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Public Entity and Civil Rights Litigation

Our firm has over 20 years of experience in handling public entity liability matters in civil courts. A significant strength of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin is the regional representation we provide insurers and self-insureds. The practice group defends public entities in the state and federal courts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida, Delaware, Ohio and New York, and in the various administrative agencies.
Public entity liability encompasses a broad range of claims against local governments and townships, including claims against police departments, zoning boards and school districts. Our attorneys have defended local governments against claims of:

  • Excessive force by police
  • Improper police pursuit
  • Failure to maintain real estate or highways
  • Negligent design of roads
  • Inadequate traffic control devices

Members of our firm have also defended zoning boards in:

  • Land use claims
  • Claims arising from political or racial discrimination

Our representation of school districts has included:

  • Claims alleging improper student discipline
  • Inappropriate student contact
  • School bus accidents
  • Claims arising under the Rehabilitation Act
  • Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act

The Public Entity Liability Practice Group has also handled various employment liability matters on behalf of governmental agencies, such as:

  • Claims of violation of the Police Tenure Act
  • Claims of discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Age Discrimination in Employment Act
  • Family Medical Leave Act
  • Title VII
  • Other federal and state statutes

Our civil rights practice involves defending claims that allege deprivation of an individual's civil rights by a public entity. Such claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 and may be "stand alone" claims brought by third parties or employees and may be combined with claims of employment discrimination.
We handle every case with a practical, results-oriented approach that balances strong representation with realistic cost containment. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you in handling your public entity and civil rights litigation. We are also available to give presentations and conduct training seminars at your location or ours.
Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin serves clients in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale and communities throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, Florida and New York.


Jul 25, 2019
We obtained summary judgment on behalf of four police officers accused of excessive force. ​An 87-year-old woman called 911 when she saw the plaintiff, whom she did not know, sitting in his car in her driveway. The four officers arrived to...
Apr 11, 2019
We obtained summary judgment in favor of a borough, its police chief, a detective, a lieutenant and a school resource officer in a civil rights lawsuit. ​The plaintiff, a local high school teacher, alleged that no probable cause existed to charge...
Apr 11, 2019
We obtained summary judgment in favor of a town and several of its police officers in an excessive force and malicious prosecution case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff and his family were in...
Apr 11, 2019
The plaintiff, a sophisticated commercial real estate developer, brought constitutional claims against a New Jersey borough and its planning board’s engineer, alleging inverse condemnation and violations of due process relating to a 14-acre...
Dec 31, 2018
We obtained dismissal of our clients, a local police department and two of its detectives, on a motion to dismiss. The plaintiff, who had been acquitted of the sexual assault of an emotionally disturbed teenage girl, sued the detectives and their...
Dec 1, 2017
The defense obtained a unanimous, precedential decision in the Third Circuit reversing a federal district court’s denial of qualified immunity for our police officer clients. The plaintiff was a passenger in a car struck by a bullet fired by...
Dec 1, 2017
The plaintiff was engaged in a drug transaction on the street when uniformed officers who were watching approached him from a block away. When the plaintiff jumped into his car and sped away through residential streets in the middle of the day, the...
Dec 1, 2017
Our client, a local planning commission, was sued for allegedly taking too long to approve a zoning permit for the establishment of a restaurant. The plaintiffs filed a single-count complaint, seeking damages for willful and intentional conduct on...
Dec 1, 2017
Obtained a dismissal on behalf of our clients, a Fire Department and two of its firefighters, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. At the direction of the Borough Code Enforcement, the Fire Department inspected the...
Dec 1, 2017
The plaintiff brought claims of excessive force against one of two police officers and claims of assault and battery against the other officer. The incident in question occurred during a traffic stop. The plaintiff bore a strong resemblance to, and...



Law Alerts July 1, 2013
The plaintiff's retaliation claim under the First Amendment failed as a matter of law as the record supported the district court's conclusion that it was the plaintiff's "aggressive and confrontational behavior," not her "..., Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts July 1, 2013
The plaintiffs' decedent was a passenger in a vehicle that was fleeing from a police vehicle. During the course of the pursuit, the operator of the fleeing vehicle lost control, left the road and struck a house, resulting in injuries causing the..., Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts July 1, 2013
High school students Brittany and Emily Morrow and their parents Bradley and Diedre Morrow brought this action against Blackhawk School District and Blackhawk High School's Assistant Principal, Barry Balaski, claiming Brittany and Emily were..., Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts July 1, 2013
The court dismissed the plaintiff’s Section 1983 failure-to-train claim against the New Jersey State Police Colonel Fuentes because the plaintiff could not point to any specific official policy, custom or decision that resulted in racial..., Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts July 1, 2013
The plaintiff brought an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that the defendants, members of the Philadelphia SWAT team, were liable under the Fourth Amendment for unlawful seizure, false arrest, excessive force and failure to..., Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts July 1, 2013
The plaintiff was injured driving his motorcycle in Philadelphia when he collided with a woman who was attempting to traverse a twelve-lane boulevard after dismounting a bus that had been operated by defendant, Southeastern Pennsylvania..., Case Law Alerts, 3rd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts April 11, 2013
The plaintiff, an inmate in a state correctional institute, filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging that prison defendants violated his First Amendment right to access the courts by failing to timely deliver his notice of..., Case Law Alerts - 2nd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts April 11, 2013
The plaintiff filed an action seeking a judgment declaring the defendant-school district and its custodian of records in violation of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and in violation of the common law right of access to public records. The..., Case Law Alerts - 2nd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts April 11, 2013
The plaintiff parent sued the school district in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, alleging various constitutional violations arising from the district's operation of a basketball..., Case Law Alerts - 2nd Quarter 2013
Law Alerts January 11, 2013
The plaintiff submitted a request seeking documents showing names and addresses of all licensed dog and cat owners in Fair Lawn, including all dog and cat applications or licenses on file, in order to mail literature endorsing animal-friendly..., Case Law Alert - 1st Quarter 2013


January 19, 2017
Candace D. Embry, associate in the Philadelphia office of  Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, has been elected to the Board of Directors of Philadelphia VIP, where she will serve as Board Secretary. Philadelphia VIP is a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and supports...
November 18, 2013
Obtained summary judgment, affirmed on appeal in the Commonwealth Court, for a police officer, his supervisor and the police department in a case involving police pursuit that ended in a fatal crash. The case changed the law in Pennsylvania, as the court held for the first time, "There is no duty...
July 30, 2013
Scott G. Dunlop, shareholder and managing attorney of the Pittsburgh office of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, has been elected to membership of the Academy of Trial Lawyers of Allegheny County. The organization is devoted to promoting the highest standards of integrity, civility and...
Conference May 5, 2013
More lives, property, and working hours are lost to police pursuits and accidents than almost any other cause. Speaking from the perspective of a retired police officer, who now defends such officers in federal and state lawsuits, this presentation...
Conference Jul 13, 2014
Christopher P. Boyle and John P. Gonzales will be featured speakers at the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Centennial Conference. On July 14, Chris will present "Civil Litigation Boot Camp for New Police Chiefs," and John will present,...
Seminar Jul 23, 2018
Police canine handlers and supervisors must clearly understand their roles and responsibilities as they, along with their municipal employer, may face a potentially high liability exposure particularly when there is a lack of clear canine...
Conference Apr 18, 2019
The PRIMA Conference offers more than 50 educational sessions addressing areas such as employee benefits/human resources, enterprise risk management, legal and regulatory, management and administration, pools, risk control, risk management,...
Conference Jul 14, 2019
For more information, click here.


Joseph J. Santarone Jr.
Chair, Public Entity & Civil Rights Practice Group
(215) 575-2626

Additional Contacts

Scott G. Dunlop
Office Managing Attorney
(412) 803-1144

Related Practice Areas

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