Black v. County of Montgomery, No. 15-3399 (3d Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
A post-settlement possession addendum allowed Black’s mother to remove her possessions from the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania home she had sold two days earlier, while the buyer’s contractors upgraded the wiring. A fire broke out while Black, her mother, and the electricians were working in the house. Deputy Fire Marshal Hand disassembled the electrical outlet where the fire had started and concluded that the fire was intentional and was not an electrical fire. Hand did not preserve the outlet; Hand intentionally misrepresented his findings to support the proposition that the outlet had no power. Others, relying on Hand without conducting an inspection, concluded the damage was caused by an open flame, not by the electrical outlet. During an interrogation, officers accused Black of setting the fire. Black returned home to California, but returned for her arraignment and, as required, at 13 subsequent proceedings. Black’s expert, Lentini, concluded that the fire was unequivocally electrical, not arson. Hand and the prosecutor refused to communicate with Lentini. Black was acquitted. The district court dismissed her suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit vacated. Considering the totality of the circumstances alleged, Black sufficiently alleged that her liberty was intentionally restrained by the defendants. Black’s acquittal does not preclude her claim that the defendants intentionally fabricated evidence in violation of the due process clause.