Date of Verdict: September 19.
Court and Case No.:U.S.D.C.E.D.Pa. No. 5:10-cv-06815-JKG.
Judge: Henry S. Perkin.
Type of Action: Civil rights.
Injuries: Emotional distress.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Mary Catherine Roper, American Civil Liberties Foundation of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Jonathan H. Feinberg, Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, Philadelphia; Valerie A. Burch, The Shagin Law Group, Harrisburg.
Defense Counsel: Susan Dein Bricklin, U.S. Department of Justice, Philadelphia; Andrew B. Adair, Deasey, Mahoney, Valentini & North, Media, Pa.; Kirsten A. Daubler and Colin A. Kisor, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.; Thomas M. Caffrey, Lehigh County Department of Law, Allentown, Pa.
Comment: On the afternoon of November 20, 2008, plaintiff Ernesto Galarza, 34, was working construction on a house near N. Sixth and Monroe streets in Allentown.
According to an opinion subsequently filed by the court, the contractor directing the work apparently was also selling cocaine from the job site. On the date in question, the contractor allegedly sold cocaine to Allentown Police Detective Christie Correa, who was working undercover. After the sale to Correa had been completed, police arrived at the scene and arrested the contractor, two other men, and Galarza. Galarza was subsequently charged with conspiring with the contractor and the other two arrestees to deliver cocaine in violation of Pennsylvania state law. At 8 p.m. that evening, Galarza was transported from the Allentown Police Department to the Lehigh County Prison, where his bail on the drug charge was set at $15,000.
According to court papers, sometime during the evening of November 20, Correa contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to convey information regarding her arrest of Galarza and the other three individuals. Correa told the ICE officer with whom she spoke — either ICE Deportation Officer Mark Szalczyk or Officer Gregg Marino — that she had arrested four individuals (including Galarza) on drug charges earlier that afternoon. According to court papers, Correa stated to the ICE officer that she believed all four men had given false information about their identities and/or were foreign nationals. Correa gave the ICE officer the information contained on each arrestee’s booking sheet.
Galarza claimed in court documents that he was detained at Lehigh County Prison over the weekend, and he did not learn that he was being held on an immigration detainer until he was at breakfast in the prison November 24. At that time, he reportedly was informed by a prison counselor that the detainer concerned his immigration status. Galarza, who according to court papers was born in New Jersey and is of Puerto Rican heritage, protested the immigration detainer to the counselor and asked the counselor to check the identification information in his wallet, which was stored at the prison. The prison counselor declined to do so, claimed Galarza.
Shortly thereafter, two ICE officers met with and interviewed Galarza. Galarza claimed that he was questioned by the ICE officers and again provided his date of birth and Social Security number. The ICE officers left and when they returned, they informed Galarza that the detainer was being lifted. On November 24, at 2:05 p.m., Galarza’s immigration detainer was lifted, and he was released from the Lehigh County Prison at 8:28 p.m.
Galarza sued Correa, Szalczyk, Marino, the city of Allentown, and Lehigh County for alleged violations of his constitutional rights. The suit was consolidated with a separate action that Galarza filed against the federal government, under the Federal Tort Claims Act; the federal government settled with Galarza in the amount of $25,000 July 30. Prior to that settlement, Szalczyk, Marino and Lehigh County were dismissed from the case. (Stephanie Fritzges, an ICE agent who had also been included as a defendant during the litigation, was also dismissed.)
The litigation then proceeded against Correa and the city of Allentown.
Counsel for Galarza argued that Correa’s actions had caused Galarza to be deprived of his liberty, and thus amounted to a seizure of person. It was further contended that her actions had been arbitrary and capricious, and without legitimate or rational basis; that her actions were based on Galarza’s ethnicity; and that her actions failed to provide Galarza with due process of law.
Correa and the city of Allentown denied the allegations and denied that any wrongdoing was committed against Galarza.
In his amended complaint, Galarza alleged that because of his imprisonment, he lost a part-time job, lost wages from both his part-time and full-time job, and suffered both emotional distress and physical problems.
His suit sought to recover unspecified amounts of compensatory and punitive damages.
The action concluded prior to discovery when the city of Allentown agreed to settle the action’s remaining claims for $25,000.
This report is based on court documents and on information that was provided by plaintiffs counsel and by defense counsel for Lehigh County. Defense counsel for the government, Szalczyk and Marino declined to contribute. Defense counsel for Correa and the city of Allentown did not respond to phone calls.
— This report first appeared in VerdictSearch Pennsylvania, a publication of ALM. •