
under Monell, unless proof of the incident includes proof that it was caused
by an existing, unconstitutional municipal policy, which policy can be
attributed to a municipal policymaker.’”) (quoting Oklahoma City v. Tuttle,
471 U.S. 808, 823–24 (1985)).
We also find that Yeager’s contention that the Sheriff’s Department
failed to implement an adequate policy for the purpose of recalling bench
warrants fails. “In order to establish a claim based on a policy of inaction . .
. plaintiffs must allege facts tending to establish a prior pattern of similar
violations, contemporaneous knowledge of improper conduct, or failure to
remedy continuing constitutional deprivations.” Smith v. Sch. Dist. of
Philadelphia, 112 F. Supp. 2d 417, 433 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (quoting Boemer v.
Patterson, No. Civ.A. 86–2902, 1987 WL 13741, at *4 (E.D. Pa. July 14,
1987)). Yeager has not offered any evidence of a prior pattern of similar
violations, improper conduct or failure to remedy constitutional deprivations.
Yeager also does not offer any evidence which would demonstrate why the
Sheriff’s Department, rather than another agency, should have had such a
policy concerning bench warrants. In the instant case, the Scranton Police
Department was responsible for both the entering of the warrant into the
system and the execution of the warrant. (Doc. 31, Ex. 1, Attorney
Prejean’s Statement at 88). Furthermore, the Sheriff’s Department asserts
that it does not have the authority to invalidate a warrant issued by the
court. Absent any evidence offered by Yeager of a policy or evidence that
warrant liability for failure to implement a policy, we find that the Sheriff’s
Department is not liable. Therefore, we will grant the Sheriff’s Department’s
motion for summary judgment.
For the reasons stated above, we will grant the Correctional Facility
and Sheriff’s Department’s motions for summary judgment. An appropriate
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CORRECTIONAL FACILITY and :
AND NOW, to wit, this 2nd day of July 2012, Defendants Lackawanna
County Correctional Facility and Lackawanna County Sheriff’s Department’s
motions for summary judgment (Docs. 30, 32), are hereby GRANTED. The
Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of the defendants and
to CLOSE this case.
BY THE COURT:
s/ James M. Munley
JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY
United States District Court
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