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Williams v. City of Philadelphia

October 22, 2010


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


Plaintiff Earl Williams claims that Defendants violated his constitutional rights when he was arrested while attempting to steal detergent from a drug store. Defendant Rite Aid filed a motion for summary judgment to which Williams has responded. In his response, Williams withdrew all of his federal claims with the exception of claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Rite Aid and Officer Lauren Oswald in her individual capacity. The Court will grant Rite Aid's motion and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Williams's pendent state law tort claims.


Earl Williams resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Mot. of Def. Rite Aid Corp., Store #2709 for Summ. J. Ex. A [Williams Dep.] at 4.) He works in housekeeping for Philadelphia Community College. (Id. at 13.) Williams's only criminal history is the arrest at issue in this case. (Id. at 11.)

On April 22, 2008, Williams took the day off from work and planned to jog with a friend in the Valley Green area of Philadelphia. (Id. at 17.) Williams stopped at a Rite Aid that morning to purchase eye drops prior to his run. (Id. at 19-20.) When he entered the Rite Aid, Williams was carrying a backpack containing a towel and a change of clothes. (Id. at 48.) Williams decided he also wanted to buy detergent after he purchased the eye drops. (Id. at 20-21.) He noticed that one of the detergent bottles on the shelf in the detergent aisle was half full. (Id. at 25.) In keeping with his "instinct" as a housekeeping worker, Williams consolidated that bottle with the contents of another partially full bottle of detergent he found on the same shelf. (Id. at 25-26.) Both bottles were unsealed when he found them, and contained the same brand of detergent. (Id. at 26-27.)

A Rite Aid security guard saw Williams transfer the detergent from one bottle to another and accused him of stealing. (Id. at 29-30.) Williams showed the guard his identification, cash, and a Visa card, and offered to pay for both bottles of detergent. (Id.) The guard instructed the cashier not to "ring up" the detergent and followed Williams out of the store. (Id. at 33.)

The guard carried a large metal pole. (Id. at 32-33) As he followed Williams onto the street, he threatened Williams with the pole while goading him to fight. (Id. at 33-34.) Neither man made physical contact with the other during this exchange. (Id. at 34-35.) Williams then dialed 911. (Id. at 35.)

The 911 dispatcher told Williams to remain at the Rite Aid. (Id.) Officer Lauren Oswald subsequently arrived at the store. (Id. at 35-36.) Oswald refused to listen to Williams and instead asked the guard what had happened. (Id. at 37.) The guard told Oswald that Williams had "put stuff in the bag." (Id.) Oswald asked if the guard wanted to press charges. (Id. at 38.) When the guard answered "yes," Oswald arrested Williams. (Id.) Williams notes that he was never detained by Rite Aid and that Rite Aid did nothing to aid his arrest or prosecution apart from "telling their side of the story." (Id. at 38, 64.)

Oswald took Williams to the Philadelphia Police Department's 35th District for processing. (Id. at 39.) Oswald did not read Williams his rights; she refused to speak with Williams and neither questioned him nor responded to his attempts to explain the incident apart from telling him to be quiet. (Id.; Compl. ¶¶ 43, 45.) At the station, Oswald waited in a cell until two o'clock the following morning. (Williams Dep. 45.) He then discovered that he had been charged with eight offenses, including robbery, terroristic threats, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, attempted theft, attempt to receive stolen property, retail theft, and disorderly conduct. (Compl. ¶ 50.) These charges were eventually dropped when the prosecution's witness, the Rite Aid security guard, repeatedly failed to appear at Williams's preliminary hearing. (Williams Dep. 45).

Williams complains that this episode caused him stress, insomnia, and nightmares, and that he now fears law enforcement officers. (Compl. ¶ 70.) He incurred no medical bills as a result of this incident. (Williams Dep. 58.) However, Williams claims that he was forced to use vacation days to attend three hearings which had to be rescheduled due to the guard's failure to appear in court. (Id. at 45.)

Williams originally sought compensatory damages in excess of $75,000 and punitive damages in excess of $250,000 on federal claims against all defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state-law claims for false arrest, wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution against Oswald and Rite Aid. However, he has now withdrawn all but his § 1983 claim against Rite Aid and pendent Pennsylvania tort claims. (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def. Rite Aid's Mot. for Summ. J. [Pl.'s Resp.] at 4.)


Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if sufficient evidence is provided to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find for the nonmoving party at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, "a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. ...

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