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Kenneth Washington v. City of Philadelphia

January 11, 2011


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


Plaintiff Kenneth Washington's complaint*fn1 alleges Fourth Amendment and substantive due process violations under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against: (1) the City of Philadelphia (the "City"),

(2) Warrant Unit Officer Brent Donahue, Badge # 332, (3) John Does I-III (Warrant Unit Officers), John Doe IV (a Warrant Unit Sergeant), John Doe V (a Warrant Unit Lieutenant), and (4) John Doe VI (a City Police Sergeant), and John Doe VII (a City Police Captain), and (5) John Does VIII-X (an array of City Police Officers of the Seventeenth Police District). John Does I-III and VIII-X will be referred to collectively as the "defendant officers." Plaintiff also alleges state law claims of assault and battery and false imprisonment against a group we will construe to include the defendant officers.

The City, the only defendant timely served in this action,*fn2 has filed this motion to dismiss the claims plaintiff has asserted against it. These claims are limited to Count I's excessive force and unlawful seizure claim, Count II's substantive due process claim, and Count III's municipal liability claims. For the reasons set forth below, we will grant the City's motion to dismiss the municipal liability claims in Count III. Thus, in the absence of any basis for municipal liability, we will dismiss Count I against the City. Nevertheless, we are obliged to grant plaintiff leave to amend his complaint on Counts I and III only. Lastly, we will dismiss

Count II of the complaint in its entirety under the Supreme Court's "more-specific-provision" rule.

I. Factual Background

When we consider a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), we must "'accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be fairly drawn therefrom.'" Ordonez v. Yost, 289 F. App'x 553, 554 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993)). In the course of our inquiry, we may "'consider only allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim,'" Brown v. Daniels, 128 F. App'x 910, 913 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 222 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004)). A document forms the basis of a claim if it is "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)) (emphasis and internal quotation marks omitted).

Plaintiff claims that on May 28, 2009 he received a court paper directed to one of his neighbors. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 16. When plaintiff contacted the Warrant Unit, he was directed to write "Person Doesn't Live Here" on the envelope. Id. ¶ 17. Early in the morning on June 5, 2009, plaintiff was in his home when "[s]uddenly, and without warning" the defendant officers came to his residence looking for that neighbor. When plaintiff advised the defendant officers that the subject of their search did not live at his home, they became "verbally abusive, cursing, and hostile[.]" Id. ¶¶ 19-21. They advised plaintiff that they were "'taking him in[,]'" allegedly without giving any reason. Id. ¶ 22. The defendant officers allegedly "threw Plaintiff onto the floor of his home, kicked him, and stepped on his back while he was handcuffed mocking him the entire time with comments such as 'now look at you'". Id. ¶ 24. The officers then removed the handcuffs and told plaintiff to sit down. Id. ¶ 25. Following the incident, plaintiff claims to have called 911 twice and also visited the emergency room. Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff was not arrested or cited for any crimes on June 5, 2009. Id. ¶ 31.

Count III of plaintiff's complaint invokes three different municipal liability theories. First, plaintiff alleges the City endorsed "policies, procedures, customs, and practices of allowing its officers to use unreasonable and excessive force thereby violating the civil rights of those with whom they come into contact." Id. ¶¶ 41, 63. Second, plaintiff avers that "the City and supervisory Defendants have, with deliberate indifference, failed to adequately train and supervise their officers concerning the proper provision of medical care to injured suspects, and the injuries to Plaintiff were caused by, and were a foreseeable consequence of, such failures." Id. ¶ 43. Plaintiff amplifies this by contending that the City failed to train its officers in the "proper methods for issuing a warrant, executing a warrant, investigating a warrant, and handling a warrant while preserving the constitutionally protected rights of individuals with whom they come into contact regardless of whether they are the subject of the warrant or not." Id. ¶ 44. Third, plaintiff alleges that the "City has maintained an inadequate system of review of instances of misconduct, abuse of police powers or violation of citizens' rights by police officer [sic], which system has failed to identify instances of abuse of police powers or violations of citizens' rights by police officers, or to discipline, more closely supervise, or retrain officers who abuse their police powers or violate citizens' rights, including the police officers named as parties herein." Id. ¶ 42.

Plaintiff asserts that these "acts, omissions, systemic deficiencies, practices, customs an [sic] deliberate indifferent [sic] constitute the policies, practices and customs of the City and have caused officers of the City . . . to violate the constitutional rights of citizens, including Plaintiff." Id. ¶ 46. Paragraphs sixty through sixty-six rehearse these same allegations, incorporating by reference the "policies . . . more particularly set forth in the preceding paragraphs" and "more specifically described above[.]" Id. ¶¶ 63-64.

II. Analysis

A. The City's Argument

As an initial matter, the City's motion to dismiss does not challenge plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim in Count I of the complaint. The City nevertheless argues that plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim (Count II) should be dismissed against all defendants because the argument is more properly analyzed under the Fourth Amendment. Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 7 (citing Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 273 (1994) and DiBella v. Borough of Beachwood, 407 F.3d 599, 602 (3d Cir. 2005)).

The City's motion at bottom asserts that plaintiff's municipal liability claims must fail under Rule 12(b)(6). As to plaintiff's policy or custom argument, the City first contends that the complaint contains nothing more than the most cursory assertions of any specific policies, customs, or instances of deliberate indifference of the Philadelphia Police Department, none of which are supported by any of Plaintiff's factual allegations, which consist only of a single and isolated incident of alleged police misconduct. Indeed, Plaintiff takes a scattershot approach and appears to be launching a barrage of legal conclusions at the wall to see which ones will stick.

Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 5.

Second, the City focuses its attention on plaintiff's failure to train claim. The City cites the Supreme Court's recent decision in Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359-61 (2011), and asserts that plaintiff has failed to plead any facts that (1) allege a "pattern of similar violations" or (2) place plaintiff's claim within the "narrow range of circumstances" that allow a single violation to satisfy the deliberate indifference standard. Finally, the City attacks plaintiff's allegation that "'the City has maintained an inadequate system of review[,]"

Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 5 (quoting Pl.'s Compl. ΒΆ 42), by labeling it a "most cursory accusation[] of . . . [an] instance[] of deliberate indifference[.]" Id. Overall, the City contends that plaintiff's "shotgun approach" is the "very epitome of '[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory ...

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