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COOPER v. CITY OF CHESTER

December 8, 1992

DAVID COOPER
v.
CITY OF CHESTER; OFFICER FONTAINE, individually and as a police officer for the City of Chester; OFFICER BRISCOE, individually and as a police officer for the City of Chester; JOHN DOE and RICHARD ROE, individually and as police officers of the City of Chester, the identity and number of whom is presently unknown to the plaintiff; TOWNSHIP OF ASTON; JOHN DOE and RICHARD ROE, individually and as police officers of the Township of Aston, the identity and number of whom is presently unknown to the plaintiff



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BY THE COURT; JAMES T. GILES

 GILES, J.

 December 8, 1992

 I. INTRODUCTION

 The complaint alleges facts as follows. Plaintiff was arrested at his place of employment in August 1990 by defendants Fontaine and Briscoe, who are police officers for defendant City of Chester, and by an unnamed police officer from defendant Township of Aston. He was arrested pursuant to a warrant bearing his name. At the time of his arrest he informed the arresting officers that several years earlier he had been wrongfully arrested because his name was the same or similar to the criminal being sought, and told the officers that they were making the same mistake again. He relayed the same information to police officers at the Chester Police Department, where he was taken after his arrest, again to no avail. After plaintiff spent six hours in jail, defendants realized that they had arrested the wrong man, and released him.

 As a result of these events, plaintiff filed the above captioned action in this court on July 10, 1992. He seeks relief against the arresting officers and their employers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state law tort theories. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on September 28, 1992. *fn1" For the reasons stated below, we grant the defendants' motion in part and deny it in part.

 II. FICTITIOUSLY NAMED DEFENDANTS

 III. FEDERAL CIVIL RIGHTS CLAIMS

 Defendants have moved to dismiss all of the complaint's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 federal civil rights claims. We first consider the § 1983 claims against the individual police officer defendants, Briscoe and Fontaine. Then we consider the claims against the municipal defendants, City of Chester and Township of Aston.

 A. Individual Defendants: Fontaine and Briscoe

 In their motion to dismiss plaintiff's federal civil rights claims, defendants rely heavily upon Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 61 L. Ed. 2d 433, 99 S. Ct. 2689 (1979). In Baker, respondent was mistakenly arrested pursuant to a warrant which bore his name but was actually intended for his brother. *fn2" He was held in jail for several days despite repeated protests that the arrest was a result of mistaken identity. The United States Supreme Court held that respondent did not have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because he had not been deprived of any right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.

 The Baker Court acknowledged that respondent had been deprived of liberty when he was falsely detained. However, the Court noted that the Constitution does not prohibit all deprivations of liberty, it only forbids those which are accomplished without due process of law. In this case, the protection provided by the Fourth Amendment's probable cause requirement was all that due process required:

 
Absent an attack on the validity of the warrant under which he was arrested, respondent's complaint is simply that despite his protests of mistaken identity, he was detained in . . . jail . . . until . . . the validity of his protests was ascertained. Whatever claims this situation might give rise to under state tort law, we think it gives rise to no claim under the United States Constitution.

 Baker, 443 U.S. at 143-44.

 As the above quoted passage indicates, and as defendants recognize, Baker left open the possibility that a person who is falsely imprisoned may state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if he attacks the validity of the warrant which led to his arrest. See, e.g., United States v. Doe, 703 F.2d 745 (3rd Cir. 1983) (warrant describing its subject only as "John Doe a/k/a Ed" is constitutionally deficient, and this deficiency is not cured by the arresting officer's personal knowledge that the arrestee is the person for whom the warrant was intended); Powe v. Chicago, 664 F.2d 639 (7th Cir. 1981) (allegations in complaint that the warrant lacked adequate specificity to identify the intended arrestee were sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss under Baker). However, plaintiff makes no such allegations in the instant case. The sole mention of the warrant in the complaint is in Paragraph 11, where plaintiff alleges that he "was advised by the police officers that there were two outstanding warrants for his arrest and that he was being arrested and taken into custody."

 Because plaintiff admits that the warrant under which he was arrested was facially valid, defendants argue that Baker commands dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. However, the instant case is distinguishable from Baker. In Baker, respondent's sole claim was that his due process rights were violated when he was detained in jail with no effort to determine whether his claim of mistaken identity was true. Not only was he arrested pursuant to a facially valid warrant, but there was "no suggestion that [his] arrest was constitutionally deficient." 443 U.S. at 143. Thus, Baker stands for the proposition that once a prisoner is ...


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