Judge dismisses several counts, defendants from inmate's civil rights lawsuit

By Nicholas Malfitano | May 1, 2015

PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge has largely dismissed a Bucks County Correctional Facility inmate’s civil rights lawsuit against the Central Bucks Regional Police Department and various members of its ranks.

Richboro resident Jason Hill, currently incarcerated in the Bucks County Correctional Facility and representing himself pro se, initially filed suit against the Central Bucks Regional Police Department (formerly known as the Doylestown Borough Police Department), its chief James Donnelly, Plumstead Township, the Plumstead Township Police Department, its chief Duane Hasenauer, Central Bucks Sgt. Paul Kreuter, Officer Hotham and six John Doe officers for an alleged incident that took place at the Farmhouse Tavern in Doylestown in May 2012.

Hill’s litigation included seven counts, including use of excessive force, bystander liability, violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, false arrest and false imprisonment, assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium on the part of Hill’s wife, Elsa Hill.

On May 28, 2012, Hill was a patron of the Farmhouse Tavern and alleges Kreuter, Hotham and/or one or more John Doe officers drew their tasers and fired them at Hill without cause for doing so.

Hill then claims the officers handcuffed dragged him into the Farmhouse Tavern’s parking lot, where they proceeded to strike him with their hands and feet as he lay on the ground, still handcuffed.

Hill maintains he was then taken into police custody “unlawfully and without probable cause,” after this display of what he termed as “excessive force.” He feels his civil rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Consitution were violated.

According to the lawsuit, Hill claims to have suffered permanent injuries in the alleged attack, including “head and neck trauma with concussion and post-concussion syndrome, right carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical sprain, puncture wounds to his back and abdomen resulting in scarring, tremendous pain from electrocution, and severe, pervasive psychological injuries including exacerbation of underlying anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, night terrors, paranoia, and emotional distress.”

A defense motion to partially dismiss the defendants in this case came before Judge Gene Pratter the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who authored a 13-page opinion released on April 22.

Pratter dismissed Hill’s claims against both the Central Bucks Regional and Plumstead Township Police Departments on the rationale “police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities, because the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local municipality, and is not a separate judicial entity.”

Likewise, Pratter dismissed claims against the municipalities of Doylestown Borough and Plumstead Township for the use of excessive force and not properly documenting uses of such force or tasers, or properly training their officers, finding Hill’s claims “conclusory” and lacking “factual basis” in not meeting the standard of those municipalities adopting policies that directly caused the alleged violation of his civil rights.

“Here, Mr. Hill has done nothing more than allege facts demonstrating the possibility of misconduct, as opposed to showing that he is entitled to relief,” Pratter opined.

Similarly, Pratter dismissed claims against chiefs Donnelly and Hasenauer for the same reasons, finding Hill’s complaint did not directly tie them to instituting policies leading to the deprivation of his civil rights.

The judge also dismissed any charges of false arrest and false imprisonment under alleged violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, finding Hill’s subsequent guilty plea to resisting arrest and disorderly conduct in connection with the May 28, 2012, incident prevented him from claiming these charges as violations, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent from Heck v. Humphrey.

“Mr. Hill cannot now claim in this civil action that the officers arrested or imprisoned him falsely. There is nothing to suggest that Mr. Hill’s conviction or sentence has been invalidated, so the Court finds that Counts III and VI of the Complaint are precluded by Heck,” Pratter said.

However, Pratter found evidence three of Hill’s claims would survive the defense’s motion to dismiss, those being the use of excessive force (Count I), the application of bystander liability (Count II) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V) on the part of the officers involved in arresting Hill.

“The Complaint alleges sufficient facts to survive the motion to dismiss. The Defendants’ alleged use of excessive force—including, according to the pleading, repeatedly shooting Mr. Hill with a taser, dragging him into the parking lot of the Farmhouse Tavern, and beating him while he was handcuffed—may, if true, constitute intentional, extreme, and outrageous conduct. Mr. Hill further alleges severe emotional distress, as well as physical injuries resulting from Defendants’ conduct,” Pratter wrote.

Consequently, Pratter denied the defense’s motion as it related to the excessive force section of Count I, Count II and Count V.

In addition to demanding a jury trial, the plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of $150,000 in this case, along with compensatory damages, interests and court costs, in addition to any further relief the Court deems just and proper. The plaintiff’s wife Elsa, originally listed as a plaintiff alleging loss of consortium (Count VII), was removed as a plaintiff from this matter in September.

The plaintiff is representing himself pro se, after his former counsel, Edith A. Pearce of The Pearce Law Firm in Philadelphia, withdrew from the litigation in October.

The defendants are represented by Christopher Paul Boyle of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, of King of Prussia.

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-02975

More News

The Record Network