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Johnson v. Borough of Collingdale

September 25, 2009


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


Plaintiff Dennis Johnson brings this action against Defendants for unlawful arrest, unlawful use of force, malicious prosecution, and False Imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, based on his July 7, 2007 arrest and detention. Based on agreement of the parties, the remaining Defendants are Officer Dean Kemp, Officer Robert Marvil, Chief Robert Adams and Corporal Edward Robinson. Presently before this Court is the motion for summary judgment of Defendants. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part


On July 7, 2007 Johnson attended an Independence Day barbeque at the home of his cousin, Todd Ashley, on MacDade Boulevard in the Borough of Collingdale. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 5 [Dep. of Amber Patterson-Johnson] at 8.) Patterson-Johnson drove Johnson to the barbeque after having spent the entire day with him. (Id. at 7-8.) They arrived at the barbeque at around 10:30 pm. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. 4 [Dep. of Samantha Glenn] at 9.) Johnson fixed a plate of food, and went to the backyard to play cards with, among others, Patterson-Johnson. Johnson did not consume any alcohol or drugs at any point on July 7. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 1 [Dep. of Dennis Johnson] at 13-14; Id. Ex. 3 [Dep. of Wayne Boyer, Jr.] at 8; Dep. of Samantha Glenn at 9; Dep. of Amber Patterson-Johnson at 8.)

Shortly after Johnson arrived at the party, a relative announced to those in the backyard that there was a fight in the street in front of the house. (Dep. of Amber Patterson-Johnson at 9.) Johnson and others went out to the front of the house where the other partygoers were crowded to observe the pugilists. (Id. at 9.) While other members of the crowd were in the street and on the sidewalk, Johnson was on the bottom step of Ashley's property. (Id. at 11; Dep. of Samantha Glenn at 12.)

Police arrived on the scene shortly after Johnson went to the front of the house. (Dep. of Amber Patterson-Johnson at 10.) The officers blocked off the street and attempted to control the crowd. (Dep. of Samantha Glenn at 9.) An officer asked Johnson to go into the house, but Johnson calmly stated that he did not have to go into the house because he was a grown man, he had done nothing wrong, and he knew his rights. (Dep. of Amber Patterson-Johnson at 12; Dep. of Wayne Boyer, Jr. at 3.) Johnson never raised his voice to the officers or used any vulgarity. (Dep. of Wayne Boyer, Jr. at 23.) Johnson refused several more demands from the officer, or officers, to return to the house. (Dep. of Amber Patterson-Johnson at 12.) One officer said "this is my property, the streets are my property, so get the F in the house." (Id.) When Johnson again refused to go into the house, the officers grabbed him from his cousin's property, pulled him across the sidewalk, and slammed him against a parked civilian vehicle. (Dep. of Wayne Boyer, Jr. at 9, 13.) Officers admit that Johnson did not physically resist, and that he was completely compliant. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 7 [Dep. of Dean Kemp] at 51.) Johnson claims that four officers arrested him, including Kemp, Marvil, and Robinson. (Dep. of Dennis Johnson at 24, 90-91; Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. P-3 [Decl. of Dennis Johnson] ¶ 4.) One of the officers punched or hit Johnson in his back while he was pinned against the car. (Dep. of Dennis Johnson at 24-25.) As he was being slammed against the vehicle, Johnson yelled that his back was hurt. (Dep. of Wayne Boyer, Jr. at 15.)

Johnson's brother, Andrew Johnson, was arrested shortly after, and they were transported together to the police station. (Dep. of Dennis Johnson at 37-38.) Dennis Johnson remained mostly silent during the ride and after arriving at the station. He answered a question that an officer asked him, and was immediately told to "shut the fuck up." (Id. at 41.) After arriving at the police station, Dennis Johnson replied that he had nothing further to say. In response, Chief Adams came out of the office, and said, "you are right, this is the end of the discussion because you can spend the night in jail too you faggot ass bitch." (Id. at 42.) The decision to detain Dennis Johnson overnight was made jointly by Adams, Kemp, Marvil, and Robinson. (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot for Summ. J. ¶ 49.) Janet Johnson went to pick up her sons Dennis and Andrew at the police station that night, but she was told that they would not be released until 7 a.m. because officers did not like "their mouths, their tone," and that officers were going to "teach them a lesson." (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 2 [Dep. of Janet Johnson] at 8.) Dennis Johnson was released around 7 a.m. the next morning.

Plaintiff received citations and summons for two summary offenses: disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. (Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 11, Ex. 12 [Citations].) Johnson was found not guilty of both charges. (Dep. of Dennis Johnson at 58-62.)


Summary judgment may 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). The role of the trial court is to determine whether there are material factual issues that merit a trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). In making that determination, the court must give the nonmoving party the benefit of all reasonable inferences that might be drawn from the underlying facts. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Sempier v. Johnson & Higgins, 45 F.3d 724, 727 (3d Cir. 1995) (en banc). A court must, however, avoid making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).


A. Unlawful Arrest*fn1

A claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest starts with the inquiry of whether the arresting officers had probable cause to believe that the person arrested had committed the offense. Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)). Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient to establish a reasonable belief that the individual has committed or is committing a criminal offense. Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 514 (3d Cir. 2003). Probable cause is normally a factual determination for the jury, particularly if the issue requires a credibility determination. Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Orsatti v. New Jersey State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)).

When the evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, a reasonable jury could conclude that Kemp, Marvil, and Robinson all participated in the arrest of Johnson. (Dep. of Dennis Johnson at 24, 90-91; Decl. of Dennis Johnson ΒΆ 4.) A reasonable jury could also find that no probable cause existed for Kemp, Marvil, and Robinson to arrest Johnson on either a charge of ...

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