Civil Procedure • Statute of Limitations • Sexual Assault

Onuffer v. Darby Twp., PICS Case No. 14-0431 (E.D. Pa. March 6, 2014) Pratter, J. (10 pages).

In the summer of 2010, plaintiff Vanessa Onuffer alleged that co-defendant Kevin Walker, a former Darby Township police officer, visited her home multiple times without her permission, repeatedly inappropriately “invited” her to the police station because he wanted to “massage her,” and harassed her as she walked on the street late at night. Onuffer further alleged that Walker directed a fellow Darby Township police officer to take her into custody; she indicated that she was never searched by a female officer, rather Walker, in police uniform and with a gun displayed on his hip, took her to a woman’s locker room and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Onuffer stated that Walker required her to remove her clothing and “prove that [she] had nothing in [her] vagina” by requiring her to insert her finger under the guise of a supposed narcotics search. Onuffer concluded by stating Walker told her not to report his actions, saying “I don’t want to see any paperwork against me in the morning.” No charges were filed against Onuffer, and there was no record of her arrest.

Onuffer charged that co-defendants Darby Township and Robert H. Thompson, the former chief of policy for Darby Township, were liable for Walker’s conduct as he was a Darby Township police officer at the time. Specifically, Onuffer alleged that prior to the sexual assault, Thompson was on notice of multiple aspect of Walker’s misconduct. Onuffer brought four federal causes of actions: violations of her Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth constitutional rights, and failure to train/supervise.

Darby Township and Thompson moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.12(b)(6), including the operation of the statute of limitations. The moving defendants argued that her claims were time-barred because she did not file her complaint until July 19, 2013, but her claims had expired at the latest in the fall of 2012 as the alleged cause of action occurred during the summer of 2010.

The court granted dismissal of the complaint against Darby Township and Thompson as time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The constitutional claims were brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and were “governed by the personal injury statute of limitations of the state in which the cause of action occurred.” The applicable Pennsylvania state of limitations under 42 Pa.C.S.A. §5524 is two years. As Onuffer’s complaint stated that the causes of action arose in the summer of 2010 and her complaint was not filed until July 13, 2013, said claims were time-barred. Further, Onuffer claimed she was intimidated by Walker while at court in 2011; however, Walker was no longer a Darby Township police officer during that time and therefore moving defendants were not liable for his conduct. Finally, the court held the statute of limitations was not tolled as Onuffer was aware of her injury.