PHILADELPHIA – An Erie couple’s civil rights lawsuit panel against Washington County, two of its district attorneys, a state court judge and another attorney has been dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

On Dec. 5, judges Michael A. Chagares, Thomas I. Vanaskie and Cheryl Ann Krause of the Court decided William and Jennifer Reihner's litigation against Washington County, the Washington County District Attorney’s Office, Washington County Assistant District Attorney Michael Fagella, Washington County Court of Common Pleas Judge John F. DiSalle and Peter V. Marcoline Jr. of Blackwell & Associates was dismissed.

The Reihners sued the defendants collectively under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging their son Cameron Reihner’s constitutional rights were violated in the course of a criminal investigation. As to their own related injuries, the plaintiffs stated they “have suffered financially, which has led to emotional distress, marital problems, health issues, sleep deprivation, and depression.”

On the defendants’ motions, the District Court dismissed the complaint with prejudice, which led the Reihners to appeal. (Cameron had already been dismissed as a co-plaintiff, since the Reihners were not attorneys who could represent their son on his behalf.)

According to the Third Circuit, the Reihners did not allege a constitutional violation against them under Section 1983, since a plaintiff “must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.”

“They alleged only financial suffering and attendant difficulties because of purported violations to their son’s constitutional rights. Accordingly, they did not state a claim,” the Third Circuit said.

Moreover, the Third Circuit remarked the Reihners did not have standing to bring claims seeking recovery for themselves due to any alleged injury sustained by their son – since their resting any claim to such relief led the District Court to lack jurisdiction to hear the matter.

The Third Circuit concluded the District Court “did not abuse its discretion in declining to allow amendment of the complaint on the basis of futility.”

“Not only did the Reihners fail to present any suggestion that they had their own claims against the defendants, but they also sued defendants against whom claims under Section 1983 could not proceed. As the District Court explained, some defendants were immune from suit, and one was not a state actor subject to suit,” the Third Circuit said.

“For these reasons, we will affirm the District Court’s judgment with one modification. To the extent that the Reihners rested their own claims for relief on purported violations of their son’s rights, we modify the judgment to dismiss those claims for lack of jurisdiction,” the appellate judiciary concluded.

The defendants are represented by Paul D. Krepps and April L. Cressler of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, Caroline Liebenguth of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, plus James R. Schadel and Scott R. Eberle of Burns White, all in Pittsburgh.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3835

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case 1:15-cv-0113

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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