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Romone Thomas-Warner v. City of Philadelphia

December 20, 2011


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


December ___, 2011

Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. 2) and Plaintiff's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 3). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions and for the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.


The facts, construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows. On February 28, 2007, Detectives Brian Kelly and John Hughes ("the detectives" or "Detectives Kelly and Hughes") arrested Plaintiff, Romone Thomas-Warner ("Warner"), under a warrant issued for his brother, Comoniti Thomas ("Thomas"), for charges of armed robbery. (Compl. ¶ 1).When Detectives Kelly and Hughes asked Plaintiff about the warrant, Plaintiff told the detectives that the photograph was of him, "but all the information pertaining to the warrant [was] for Comoniti Thomas." (Compl. ¶ 2). When the detectives put Plaintiff's police identification number in their computer, a photograph of Thomas appeared alongside all of Plaintiff's biographical information, and Plaintiff's photograph appeared alongside Thomas's biographical information. (Compl. ¶ 3). Plaintiff explained to the detectives that he and his brother were arrested together on August 31, 2004, and suggested that that arrest was the cause of the error in the police computer system. (Compl. ¶ 4). The photographs of Plaintiff and Thomas that the detectives showed Plaintiff were also dated August 31, 2004. (Compl. ¶¶ 5-6). Although Plaintiff repeatedly told Detectives Kelly and Hughes that his name was Romone Thomas-Warner, the detectives insisted that Plaintiff and his brother were using each other's names. (Compl. ¶ 7). Although Plaintiff was advised that he would be released from police custody after fingerprinting to ensure that he was not Comoniti Thomas, Plaintiff was not released. (Compl. ¶ 9).

Plaintiff alleges that he was framed by Detectives Kelly and Hughes and that the officers of the Philadelphia Police Department have conspired to hide the mistaken publication of Plaintiff's photo along with his brother's information. (Compl. ¶¶ 9, 19). At Plaintiff's trial for armed robbery, Detectives Kelly and Hughes testified that the victim of the armed robbery brought them a picture of Plaintiff, accompanied with his brother's information, which appeared in the Northeast Times Weekly under the heading, "Five Most Wanted," on November 23, 2006, and claimed that it was a picture of the person that robbed her.*fn1 (Compl. ¶ 13-16). Plaintiff alleges that Detectives Kelly and Hughes suggested to the victim that Plaintiff was the person that robbed her. (Compl. ¶ 17). Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that he was denied his right to an indictment by a grand jury for this trial, and notes that during trial, the prosecutor was withdrawn from the case. (Compl., ECF Doc. 1 at 20, ¶ 23). Plaintiff was not brought up to the courtroom while on trial, and if he had been, the victim of the robbery would have been able to declare that Plaintiff was not the perpetrator. (Compl. ¶ 24). Plaintiff was acquitted of the armed robbery charges on July 8, 2008. (Compl. ¶ 32).

After Plaintiff was acquitted, he met with attorney, Stephen B. Lavner, and told him about the rights violations to which he believed he was subjected. (Compl. ¶ 42). Then, on July 25, 2008, Plaintiff was retaliated against because of the acquittal, and was harassed, beaten, and charged with additional crimes of which Plaintiff had no knowledge. (Compl. ¶¶ 38, 46). Specifically, Plaintiff was assaulted by Officer Hector L. Rodriguez, Jr. (Compl. ¶ 47). Plaintiff received medical treatment at Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, and upon his discharge, he was taken into police custody and charged with aggravated assault and possession of a controlled substance. (Compl. ¶ 49). Although the prosecution dropped the aggravated assault charge, Plaintiff pled guilty to the possession charge on November 10, 2008, at the advice of the Public Defender assigned to his case. (Compl. ¶ 52). Plaintiff accepted the plea deal because he had already been falsely incarcerated, beaten, and charged with several offenses. (Compl. ¶ 53(A)). As part of the plea agreement, Plaintiff received twelve months of probation. (Compl. ¶ 91).

The next year, on May 12, 2009, Plaintiff was again apprehended by police while meeting with his probation officer. (Compl. ¶ 59). This time, Plaintiff was charged with robbing a pizza delivery man. (Id.). Plaintiff was denied a line-up when he was arrested, and the only time Plaintiff was identified by a witness to the robbery was during his trial. (Compl. ¶ 72). Again, Plaintiff was acquitted of these charges on July 8, 2010. (Compl. ¶ 83).

Plaintiff originally filed this lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia against the City of Philadelphia ("the City"), the Philadelphia Police Department ("the Department"), the Philadelphia District Attorney ("the District Attorney"), and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey ("the Commissioner" or "Ramsey").*fn2 Plaintiff's Complaint is dated June 17, 2011, however the Certificate of Service and Verification is dated June 24, 2011 and August 24, 2011. (Compl., ECF Doc. 1 at 22, 25, 26).*fn3 Plaintiff's Complaint alleged that the Philadelphia Police Department's mistake regarding Plaintiff's identity, and a subsequent effort to cover the mistake up and frame Plaintiff, resulted in a number of state tort and constitutional violations by the named Defendants. (Compl. ¶¶ 84-90). Defendants removed the case to this court on September 15, 2011. The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1367(a).


On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will ultimately prevail. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000).

While a court will accept well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of a motion to dismiss, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The United States Supreme Court has recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Such allegations are "not entitled to the assumption of truth" and must be disregarded for purposes of resolving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). In Twombly the Court made clear that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. A "pleader is required to 'set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist.'"Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted).

In 2009 the United States Supreme Court revisited the requirements for surviving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). There the Court made clear that "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" will not suffice to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Ashcroft, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. In evaluating whether a Plaintiff has met the pleading requirements, a district court must identify "the 'nub' of the . . . complaint -- the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]." Id. "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief [will] survive[] a motion to dismiss." Id. at1950.

In light of the decision in Iqbal, the Third Circuit set forth a two-part analysis to be applied by district courts when presented with a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. First, the court must separate the legal elements and factual allegations of the claim, with the well-pleaded facts accepted as true but the legal conclusions disregarded. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint demonstrate that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211. If the court can only infer the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint must be dismissed because it has alleged, but has failed to show, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id.


Defendants City of Philadelphia and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey have asked the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on the grounds that it is time-barred under Pennsylvania state tort law and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants have also asked the Court to dismiss them from the matter because Plaintiff has failed to adequately plead claims against them in his Complaint.

A. Statute of Limitations

The "Third Circuit Rule" permits a limitations defense to be raised in a 12(b)(6) motion if "the time alleged in the statement of a claim shows that the cause of action has not been brought within the statute of limitations. . . . If the bar is not apparent on the face of the complaint, then it may not afford the basis for a dismissal of the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6)." Robinson v. Johnson,313 F.3d 128, 135 (3d Cir. 2002).

"When presented with a pro se litigant, [the Court has] a special obligation to construe his complaint liberally." Higgs v. United States. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011). Thus, even if a pro se plaintiff's claims are not set out in the clearest fashion, the Court is obligated to discern all the possible claims that the Plaintiff may be alleging. From what the Court can observe on the face of the Complaint, *fn4 Plaintiff appears to be bringing state law claims for personal injury, fraud, libel, slander, bad faith, *fn5 malicious prosecution, *fn6 assault, battery, harassment *fn7 and false arrest or imprisonment. (See, e.g., Compl., ECF Doc. 1 at 1; ΒΆΒΆ 1, 46, 47, 51, 58, 84). Plaintiff also alleges violations of various ...

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