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Tomlinson v. Borough of Norristown

April 5, 2010


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


Plaintiffs Michael and Sherry Tomlinson bring several civil rights claims against Defendants the Borough of Norristown ("Borough"), Police Officer Lori Koch, and Police Officer Ben Lerman (collectively with Koch, "individual Defendants"), arising out of the Tomlinsons' arrests on August 13, 2007.*fn1 Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal (Docket No. 3), which is largely unopposed (see Resp. to Dismissal Mot. 1, Docket No. 6 ("Resp."); Defs.' Supp. Letter Br. 1 (on file with the Court).) For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The relevant facts, construed in favor of Plaintiffs, are set forth below. Plaintiffs are African-American residents of this district. (Compl. ¶ 1, Docket No. 1.) Defendant the Borough of Norristown, a municipality of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, operates and controls the Norristown Police Department. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Defendants Lori Koch and Ben Lerman are and were at all times relevant to the Complaint, Norristown Police Officers. (Compl. ¶ 3.)

On August 13, 2007, Officers Koch and Lerman responded to a call reporting people allegedly smoking marijuana in the vicinity of Plaintiffs' home. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-14; see supra n.1 (explaining why the date of the incident was August 13, 2007).) Officers Koch and Lerman encountered Michael Tomlinson at the rear of his property, and "[w]ithout provocation, justification or excuse," allegedly beat and punched him, sprayed him with mace, and dragged him by his hair towards the police car. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Sherry Tomlinson was alerted to the situation. (Compl. ¶ 15.) When she inquired as to why the Officers were beating her husband, she was allegedly attacked, placed in a choke hold, and scratched, by Officer Koch. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Michael Tomlinson was arrested and held overnight for approximately twelve hours, before being brought before a Judge the next morning. (Compl. ¶ 16.)

On August 13, 2009, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint, which brings six claims. First, Plaintiffs allege that all Defendants, "acting in concert and conspiracy," used excessive force on Plaintiffs (Count I), falsely arrested and/or imprisoned Plaintiffs (Count II), invaded Plaintiffs' privacy or cast them in a false light (Count III), and inflicted emotional distress upon Plaintiffs (Count IV). (Compl. ¶¶ 22--34.) The Complaint then alleges that the Borough failed to adequately train or control Officers Koch and Lerman (Count V), and that those officers infringed upon Plaintiffs' Due Process and Equal Protection rights (Count VI). (Compl. ¶¶ 35--46.) For each Count, Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages. (Compl. ¶¶ 25, 29, 34, 38, 43, & 46.)

On December 29, 2009, Defendants filed their Motion for Partial Dismissal.

II. The Parties' Contentions

Defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal first contends that all punitive damages claims against the Borough should be dismissed, because neither federal nor Pennsylvania law purportedly permit the recovery of punitive damages in claims brought against local agency officials. (Partial Dismissal Mot. 3.) Defendants next aver that under Pennsylvania law, the Borough is immune from any tort liability, and Officers Koch and Lerman, are immune from tort negligence liability. (Partial Dismissal Mot. 3-5.) Defendants thereby conclude that any state tort claims against the Borough, and the negligent infliction of emotional distress claims brought against the Officers in their official capacity, must be dismissed. (Partial Dismissal 3-6.)

Then, Defendants argue that Michael Tomlinson cannot make out a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment, because he purportedly admitted that he was found guilty of more than one of the crimes with which he was charged following his arrest, and he cannot collaterally attack his conviction through this civil action. (Partial Dismissal 5-6.) Finally, Defendants contend that Plaintiffs' invasion of privacy and false light claims should be dismissed. (Partial Dismissal 6-9.) Defendants aver that federal law does not recognize a right to privacy respecting the public dissemination of an arrest record or the information concerning an arrest, and that state law does not protect a plaintiff from having criminal charges filed against him or having a criminal investigation publicized. (Partial Dismissal 6-9.)

In response, Plaintiffs only contend that the Court should not dismiss "Plaintiff Sherry Tomlinson's claims in Count III . . . for invasion of privacy and false light." (Resp. 1.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants "ignore the fact that the incident and Ms. Tomlinson's arrest were publicized beyond the public criminal docket as reflected in the newspaper article" that Plaintiffs appended to their Response. (Resp. 2.) Plaintiffs conclude that "it would be premature at this stage of the litigation" to dismiss Sherry Tomlinson's invasion of privacy and false light claim. (Resp. 2.)

Defendants reply that Plaintiffs' appended article makes it "apparent that [their] arrest occurred on August 13, 2007, rather than August 13, 2009 as pleaded in Plaintiffs' Complaint." (Reply 1.) Defendants further aver that Plaintiffs' invasion of privacy and false light claims are barred by Pennsylvania's applicable one-year statute of limitations. (Reply 1.) Appended to Defendants' Reply are Sherry Tomlinson's non-traffic citation docket, which indicates that she was charged with disorderly conduct on August 13, 2007, and Michael Tomlinson's criminal docket and sentence, which indicate that he was charged on August 14, 2007. (Reply, Ex. A.)

In a supplemental letter brief addressed to the Court, Plaintiffs clarified that they "do not contest that the arrest in question occurred on August 13, 2007, and that the statute of limitations for the Pennsylvania state law claim of invasion of ...

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