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Damb-Totti Alassani v. Mary-Ellen Walter

January 14, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.


Plaintiff Damb-Totti Alassani alleges in this lawsuit that defendants Mary-Ellen Walter, Kathleen Shields, John P. Delaney, the city of Philadelphia and two unidentified Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials violated his rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Defendants Walter and Shields have filed motions to dismiss the claims against them. Additionally, Walter has filed an alternative motion for summary judgment.*fn1 Presently before me are the motions to dismiss, Walter's alternative motion for summary judgment, plaintiff's response to each motion and replies by both defendants. For the reasons that follow, I will grant in part and deny in part Shields's motion and I will deny Walter's motions.


Plaintiff, a citizen of Togo, presently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He alleges that he was arrested without probable cause because defendants mistook him for another individual, Andre Smith.

On August 6, 2008, police arrested plaintiff for failing to satisfy the terms of a sentence he was serving for driving under the influence of alcohol. Compl. ¶ 11. Approximately three v. hours after plaintiff's arrest, Andre Smith was arrested for violating the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act ("VUFA"), 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6101 et seq. Id. at 12. The arrests of both plaintiff and Smith were processed through the same police department. Id.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") initiated removal proceedings against plaintiff. Walter Decl. ¶ 2. On August 28, 2008, he attended an immigration hearing during which herein-unidentified "immigration officials" "accused [him] of [] being Andre Smith." Compl. ¶ 15. Plaintiff's attorney, however, was able to convince the immigration officials that "[plaintiff] was not Andre Smith." Id. at 16.

Plaintiff appeared again in immigration court on September 1, 2009. Walter Decl. ¶ 2. This time, the government was represented by defendant Walter, an Assistant Chief Counsel for the Department of Homeland Security, who had reviewed the contents of plaintiff's "alien file" prior to the hearing. Id. at ¶ 1; Compl. ¶¶ 2, 8. Plaintiff's alien file included an I-213 Record of Deportable/Inadmissible Alien and a National Crime Information Center report. Walter Decl. ¶

4. Both reports indicated that plaintiff had been arrested twice in Pennsylvania--once for DUI and once for VUFA. Id. at ¶¶ 5-7. The DUI arrest was under the name Alassani but the VUFA arrest was under the name Andre Smith, which both reports identified as an alias used by Alassani. Id. at ¶ 7.

At the September 1, 2009 hearing, plaintiff denied under oath that he had been arrested for VUFA. Id. at ¶ 8. At plaintiff's attorney's request, the immigration court adjourned the hearing until October 20, 2009 to permit the parties to investigate the discrepancy between plaintiff's testimony and the information contained in the reports. Id. at ¶ 8. Walter asserts that during the adjournment, she took three steps in attempting to confirm that both the DUI arrest and the VUFA arrest were attributable to plaintiff. First, she "accessed the Philadelphia Preliminary Arraignment System on ICE's Detention and Removal Operations area computer . . . and queried the Philadelphia district control number for the VUFA arrest." Id. at ¶ 9. The arrest report produced by the query indicated that "'Andre Smith' had been arrested on a VUFA charge [and that] the state identification number for the person arrested [was] 33038909." Id. at ¶ 9. Second, she obtained the arrest photographs associated with the DUI arrest and the VUFA arrest. Id. at ¶ 10. Both arrest photographs indicated that the state identification number of the individual in the photograph was 33038909. Id. at ¶ 11. Walter asserts that "[t]he two photos appear to me to show the same person, and appear to show the person I examined in immigration court known to me as Damb-Toti Alassani, alias 'Andre Smith.'" Id. at ¶ 11. Finally, she requested confirmation from the Philadelphia Police Department's Identification Unit that the fingerprints on file for the VUFA arrest match those on file for state identification number 33038909. Id. at ¶ 12. An Identification Unit officer informed Walter that the fingerprints matched. Id.

After satisfying herself that both the DUI arrest and the VUFA arrest were attributable to plaintiff, Walter "accessed the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System web portal and queried [the] Philadelphia district control number for the VUFA arrest." Id. at ¶ 13. Philadelphia court records revealed that the defendant charged with VUFA had failed to appear in court and therefore a bench warrant had been issued for his arrest. Id. Walters informed ICE Detention and Removal Officers that plaintiff was scheduled to appear in immigration court on October 20, 2009 and that there had been a bench warrant issued for his arrest. Id. at ¶ 13. She requested that the officers attend the hearing. Id. at ¶ 16.

At the hearing on October 20, 2009, Walter asserts that plaintiff renewed his request for voluntary removal but "presented no evidence to the Immigration Judge establishing that he was not the individual arrested on the VUFA charge, other than his unsubstantiated testimony." Id. at ¶ 15. She thus requested that the ICE officers detain plaintiff and "deliver him to the appropriate law enforcement officers." Id. at ¶ 16. The officers took plaintiff to the Philadelphia District Attorney's office to be fingerprinted. Id. Walter later learned that the fingerprints taken that day matched those on file for state identification number 33038909. Id.

After being fingerprinted, plaintiff alleges that two unidentified immigration officers placed him in custody at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. Compl. ¶ 21. Despite plaintiff's repeated assertion that he was not Andre Smith, the prison guards did not report his claim to prison warden defendant John P. Delaney. Id. at ¶ 23. Plaintiff remained incarcerated until January 14, 2010, when plaintiff's attorney allegedly secured his release by convincing an unidentified judge that "Andre Smith was at a preliminary hearing in Philly at the same time [plaintiff] was serving his sentence in the Delaware County jail." Id. at ¶ 25.


I. Motion To Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss all or part of an action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Typically, "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations," though plaintiff's obligation to state the grounds of entitlement to relief "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. (citations omitted). The complaint must state "'enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter School Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Court of Appeals has recently made clear that after Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1955, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009), "conclusory or 'bare-bones' allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss: 'threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.' To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949). The Court also set forth a two part-analysis for reviewing motions to dismiss in light of Twombly and Iqbal: "First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. ...

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