A woman who sued the Pennsylvania State Police after a trooper assisted with the repossession of her car has been awarded $500,000 in punitive damages by a jury in Johnstown.
Angela Hyman sued Pennsylvania State Police Corporal Bryan Devlin for civil rights violations—specifically her Fourth and 14th Amendment rights to due process and freedom from unreasonable seizures of property—stemming from an October 2016 incident in which Devlin assisted a repo man repossessing her 2014 Toyota Corolla.
The 12-member jury found that Devlin committed a “reckless, malicious, or callous” violation of Hyman’s rights by ordering her wife out of the car and threatening to break the windows in the process of assisting the repossession.
“This verdict by a group of citizens from the heartland of Pennsylvania sends a clear message to police officers around the commonwealth and beyond that they cannot take sides and help the repo man in civil repossessions,” said Andrew Milz of Flitter Milz in Narberth, Hyman’s lawyer, in a statement. “We expect our police to maintain the peace, not breach it. Our Constitution is very clear—police simply cannot take sides in a civil dispute between private parties.”
The Office of the Attorney General, which represented the state police, did not respond to a request for comment.
The plaintiff’s court papers argued, “The case exemplifies a custom of the Pennsylvania State Police unlawfully taking the side of the secured party in private civil repossessions effected without a court order. While our police are expected to keep the peace, they may not sit in judgment in their own ‘curbside courtroom’ and aid a bank to effect a non-judicial, self-help repossession.”
In court papers, the defendant argued the plaintiff had failed to state a claim.
“Plaintiff alleges the defendants assisted in depriving plaintiff of property in violation of her rights under the Constitution. Plaintiff’s claim fails for several reasons, but foremost, because it is not clear plaintiff even had a property interest in the car she offered up as collateral for a loan she admittedly failed to service,” court papers said.
The defendant continued, ” As to Corporal Bryan Devlin, requesting that plaintiff’s relationship partner, a trespasser in relation to the vehicle, exit a vehicle hooked to the back of a tow truck in order to resolve a disturbance does not rise to the level of a Constitutional violation.”
Trooper Michael Morris was a defendant but was dismissed from the litigation before the case went to verdict.