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Phillips v. County of Allegheny

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

June 26, 2007, Argued; February 5, 2008, Filed

No. 06-2869

Opinion

 [*228]  OPINION OF THE COURT

NYGAARD, Circuit Judge.

Jeanne Phillips ("Phillips"), individually and in her capacity as administrator of the estate of her son, decedent Mark Phillips, appeals the District Court's dismissal of her claims against various defendants for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ] The District Court, in deciding a motion under FED.R.CIV.P. 12(b)(6), was required to accept as true all factual  [**2] allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences from the facts alleged in the light most favorable to Phillips. Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003). Moreover, in the event a complaint fails to state a claim, unless amendment would be futile, the District Court must give a plaintiff the opportunity to amend her complaint. Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2000). Because the District Court did not follow these dictates, we will reverse in part and remand.

As is typical with state-created danger cases, the facts here are inescapably tragic. Beginning in October of 2003, Michael Michalski, who was employed by the Allegheny County 911 Call Center as a dispatcher, used his position to surreptitiously gain access to unauthorized information. Specifically, Michalski ran multiple searches of the 911 Call Center's computer network and databases in an attempt to locate the whereabouts of his former girlfriend, Gretchen Ferderbar, and her then-boyfriend, Mark Phillips. By October 19, 2003, Daniel Nussbaum, who was Michalski's supervisor, became aware of Michalski's actions and placed Michalski on a one-week suspension, but allowed Michalski to remain  [**3] on the job for a week. The day before the suspension took effect, Michalski again used the 911 Call Center's computer network and databases without  [*229]  authorization to access personal information regarding Mark Phillips. Michalski specifically accessed Mark Phillips' motor vehicle and license plate registrations in an effort to track and locate Mark Phillips' whereabouts.

During the evening hours of October 28, 2003, and the early morning hours of October 29, 2003, while on suspension, Michalski made numerous telephone calls to the 911 Call Center and spoke with Danielle Tush and Brian Craig. During those telephone calls, Michalski requested information that would assist him in locating Mark Phillips. Tush and Craig assisted Michalski, aware that they were accessing unauthorized personal information that had no relationship to their jobs as dispatchers for the 911 Call Center.

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515 F.3d 224 *; 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 2513 **

JEANNE PHILLIPS, Administratrix of the Estate of Mark Phillips, deceased, Appellant v. COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY; NORTHWEST REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS; ALLEGHENY COUNTY 9-1-1, f/k/a NORTHWEST REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS; DANIEL NUSSBAUM; DANIELLE TUSH; BRIAN CRAIG; LEONARD DEUTSCH; RYAN GING; SUSAN ZURCHER; PHILLIP CESTRA

Subsequent History: Motion granted by, in part, Motion denied by, in part, Motion denied by Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49709 (W.D. Pa., June 24, 2008)

Prior History:  [**1] On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. No. 05-cv-1502). District Judge: The Honorable Arthur J. Schwab.

Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29399 (W.D. Pa., May 15, 2006)

Disposition:  The appellate court reversed the dismissal of the co-workers and the supervisor and remanded with instructions to the district court to permit the administrator an opportunity to amend her state-created danger claims against the supervisor. The appellate court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the remaining defendants. The administrator's equal protection claim was also remanded to provide the opportunity to amend.

CORE TERMS

district court, allegations, state-created, foreseeable, set of facts, shock, dispatchers, conscience, notice, motion to dismiss, different treatment, similarly situated, complaint alleges, killed, pleaded, deliberate indifference, personal information, unauthorized, deprivation, accessed, factual allegations, entitled to relief, qualified immunity, culpability, antitrust, Appeals, grounds, equal protection claim, individual defendant, reasonable inference

Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Pleadings, Amendment of Pleadings, Leave of Court, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint, Civil Rights Law, Section 1983 Actions, Elements, Causal Relationship, Constitutional Law, Substantive Due Process, Scope, Color of State Law, General Overview, Protected Rights, Equal Protection, Nature & Scope of Protection