A federal judge has ruled that a township treasurer doubling as a supervisor can’t be held liable for a police officer’s alleged assault on a resident.
U.S. District Judge William W. Caldwell of the Middle District of Pennsylvania tossed Perry County resident and plaintiff Gary L. Korth’s civil rights case against Oliver Township supervisor Jill Hoover. Caldwell held that Hoover could not be held liable for the alleged actions of the officer because she did not supervise him.
Korth originally sued another supervisor, Joseph R. Baker, along with Hoover. Baker was eventually let out of the case and several of Korth’s claims were dismissed, leaving only two counts solely against Hoover: a federal excessive force claim and a state-law assault and battery claim. The officer in question, Mark Botts, is deceased.
According to Caldwell’s opinion, Korth went to the township office to review its ledgers out of concern over how the township was paying its bills. Korth alleged that he was approached by Botts in Hoover’s office and told to leave. Korth said he refused and claimed that Botts struck him several times and kneed him in the groin. He alleged Hoover ignored his cries for help.
Hoover called the state police. Afterward, Trooper Ryan French interviewed Korth, according to Caldwell, and reported that he could not recall Korth stating that he was injured. Caldwell said Korth drove himself to the hospital, complaining of chest pains, but did not wait long enough to be seen by a doctor.
In Hoover’s response to Korth’s lawsuit, she argued that a single township supervisor can’t be liable for an excessive force claim when the board of supervisors as a whole is responsible for hiring and paying officers.
“We agree with defendant that she cannot be liable on the excessive force claim because she was not Botts’ supervisor at the time of the altercation,” Caldwell said. “There is nothing in the record establishing that individual supervisors were given supervisory authority over Botts; there is only the statutory authority conferred on the board of supervisors to ‘provide for the organization and supervision … of … police officers.’ Without supervisory authority, Hoover cannot be liable for Botts’ actions.”
Korth also argued that Hoover violated his rights because she knew of complaints in another county that Botts handed out business cards for a “men’s club,” Caldwell said.
“Plaintiff argues that knowledge of these complaints and Hoover’s failure to do anything about them establishes her personal involvement in Botts’ conduct. But we fail to see the connection,” Caldwell said. “Plaintiff’s argument, although couched as one dealing with personal involvement, appears to be an attempt to resurrect a claim that Hoover is liable because she established and maintained a policy, practice or custom that directly caused the constitutional harm.”
Caldwell further ruled that Hoover did not commit assault and battery.
“First, Hoover, as an individual, was not Botts’ superior. Second, the evidence cannot be interpreted in the way plaintiff does,” Caldwell said. ”We believe the record shows that Hoover did not instruct or encourage Botts in his actions.”
The township’s lawyer, Jeffrey B. Rettig, and Korth’s attorney, Roger R. Laguna, did not respond to requests for comment.
P.J. D’Annunzio can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @PJDannunzioTLI.