PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge has ruled a plaintiff inmate of Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility has alleged a valid claim of municipal liability against the prison, one of its corrections officers and the City of Philadelphia, subsequent to the claim of an assault at the officer’s hands which resulted in a broken jaw for the plaintiff.

On May 7, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Michael M. Baylson ruled plaintiff Daniel Eichelsberger provided proper proof of his Monell claim against the defendants – but did not do so as to the claim of his civil rights being violated by all of the defendants.

On Dec. 16, 2016, plaintiff Eichelsberger was an inmate at the Alternative and Special Detention Unit of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. Per the complaint, defendant Officer Stefan Wilson, a corrections officer employed at the facility, insulted the plaintiff by calling him a “junkie” drug addict and a liar. Subsequently, Wilson allegedly assaulted and battered Eichelsberger, fracturing his jaw and necessitating surgical repair.

Eichelsberger then filed a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and Wilson on Dec. 26 of last year, alleging one Monell count against the City and one count for violation of 8th and 14th Amendment rights against Wilson. Wilson answered the allegations, and the City timely filed a motion to dismiss.

On Feb. 14, Eichelsberger filed an amended complaint, which added claims against two additional defendants, Gerald May and Nancy Giannetta, wardens of the facility, in both individual and official capacities, alleging they trained their officers to assault the facility’s inmates without consequence.

Baylson explained as Count II for violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments only applies to Wilson, the City’s motion to dismiss only applies as to the Monell and civil rights violations claims, which the City believes are not adequately supported.

According to Baylson, Eichelsberger did not establish municipal liability on the Monell count either through “identifying a policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision officially adopted and promulgated by the body’s officers”, or “identifying constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental ‘custom’ even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body’s official decision-making channels.”

However, Baylson indicated Eichelsberger did provide substantiation of his claim of his constitutional violations “resulting from a [defendant’s] failure to train its employees with deliberate indifference to constitutional rights.”

“As the Third Circuit stated in Carter v. City of Philadelphia, to demonstrate deliberate indifference on the part of a municipality, a plaintiff must show that ‘(1) Municipal policymakers know that employees will confront a particular situation; (2) The situation involves a difficult choice or a history of employees mishandling; and (3) The wrong choice by an employee will frequently cause deprivation of constitutional rights,” Baylson said.

Baylson then examined each of Eichelsberger’s arguments in turn.

“As for the first of the three elements…plaintiff alleges that defendants ‘Giannetta and May enjoyed decision making authority with respect to policy and procedure and enforcement thereof.’ Plaintiff also argues that the ‘incident underlying ‘plaintiff’s civil action is a highly predictable consequence of training corrections officers improperly whenever a prisoner gets too close,” Baylson said.

“As for the second element, the situation – when an apparently upset inmate enters the proximity of a corrections officer – clearly involves a difficult choice. Here, the corrections officer twice punched the inmate in the mouth as a result of this breach of the “reactionary gap,” Baylson added.

“As for the third element, it is clear that a poor choice will frequently cause constitutional deprivations, given that unreasonable amounts of force, if used, can result in serious injury. This case, in which a corrections officer broke an inmate’s jaw, provides such an example.”

As a result, Baylson labeled Eichelsberger’s argument of municipal liability tied to the defendants’ failure to train its employees properly as sufficient.

“Therefore, plaintiff states a valid claim, at this stage of the litigation, and may proceed as to Count I, solely on a ‘failure to adequately train’ theory of Monell liability against the City,” Baylson said. “[The civil rights violation claim], insofar as it pertains to the City, Giannetta and May, will be dismissed. However, the count remains relevant as to defendant Wilson,” Baylson concluded.

The plaintiff is represented by Brandon A. Swartz and Joseph P. Guzzardo of Swartz Culleton, in Newtown.

The defendants are represented by Aaron Shotland, Assistant General Counsel of the School District of Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:17-cv-05795

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

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