Federal judge dismisses Phila. District Attorney's Office as defendant in civil claim

By Jon Campisi | Oct 19, 2011

A federal judge in Philadelphia last week granted a motion by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to dismiss it as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by a city man who claims he was wrongly arrested on rape charges that were later dropped.

In an Oct. 14 order signed by U.S. District Court Judge John R. Padova, the court found that the district attorney’s office cannot be sued under federal law because it is not considered a legal entity that is separate from the local government of which it is a part of.

Philadelphia resident Willie Thompson had filed a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department and the district attorney’s office last year after what he claims was a wrongful arrest in October 2009.

Thompson was initially charged with attempted rape, assault and other crimes, and he was held in confinement from mid-October through mid-December, at which time the charges were withdrawn during his preliminary hearing.

Thompson filed the pro se lawsuit Nov. 16, 2010 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia Detectives Division and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office asserting six claims for legal relief against the defendants. The claims included false arrest, false imprisonment, violations of the plaintiff’s procedural due process rights, and what appeared to be a claim of double jeopardy.

The district attorney’s office had moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims against it arguing that it was not capable of being sued under federal statute.

“The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has long held that local prosecutorial offices are not legal entities separate from the local governments of which they are a part and, consequently, that they may not be sued under [section 1983],” the court order stated. “We conclude, accordingly, that the District Attorney’s Office is not a separate legal entity that may be sued pursuant to [section 1983].”

The court order stated that because the district attorney’s office cannot be sued, the plaintiff’s claims against it “lack an arguable basis in law and are frivolous. Moreover, any amendment would be futile. We therefor dismiss the Complaint with prejudice as against the District Attorney’s Office.”

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