Drunken Fireman Crash May Leave Town Liable

     (CN) – A Pennsylvania township may have “turned a blind eye” when an underage but drunken fire chief crashed a truck after a parade, seriously injuring another firefighter, a federal judge ruled.
     Stuart Mintz claims that Zachary Romano, assistant fire chief at North Bangor Fire Co., had dragged him along on July 10, 2010, for a fireman’s parade in Tatamy, Pa., about 13 miles away from their Upper Mount Bethel Township fire house.
     Romano was 20 years old but allegedly drinking alcohol at the time. As he drove in a tanker truck to the parade, Romano stopped to buy beer, which he drank while driving, at the parade, and at the post-parade celebration, Mintz claimed.
     Afterward, Romano allegedly ordered all other North Bangor firefighters present to return to the fire hall in their assigned trucks.
     Mintz said Romano made it 3 miles before losing control of his truck at a turn, flipping it on its side until it came to rest on the shoulder.
     After suffering serious injuries in the crash, Mintz and his wife Paula sued the fire company, township, Romano and other individual officials.
     While Romano has answered the action, the township and Edward Nelson, who chairs of the board of supervisors, move to dismiss all claims against them.
     Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel stripped the complaint last month, saying Mintz could not pursue claims for violations of his “various” constitutional rights under Section 1983. He found that count duplicative of Mintz’s claims for violations of his rights under the First and 14th Amendments, which he then dismissed against Romano.
     “Here, there is no allegation – nor would one make any sense – that Mr. Romano intentionally crashed the tanker truck he was driving in an effort to seize his passenger, Mr. Mintz,” Stengel wrote (emphasis in original). “Plaintiffs effectively concede this point throughout their complaint, and they cannot advance their Fourth Amendment claim by pointing only to Mr. Mintz’s injuries.”
     Those constitutional claims will also not follow the township, Nelson, and the other moving defendants: the fire company; its president, Christopher Louszko; and Fire Chief Frederick Farleigh.
     Stengel said Nelson must still face supervisory liability claims, saying “any direction by Mr. Nelson must have been the proximate cause of Mr. Romano’s unconstitutional conduct.”
     Romano is off the hook on that claim, however, as well as state-created danger claims.
     Stengel also refused to let Mintz sue Upper Mount Bethel under Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, which leaves municipalities liable if “an individual with final policymaking authority for the municipality (on the subject in question) caused the constitutional deprivation.”
     “Plaintiffs’ custom-based Monell allegations, thin as they are, warrant discovery,” Stengel wrote. “Suffice it to say at this early stage that plaintiffs have alleged a rampant practice of on-duty alcohol abuse, including drunk driving, by company firefighters, to which township and Mr. Nelson, in their collective role as manager of company’s affairs, turned a blind eye. While I share township’s concerns regarding the viability of these claims, I find they are more appropriately addressed on a full record. Plaintiffs’ policy-based Monell claims against township are therefore dismissed without prejudice, but count IV [municipal liability] otherwise survives.”

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