A former county prison inmate in Northeastern Pennsylvania who claims a civil rights lawsuit he had filed involving alleged police brutality was dismissed in court because his lawyer couldn’t locate him has won the right to re-file the complaint.
In a memorandum filed at federal court in Philadelphia on Jan. 31, U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick ordered Steven Stroud’s case reopened.
Stroud had sued a handful of Easton, Pa. police officers in July 2010 for allegedly violating his rights and assaulting him during an encounter the year prior in which the cops allegedly took money out of Stroud’s wallet, and took his vehicle and his “freedom” following a vehicle stop that supposedly began with a faulty license plate light.
Stroud filed his motion pro se while he was incarcerated at the Northampton County Prison.
He claimed that after his release, he secured residence in Easton, Pa; he informed the courts as much in a written letter in early August 2009.
Ten days later, Stroud was appointed legal counsel, identified in court papers as Susan Ayres.
Ayres attempted to contact Stroud numerous times to address his lawsuit, but she was unable to make contact with the plaintiff, the judge’s memorandum states.
Ayres informed the court in September 2011 that she had been unable to locate Stroud, and the court therefore dismissed Stroud’s complaint with prejudice.
Stroud had maintained that Ayres had the wrong address for him, and that she was perhaps mailing correspondence to the prison instead of Stroud’s new residence.
In December of last year, Stroud contacted the court to urge that his complaint be reinstated because he never received correspondence from his lawyer.
Stroud also claimed that the address Ayres had for him must have been correct because it was the same address that was on file with the court; he had received the dismissal order at that very same address.
In late December, Stroud’s counsel filed a motion for reconsideration of the court’s order.
Surrick, in granting the plaintiff’s motion and agreeing with Stroud, wrote that the error wasn’t a legal one, but a factual one.
“Plaintiff contends that the error results from the assumption that he was not in contact with the Court or Counsel, and that he therefore failed to prosecute his case,” the judge’s memorandum states.
The defendants in the case had urged the court to dismiss the re-filed complaint, claiming it was not done so in a timely fashion.
Surrick, however, wrote that the court was satisfied that the motion to re-file came in a timely manner.
“As soon as Plaintiff received the Dismissal Order, he immediately contacted the court by letter, advising the Court that the Order was entered in error because he was unaware that an attorney had been appointed,” the memorandum states.
Surrick wrote that the defendants would not be prejudiced by allowing Stroud’s case to proceed.
“The delay here has not been significant,” Surrick wrote. “Plaintiff has demonstrated good faith in diligently attempting to correct the error and move his case forward.”
Stroud’s suit named as defendants four police officers with the Easton, Pa. Police Department.