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GARCIA v. COUNTY OF BUCKS

March 27, 2001

FREDDIE GARCIA AND DOREEN GARCIA, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THEIR MINOR CHILDREN
v.
COUNTY OF BUCKS, PA., CHARLES H. MARTIN, COMMISSIONER, MICHAEL G. FITZPATRICK, COMMISSIONER, SANDRA A. MILLER, COMMISSIONER, LAWRENCE R. MICHAELS, SHERIFF, WILLIAM DALTON, CHIEF DEPUTY SHERIFF, G.J. GAITTENS, DEPUTY SHERIFF, OFFICER T. TALL AND SECOND JOHN DOE OFFICER.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jay C. Waldman, J.

      MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs have asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and related state tort claims against Bucks County, its Commissioners, its Sheriff and several Deputy Sheriffs arising from the arrest of plaintiff Freddie Garcia pursuant to a valid warrant for a "Freddie Garcia" and his brief detention until a Deputy Sheriff learned that Mr. Garcia was not the subject of the warrant. They seek $500,000 in compensatory damages and $5,000,000 in punitive damages.*fn1

In Count I, plaintiff Freddie Garcia asserts § 1983 claims for false arrest, excessive force, false imprisonment and deliberate indifference to his medical condition against officers Tall and John Doe based on purported violations of Mr. Garcia's First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.*fn2 In Count II, he asserts state tort claims of false arrest and false imprisonment against these officers.*fn3 In Count III, he asserts a § 1983 claim against Bucks County predicated variously on a failure to train or supervise its officers and a policy or practice of permitting false arrests.*fn4

The basis of the claims by Doreen Garcia and the minor children is not altogether clear. The only assertions in the complaint in this regard are an allegation in the factual preamble that as a result of Mr. Garcia's detention for two days, his wife and children suffered a loss of "care and championship [sic]" and a request in the prayer for relief that they receive damages for "pain and suffering."*fn5

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Such dismissal is appropriate when it clearly appears that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts to support the claim which would entitle him or her to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Robb v. Philadelphia, 733 F.2d 286, 290 (3d Cir. 1984). Such a motion tests the legal sufficiency of a claim accepting the veracity of the claimant's allegations. See Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990); Sturm v. Clark, 835 F.2d 1009, 1011 (3d Cir. 1987). A claim may be dismissed when the facts alleged and the reasonable inferences therefrom are legally insufficient to support the relief sought. See Pennslyvania ex rel. Zimmerman v. PepsiCo., Inc., 836 F.2d 173, 179 (3d Cir. 1988).

In their second amended complaint, plaintiffs allege the following.

Mr. Garcia was arrested on a valid warrant on March 1, 2000 by Bucks County Deputy Sheriff Tall and another unknown "John Doe" Deputy Sheriff.*fn6 In effecting the arrest, the officers grabbed Mr. Garcia's coat and arms, and handcuffed him. Mr. Garcia maintained that he was not the person sought in the warrant. He offered to show the officers a social security card, a birth certificate and other unspecified documentation to confirm his identity. Mr. Garcia's address and birth date were different than those of the subject of the warrant.*fn7 The officers ultimately looked at Mr. Garcia's identification but told him he would have to "tell it to the judge."

Upon his detention, Mr. Garcia was subject to a strip search and his medication was confiscated by unidentified persons associated with the Sheriff's office.*fn8 Although Mr. Garcia explained that the medication was necessary to treat his diabetes, he was not provided with diabetic medication or a suitable diet. Apparently jail authorities were alerted as a nurse took two readings of Mr. Garcia's blood sugar level during the two days he was detained. The level was "high" and later "very high."

On March 2, 2000, Deputy Sheriff Gaittens confirmed that the Freddie Garcia who was the subject of the warrant and plaintiff had different dates of birth. The Officer issued a letter on that date directing that Mr. Garcia not be held.

The Fifth Amendment, of course, does not apply to state action. See Bartkus v. Illinois, 359 U.S. 121, 158-59 (1959); Nguyen v. United States Catholic Conference, 719 F.2d 52, 54 (3d Cir. 1983); Huffaker v. Bucks County Dist. Attorney's Office, 758 F. Supp. 287, 290 (E.D.Pa. 1991). Thus, defendants are entitled to dismissal of any claim predicated on the Fifth Amendment.

A claim of excessive force in the context of an arrest is governed by the Fourth Amendment. A plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to show that he was seized with an exercise of force which was objectively unreasonable. See Brower v. County of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 599 (1989); Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 288 (3d Cir. 1999); Mayard v. Hopwood, 105 F.3d 1226, 1227-28 (8th Cir. 1997). Mr. Garcia has not done so. The restraint alleged by Mr. Garcia was minimal and routine. It did not result in even de minimus injury.

To maintain a § 1983 false arrest claim, a plaintiff must show that the arresting officer lacked probable cause to make the arrest. See Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988). See also Smith v. Borough of Pottstown, 1997 WL 381778, *11 (E.D.Pa. June 30, 1997) (plaintiff cannot maintain a § 1983 false arrest claim where police officers had probable cause to arrest him). When an officer does make an arrest without probable cause, the arrestee may also assert a

§ 1983 false imprisonment claim based on any subsequent detention resulting from that arrest. Groman v. City of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995). A § 1983 false imprisonment claim based on an arrest without probable cause is grounded in the Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable seizures. Id.

Probable cause exists when the totality of facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant an ordinary prudent officer to believe that the party charged has committed an offense. See Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 817-18 (3d Cir. 1997). Police officers acting pursuant to a facially valid warrant generally are deemed to have probable cause to arrest. See Kis v. County of Schuykill, 866 F. Supp. 1462, 1469 (E.D.Pa. 1994). An officer making an arrest pursuant to such a warrant generally is not required to investigate the arrestee's claim of innocence or mistaken identity. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145-46 (1979); Kennell v. Gates, 215 F.3d 825 828 (8th Cir. 2000) (even unreasonable refusal to investigate claim of mistaken identity by person arrested and detained for six days pursuant to facially valid warrant does not amount to constitutional violation). ...


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