A suburban Philadelphia man who was suing Chester County, one of its
municipalities and a police detective for more than $2.5 million over the loss of his marriage, saying the relationship fell apart after he was falsely accused of a crime, cannot move forward with his case against two of the defendants because he did not have his civil rights violated, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson dismissed Chester County and the Borough of Downingtown from a lawsuit brought by Vincent Anthony Cortlessa, Sr., that alleged civil rights violations tied to the plaintiff’s arrest for stealing construction materials.
Cortlessa filed suit this past April over a January 2012 incident in which he was approached by Detective Pamila Fentner, who worked for the Downingtown Borough Police Department, and accused of breaking into a locked construction trailer, removing items from the trailer, and loading the items into his truck.
The plaintiff told Fentner that he ran a construction and scrap business and that he had done nothing illegal.
While Cortlessa gave the detective permission to search his business premises, Fentner went on to search Cortlessa’s wife’s Toyota pickup truck without authorization, he claimed in his lawsuit.
In his complaint Cortlessa alleged that while Fentner found nothing incriminating in the vehicle, the law enforcement agent nevertheless had the truck towed 40 miles away to an impound lot.
Cortlessa claimed he had to spend all of his monthly bill money and borrow additional funds to retrieve the truck from the lot.
The suit further alleged that Fentner, armed with a search warrant, conducted a search of the plaintiff’s home in late January 2012 while only a minor child was at the residence.
The plaintiff went on to claim that he subsequently learned that his friend and employee fessed up to committing the theft for which Cortlessa was initially charged, and that he ultimately had the man sign a notarized affidavit attesting to his role in the crime.
Cortlessa asserted in his suit that he attempted to clear up the misunderstanding with Fentner, but that the detective never returned his calls.
He was eventually arrested by his state parole officer in late February 2012, the record shows.
After Cortlessa told Fentner about the employee’s signed affidavit, the detective dismissed the document as falsified by the plaintiff.
The suit said Chester County prosecutors didn’t question the employee until December 2012, at which time the man confessed to his crimes.
Meanwhile, Cortlessa was not released from custody until January of last year, when the criminal charges against him were finally dropped.
The complaint originally included the Chester County Common Pleas Court, Judge James MacElree, II, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Tom Hogan, and others as co-defendants, but they were all ultimately dismissed from the litigation, records show.
In its motion to dismiss, Chester County argued that Cortlessa failed to identify a custom or policy that caused his alleged injuries nor any actions that amounted to a deliberate indifference to fail to train employees.
The borough and Fentner asserted in their combined motions to dismiss that the complaint lacked any factual allegations that, even if true, demonstrated that any employee or agent of the borough violated Cortlessa’s rights pursuant to a policy, practice or custom enacted by the borough.
Baylson, the federal judge, agreed, writing that the plaintiff failed to identify any specific policy or custom of either the county or borough that allegedly amounted to a civil rights violation.
“He merely alleges that Chester County acted with deliberate indifference … and states in a conclusory manner that the Borough can and should be held accountable for the actions of its employees,” Baylson wrote. “These allegations, standing alone, do not state a claim.
“Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged that the harm he suffered was caused by a constitutional violation brought about by a policy or practice for which the [defendants] were responsible.”
Baylson dismissed the claims against Chester County and Downingtown Borough without prejudice, giving Cortlessa 14 days in which to file an amended complaint.
The judge, however, allowed the claims against Fentner, the detective, to proceed.
She remains the only defendant left in the case.