Judge allows man accused of stealing his own car a chance to fix lawsuit against West Whiteland police

By Charmaine Little | Jun 12, 2019

PHILADELPHIA – A lawsuit filed by a man accused of stealing his own car against West Whiteland Township and its police department was dismissed by in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on May 28.

U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker dismissed Charles Burdsall’s suit for failure to state a claim. He sued the township; the police department; Officer Leah Cesanek, who worked on the case of the alleged stolen car; and a car auto shop that was at the center of the issue, Bulldog Rod & Custom LLC. Burdsall accused the defendants of violating his civil rights under federal law, violating his rights as an insured individual under the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, Section 8, which concerns searches and seizures. He also sued over allegations of false arrest and abuse of process.

“Having considered the complaint and the parties’ briefs, the court finds that plaintiff claims against defendant West Whiteland Police Department fail as a matter of law and, therefore, defendants’ motion to dismiss West Whiteland Police Department is granted,” Tucker wrote. 

The claims against West Whiteland Township were also dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker  

Considering a local police department can’t legally be sued with a municipality - the township in this case as the department isn’t a separate entity - the court dismissed the plaintiff's federal law claim. 

“..The West Whiteland Police Department is merely an arm of West Whiteland Township – and, therefore, a redundant party,” Tucker wrote, and the claims were dismissed.

Tucker also dismissed that count against the township since Burdsall didn’t properly make a claim.

Tucker also dismissed the state claims, referencing the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. The Act grants governmental immunity to local agencies against damage claims with the exception of factors like vehicle liability, utility service facilities and streets and sidewalks. The plaintiff did not allege any of the exemptive categories.

The judge also added that “local agencies cannot be held liable for injuries caused by their own acts or the acts of their employees that constitute ‘crime[s], actual fraud, malice, or willful misconduct.”

Tucker went on to dismiss the remaining claims and gave the plaintiff three weeks to file an amended complaint as it relates to his federal law allegations against the township.

The ruling states Burdsall’s car issues started in June 2015 when he was returning from a national car show when a tire blew out and caused damage to his vehicle. The following April, he dropped off his car at Bulldog to get an estimate on how much it would cost to fix. Bulldog worker Jim Seiple allegedly assisted him and said he’d come up with an estimate after speaking with Burdsall’s insurance company. Considering that, Burdsall left his car at Bulldog, the ruling states. 

That June, the plaintiff received a total of $3,197 checks from his insurance company. In July, Burdsall was told his insurance company covered $4,032.46, leaving a balance of $1,945.12 for Burdsall to pay. Burdsall allegedly told a Bulldog worker he’d pay the remaining balance by July 29, 2016. Burdsall then told Seiple that he spoke with his colleague and that he picked up the car but still wouldn’t have payment until the July 29. 

Without informing Burdsall, the ruling states Bulldog told the police on July 27, 2016, that Burdsall’s car was stolen. The police department informed Burdsall and told him that if he paid Bulldog by the July 29, "there would be no further issue," the ruling states. The day before the deadline, Burdsall dropped the insurance checks into the key slot. But he was told on August 6, 2016, that there were warrants issued for his arrest. Burdsall then filed this lawsuit.

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