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King v. Ridley Township

December 17, 2008

DENNIS KING AND KAREEM MORGAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RIDLEY TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Docket No. 24).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.

BACKGROUND

In February of 2007, Plaintiffs Dennis King and Kareem Morgan filed suit against Ridley Township, Ridley Township Police, Detective Scott E. Willoughby, and Unknown John Doe Police Officer alleging violations of various rights secured under the Constitution and laws of the United States and seeking redress pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that on the morning of July 15, 2005,*fn2 Plaintiffs were asleep in Mr. King's legally parked vehicle at the Ridley Park Apartments. Plaintiffs allege that Mr. King was sleeping in the driver's seat, while Mr. Morgan slept in the passenger's seat. They were suddenly awoken, however, by the loud rapping of a hard object against the vehicle. Without having an opportunity to respond, the complaint alleges that Mr. King felt "the cold steel barrel" of a gun against his temple and when Mr. King began to turn his head, the "officer slid the gun into [his] mouth." The officers allegedly then opened the doors of the vehicle, forcefully threw both Plaintiffs to the ground, and handcuffed them. Mr. King was subsequently made to stand up and a gun was again held to his head. Meanwhile, Mr. Morgan was forced to remain on the ground with a knee to his back and neck. Plaintiffs assert that the officers detained them for approximately fifteen minutes, during which time they were subjected to multiple racial epithets. Specifically, they allege that the officers said repeatedly, "[W]e don't like niggers sleeping in a car in [our] county." Both Plaintiffs are African American.

Plaintiffs complaint alleges that the officers' actions violated the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal Constitution, as well as the unspecified provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution.*fn3 They further alleged that Ridley Township violated these same federal and state constitutional provisions by maintaining an "official custom and policy" of "knowingly, recklessly, or with gross negligence fail[ing] to instruct, supervise, control [or] discipline" its police officers, resulting in the Plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights being violated in multiple ways. See Compl. at Count V, ¶ 3.

In a Memorandum and Order dated July 17, 2007, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal and dismissed Plaintiffs' claims under the Fifth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution against all Defendants, any claims arising under the Pennsylvania Constitution against all Defendants, and any claims against the Ridley Township Police Department. Plaintiffs subsequently filed an Amended Complaint replacing Defendant Unknown John Doe Officer with Police Officer Steve Banner and Sergeant John Hamil. The Amended Complaint also reasserted the same claims previously dismissed. Rather than filing a second Motion for Partial Dismissal, however, the parties filed stipulations to dismiss the Plaintiffs' claims under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Fifth and Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and all claims against Detective Scott E. Willoughby and Ridley Township Police Department, which the Court signed on November 18, 2008.

Defendants have now moved for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' Unlawful Seizure, Equal Protection, and Municipal Liability claims.*fn4 The only claim Defendants do not seek to dismiss is Plaintiffs' excessive force claim.*fn5

In support of their motion, Defendants have submitted deposition testimony of both Plaintiffs and of Police Officer Steve Banner, Sergeant John Hamil, and Detective Scott E. Willoughby. The Plaintiffs deposition testimony does not differ significantly from their allegations in their complaint, however, it does include testimony that Plaintiff King gave Officer Banner and Sergeant Hamil consent to search his car and that the Plaintiffs went to Taylor Hospital following the incident. It also includes the Plaintiffs's explanation of how and why the Plaintiffs came to be sleeping in the parking lot.*fn6

The deposition testimony of Officer Banner and Sergeant Hamil gives an entirely different account of what occurred between the parties. According to Officer Banner and Sergeant Hamil, the officers arrived on the scene in response to a call from the apartment complex owner who had contacted the police and reported the Plaintiffs sleeping in the parking lot. The officers allege that they approached the car and saw Mr. Morgan with his head face down in Mr. King's lap and that it appeared to the officers the men were engaging in oral sex. The officers then knocked on the window or side of the car. Mr. Morgan than attempted to exit the car but was unable to because Sergeant Hamil was standing next to the passenger side of the car. Shortly thereafter, according to the officers, Mr. King recognized Sergeant Hamil from a previous encounter and Mr. King, Mr. Morgan and Sergeant Hamil engaged in friendly banter before the officers sent the Plaintiffs on their way. The officers deny ever brandishing their weapons, using racial epithets, placing the Plaintiffs on the ground, or handcuffing them.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

If the moving party establishes the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to "do more than simply show there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). If the non-moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, "the moving party may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry that burden." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 456 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Wetzel v. Tucker, 139 F.3d 380, 383 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1998)). In conducting our review, we view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). However, there must be more than a "mere scintilla" of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position to survive the summary judgment stage. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

DISCUSSION

Pursuant to ยง1983, Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the ...


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