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Doswell v. City of Pittsburgh

October 2, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge.


Plaintiff, who was exonerated after 19 years of imprisonment for rape, brings suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for several constitutional violations against the detective who investigated the rape, the detective's supervising officers and the City of Pittsburgh. The Defendants assert a variety of defenses to both the § 1983 claims as well as to the supplemental state law claims. The Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff Thomas Doswell ("Doswell") was wrongfully arrested, prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for over nineteen years on the charge of rape. On August 1, 2005, his conviction was vacated and all charges were dismissed when DNA testing provided conclusive evidence of his innocence. Doswell contends that his conviction was the result of the intentional and systematic misconduct of Defendant Herman Wolf ("Wolf"), then a detective with the City of Pittsburgh Police Department ("the City"), Wolf's supervisors and the unconstitutional policies and practices of the City.

Doswell and his son, Raymond Thomas Lowry ("Lowry") have commenced this action against Wolf in his individual capacity, against John Doe and Richard Roe, the unknown police department supervisors, and the City of Pittsburgh. In Count I, brought against Wolf pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Doswell contends that Wolf's actions violated his 4th, 5th, 8th and 14th Amendment rights. Lowry, who was a minor at the time Doswell was arrested, contends that Wolf's action deprived him of the 14th Amendment familial and associational rights. In Count II, which is asserted against the City, Doswell and Lowry contend that the constitutional violations referenced in Count I were caused by the City's policies and practices, including a failure to properly train. Finally, in Count III, Doswell and Lowry assert claims against Wolf, Doe and Roe under Articles 1, 8, 9 and 13 of the Pennsylvania Constitution as well as common law claims of false imprisonment, negligent infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution.

The Defendants have filed a joint Motion to Dismiss and raise several arguments in support of dismissing the claims in their entirety. See Docket No. [7].*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


In deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all factual allegations, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, must be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Haspel v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2007 WL 2030272 at * 1 (3d Cir. July 16, 2007). However, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, __ U.S. __, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must "contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Id., at 1969.


I. The § 1983 Claims Are Timely

Doswell and Lowry assert a variety of constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, Wolfe, Doe and Roe. Doswell contends that Wolf violated his: right to be free from false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, use of false or perjured testimony, unlawful conviction and incarceration, and cruel and unusual punishment. He was further denied his right to a fair trial, his right not to have evidence fabricated against him, to the required disclosure of exculpatory and impeachment evidence, and to fair identification procedures, all in contravention of the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments... .

See Complaint, ¶ 46. Doswell and Lowry contend that the City, Doe and Roe caused these constitutional violations by "their policies and practices regarding photographic identification procedures, and their failure, with deliberate indifference, to properly train, supervise, and discipline detectives and other police officers... ." Id. ¶ 49.*fn2

The Defendants insist that these federal constitutional claims are barred by the statute of limitations pursuant to the Supreme Court's recent decision in Wallace v. Kato, 127 S.Ct. 1091 (2007). The Wallace Court addressed the specific issue of when the statute of limitations begins to run on a § 1983 claim seeking damages for a false arrest / false imprisonment in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court concluded that the claim accrues when the claimant becomes detained pursuant to the legal process. Once bound over for trial however, the Court explained, "unlawful detention forms part of the damages for the 'entirely distinct tort of malicious prosecution, which remedies detention accompanied, not by the absence of legal process, but by wrongful institution of legal process." Wallace, 127 S.Ct. at 1096 (citations omitted).

Thus, I agree with the Defendants that the Wallace decision forecloses as untimely the ยง 1983 claim insofar as it is predicated upon false arrest / false imprisonment. Any such claim would have expired long before this proceeding was initiated. ...

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