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Coit v. City of Philadelphia

May 11, 2010


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


This is a civil rights case against the City of Philadelphia in which the plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to excessive force when he was arrested on June 23, 2006, for disorderly conduct. Prior to his own arrest, the plaintiff had been videotaping the arrest of his son by Philadelphia police. The complaint brings federal claims under § 1983 and state law claims for negligent hiring against the City of Philadelphia. None of the individual officers involved is named as a defendant.

The City has filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff has failed to develop any evidence of a policy, pattern, or practice sufficient to satisfy the requirements for municipal liability for § 1983 claims set out in Monell. The motion also argues that the plaintiff's state law claim for negligent hiring is barred by Pennsylvania's Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. In his opposition to the motion and at oral argument, the plaintiff contends that his Monell claim is based on a failure to train the officers on the use of excessive force.

I. Summary Judgment Record

The facts concerning the arrest of the plaintiff are in dispute. The Court accepts the plaintiff's version of events for purposes of this motion. The plaintiff states that while he was videotaping his son's arrest, he approached the arresting officers to inquire about his son's arrest. The police officers refused to inform him as to the reasons for his son's arrest and ordered that he hand over the video and remove himself from the scene. When the plaintiff refused to turn over the video and to stop inquiring as to the reasons for the arrest of his son, the police officers arrested the plaintiff for disorderly conduct. The plaintiff claims that the officers used excessive force and undue physical brutality in making the arrest.

In opposing the motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff relies on the testimony of the officers about their training, the City's answers to interrogatories, and its production of documents. At his deposition, counsel for the plaintiff asked Officer Joseph Slobodrian what training he received between 2001 and 2006. Officer Slobodrian responded that he received training on narcotics, computers, bombs, tasers, and CIT training for dealing with mental disorders. Officer Brad Lukach was asked what training he had at the police academy. He said that he had basic police officer training and force continuum training. He described force continuum training as steps an officer is supposed to take in escalating order of severity to defend himself while doing his job: police presence, verbal commands, control holds, and physical force, including deadly force. Officer Ramos was asked what training he had between his graduation from the police academy in 2003 and the incident in this case. He stated that he has received "MPO" training every year. He was not asked to describe "MPO" training further.

The parties also presented Police Directive 22 that sets out the excessive force policy of the police department and is given to each officer. It states in relevant part:


A. The primary duty of all police officers is to preserve human life.

Only the minimal amount of force necessary to protect life or to effect an arrest should be used by any officer. Excessive force will not be tolerated. Officers should exercise all safe and reasonable means of control and containment, using only the amount of force necessary to overcome resistance. The application of force by a police officer should be guided by principles found in the 'Force Continuum' which are: * Mere presence of police officer(s) * Verbal persuasion/warnings * Hands-on techniques/control holds * Non-lethal force * Deadly force

B. Additionally, personnel will not unnecessarily or unreasonably endanger themselves and others in applying these guidelines to actual situations.

C. Though many officers may be at the scene of a police incident where force is being used, some officers may not be directly involved in taking police action. As officers, we have an obligation to protect the public and other officers. Therefore, it shall be the duty of every officer present at any scene where force is being applied to either stop or attempt to stop another officer when force is no longer required. Your actions will both protect the officer from civil or criminal liability and the civilian from serious injury.

II. Analysis

To prevail on a § 1983 claim against a municipality, a plaintiff must identify a "policy" or "custom" that caused the plaintiff's injury. Bd. of Cty. Com'rs of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997). To establish liability, the plaintiff must show that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the "moving force" behind the injury alleged: "That is, a plaintiff must show that the municipal action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability ...

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