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Allen v. District Attorney's Office of Philadelphia

August 3, 2009

LEON ALLEN AND LAWRENCE WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE OF PHILADELPHIA, PETER DAILEY, ROBERTITO FONTAN, JOSEPH GEORGE, RICHARD T. GRAMLICH, LEWIS B. PALMER, KAREN HEYWARD, JOHN MCCONNELL, JOHN DOE, AND RICHARD ROE DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 22) filed by Defendants the District Attorney's Office of Philadelphia, Peter Dailey, Robertito Fontan, Joseph George, Richard T. Gramlich, Lewis B. Palmer, Karen Heyward, John McConnell, John Doe, and Richard Roe ("Defendants"), and the Response of Plaintiffs Leon Allen and Lawrence Williams ("Plaintiffs") (Docket No. 24). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 4, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against the City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, Police Officer John Doe, and Police Officer Richard Roe alleging that Defendants engaged in a unlawful search and seizure that deprived Plaintiffs of their due process rights "in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983." (Compl. ¶ 15.) Plaintiffs also assert that in the process of depriving them of their property, Defendants inflicted $2,500.00 worth of damage to their home's outside door. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiffs also raised a second claim alleging "unlawful seizure and taking of property under the laws and Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on September 23, 2008, adding the District Attorney's Office of Philadelphia as a Defendant. (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint on March 11, 2009. This iteration of the Complaint added the following Defendants: Peter Dailey; Robertito Fontan; Joseph George; Richard T. Gramlich; Lewis B. Palmer; Karen Heyward; and John McConnell. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 6.)

By stipulation the parties agreed to dismiss Defendants City of Philadelphia and Sylvester Johnson. (Docket No. 21.) The remaining Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, and Plaintiffs timely filed their response.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

On March 28, 2007, detectives from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office's Dangerous Drug Offenders Unit were tasked with sealing two homes forfeited due to ongoing, illegal drug activity at each residence. (Pls.' Resp. Mot. Summ. J. 2; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 2 (citing Ex. A., List of Home Sealings for week of Mar. 26, 2007).) The second home to be sealed was located at 2637 West Silver Street (Id.) After seizing the first property, the officers commenced their efforts to seal 2637 West Silver Street. Between eight or nine o'clock in the morning, Officer Dailey arrived at the 2600 block of West Silver Street, saw a house, and noticed activity at the home including "people walking in and out of the house with bottles of beer." (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J.; Ex. B, Deposition of Peter C. Dailey ("Dailey Dep.") 12:1-3, Mar. 11, 2009.) At this time, Officer Dailey exited his car, approached the property, and knocked on the door of the house where he had seen people with beer bottles. (Id. at 12:15-22.) It is at this point that the deposition testimony of Defendant Dailey and Plaintiff Allen differ somewhat, yet the basic contours of their statements are the same -- detectives arrived at the home seeking permission to enter, they were granted admission to the residence, and ordered everyone out of the house because it had been forfeited. See (Id., Dailey Dep. 17:11-18:20.; Pls.' Resp. Mot. Summ. J.; Ex. 1, Deposition of Leon Allen ("Allen Dep.") 22:14-23:25, Mar. 5, 2009.)

Allen claims that a neighbor, seeing the commotion, asked to see the list of homes to be sealed, and upon reading the list, informed the detectives that: (a) they were sealing the wrong home, 2636 West Silver Street; and (b) the home to be seized, 2637 West Silver Street, which was clearly numbered, was directly across the street. (Pls.' Resp. Mot. Summ. J., Allen Dep. 24:21-25:9.)

The detectives assert that this mistake*fn2 -- the eviction, discovery of their error, and the occupants re-entry into 2636 W. Silver Street only took a few minutes. See (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J.; Dailey Dep. 24:22-25:3; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J.; Ex. E, Deposition of John McConnell ("McConnell Dep."), 25:14-26:13, Mar. 11, 2009.) Conversely, Plaintiffs assert that they were evicted for a "couple of hours." (Pls.' Resp. Mot. Summ. J; Allen Dep. 27:7-9; Pls.' Resp. Mot. Summ. J; Ex. 2, Deposition of Lawrence Williams ("Williams Dep."), 17:19-25, Mar. 5, 2009.)

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is proper "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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For there to be a "genuine" issue, a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. (Id.)

On summary judgment, it is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Boyle v. County of Allegheny, PA, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v. Darling-Del. Co. Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993.) Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987). If a conflict arises between the evidence presented by both sides, the court must accept as true the allegations of the non-moving party, and "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

Although the moving party bears the initial burden of showing an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not "support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can meet its burden by "pointing out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims." (Id. at 325.) Once the movant has carried its initial burden, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586. "There must be sufficient evidence for a jury to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party; if the evidence is merely colorable or not significantly probative, summary judgment should be granted." Arbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994), abrogated on other grounds, Showalter v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Center, 190 F.3d 231 (3d Cir. 1999).

B. QUALIFIED IMMUNITY

Qualified immunity is "'an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation.'" Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). "Most public officials are entitled only to qualified immunity" from section 1983 actions. Yarris v. County of Delaware, 465 F.3d 120, 135 (3d. Cir. 2006); see Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993) (noting that ordinarily, "[q]ualified immunity represents the norm.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Whether to grant qualified immunity is a question for the court, not the jury, and should be decided early in the proceedings so that the defendant may avoid the burdens of litigation. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 200-01. The Court explained that "[t]he concern of the immunity ...


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