Sullivan v. Warminster Twp.

Decision Date15 March 2011
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 07–4447.
Citation765 F.Supp.2d 687
PartiesCarol A. SULLIVAN and Bruce Sullivan, individually and as co-administrators of the estate of Sean Sullivan,v.WARMINSTER TOWNSHIP, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania


Jason P. Gosselin, Elizabeth L. McLachlan, Katherine L. Villanueva, Richard M. Haggerty, Jr., Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Plaintiffs.Christopher Paul Boyle, Joseph J. Santarone, Jr., Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, King of Prussia, PA, for Defendants.


SURRICK, District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Defendants Warminster Township, Chief Michael Murphy, James McCaffrey, Daniel Leporace, Christopher Springfield, Sean Harold, Ron Szymborski and Casey Byrne's Partial Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 49), and the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants, Warrington Township, Chief James Miller, Officer Quentin Fuller, and Officer John Blanchard (ECF No. 50). For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions will be granted in part and denied in part.


On March 31, 2006, 21–year–old Sean Sullivan was shot by police officers from the Warminster Township Police Department and the Warrington Township Police Department after he climbed out of a window in his mother's home attempting to escape arrest. (Pls.' Resp. 1–2, ECF No. 53.) Sean Sullivan died as a result of the gunshot wounds. ( Id.) Sean's parents, Plaintiffs Carol and Bruce Sullivan, filed this lawsuit on October 24, 2007, alleging constitutional violations by the officers and the municipalities as well as violations of Pennsylvania state law.1 (Compl., ECF No. 1.) The record in this case establishes the following facts and circumstances surrounding the incident that gave rise to this lawsuit.

On March 13, 2006, a delivery person for a Chinese restaurant was robbed at gunpoint by four people. (Defs.' Mot. Ex. C at 1, ECF No. 49.) The Affidavit of Probable Cause for the arrest warrant alleges that Sean Sullivan participated in the robbery and was known to carry a black handgun with him at all times. ( Id. at 2.) The Affidavit further alleges that Sean and two others were arrested by the Abington Police Department on March 15, 2006, for fraudulently using credit cards that were stolen in the March 13 robbery. ( Id.) During the arrest, Sean identified himself to the police officers as Corey Sullivan, which is the name of his younger brother. (Warminster Defs.' Mot. Ex. J. at 8.) After receiving a call from Sean, Carol Sullivan went to the police station ostensibly to bail out her son Corey. (Sullivan Dep. 104:18–105:18, Pls.' Resp. Ex. A.) After Carol paid the bail and signed the appropriate papers, Sean was released and met his mother at her car. ( Id. at 111:10–112:24.) When Carol realized that it was Sean who had been arrested and not Corey, she exclaimed “Oh, my God” repeatedly, and the two of them drove away. ( Id. at 112:21–113:7.) Carol admonished Sean that she was going to tell the court that it was Sean rather than Corey who had been arrested for using the stolen credit cards. She told him, “You have to go back and do the right thing. You can't get your brother in trouble.” ( Id. at 113:21–24.)

This incident was not Sean's first encounter with the criminal-justice system. He had previously been incarcerated on at least four different occasions. He was incarcerated in the Montgomery County prison three times and in the Bucks County prison once. (Sullivan Dep. 37:24–38:9.) Sean had also spent time in the Edison juvenile facility, and he was on probation at the time of this incident.2 ( Id. 38:10–15.)

On March 24, 2006, a warrant was issued for Sean's arrest.3 (Pls.' Resp. Ex. C at 1–4.) The warrant charged Sean with criminal attempt, forgery, access device fraud, theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, receiving stolen property, possession of controlled substance, tampering with records or identification, false swearing, unsworn falsification, false identification to law enforcement, and obstructing administration of law. ( Id. at 11–12.) At the same time an arrest warrant was issued for Carol Sullivan charging her with tampering with public records or information, unsworn falsification to authorities, and obstructing administration of law. ( Id. at 7.) These charges were the result of Carol bailing out her son Corey, who in fact turned out to be Sean.4

For the two weeks following Sean's release on bail, he stayed with friends. ( Id. at 201:7–13.) He returned to the Sullivan home on March 30, 2006. ( Id. at 117:17–19.) Sean told Carol that he had called his probation officer and was going to turn himself in at noon the following day. ( Id. at 117:22–118:3.) He spent the night at the Sullivan house. ( Id. at 117:17–118:16.)

At 6:23 am the next morning, Lieutenant Christopher Springfield, Corporal Casey Byrne, and Officers Sean Harold, Ron Szymborski, Jim McCaffrey and Dan Leporace of Warminster Township arrived at the Sullivan home to serve an arrest warrant on Carol Sullivan. (Warminster Defs.' Mot. Ex. B at 1.) The primary purpose of taking Carol into custody was to enlist her help in finding Sean. (Murphy Dep. 27:7–23, Pls.' Resp. Ex. G.) The police were not aware that Sean was at his mother's house when they arrived to serve the warrant on Carol. (Springfield Dep. 29:24–30:10, Pls.' Resp. Ex. F.) Warminster Police Chief Michael Murphy testified that he did not think it was necessary to put together either a written or “hasty” arrest plan for Carol, as is typically done when the Warminster police department is preparing to serve an arrest warrant on a suspect. (Murphy Dep. 39:6–9, 44:17–23.) Five of the six officers who went to serve the warrant on Carol were in plainclothes, with only Officer Byrne in uniform. ( Id. at 110:7–10.)

McCaffrey and Leporace took up positions in the rear of the houses immediately adjacent to the Sullivan residence. (McCaffrey Dep. 23:5–10, Pls.' Resp. Ex. K; Leporace Dep. 13:6–15, Pls.' Resp. Ex. L.) Byrne took up a position at the front corner of the Sullivan property, while Springfield, Harold, and Szymborski approached the front door. (Byrne Dep. 25:1–26:9, Pls.' Resp. Ex. O.) Harold knocked hard on the front door. (Harold Dep. 70:23–71:6, Pls.' Resp. Ex. N.) When Carol looked out the window in her door, she saw three officers pointing their guns at her door. (Sullivan Dep. 121:12–19.) She testified that when she opened the door, the officers entered, with Springfield saying “Shut the fuck up, you stupid bitch.” ( Id. at 123:6–9, 125:4–10.) Springfield knocked Carol on the floor, picked her up, threw her on the couch, and asked, “Who the fuck's in this house?” ( Id. at 127:5–24.) Carol indicated that Sean was in the bedroom. ( Id. at 128:8–17.) An officer handcuffed Carol, and she was moved to the kitchen floor. ( Id. at 134:17–136:7.)

Upon hearing the scuffle, Sean said through his bedroom door, “Leave my mom alone. She didn't do anything.” ( Id. at 136:10–14.) Carol testified that an officer responded by saying, “Oh, what? You have a gun?” ( Id. at 137:2–4.) Carol exclaimed, “That's not what he said.” ( Id.) The police dispatch report indicates at 6:27 am: “SUBJ[ECT] BARACADED [sic] IN BEDROOM WITH GUN.” 5 (Warminster Defs.' Mot. Ex. B at 1.) Springfield declared a barricade (Springfield Dep. 64:3–9), and Carol was removed in handcuffs to a waiting police car some distance from the house. (Sullivan Dep. 138:13–18.) Harold took up a position at the right rear corner of the Sullivan property. (Harold Dep. 46:21–47:3.) McCaffrey and Leporace were already positioned in the backyards of the properties that are adjacent to the Sullivan property. (McCaffrey Dep. 23:5–10; Leporace Dep. 13:6–15.) Springfield created a “hasty command post” in a police cruiser, which he pulled around the corner of Locust and Chestnut Streets, out of Sean's sight. (Springfield Dep. 65:2–70:21.) Byrne and Szymborski took up positions at the front corners of the Sullivan property. (Szymborski Dep. 46:6–11, Pls.' Resp. Ex. H; Byrne Dep. 32:18–24.)

Once the police had taken their positions around the Sullivan residence, all three officers in the backyard communicated with Sean. Harold testified that he had instructed Sean to come out, although it was Sean who initiated the communication. (Harold Dep. 47:9–16.) Leporace saw Sean stick his head out the window and told him to come out with his hands up. (Leporace Dep. 17:22–18:15.) McCaffrey ordered Sean to come out the front door. (McCaffrey Dep. 34:2–35:2.) David Cook, a neighbor, described the officers as being “at a very elevated level of excitement. They were very agitated in their movements. One of them in particular was very antsy, very agitated, was obviously very eager to have a conversation with whoever it was.” (Cook Dep. 14:9–17, Pls.' Resp. Ex. R.) Another neighbor, Robert Franks, testified that the officers were encouraging Sean to come out, and Sean replied, “if I come out, you're going to shoot me.” (R. Franks Dep. 114:18–23, Pls.' Resp. Ex. M; see also K. Franks Dep. 24:5–11, Pls.' Resp. Ex. T.) The police dispatch report indicates that the officers were talking to Sean and “trying to get him to come out,” and Sean was “egging [the officers] on” and “saying he wants to hurt police.” (Warminster Defs.' Mot. Ex. B at 1–2.) Neighbor Kelly Franks testified that she did not hear Sean say anything other than that he feared he would be shot if he came out. (K. Franks Dep. 26:4–9.)

Warrington Police Officers Blanchard and Fuller arrived on the scene at approximately 6:32 am. (Warminster Defs.' Mot. Ex. B at 1.) Both Blanchard and Fuller are members of the Bucks County Central Emergency Response Team, a unit that is trained to deal with emergency situations such as the one unfolding at the Sullivan residence. (Blanchard Dep. 102:2–21, Pls.' Resp. Ex. U.) Blanchard ran along the back fence of the Sullivan property and took up a position next to McCaffrey...

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