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September 10, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Franklin S. Van Antwerpen, United States District Judge



Plaintiffs Nicholas W. DeBellis, III and Patricia DeBellis, the parents and natural guardians of Karisa DeBellis ("DeBellis"), have brought the instant action on her behalf pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants Patrol Officer Charles Kulp ("Kulp"), Patrol Officer Keith Morris ("Morris"), Youth Officer Carol Bennis ("Bennis"), Youth Officer David Moyer ("Moyer"), Captain Carl W. Held, the City of Allentown Department of Police, Mayor William L. Heydt and the City of Allentown violated DeBellis' rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.*fn1 They have also brought state law claims for assault and battery, false imprisonment, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress against all of the defendants.

Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on all claims, filed by the Defendants on July 30, 2001. We have jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1343 and 1367.


The court shall render summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. All inferences must be drawn, and all doubts resolved, in favor of the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962); Gans v. Mundy, 762 F.2d 338, 341 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1010, 106 S.Ct. 537, 88 L.Ed.2d 467 (1985).

On motion for summary judgment, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party must respond with facts of record that contradict the facts identified by the movant and may not rest on mere denials. Id. at 321 n. 3, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)); see First Nat'l Bank of Pennsylvania v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 824 F.2d 277, 282 (3d Cir. 1987). The non-moving party must demonstrate the existence of evidence that would support a jury finding in its favor. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49, 106 S.Ct. at 2505.


The following is a review of the factual background of this case.

Events Preceding Police Encounter with Karisa DeBellis

In the early spring or summer of 1998, Allentown Youth Officer Carol Bennis ("Bennis") learned that a juvenile known as K.L. was a chronic runaway, and in early July of 1998, learned that K.L. had again run away from home. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶¶ 3,5) At around 3:00 p.m. on July 6, 1998, Bennis received a report from one J.B. (whom Bennis knew to be the fiancé of K.L.'s father) that K.L. had been spotted by a relative walking in the 800 block of Gordon Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Based on information provided to her prior to July 6, 1998, Bennis believed K.L. to be between 5' 4" and 5' 7" in height and to weigh a maximum of 145 pounds; Bennis also knew that K.L. had been involved in drug use, and may have lost weight. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Bennis had never met K.L.; nor had she seen a photograph of her. (Id.) Bennis believed that K.L. posed a flight risk, that K.L. had on at least one prior occasion provided a false name to police and that K.L. had mental health issues. (Id. at ¶ 6.)

At approximately 3:00 p.m. (K. DeBellis Dep. at 47), Karisa DeBellis ("DeBellis"), a seventeen-year-old (Id. at 7), 5' 2" or 5' 3" woman weighing approximately 90 pounds (Id. at 31-32), had left the home of a friend to go to work at a "Subway" sandwich shop located at 9 American Parkway in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Id. at 42; K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 1.) Taking her normal route, DeBellis walked up 10th Street and cut through a cemetery located at Turner Street. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 2; K. DeBellis Dep. at 43.)

Upon receiving the report that K.L. had been spotted, Bennis asked fellow youth officer David Moyer ("Moyer") to accompany her, and they proceeded to the general vicinity. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 7; D. Moyer Aff. at ¶¶ 5-6.) Bennis and Moyer observed a young female entering a cemetery approximately three blocks from the area where K.L. was reportedly seen. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 8; D. Moyer Aff. at ¶ 6.) According to Bennis, she had no doubt that the woman was K.L. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 10). Although Moyer had no prior involvement with K.L. and had never met her or seen a photograph of her, given Bennis' positive identification of DeBellis as K.L., he exited the vehicle, in an effort to take her into custody. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 11; D. Moyer Aff. at ¶ 10.) A call was placed on the police radio for assistance in apprehending the juvenile; Bennis then drove to the south side of the cemetery in the event that the juvenile fled in that direction. (C. Bennis Aff. at ¶ 12).

According to DeBellis, when she was several yards into the cemetery, a man dressed in a jacket and a tie*fn2 approached her, yelling for her to wait. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 4; K. DeBellis Dep. at 45-47.) This man turned out to be Officer Moyer.

Police Encounter with Karisa DeBellis

• Plaintiffs' Version

DeBellis waited for Moyer to reach her, at which time he asked DeBellis what her name was and if she had any identification. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 5; K. DeBellis Dep. at 47, 58.) She replied "Karisa DeBellis" and stated that she did not have any identification. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 6; K. DeBellis Dep. at 47.) DeBellis alleges that Moyer then grabbed her arm and, at the same time, flashed something resembling a calculator case; DeBellis did not at that time know what the object was. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 8; K. DeBellis Dep. at 47-49.) Fearing that he was going to try to rape her, DeBellis tried to pull away from him, at which point Moyer held her more forcefully and attempted to drag her towards Turner Street. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 9-11; K. DeBellis Dep. at 50-51.) DeBellis repeatedly screamed for him to get away from her. (K. DeBellis Dep. at 50, 52, 60.) In an effort to free herself, DeBellis grabbed onto a tombstone with her left hand. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 13; K. DeBellis Dep. at 51-54.) According to DeBellis, Moyer pulled her body so hard that she lost her grip on the tombstone. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 14; K. DeBellis Dep. at 54.) He then kicked her feet out from underneath her, such that she spun in a 180 degree turn and landed hard on her back. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 14-15; K. DeBellis Dep. at 54-56.) He then straddled her, holding her hands above her head and pinning her legs to the ground so that all DeBellis could move was her head. (K. DeBellis Dep. at 56-57.) Still believing that she was going to be raped, DeBellis continued to scream for help. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 17; K. DeBellis Dep. at 60.)

According to DeBellis, while she was still pinned on the ground, a woman (later identified as Bennis) and two uniformed officers (later identified as Patrol Officer Keith Morris ("Morris") and Patrol Officer Charles Kulp ("Kulp")) — one on a bike (Kulp) — arrived. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 18; K. DeBellis Dep. at 60-62.) DeBellis asserts that someone removed her back pack from her back and that Morris handcuffed her hands behind her back. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 21; K. DeBellis Dep. at 63, 69.) Throughout the encounter, Bennis repeatedly referred to DeBellis as "Cassandra." (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 22-23; K. DeBellis Dep. at 64.) DeBellis protested that she was not "Cassandra." (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 22; K. DeBellis Dep. at 64.) DeBellis did not have any identification with her, but provided her date of birth and her mother's and father's names in order to prove her identity. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 24; K. DeBellis Dep. at 64-66.) She also requested that the officers check her bag to see that her Subway uniform was inside and to call her father, the Subway manager. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 25; K. DeBellis Dep. at 66.) Bennis opened the back pack and removed DeBellis' uniform. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 26; K. DeBellis Dep. at 66.) The officers did not call her father, but instead pulled her to her feet and transported her to the police station. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 27; K. DeBellis Dep. at 66-70.) DeBellis was crying and insisting that her name was not Cassandra. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 27.) At no point did the officers tell her that she was under arrest or that she was suspected of being a runaway or of having committed a crime. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 58.)

Once at the station, the officers shackled her to the floor in front of Bennis' desk. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 31; K. DeBellis Dep. at 72.) Bennis called K.L.'s father, and then called DeBellis' father (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 35, 43-44; K. DeBellis Dep. at 73-74), at which point Bennis told someone in the next room that they had the wrong person. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 46.) The police then drove DeBellis to the Subway shop. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 49; K. DeBellis Dep. at 75.) DeBellis alleges that she was cut and bruised (K. DeBellis Dep. at 72-73, 78, 80-81) and that upon seeing her bruises, her father suggested that she go to the hospital for an examination. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 52.) DeBellis went to St. Luke's Emergency Room. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶ 54; K. DeBellis Dep. at 86.) Since the incident, DeBellis has had several sessions of physical therapy to treat her injuries and has seen psychological professionals to treat the psychological trauma she has since experienced. (K. DeBellis Aff. at ¶¶ 56-57; K. DeBellis Dep. at 18, 21-22, 91, 103-04.)

• Defendants' Version

Defendants, on the other hand, state that Moyer displayed his badge upon approaching DeBellis — even before asking DeBellis her name. (D. Moyer Aff. at ¶¶ 8-9.) Defendants also claim that at that point Moyer also verbally identified himself as a police officer (Id. at ¶ 8); DeBellis, on the other hand, denies that Moyer verbally identified himself as a police officer. (K. DeBellis Dep. at 59.) Although Moyer admits that DeBellis responded with a name that differed from the runaway juvenile's name, Moyer nonetheless believed that he should attempt to take DeBellis into custody, given Bennis' identification of her as the runaway juvenile. (D. Moyer Aff. at ¶¶ 9-10.) Moyer was also aware that the runaway juvenile was inclined to flee and had previously used false names. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Moyer contends that when he attempted to apprehend her, DeBellis, struggling in what appeared to be an attempt to escape, tried to avoid Moyer's grasp and to kick Moyer. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-12.) Moyer states that he was eventually able to pull DeBellis off balance, at which point she fell to the ground. (Id. at ¶ 13.)


• Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

• 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Background

42 U.S.C. § 1983 imposes civil liability upon any person who, acting under the color of state law, deprives another individual of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Section 1983 does not create any new substantive rights, but instead provides a remedy for the violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right. Baker v. McCollan 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 4533 (1979); Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir. 2000). To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant, through conduct sanctioned under the color of state law, deprived her of a federal constitutional or statutory right. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 101 S.Ct. 662, 88 L.E.2d 662 (1986); Gruenke, 225 F.3d at 298.

In Count VI, plaintiffs allege violations of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution as the bases for their Section 1983 claim. Plaintiffs contend that defendants violated DeBellis' constitutional rights by arresting her without probable cause and by using excessive force in effectuating her arrest. With respect to plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims, defendants' brief in support of their motion for summary judgment contends in substance that (1) the officers are entitled to qualified immunity on the grounds that they took DeBellis into custody upon a reasonable mistake and (2) the excessive force claim should be dismissed because the evidence establishes that the officers used only the force that was necessary to apprehend the suspect. Each of these arguments is discussed in turn.

• 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Liability of Allentown Police Department

First, we dispose of some matters of pleading. In Section 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities, because the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local municipality, and is not a separate judicial entity. See, e.g., Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir. 1992); Rhodes v. McDannel, 945 F.2d 117, 120 (6th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1032, 112 S.Ct. 872, 116 L.Ed.2d 777 (1992); Open Inns, Ltd. v. Chester County Sheriff's Dept., 24 F. Supp.2d 410, 417 (E.D.Pa. 1998); Irvin v. Borough of Darby, 937 F. Supp. 446, 451 (E.D.Pa. 1996); Regalbuto v. City of Philadelphia, 937 F. Supp. 374, 377 (E.D.Pa. 1995). Because Allentown Police Department is merely an arm of the city of Allentown, we will grant summary judgment to the Police Department on the Section 1983 claim.

• 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Liability of Officers Bennis, Kulp, Morris and Moyer, Captain Held and Mayor Heydt, as Sued in their Official Capacity

The face of plaintiffs' complaint states that plaintiffs are suing Officers Bennis, Kulp, Morris, and Moyer, Captain Held and Mayor Heydt in both their official and individual capacities. The Supreme Court has stated that a suit under Section 1983 against a municipal officer in his or her official capacity is, in actuality, a suit against the municipality that the officer represents; an official capacity suit is essentially treated as a suit against the entity itself. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985). See also Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764 (11th Cir. 1991); Ruiz v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., No. CIV.A.96-7853, 1998 WL 159038, at *6 (E.D.Pa. March 17, 1998); Verde v. City of Philadelphia, 862 F. Supp. 1329, 1336-37 (E.D.Pa. 1994); Agresta v. City of Philadelphia, 694 F. Supp. 117, 119 (E.D.Pa. 1988); Baldi v. City of Philadelphia, 609 F. Supp. 162, 168 (E.D.Pa. 1985). Accordingly, we will grant summary judgment to Defendants Bennis, Kulp, Morris, Moyer, Held and Heydt on the Section 1983 claim brought against each of them in his or her official capacity.*fn3 The remainder of the § 1983 discussion considers the claims brought against the defendants in their individual capacities.

42 U.S.C. § 1983: Liability of Officers Bennis, Kulp, Morris and Moyer, Captain Held and Mayor Heydt, as Sued in their Individual Capacity

It is clear that the officers were acting under the color of law when they encountered DeBellis. Officers Bennis and Moyer were acting in their official capacity when they set out to locate the suspected runaway, and Officers Kulp and Morris were acting in their official capacity when they responded to the call for assistance.*fn4 Nor is there any doubt that DeBellis was seized. Indeed, she was brought to the ground by a police officer, handcuffed, transported to the police station in a police vehicle and shackled to the floor at the police station.*fn5

• Mistaken Identity Claim

However, the parties dispute whether defendants had probable cause to arrest her. Plaintiffs allege that defendants lacked probable cause to arrest DeBellis.*fn6 Defendants claim that they had grounds to take an individual (K.L.) into custody, but, through a reasonable mistake, took the wrong individual (DeBellis) into custody, and are entitled to qualified immunity.*fn7

i. 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Qualified Immunity: Analytical Framework

Whether defendants are entitled to qualified immunity is an issue appropriate for resolution on summary judgment. Indeed, the availability of qualified immunity as a defense is a question of law. Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991). The Court has repeatedly emphasized the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible state in litigation because "[t]he entitlement is an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227, 112 S.Ct. 534, 116 L.Ed.2d 589 (1991) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526, 105 S.Ct. 2806, 86 L.Ed.2d 411 (1985)).

Qualified immunity shields state officials performing discretionary functions from suit for damages if "their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 143 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982)). The United States Supreme Court recently reiterated the importance of considering, in a suit against an officer for an alleged violation of a constitutional right, the requisites of a qualified immunity defense in proper sequence. Saucier v. Katz, 531 U.S. 991, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 150 L.Ed.2d 272 (2001).*fn8 The threshold question is whether, "[t]aken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conducted violated a constitutional right?" Id., 121 S.Ct. at 2156. If no constitutional right would have been violated were the allegations established, the inquiry ends; there is no need for further inquiry concerning qualified immunity. Id. If, on the other hand, a violation could be established, the next step is to ask whether the right was clearly established. Id. The Court has stressed that in order for the right to be relevant to the case under consideration, the right the official is alleged to have violated must be clearly established in a particularized sense; that is, "[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." Id. (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 97 L.Ed.2d 523 (1987)). It is only when the right allegedly violated is defined with appropriate specificity that a court can determine if it was in fact clearly established. Saucier, 121 S.Ct. at 2156 (citing Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 615, 119 S.Ct. 1692, 143 L.Ed.2d 818 (1999)). The dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. Id. If a reasonable officer would have known that his or her conduct violated the right, then the defendant-officer is not entitled to qualified immunity for his or her actions. See Harlow 457 U.S. at 813-20, 102 S.Ct. 2726; Bartholomew v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 221 F.3d 425, 428 (3d Cir. 2000).

ii. 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Defendants' Claim of Qualified Immunity: Analysis

We consider at the outset of our qualified immunity analysis what level of cause law enforcement officers in defendants' position must possess in order to take lawfully a suspected runaway into custody. Pennsylvania law provides that "[a] child may be taken into custody: . . . [b]y a law enforcement officer or duly authorized officer of the court if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child has run away from his parents, guardian, or other custodian." 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6324(4) (West 2000) (emphasis added).*fn9 Although the parties have cast their arguments in terms of whether the officers had probable cause to take the juvenile into custody, the language of § 6324(4) prompts us to consider whether probable cause is indeed required, or whether some lower standard of cause, such as reasonable suspicion, applies.

Our inquiry has revealed no Pennsylvania or Third Circuit cases addressing the meaning of § 6324's "reasonable grounds" language. Numerous states have statutes with language identical to that found in § 6324(4), allowing law enforcement officers to take children into custody upon "reasonable grounds" to believe that they have run away. See e.g., Ala. Code § 12-15-56 (2001); Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 8-303 (2001); Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 19-3-401 (2001); D.C. Code Ann. § 16-2309 (2000); Fl. Stat. Ann. § 39.401 (2001); Ga. Code § 15-11-45 (2001); Iowa Code Ann. § 232.19 (2001); Neb. Rev. Stat. § 43-248 (2001); N.H. Rev. Stat. § 169-D:8 (2001); N.J. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 2A:4A-20 (2001); N.D. Cent. Code § 27-20-13 (2001); Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2151.31 (2001); S.D. Codified Laws § 26-7A-12 (2001); Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-113 (2001); Utah Code Ann. § 78-3a-113 (2001); Wyo. Stat. § 14-6-405 (2001) (repealed, effective July 1, 2003).*fn10

Our review of case law interpreting parallel language in other state statutes suggests that in this context, "reasonable grounds" means "probable cause." In Del Valle v. Taylor, 587 F. Supp. 524 (D.N.D. 1984), the court considered whether a juvenile supervisor was entitled to absolute immunity from civil liability for his determination that reasonable grounds existed to take a child into custody pursuant to state law providing that a supervisor shall taken into custody and detain a child who is delinquent, unruly or depraved.*fn11 The court held that

when a juvenile supervisor must determine whether reasonable grounds exist to take a child into custody, pursuant to section 27-20-13 of the North Dakota Century Code [a statute paralleling Pennsylvania's § 6324], the juvenile supervisor is performing a traditionally judicial function. The determination by the juvenile supervisor pursuant to section 27-20-13 is similar to the judicial determination of whether probable cause to arrest exists. It is distinguished from an arrest by a police officer, who must seek a judicial determination as to whether probable cause to arrest exists either prior to, or, without unnecessary delay, after the arrest.

Id., 587 F. Supp. at 517 (emphasis added).

In In the Matter of Mark A., 145 Misc.2d 955, 549 N.Y.S.2d 325 (N.Y. Fam. Ct. 1989), the Court analyzed the conduct of an officer who approached a juvenile, believing that he was a runaway, and who thereafter discovered the individual to be in illegal possession of a weapon. The court interpreted a New York statute authorizing a police officer to return to parents a child he or she reasonably believes to be a runaway. *fn12 The court concluded that the officer's reasonable opinion should be supported by probable cause to believe that the child has runaway, id., 154 Misc.2d at 957, 549 N.Y.S.2d at 327, and applied this probable cause standard to the facts of the case.

Based on our analysis of § 6324(4), parallel statutes from other jurisdictions and case law interpreting those statutes, we conclude that § 6324(4) requires that an officer have probable cause to believe that a juvenile has run away before taking that juvenile into custody. *fn13

Accordingly, the first question in our qualified immunity analysis is whether the facts alleged, taken in the light most favorable to plaintiff, show that the officers apprehended DeBellis without probable cause to believe that she was the runaway for whom they were searching. If, according to the facts alleged, probable cause to take DeBellis into custody could not be found to be lacking, then plaintiffs have not shown a violation of DeBellis' constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment, and the qualified immunity inquiry as to plaintiffs' mistaken identity claim ends.

Although probable cause to arrest, and, analogously, to take a runaway into custody, does not require that the officer have evidence sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, it does require more than mere suspicion. "[P]robable cause to arrest exists when the facts and circumstances withing the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been committed [or that a person is a suspected runaway] or ...

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