False Arrest • Malicious Prosecution • §1983 Claims • Exculpatory Evidence

Segers v. Williams, PICS Case No. 14-0168 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 27, 2014) Brody, J. (12 pages).

The district attorney defendants filed a motion to dismiss under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against the Philadelphia District Attorney and several assistant district attorneys as well as state tort claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution arising from his prosecution for driving under the influence and possession of marijuana. Motion to dismiss granted.

Segers was pulled over for driving with a broken side window. The officer who made the stop smelled marijuana smoke and observed empty narcotics packaging next to the driver’s seat and smoked marijuana cigarettes in the ash tray. Segers was arrested, his blood tested for the presence of controlled substances, and he was charged with possession of marijuana and driving under the influence of marijuana.

The trial was scheduled for July 22, 2011 but on that day, the prosecution asked for a continuance because the results of the blood test were not available. The trial was rescheduled for September 19, 2011. The DA’s office received the blood test results, which were negative for all substances, on July 29, 2011. Despite requests from defense counsel, the prosecution did not give the test results to the defense until September 14, 2011. At the September 19th court proceeding the DA’s office withdrew the charges The prosecution’s failure to turn over the exculpatory blood results for more than 40 days allowed Seger to remain in prison for that time which caused him to lose his job, his apartment, and miss the funeral of close family members.

Actions relating to a prosecutor’s handling and presentation of evidence are squarely within a prosecutor’s advocacy function and are thus, entitled to absolute immunity. Such immunity extends even to situations in which the prosecution allegedly deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence. The timing of a prosecutor’s disclosure of exculpatory evidence is intimately connected to the prosecution’s role as an advocate for the state and is entitled to absolute immunity. Here the ADAs did convey the exculpatory evidence to the defense counsel prior to trial and they are absolutely immune to liability under §1983. Seger’s argument that Schneyder v. Smith, 653 F.3d 313 (3d Cir. 2011) applies to his case fails because his case does not involve a material witness or an administrative duty report. Additionally, the prosecution did not violate the court’s order to share the blood test results.

The DA is also immune from Seger’s claims because any personal involvement he would have had with the exculpatory evidence would implicate his advocacy function. Additionally he is immune from Seger’s failure to supervise or train claim as a result of Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 555 U.S. 355 (2009), in which the Supreme Court granted absolute immunity against a failure to train claim because allegedly defective training concerns tasks related to a prosecutor’s basic trial duties and advocacy function.