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Munson v. City of Philadelphia

July 15, 2009

IDRIS MUNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert F. Kelly, Sr. J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, the City of Philadelphia (the "City"), Philadelphia Police Officers James Dougherty, Kimyatta Davis, Timothy Bogan, John Brennan, Sergeant Torpey, and William Torpey ("Defendant officers"), former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson ("Commissioner Johnson"), and current Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey ("Commissioner Ramsey"). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be granted with regard to all causes of actions.

I. BACKGROUND

On October 27, 2008, Plaintiff Idris Munson ("Munson") filed a Complaint against the City, the Defendant officers, and Commissioners Johnson and Ramsey, in their individual and official capacities, alleging that these Defendants violated his constitutional and federal statutory rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983,*fn1 and committed numerous tortious acts upon him.

Munson's claims stem from an incident that occurred on October 26, 2008 at his residence located at 2634 Earp Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Munson asserts that on this date, at approximately 2:30 a.m., the Defendant officers, along with Philadelphia Warrant Unit officers, arrived at his front door looking for a man named Larry Brown. They had an arrest warrant for Brown who was wanted for aggravated assault. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B.) Munson contends that he opened the door and the Defendant officers entered. Munson alleges that one or more of the officers used excessive force when he was pushed up against his couch, "flipped" onto the floor, and pinned to the ground. He further claims that one officer "jumped on [his] back with his knee and a bunch of other cops came on [him] and just held [him]." (Munson Dep. 28-31.) He was then put in handcuffs, and placed on his couch while the officers secured the house. (Id. at 31.)

While inside the house, the Defendant officers observed a large quantity of drugs and drug paraphernalia in plain view in the kitchen. The officers subsequently confiscated two scales, two large freezer bags containing marijuana, and another plastic bag containing cocaine. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B.) Munson was charged with three separate counts of narcotic violations, including possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. He pled guilty to the charge of possession with intent to deliver, and received a sentence of 111/2 to 23 months in prison. Id.

Munson claims injuries from the alleged excessive force used against him during his arrest, including a broken right index finger, and injuries to his right leg, wrist, and shoulder. He avers in his Complaint that the Defendant officers violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by using excessive force against him. Munson also has brought a municipal liability claim against the City, as well as Commissioners Johnson and Ramsey, alleging that the City and these Commissioners have policies, practices, and customs which caused his constitutional rights to be violated. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-24.) Munson has also brought state law claims for assault, battery, harassment, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

During the course of discovery, the Defendants assert that Munson failed to produce any medical evidence that his index finger was broken and/or evidence of back and shoulder injuries stemming from the incident in question. Rather, they claim that Munson produced medical records which indicated that he had a mass on his right index finger that was a pre-existing condition. (Munson Dep., Ex. 1.)

In light of the medical evidence produced, on April 30, 2009, counsel for the Defendants sent a letter to Munson's counsel, Rania Major-Trunfio, Esq., stating that this lawsuit is frivolous, and requesting that it be withdrawn pursuant to Rule 11(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C.) On May 5, 2009, the Defendants' attorney sent another letter to Ms. Major-Trunfio confirming a telephone conference wherein she indicated that Munson would not agree to withdraw his lawsuit, but that Ms. Major-Trunfio had intended to withdraw as his counsel due to the frivolous nature of the lawsuit. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D.)

Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on May 6, 2009. Munson did not file a response, but instead, Ms. Major-Trunfio filed a Petition to Withdraw as Counsel on the basis of irreconcilable differences with Munson. She also requested that this matter be stayed for sixty days to permit Munson to obtain new counsel, and requested an additional fourteen days to respond to the Motion for Summary Judgment upon the entry of new counsel. We held a hearing on this Motion on June 5, 2009,*fn2 and on this date, granted counsel's Motion to Withdraw and gave Munson until June 18, 2009 to file a response to the Motion for Summary Judgment or have new counsel enter an appearance on his behalf.*fn3 To date, Munson has done neither.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) states that summary judgment is proper "if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Hines v. Consol. Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1991). The Court asks "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether . . . one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of the suit after applying the substantive law. Further, a dispute over a material fact must be 'genuine,' i.e., the evidence must be such 'that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party.'" Compton v. Nat'l League of Prof'l Baseball Clubs, 995 F. Supp. 554, 561 n.14 (E.D. Pa. 1998).

Summary judgment must be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Once the moving party has produced evidence in support of summary judgment, the non-moving party must go beyond the allegations set forth in its pleadings and counter with evidence that presents "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); see Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am. Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1362-63 (3d Cir. 1992). "More than a mere scintilla of evidence in its favor" must be presented by the non-moving party in order to overcome a summary judgment motion. Tziatzios ...


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