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Jackson v. City of Pittsburgh

February 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer


I. Introduction

This is a civil rights case arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which Plaintiff, Charles Jackson ("Plaintiff"), claims that Defendants, the City of Pittsburgh ("City") and five of its police officers, Timothy Kreger ("Kreger"), Eric Holmes ("Holmes"), Mark Goob ("Goob"), James Joyce ("Joyce"), and Gregory Woodhall ("Woodhall," collectively "Defendant Officers"),*fn1 violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and committed torts under Pennsylvania law. Plaintiff's claims stem from an incident that occurred on November 2, 2001, in which Defendant Officers pulled him over for a traffic stop. Plaintiff alleges that during the stop he was assaulted by Kreger, his vehicle was unlawfully searched, he was unlawfully arrested, and denied necessary medical treatment prior to being incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ"). The matter is currently before the Court on Defendants' Joint Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 80). Upon consideration of Defendants' Motion and Brief in Support (Docket Nos. 80 and 82), Plaintiff's Response (Docket No. 85), Defendants' Reply (Docket No. 89), Plaintiff's Sur- Reply (Docket No. 92), and for the reasons set forth herein, the Court will GRANT, in part, and DENY, in part, the Motion.

II. Factual Background

Unless otherwise specified, the facts of record are uncontested. Viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, they are as follows.

A. The Traffic Stop

On November 2, 2001, between 9:10 and 9:30 p.m., Plaintiff, then a 36 year old resident of Pittsburgh, was driving in the area of Hamilton Avenue and Frankstown Road in the Homewood area of Pittsburgh. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 1, 3, 4; Docket No. 81 at ¶ 1, 3, 4). That evening, Defendant Officers Kreger, Goob, Joyce and Woodhall,*fn2 all narcotics officers with the City of Pittsburgh police department, were traveling together in an unmarked car on a narcotics detail. (Docket No. 56 at ¶12; Docket No. 86 at ¶1; Docket No. 93-4 at ¶1). They were all in plainclothes. (Docket No. 81 ¶ 2; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 2). Plaintiff claims that he was driving on North Braddock Avenue and attempted to make a left turn onto Frankstown Road on his way to meet his parents for bowling. (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶ 3, 5). However, Defendant Officers maintain that they observed Plaintiff traveling on Hamilton Avenue in a 1988 black Nissan and made a right turn onto North Braddock Avenue without signaling, and that his vehicle emitted a loud noise, suggesting a malfunctioning muffler. (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶ 3, 6). In response to same, Defendant Officers testified that they initiated a traffic stop near the intersection of Mead Street and North Braddock Avenue, while Plaintiff asserts he was stopped near a business called "Beer World," which is no longer in operation. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 7; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 7).

According to Defendants, after pulling Plaintiff over, Defendant Goob approached his driver's window, requesting Plaintiff's driver's license, to which Plaintiff responded that he did not have one. (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶ 8-9). The parties dispute that Plaintiff's Pennsylvania license was suspended. Defendant Officers testified that they performed a background check at the scene and verified that Plaintiff's Pennsylvania driver's license had been suspended.(Docket No. 81 at ¶ 9-10). In contrast, Plaintiff contends that all four officers "ambushed [him] with guns drawn and flashlights glaring" and that the officers told him he was being pulled over because he was "a known drug dealer." (Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 6-8). Plaintiff further contends that his vehicle was not producing a loud noise from the muffler, (Docket No. 87 at ¶6), and that he did have a valid Pennsylvania driver's license. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 9). Plaintiff also stated that the officers failed to check and see that he also had a valid Ohio driver's license.*fn3 (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 11; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 9; Docket No. 93-4 at ¶¶ 8-9).

B. Search of Plaintiff's Car

After verifying that Plaintiff's suspended Pennsylvania license, Defendant Officers informed Plaintiff that he would not able to continue to drive his vehicle. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 12; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 12). Defendant Officers contend that where the vehicle was stopped created an impediment and hazard to traffic, while Plaintiff claims that his car "offer[ed] no such impediment." (Id. at ¶ 13). Plaintiff denies the officers' contention that they asked him to get out of the car, rather, he claims they pulled open his door and "demanded that Plaintiff get out of the vehicle." (Id. at ¶ 14). Upon doing so, Plaintiff testified that Defendant Officers immediately frisked him. (Id.). The officers then informed Plaintiff that his vehicle would have to be towed because it created a hazardous impediment to traffic. (Id. at ¶ 15).

In anticipation of the arrival of the tow truck, Defendant Kreger conducted an inventory search of the vehicle. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 16). Plaintiff attests that Defendant Kreger searched his vehicle three or four times without cause, and that these searches were made immediately upon Plaintiff's exit from the car.*fn4 (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 16; Docket No. 93-4 at ¶ 5). During these searches, Defendants allegedly tore a hole in one of the seats and pulled a speaker out of a wall of the car. (Docket No. 93-4 at ¶ 4). Plaintiff contends that the towing of his vehicle was in violation of City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Regulation Order 41-4 or 5.1.3,*fn5 because Plaintiff was not allowed to contact someone to retrieve the vehicle on his behalf prior to its tow. (Docket No. 85 at 2; Docket No. 93-4 at ¶¶ 11-12). Further, Plaintiff testified that Defendant Officers had no justification for towing Plaintiff's car because it was not an impediment to traffic, as the car had not been stopped near a stop signal, was on the right side of the road, and was only passed by a couple of cars throughout the duration of the stop. (Docket No. 87 at ¶13).

In contrast, Defendant Officers contend that Plaintiff's vehicle was not damaged by their search, and that Plaintiff signed a Towing Notice provided by the officers prior to the tow. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 18). The Towing Notice indicates that Plaintiff's vehicle was, in every category, marked "damaged" at the time the vehicle was towed. (Id.). They further claim that Plaintiff's car was already in "deplorable condition" before the traffic stop. (Docket No. 95 at ¶ 4). Defendants also note that in his statements to the Office of Municipal Investigations ("OMI"), Plaintiff only stated that the officers enlarged a pre-existing tear in one of the seats while they acknowledge that a stereo had been torn out. (Id.).

C. Arrest of Plaintiff

Through the course of the traffic stop, Defendant Officers maintain that Plaintiff became increasingly agitated and used profane language upon learning that his vehicle would be searched and towed. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 17; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 17). The officers advised Plaintiff to "settle down" and to "chill out," but Plaintiff denies that this occurred. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 19; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 19). Defendant Officers testified that Plaintiff approached Kreger from behind as Kreger was conducing the inventory search, at which point Kreger turned to face Plaintiff, pushing him away. (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶ 20-21). Goob then physically restrained Plaintiff from behind, taking him to the ground using an "armbar" technique.(Id. at ¶¶ 22-23). It is uncontested that Joyce and Woodhall were not involved. (Id.). Kreger then handcuffed Plaintiff while he laid face down on the ground and continued to resist arrest. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). Defendant Officers admit that Plaintiff received an injury below his right eye as a result of this encounter, however, the severity of the injury is contested. (Id. at ¶ 27; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 24). In light of Plaintiff's behavior during his arrest, Defendants claim that the force used was reasonably necessary to effectuate the arrest. (Docket No. 58 at ¶¶16-17; Docket No. 59 at ¶17). Defendants also assert that they had probable cause to conduct the arrest and to search Plaintiff incident to the arrest. (Docket No. 58 at ¶17; Docket No. 59 at ¶17).

Plaintiff's version of these facts differs drastically. Plaintiff denies initiating any contact with Kreger and asserts that Kreger physically assaulted him after another officer searched his pockets and found $350.00, once again accusing him of being a drug dealer. (Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 21, 22). Plaintiff asserts "that whatever type of hold was used by Goob was used while Plaintiff was staggering from Kreger's punch to this throat." (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Kreger struck or punched him in the throat, face, and eyes numerous times in the process of arresting him and while he laid still on the ground. (Docket No. 87 at ¶24; Docket No. 93-4 at ¶¶15-17). It is undisputed that the other officers standing at the scene were not involved in this altercation; to this end, Plaintiff claims that they were "close enough to help," but did nothing. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 23; Docket No. 87 at ¶¶ 23, 25).

D. Events Subsequent to Plaintiff's Arrest

Plaintiff testified that despite his obvious injuries suffered as a result of purported mistreatment by Defendant Kreger, he was refused medical treatment prior to being admitted to the Allegheny County Jail. (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶ 28-29). He contends that he experienced blackouts, and difficulty with swallowing and breathing. (Docket No. 93-4 at ¶¶18-19). However, Defendants claim Plaintiff was not denied any medical treatment. (Docket No. 59 at ¶27). To this end, Defendants attest that no one brought to the county jail with visible injuries or complaints of physical injuries is admitted without clearance from a hospital. (Docket No. 59 at ¶23). Moreover, Defendant Officers testified that they offered Plaintiff medical assistance at the scene and that he denied said request. (Docket No. 89 at 2; Docket No. 95 at ¶ 20).

After his arrest, Plaintiff was transported to the Allegheny County Jail and charged with disorderly conduct,*fn6 resisting arrest,*fn7 failing to activate his turn signal,*fn8 and driving without a license.*fn9 (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶ 30, 31; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 30, 31). Plaintiff asserts that he was incarcerated for one to three days*fn10 prior to his Preliminary Hearing. (Docket No. 56 at ¶¶27-28; Docket No. 85 at 2). At Plaintiff's Preliminary Hearing, the court dismissed all charges except the failure to use a turn signal. (Docket No. 56 at ¶29; Docket No. 93-4 at ¶24). Plaintiff pled guilty and paid the fine for the charge of failing to use a turn signal, because he "just wanted to get it out of the way." (Docket No. 93-4 at ¶ 25).

Upon his discharge from the jail, on November 3, 2001, Plaintiff went to the Western Pennsylvania Hospital Emergency Department, where he complained of blurred vision, pain and numbness of the cheek, and difficulty swallowing. (Docket No. 81 at ¶ 32; Docket No. 87 at ¶ 32). The attending physician diagnosed a large "facial abrasion," and noted that it was cleaned thoroughly. (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶34-35; Docket No. 83-1 at 14). The physician also noted that Plaintiff's physical exam indicated cheek and neck pain and numbness, as well as shortness of breath and blurred vision. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 33; Docket No. 95 at ¶ 18; Docket No. 83-1 at 14). He then prescribed Plaintiff antibiotic ointment before releasing Plaintiff from the hospital. (Id.). On November 7, 2001, Plaintiff's family doctor, Dr. Kenneth Ung, noted some neck and facial bruising, as well as some tenderness and trouble turning his head. (Docket No. 87 at ¶33; Docket No. 87-23). Dr. Ung also noted that Plaintiff had some bruises and contusions over both cheeks and a neck bruise around the windpipe, with mild trouble swallowing. (Docket No. 87-23).

Plaintiff claims Defendant Officers' actions were racially motivated. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 40). For this proposition, Plaintiff cites the inconsistent reasoning given by one of the Defendants for stopping his car, i.e. that Plaintiff was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign. (Docket No. 87 at ¶ 5). However, following a formal complaint by Plaintiff, the OMI did not find that the Defendants conducted themselves inappropriately during the encounter with Plaintiff. (Docket No. 81 at ¶¶ 38-39).

With regards to Plaintiff's claims that the City is liable under section 1983 for Defendant Officers' actions, Defendants assert that the City maintains and imposes adequate and reasonable customs, policies, and practices, including, inter alia, training practices, procedures, customs, disciplinary procedures, and reviews. (Docket No. 58 at ¶48; Docket No. 81 at ¶¶42-43).

III. Procedural History

Plaintiff, originally proceeding pro se, initiated this case in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on October 31, 2003 by filing of a praecipe for a writ of summons. (Docket No. 1-4). The following parties were originally named as Defendants: County of Allegheny,*fn11 the City of Pittsburgh, and City of Pittsburgh police officers Terry Collings, Mark Goob, Eric Holmes, James Joyce and Timothy Kreger, in their individual and official capacities. (Id.). The City of Pittsburgh ruled Plaintiff to file a complaint on March 17, 2004 (Docket No. 1-9), and on January 11, 2007, the City filed a praecipe to enter judgment non pros. (Docket No. 1-13). Plaintiff filed his complaint on January 19, 2007, seeking damages in the amount of $10 million for various civil rights violations and tort claims. (Docket No. 1-14). Defendants removed the case to this Court on January 30, 2007. (Docket No. 1).

After resolving various motions by Defendants, the Court held a case management conference with counsel for Defendants and the Plaintiff on August 31, 2007, during which the Court set down case management deadlines. (Docket No. 20). On November 21, 2007, attorney Sylvia Denys entered her appearance on behalf of the Plaintiff. (Docket No. 30). Upon being granted leave to amend to file a fourth amended complaint, Plaintiff filed his Fourth Amended Complaint on June 24, 2008, (Docket Nos. 54 and 56, respectively), naming the City and the five Defendant Officers in their individual capacities. (Docket No. 56). In his Fourth Amended Complaint, Plaintiff seeks damages for violations of his Fourth Amendment rights (Counts I and II), his rights under the Eighth Amendment (Count III), under 42 U.S.C. §§1985, and 1986 (Counts IV and V), and under Pennsylvania law (Count VI). (Docket No. 56). He demands relief in the form of compensatory damages for his injuries, punitive damages, injunctive relief, medical expenses, and payment of costs and attorney's fees (Docket No. 56).

Fact discovery closed on July 21, 2009, after which Plaintiff filed an excessive force expert report by James Baranowski, a former Pennsylvania State Trooper, collision reconstruction specialist, and investigator.*fn12 (See Docket Nos. 71, 72, 73, and 76). Defendants filed their Joint Motion for Summary Judgment on August 21, 2009, along with their Concise Statement of Material Facts, Brief in Support, and Appendix. (Docket Nos. 80, 81, 82, and 83). After being granted an extension of time, on October 15, 2009, Plaintiff filed his Response, his Concise Statement of Material Facts, and a Reply to Defendants' Statement of Material Facts. (Docket Nos. 85, 86, and 87). Defendants filed their Reply on ...

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