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OVERTON v. SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTH.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


June 3, 2004.

NORMAN OVERTON, Plaintiff
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CYNTHIA RUFE, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case comes before the Court on Plaintiff Norman Overton's Motion for Leave of Court to File an Amended Complaint and Defendant Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's ("SEPTA") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is granted and SEPTA's Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

  The following facts are taken from the Complaint and proposed amended complaint and accepted as true for the Court's consideration of the instant motions. On March 18, 2002, Plaintiff traveled to downtown Philadelphia on SEPTA's R-8 train to obtain a replacement for his senior citizen's SEPTA card which had been lost. While Plaintiff was on the train, the SEPTA train conductor gave him a "hard time" because Plaintiff did not have his senior citizen's SEPTA card. When the R-8 train arrived at Suburban Station, SEPTA Police Officer Arthur Brown "stopped, assaulted and arrested" Plaintiff and transported him to SEPTA's Suburban Station office.*fn1 At the station office, the train conductor identified Plaintiff as "one of the troublemakers," following which Officer Brown pushed Plaintiff against a glass wall, twisted Plaintiff's arms behind his back, and handcuffed him.*fn2 Officer Brown then transported Plaintiff to the SEPTA transit police station where he remained handcuffed for twenty to thirty minutes. It is unclear from the complaint how and when Plaintiff was released from custody.

  II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  On February 5, 2004, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (the "Original Complaint") against SEPTA only, asserting seven causes of action: 1) negligence; 2) assault and battery; 3) intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"); 4) violation of Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; 5) false arrest; 6) violation of Article I, Section 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; and 7) a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On March 2, 2004, SEPTA removed this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441.

  On March 22, 2004, SEPTA filed the instant Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, arguing that: 1) SEPTA is entitled to sovereign immunity on the state law causes of action; 2) no private cause of action for damages exists for violations of Article I, Sections 1 and 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution; and 3) Plaintiff's complaint did not properly assert the elements required by Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), to establish liability against a government agency for violations of civil rights.

  On March 26, 2004, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint ("Proposed Amended Complaint I") without seeking leave of Court. Proposed Amended Complaint I asserted only three causes of action: 1) false arrest; 2) assault and battery; and 3) a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also added as defendants two Doe SEPTA conductors and three Doe SEPTA Transit Police Officers. In addition, Plaintiff alleged, as required by Monell, that SEPTA's actions were pursuant to a SEPTA custom, practice or policy. On April 1, 2004, Plaintiff filed his Response to SEPTA's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, arguing only that Proposed Amended Complaint I remedied any shortcomings raised in SEPTA's motion.

  On April 16, 2004, SEPTA filed a Motion to Strike Proposed Amended Complaint I, alleging that: 1) Plaintiff's Monell claim is barred by the statute of limitations; 2) Plaintiff's state law claims are barred by SEPTA's sovereign immunity; and 3) Plaintiff did not obtain leave of Court to file Proposed Amended Complaint I as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a).

  On April 30, 2004, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint. The proposed amended complaint accompanying this Motion ("Proposed Amended Complaint II") adds Officer Brown as a defendant and removes the Doe defendants but is otherwise identical to Proposed Amended Complaint I. Plaintiff cites no legal authority in support of his motion, stating only that he should be allowed to amend his complaint to add Officer Brown because he did not become aware of Officer Brown's identity until March 29, 2004, when SEPTA made its Rule 26 initial disclosures.

  On May 3, 2004, the Court granted SEPTA's Motion to Strike and ordered Proposed Amended Complaint I stricken from the record. The Court reserved judgment on Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint until receipt of SEPTA's response thereto. On May 14, 2004, SEPTA filed its response, so Plaintiff's Motion is ripe for the Court's consideration along with SEPTA's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. III. DISCUSSION

  A. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint*fn3

  In Proposed Amended Complaint II, Plaintiff makes three significant amendments to his Original Complaint: 1) the removal of his causes of action for negligence, IIED and violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution; 2) the modification of his § 1983 claim to comply with Monell; and 3) the addition of Officer Brown as a defendant. The first amendment does not warrant discussion as SEPTA does not object to the removal of claims against it, and accordingly leave to file this amendment is granted. The remaining two amendments are discussed below.

  1. Plaintiff's Monell claim

  In the Original Complaint, Plaintiff makes only the following allegation with respect to his § 1983 claim:

By striking Norman Overton without any cause therefor, by committing assault and battery upon him, by inflicting emotional distress upon him, by violating his natural and civil rights to be free of arbitrary and unlawful state action, the police officers have committed, as to Norman Overton, a violation of [§ 1983].*fn4
As written, this allegation proceeds under a respondeat superior theory of liability against SEPTA. As SEPTA points out, such a theory does not satisfy Monell.*fn5 Accordingly, SEPTA would be entitled to judgment on the pleadings on this claim as alleged in the Original Complaint.

  In the corresponding section of Proposed Amended Complaint II, Plaintiff alleges as follows:

24. The defendants [sic] use of excessive force, unlawful arrest and detention without probable cause comprised a violation of plaintiff's civil right to be free of such actions under the Forth [sic] and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
25. The defendants [sic] use of excessive force, unlawful arrest and detention without probable cause was pursuant to custom, practices, policy or uses of defendant, SEPTA.
26. Under this custom, usage, practice or policy, SEPTA:
(a) encouraged and/or condoned the use of excessive force, unlawful arrest and detention without probable cause;
(b) encouraged and/or condoned the practice of using excessive force, detaining individuals without probable cause and falsely accusing and arresting individuals;
(c) failed to investigate, or punish the excessive use of force, false arrest and unlawful detentions by SEPTA transit police officers;
(d) failed to provide adequate training to its transit police officers regarding the use of force, the constitutional limits of force, the proper use of police weapons including handcuffs and the proper method of detaining and arresting individuals.*fn6
Thus, with this proposed amendment Plaintiff attempts to remedy the deficiency of the Original Complaint and comply with the requirements of Monell.*fn7

  SEPTA argues that this amendment should not be allowed because Plaintiff is attempting to assert a new cause of action which is barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiff's § 1983 action is subject to Pennsylvania's two year statute of limitations governing personal injury actions.*fn8 Plaintiff filed his Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint on April 30, 2004, more than two years after March 18, 2002, the date of the incident. Thus, Plaintiff's Monell claim is timebarred unless it relates back to the Original Complaint. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c) governs the relation back of an amendment to a complaint and provides, in relevant part: "[a]n amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . the claim or defense asserted in the amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original pleading. . . ." Plaintiff's Monell claim in Proposed Amended Complaint II clearly arises out of the same incident that is the subject of the Original Complaint.*fn9 Accordingly, it relates back to the Original Complaint and is not barred by the statute of limitations.*fn10 Mindful of the rule that "leave [to amend] shall be freely given when justice so requires,"*fn11 the Court grants Plaintiff leave to make this amendment.

  2. The addition of Officer Brown

  Plaintiff also seeks to amend the Original Complaint to add Officer Brown as a defendant. As with the Monell claim discussed supra, because the two year statute of limitations has expired, this amendment is time-barred unless it relates back to the Original Complaint. An amendment changing or adding*fn12 a party relates back when: 1) the claim arises out of the same incident; 2) the added party received notice within 120 days of the institution of the action and will not be prejudiced; and 3) the added party "knew or should have known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against that party."*fn13 SEPTA admits that the first requirement is satisfied and that the second requirement will be satisfied if the Court grants Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend. Thus, the only contested issue is whether the third requirement is satisfied.

  In a conference with the Court and in his Motion to Amend, Plaintiff stated that he did not obtain the name of the SEPTA officer involved in the incident until receiving SEPTA's initial disclosures. Therefore, Plaintiff did not make a mistake about Officer Brown's identity; he lacked information about it. In general, this situation arises most often when a plaintiff seeks to amend a complaint to replace "John Doe" defendants with the names of specific individuals. These situations are governed by the Third Circuit's decision in Varlack v. SWC Caribbean, Inc., 550 F.2d 171, 175 (3d Cir. 1977), holding that an amendment replacing the name of the actual employee in a complaint against "Unknown Employee of Orange Julius Restaurant" satisfied all of the requirements of Rule 15(c)(3), including the mistake requirement.

  SEPTA relies on dicta in a more recent case, Singletary v. Pennsylvania, 266 F.3d 186 (3d Cir. 2001), to argue that Plaintiff does not satisfy the mistake requirement of Rule 15(c)(3)(B). In Singletary, the court upheld the district court's ruling that an amendment replacing "unknown corrections officers" with the actual names of the officers did not relate back to the original complaint because the second requirement of Rule 15(c)(3), notice to the officers, had not been satisfied.*fn14

  More significant to the instant case, the Singletary court also addressed the district court's holding that the amendment did not satisfy the mistake requirement. SEPTA points to the Singletary court's acknowledgment "that the bulk of authority from other Courts of Appeals takes the position that the amendment of a `John Doe' complaint — i.e., the substituting of real names for `John Does' or `Unknown Persons' named in an original complaint — does not meet the `but for a mistake' requirement in 15(c)(3)(B), because not knowing the identity of a defendant is not a mistake concerning the defendant's identity."*fn15 SEPTA also points out that the court recommended that language in Rule 15(c)(3)(B) be changed to "knew or should have known that, but for a mistake or lack of information concerning the identity of the proper party, the action would have been brought against the party."*fn16

  SEPTA, however, conveniently disregards the Singletary court's discussion of Varlack. Although the Singletary court recommended that Rule 15(c)(3)(B) be changed, it nevertheless stated that the court was "bound by Varlack insofar as it held that the plaintiff's lack of knowledge of a particular defendant's identity can be a mistake under Rule 15(c)(3)(B)."*fn17 Thus, although the Third Circuit did not explicitly resolve this issue, it is clear that, despite the contrary holdings in other circuits, the Third Circuit would find that the mistake requirement is satisfied when a plaintiff does not know a defendant's name at the time he first files his complaint.*fn18

  Under Varlack and Singletary, Plaintiff's lack of knowledge of Officer Brown's identity at the time he filed the Original Complaint satisfies the mistake requirement of Rule 15(c)(3)(B). Because each of the elements of Rule 15(c)(3) is satisfied, Proposed Amended Complaint II relates back to the Original Complaint. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint is granted with respect to the addition of Officer Brown as a defendant.*fn19

  B. SEPTA's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings*fn20

  SEPTA filed its Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings prior to Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend. In its Motion, SEPTA argues that the Court should rule in SEPTA's favor on each of the seven claims in the Original Complaint. Having granted Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend, the Court now addresses SEPTA's arguments with respect to the two remaining state law claims (false arrest and assault and battery) in Proposed Amended Complaint II.*fn21

  Plaintiff's state law claims are barred by SEPTA's sovereign immunity.*fn22 As stated in Title 1, section 2310 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes:

[T]he Commonwealth, and its officials and employees acting within the scope of their duties, shall continue to enjoy sovereign immunity and official immunity and remain immune from suit except as the General Assembly shall specifically waive the immunity.
SEPTA is a Commonwealth party with respect to this immunity,*fn23 and because Plaintiff concedes that Officer Brown was acting within the scope of his duties, Officer Brown enjoys this immunity as well.*fn24 However, the Pennsylvania General Assembly waived "sovereign immunity as a bar to an action against Commonwealth parties for damages arising out of a negligent act" when such damage was caused by one of the following: 1) vehicle liability; 2) medical professional liability; 3) the care, custody or control of personal property; 4) Commonwealth real estate, highways and sidewalks; 5) potholes and other dangerous conditions; 6) care, custody or control on animals; 7) liquor store sales; 8) National Guard activities; or 9) toxoids and vaccines.*fn25 False arrest and assault and battery are both intentional torts that do not involve a "negligent act."*fn26 Therefore, they do not fall within an exception to SEPTA's sovereign immunity.*fn27 Accordingly, SEPTA's Motion is granted with respect to these state law claims.

  IV. CONCLUSION

  For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint is granted, and SEPTA's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff may amend his complaint with respect to his § 1983 claim and the addition of Officer Brown as a defendant. However, because Plaintiff's state law claims are barred by SEPTA and Officer Brown's sovereign immunity, he shall not include those claims in the amended complaint.

  An appropriate Order follows. ORDER

  AND NOW, this 3rd day of June, 2004, upon consideration of Plaintiff Norman Overton's Motion for Leave of Court to File an Amended Complaint [Doc. #10], Defendant SEPTA's Opposition thereto [Doc. #12], SEPTA's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. #4], and Plaintiff's Response thereto [Doc. #7], and for the reasons set forth in the attached Memorandum Opinion, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:

1. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave of Court to File an Amended Complaint is GRANTED;
2. SEPTA's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. SEPTA's Motion is GRANTED with respect to Plaintiff's claims for false arrest and assault and battery. SEPTA's Motion is DENIED AS MOOT with respect to all other claims.
3. Plaintiff may file, within five (5) days of the date of this Order, an amended complaint that adds SEPTA Police Officer Arthur Brown as a defendant and asserts only the claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as pleaded in the proposed amended complaint submitted as Exhibit D to Plaintiff's Motion [Doc. #10].
4. Defendants SEPTA and Arthur Brown shall file, within twenty (20) days of service of Plaintiff's amended complaint, appropriate responsive pleadings to said amended complaint.
It is so ORDERED.


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