Thursday, September 21, 2006

federal courts- qualified immunity

Thomas v. Independence Township, et al. - Third Circuit - September 14, 2006

The court upheld the district court's refusal to grant defendants' 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the ground that that they had qualified immunity (q/i).

The court said that the q/I determination "must be made in light of the specific factual context of the case, and when a complaint fashioned under the simplified notice pleading standard of the Federal Rules does not provide the necessary factual predicate for such a determination, the district court should grant a defense motion...[or sua sponte order] a more definite statement regarding the facts underlying the plaintiff's claim for relief" pursuant to F.R. Civ. P. 12(e).

A "plaintiff has no pleading burden to anticipate or overcome a qualified immunity defense, and a mere absence of detailed factual allegations supporting a plaintiff's claim for relief under sec. 1983 does not warrant dismissal of the complaint or establish defendants' immunity." The court rejected defendants' "novel argument" that the complaint did not include allegations that would negate a q/i defense. This argument "conflates qualified immunity with the merits of a plaintiff's cause of action under sec. 1983," something which was rejected in Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 635-6 (1980) and re-affirmed in Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 595 (1998).

PFA - in-law "family/household member" - "abuse"

McCance v. McCance - Superior Court - September 20, 2006

in-law as "family or household member"
The court held that defendant's sister-in-law (married to his brother) had standing to bring a PFA action against him, because she was a "family or household member," that is, a person who was "related by...affinity" to the defendant. The court noted "today's world of split families burgeoning beyond the confines of local, county, and state lines...." and that "a remedial mechanism in the form of a PFA order is the appropriate vehicle to keep [ people ] "civil one toward the other." Interpreting affinity to include an in-law relationship "does not do violence to the purpose of the Act, which is to forestall escalation of disputes among family members where injury may be on the horizon."

abuse - " fear of imminent serious bodily injury "
The abuse in this case took place after a custody hearing when Plaintiff, the child's aunt, was transporting the child to Defendant's home. When she got there, Defendant initiated a confrontation during which he yelled obscenities and verbal threats at Plaintiff and struck her car so hard that $1000 in repairs were needed. The court also noted that the Defendant "had anger issues, a drinking problem and was physical with other individuals in the past." In this context, both the trial and appellate courts found that Plaintiff's fear was "real, reasonable and imminent which warrants protection under the PFA Act....[V]erbal chiding, intimidating demeanor (blocking [plaintiff's] vehicular access), threat of retaliation, and striking of [plaintiff's] vehicle to the point of damaging it coalesce to constitute abusive behavior prohibited by 23 Pa. C.S. 6102(a)(2) (...placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury....As a result, the issuance of the PFA order was proper."