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Brown v. City of Pittsburgh

January 30, 2007

GERALD R. BROWN, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH, OFFICER FAQUAR T. HOLLAND, DEFENDANTS.



MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is the JOINT MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, with brief in support, filed by Defendants, the City of Pittsburgh and police officer Faquar Holland (Document Nos. 37 and 38). Plaintiff, Gerald Brown, has filed a RESPONSE, a RESPONSIVE CONCISE STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS and a BRIEF IN OPPOSITION TO DEFENDANTS' JOINT MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document Nos. 49, 50, 51). The issues have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition. After a careful consideration of the motion, the filings in support and opposition thereto, the relevant case law, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that the City's motion for summary judgment will be granted and Holland's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

BACKGROUND

In resolving a motion for summary judgment, a court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Similarly, the first step in evaluating a claim of qualified immunity is to "determine whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, show a constitutional violation." Bennett v. Murphy, 274 F.3d 133, 136 (3d Cir. 2002). Accordingly, unless otherwise noted, the factual background is based upon Plaintiff's Responsive Concise Statement of Material Facts (Document No. 50).

The incident which gave rise to this lawsuit occurred on August 9, 2003 in the early afternoon. During half-time of a Steelers exhibition game, Plaintiff Brown went outside to sit on his front porch in the South Oakland area of Pittsburgh. Defendant Officer Holland had been dispatched to the area to investigate an aggravated assault involving juveniles in the neighborhood. Three other police cars were also in the area. When Brown came outside, Holland had arrested a juvenile and placed her in his patrol car and was gathering additional information from the girl's grandmother, who was Brown's next-door neighbor. Brown was approximately four feet away, on his portion of a long common porch separated by dividers.

Holland claims that Brown made numerous profane comments to him. Brown claims that his initial comments were directed to his neighbor on the other side. Holland testified at Brown's summary appeal hearing in state court that Brown kept repeating: "That's fucked up, that he's arresting that girl." The parties dispute whether Brown's comments were loud. Holland then came onto Brown's porch, hollering and using profanity at Brown, but then went back to his interview. After another exchange of words, Holland returned, handcuffed Brown and forced him to sit on his front steps for fifteen to twenty minutes.

The parties dispute the impact of Brown's comments on the situation. According to Brown, it was quiet on the street until Holland came onto his porch and began yelling. The neighbors came out of their homes when the police cars arrived, not in response to Brown's conduct. The bystanders were not hostile to the officers, were not provoked or incited by Brown's comments, and did not impede the investigation.

After completing his interview, Holland exchanged vehicles with another officer because his patrol car did not have a safety screen, and transported Brown to the Allegheny County Jail. Brown has chronic back pain from a prior surgery, but he was not permitted to take his pain medications with him to the jail. Brown alleges that Holland drove erratically by changing lanes and speeding. Because Brown was not seatbelted, and was handcuffed, he was jostled about in the back seat of the car, which exacerbated his back pain. The next day, Brown went to the emergency room due to the pain and on August 15, 2003 he visited his treating physician, Brian Cicuto, D.O. Brown missed two weeks of work until the pain was under control.

Brown was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct -- a misdemeanor and a summary offense. When Holland failed to appear at the hearing, the District Justice dismissed the charges. Holland refiled the charges, and after a hearing in October 2003, Brown was found guilty of the summary offense by the District Justice. Brown appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which ruled that Brown's conduct was protected by the First Amendment and the charges were dismissed. This litigation followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment should be granted "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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Thus, the Court's task is not to resolve disputed issues of fact, but to determine whether there exist any factual issues to be tried. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-49 (1986). The non-moving party must raise "more than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249). Further, the non-moving party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions in attempting to survive a summary judgment motion. Id. (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986)). Distilled to its essence, the summary judgment standard requires the non-moving party to create a "sufficient disagreement to require submission [of the evidence] to a jury." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

DISCUSSION

Section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code does not create substantive rights, but rather provides a remedy for the violation of rights created by federal law. City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985). A prima facie case under § 1983 requires a plaintiff to demonstrate: (1) that the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). In the instant case, Brown alleges that Officer Holland violated his First Amendment rights, arrested him without probable cause, used excessive force in carrying out the arrest, and maliciously prosecuted him. Brown also asserts a Section 1983 claim against the City of Pittsburgh for its alleged failure to adequately train, supervise and discipline its police officers.

Claims Brought Against Officer Holland

It is undisputed that Defendant Holland was a state actor. The key issue is whether Holland had probable cause to arrest and press charges against Brown for disorderly conduct. In addition, Holland ...


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