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Martorano v. City of Philadelphia

October 14, 2009

GIANNA MARTORANO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case is now before the Court for the resolution of Defendants City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Police Department, and the Fairmount Park Commission's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is GRANTED.

Factual Background*fn1

This dispute arises out of a car accident that occurred on May 18, 2007, in a portion of Fairmount Park known as FDR Park. Plaintiff was a passenger in Defendant Bundouk Somaulai's car while he was "joy riding," and his reckless driving resulted in the car crashing into a tree. Plaintiff suffered severe injuries to her head, neck, back, arms, and legs. These injuries are alleged to be permanent, and continue to cause her pain and suffering.

Plaintiff filed this case in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on August 11, 2009. In Count I of her Complaint, she asserts state law tort claims against Bundouk Somaulai. In Counts II and III, Plaintiff seeks damages against the City of Philadelphia, the Fairmount Park Commission, and the Philadelphia Police Department for violations of her constitutional rights. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the City has violated her Substantive Due Process rights contained in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The City of Philadelphia, the Fairmount Park Commission, and the Philadelphia Police Department removed the case to this Court on September 1, 2009.*fn2 This case is now before us on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, filed on September 16, 2009.

Standard

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint should be dismissed if the plaintiff has failed to "state a claim on which relief can be granted." In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true, but it is not required to blindly accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 283, 286 (1986). Although a plaintiff is not required to plead detailed factual allegations, the complaint must include enough facts to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

Discussion

As an initial matter, Plaintiff has not stated a claim on which relief can be granted against the City of Philadelphia Police Department and the Fairmount Park Commission, as these are entities that are not amenable to suit.*fn3 All suits against a department of the City of Philadelphia must be filed against the City, and not against the individual department. 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 16257 (West 2009). Both the Philadelphia Police Department and the Fairmount Park Commission are departments of the City of Philadelphia, and, therefore, cannot be sued. All allegations against each of these must be levied against the City of Philadelphia, and must be dismissed as against the Philadelphia Police Department and the Fairmount Park Commission. City of Philadelphia v. Glim, 613 A.2d 613, 616 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1992).

Turning to the merits of Plaintiff's Substantive Due Process claim against the City of Philadelphia, this also fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted, and must be dismissed.*fn4

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a federal cause of action for plaintiffs whose constitutional rights have been violated by a person acting under color of state law. Natale v. Camden County Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 580-81 (3d Cir. 2003). Although municipalities can be sued under § 1983, this liability cannot rest solely on the basis of respondeat superior. Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978).

Instead, if the plaintiff chooses to sue the overarching entity rather than the individuals directly responsible for her harm, she must show that the defendant had a policy or custom that caused the constitutional violation. Natale, 318 F.3d at 583-84.

Plaintiff brings the present action against three municipal entities, and not against any individual state actors. Because of this decision, Plaintiff cannot succeed in alleging that the Defendants in this action directly violated her constitutional rights. Instead, Plaintiff is limited to establishing a violation based on the municipality's policy or custom. Due to the limitations of the cause of action provided by 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, Plaintiff's ...


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