Failed Wrongful Death Suit Won’t Cost Parents

     (CN) – A couple whose son was killed while trying to escape arrest should not pay nearly $50,000 in costs to police officers they sued unsuccessfully, a federal judge ruled.
     Sean Sullivan and two others had been arrested in March 2006 for using credit cards stolen in the armed robbery of a Chinese restaurant delivery person in Abington, Pa.
     During the arrest, 21-year-old Sean identified himself as Corey Sullivan – the name of his younger brother.
     After bailing her son out of jail, Carol Sullivan was shocked to find out that it was Sean who had been arrested, according to her deposition testimony.
     About a week later, a court issued an arrest warrant for Sean that charged him with theft, possession of a controlled substance, forgery, and other crimes. Carol was meanwhile accused of tampering with public records or information, unsworn falsification to authorities and obstructing administration.
     Both mother and son had prior records. Carol had been charged with possession of marijuana in 2005 and a driving under the influence in 1988. Sean was apparently on probation and had been incarcerated at least four times before. He had also been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and major depression.
     Sean, who had been staying with friends after getting bailed out, went to his parents’ home on March 30 and told his mother that he was going to turn himself in.
     Unaware that Sean was in the house, several Warminster Township police officers arrived at the house the next morning to arrest Carol.
     They allegedly entered the house with guns drawn, and backup from Warrington Township arrived when police dispatch reported that Sean was “barricaded in bedroom with gun.”
     As Sean climbed out of his window to escape, the officers fired 55 shots at him, six of which hit him. Sean died from the gunshot wounds.
     Sean’s parents, Carol and Bruce Sullivan, sued the officers and townships for wrongful death in October 2007. A federal judge granted some of the defendants summary judgment, and a jury cleared the rest after a trial in 2011.
     The 3rd Circuit affirmed in February 2012, and the court clerk then taxed the Sullivans with costs for the defendants – nearly $24,000 for Warrington officer John Blanchard and more than $25,000 for Warminster and several of its officers.
     U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick vacated the costs last week, rejecting a claim that the Sullivans had been too late with their motion.
     “As plaintiffs correctly observe, paragraph 99 makes it clear that Bruce Sullivan intended to bring the wrongful death claim as a co-administrator of the estate, and did not pursue this claim ‘on his own behalf,'” Surrick wrote. “Since Bruce Sullivan brought no individual claims, and was not an individual party to this case he cannot be liable for costs under Rule 54(d)(1).”
     Carol, who claims she cannot keep a job due to the post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from seeing her son’s death, need not pay either, the ruling states.
     “Ms. Sullivan will not be able to pay these costs,” Surrick wrote. “She has no income, she has no bank account, and she survives off government assistance and charity from her family. Clearly, to force Ms. Sullivan to pay costs in this matter ‘would be unduly burdensome’ both financially and emotionally.”

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