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Estate of Arrington v. Michael

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

December 24, 2013

THE ESTATE OF ANDREA YVONNE ARRINGTON, Deceased, by and through the Administratrix of the Estate, Audra L. Thornton Arrington
v.
JOHN MICHAEL, Police Officer; CITY OF CHESTER John Michael, Appellant

Argued October 17, 2013

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 11-cv-4534) District Judge: Hon. J. Curtis Joyner

Suzanne McDonough [ARGUED] Holsten & Associates, Counsel for Appellant

Frank N. DiMeo, Jr. [ARGUED] James D. Rosen Rosen, Schafer & DiMeo, Counsel for Appellee

Before: RENDELL, JORDAN and LIPEZ [*] , Circuit Judges.

OPINION

JORDAN, Circuit Judge.

In this substantive due process action involving the murder of a young woman, Officer John Michael of the Chester, Pennsylvania, police force appeals the denial of summary judgment by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He claims both qualified and statutory immunity. Since his conduct falls squarely within the immunity established by the Child Safety Lock Act of 2005, 18 U.S.C. § 922(z)(3), we need not address his claim for qualified immunity and will reverse the decision of the District Court with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

On July 20, 2009, Michael's son Aaron shot Andrea Arrington eight times, killing her. It was the tragic culmination of an abusive relationship. Aaron used his father's service-issued Smith & Wesson handgun in the murder.

Arrington and Aaron had lived together in an apartment with their infant son from 2007 to July 2, 2009, when Arrington petitioned for and obtained a temporary protection from abuse order (the "PFA") against Aaron. The order described Aaron's history of violence against Arrington, including incidents of choking, slapping, and, on one occasion two years prior to the PFA's issuance, giving Arrington a black eye. Those assaults were not the only illegality in Aaron's past. He had a criminal history that included check fraud (for which he was serving probation at the time he murdered Arrington), intimidation of another woman with whom he had a child, and shoplifting as a juvenile. He had also been charged with "indecent assault/rape" but was eventually found not guilty. (App. at 408.) Michael was aware of his son's several encounters with the law.[1] Although Aaron was a legal adult, he continued to have a room in his father's home, to drive his father's truck, and to receive mail at his father's address.

After the temporary PFA was issued, Michael met with Aaron to discuss the PFA. Aaron considered the order to be inaccurate and told Michael that he would go to court on July 9, as required, to contest it in person. Michael advised Aaron that, in the meantime, he should not try to retrieve his personal belongings from Arrington's apartment unless escorted by police officers. On July 9, 2009, a final PFA was entered in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, which extended the terms of the temporary PFA by six months. Pursuant to the final PFA, Aaron was evicted from the apartment and forbidden from possessing firearms.

On July 14, 2009 – five days after the final PFA was issued and less than a week before the murder – Aaron violated the PFA by returning to Arrington's apartment and threatening to "cut her up" if she reported the violation. (Appellee's Br. at 6; App. at 147.) Despite that threat, Arrington promptly called the police. Chester Police Officer William Swanson was on patrol and responded to the call, which became the subject of a criminal complaint that Swanson filed against Aaron the next day. An arrest warrant for Aaron issued several days later, on July 20, 2009.

Soon after Aaron left Arrington's apartment on July 14, Michael received a phone call from one of Aaron's friends, stating that Aaron had violated the PFA. Michael subsequently contacted Captain Anita Amaro, the chief of the Chester Police Department, to find out "[w]hat was going on." (App. at 424.) The Captain confirmed that Aaron had violated the PFA and that a warrant would soon be issued for his arrest; she also provided Michael a copy of Officer Swanson's complaint. Although Michael then attempted to call his son several times, he was unable to reach him.

With a planned vacation to Florida only days away and his son still out of contact, Michael resorted to writing Aaron two notes on July 16. He left the notes for Aaron on his dining room table, alongside Aaron's mail, hoping that Aaron would see them when he came over to pick up the mail. The notes reveal Michael pleading with Aaron to turn himself in. In the first note, Michael said that Aaron's violation was "not that serious" and that, if Aaron cooperated with the police, Michael would not only pay him a "bonus" of $1, 500 but also post his bail. (Id. at 225.) At the same time, he asked Aaron to return his truck or else he would report it "stolen/or missing." (Id. at 244.) In the second note, Michael noted that, in the "worse scenario, " Aaron would have to go to jail but that plenty of other people have been locked up. (Id. at 226.) Michael also claimed that, because he was a police officer, Aaron would get "a courtesy break." (Id.) In fact, he said, he had already spoken to people about Aaron's situation. (Id. at 226-27.) Fatefully, Michael also ...


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