Jon Campisi Nov. 4, 2013, 7:09am


The City of Philadelphia, which was the remaining defendant in a pro se civil rights case brought by a man who claims he was unfairly denied the opportunity to have preliminary hearings in his underlying criminal matters, has been dismissed from the litigation, officially putting an end to the matter.

U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O’Neill, Jr., of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, granted the city’s motion to be dismissed from a case initiated by Calvin Butler back in early February of last year.

Butler had also named as defendants the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office and District Attorney Seth Williams, the city’s Public Defender’s Office and others.

Less than two weeks after the suit was filed, the judge dismissed all defendants from the action except for the city.

In his Oct. 31 memorandum, O’Neill wrote that he granted the city’s motion to be dismissed from the case because the plaintiff failed to allege a policy, practice or custom of the city that led to him suffering a deprivation of his constitutional rights.

At the heart of Butler’s pro se complaint was the allegation that the district attorney’s office “has implemented a policy of [having] no preliminary hearings in person for misdemeanors …,” the judicial memorandum notes.

In response to a defense dismissal petition, Butler modified his complaint to allege that the policy he was challenging “was not a decision of a prosecutor but was widespread practice implemented by the City of Philadelphia.”

In essence, the plaintiff claimed that the city has an illegal practice of allowing the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to decline to conduct preliminary hearings for many criminal defendants.

Butler alleged this was an official city policy or practice because of the widespread nature of the matter.

O’Neill, however, wrote that the plaintiff’s court filings were “completely devoid of facts to support his allegations against the City.

“I find that plaintiff’s response even construed liberally, repeats the failure of his complaint to sufficiently set forth factual allegations,” under standards necessary to state a legal claim, the judge wrote in his memorandum.

O’Neill also noted that Butler is seeking to hold the city liable for the actions of the Court of Common Pleas, which is an agency of the commonwealth, not Philadelphia County.

Citing case law, O’Neill wrote that Common Pleas Court is not part of the local government, it is part of state government, and therefore there would be no liability on the part of the City of Philadelphia for the actions of state judges.

O’Neill ended up dismissing Butler’s claims in their entirety.

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