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Janet Watson and William Watson v. Haverford Township Police Department

May 24, 2012

JANET WATSON AND WILLIAM WATSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HAVERFORD TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, THE TOWNSHIP OF HAVERFORD, CARMEN D. PETTINE, HARVEY PIKE, STEVEN GILL, AND JOHN PILI, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are (1) the Motion by Plaintiffs Janet Watson and William Watson for Partial Summary Judgment on Count I of the Complaint Against Defendant Officers Pike and Gill, and (2) the Motion by Defendants Haverford Township, Police Department, Township of Haverford, Harvey Pike, and Steven Gill (collectively the "Haverford Defendants" or "Defendants") for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion is granted and Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

The present action concerns the alleged unlawful arrest and imprisonment of Plaintiff Janet Watson by members of the Haverford Township Police Department. Mrs. Watson was sixty-two years old on November 17, 2008, the date of the incident in question. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 1, Dep. of Janet Watson ("J. Watson Dep."), 7:24--8:1, 16:9--13, Dec. 9, 2011.) Her husband is William Watson. (Id. at 8:20--9:1, Pls.' Statement of Undisputed Facts ("PSUF") ¶ 2.) Frances Tornetta, Mrs. Watson's mother, lives with Plaintiffs in their home, and is currently eighty-eight years old. (J. Watson Dep. 10:6--17, 102:19--24.) For the past twenty to twenty-five years, the Watsons have resided at 54 Upland Road in Havertown, Pennsylvania. (Id. at 8:2--19.) At all times relevant to this dispute, and prior to Plaintiffs occupying their Upland Road residence, Defendant John Pili and his wife Donna resided at 50 Upland Road, next door to Plaintiffs. (Id. at 19:1--7.) Mr. Pili is a Code Enforcement Officer for Haverford Township. (PSUF ¶ 9.)

For years prior to the incident in question, the Pilis and the Watsons had a long-standing history of animosity between them. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2, Documents Relating to Neighbor Disputes.) Shortly after the Watsons moved in, sometime in 1987, the Pilis demanded that they remove an oak tree from their yard. (J. Watson Dep. 23:6--24:21.) Thereafter, the Pilis sent anonymous letters to the Watsons complaining, among other things, that Mr. Watson's car engine was too noisy in the morning. (Id. at 25:2--26:8, 32:16--24:20.) This history of disputes between the parties continued and ranged from complaints about a tree limb from the Watson's property encroaching on another neighbor's house (id. at 37:13--42:8), to allegedly invalid citations issued by Mr. Pili to Mrs. Watson's mother who lived down the street at the time, (id. at 42:13--43:12), to Mr. Pili's father-in-law trespassing into the Watsons' yard to prune trees, (id. at 43:16--45:12), to the Pilis putting up surveillance cameras facing the Watsons' house with signs saying "what goes around comes around," or "I see you 24/7." (Id. at 45:13--46:18.)

The events giving rise to this lawsuit occurred on November 17, 2008, when Mrs. Watson was using a gas-powered blower to blow leaves in her yard. (Id. at 21:6--22:7.) According to Mrs. Watson, she was blowing leaves into a pile, collecting them in the rear bag of her lawnmower, and putting them in a plastic trash bag for collection. (Id.) There were purportedly no leaves between her house and the Pili's house. (Id. at 21:21--22:1.) According to John Pili, however, when he arrived home from work at 4:30 p.m. that day, Mrs. Watson was blowing leaves onto his property. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Aff. of John Pili ("J. Pili Aff.") ¶ 6, Mar. 30, 2012.) Donna Pili, Mr. Pili's wife, also observed Mrs. Watson blowing leaves and debris down her driveway and onto her property. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Aff. of Donna Pili ("D. Pili Aff.") ¶ 6, Apr. 2, 2012.) Mrs. Watson unequivocally denied blowing any leaves onto their property. (J. Watson Dep. 57:7--11, 114:4--13.) Mr. Pili allegedly asked Mrs. Watson to stop her actions, but she did not respond. (J. Pili Aff. ¶ 7.) Accordingly, Mr. Pili went into the house to call the police. (D. Pili Aff. ¶ 9.)

Haverford Police Officer Harvey Pike was the first to arrive at the scene. He was dispatched to the location where, upon arrival, he observed Mrs. Watson actively blowing her leaves onto her neighbor's lawn. (Pls.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D; Pls.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B, Dep. of Harvey Pike ("Pike Dep."), 9:18--10:21, 13:12--24, Feb. 24, 2012.) Officer Pike did not know and had never met the Watsons or Pilis before this date. (Pike Dep. 16:2--9.) A few minutes later, another Haverford Police Officer, Defendant Steven Gill, pulled up in front of the homes, but he remained in his car doing unrelated paperwork. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 5, Dep. of Harvey Gill ("Gill Dep."), 12:19--14:2, Feb. 24, 2012.) Officer Pike first approached Donna Pili and asked her for identification, which she produced from her house. (D. Pili Aff. ¶¶ 12--13.) She then explained her version of the events to Officer Pike. (Id. ¶ 14.) Subsequently, he went over to Mrs. Watson. (Id. ¶ 15.) Mrs. Watson indicated that she was "startled" to see a police officer there and she was having difficulty turning off the blower. (J. Watson Dep. 22:8--16.) According to Officer Pike, Mrs. Watson purposely did not turn off the leaf blower, and in fact revved the engine when Officer Pike began to try to talk to her. (Pike Dep. 17:18--18:9.) Officer Pike allegedly said, "You have a problem with your neighbor" to which Mrs. Watson replied, "No, we need to change that. My neighbor must have a problem with me, or you wouldn't be here." (Id. at 22:16--21.) Officer Pike then asked if she drove, and when she answered that she did, he asked her to get her license. (J. Watson Dep. 60:20--24; Pike Dep. 19:21--3.) When Mrs. Watson questioned why the Officer wanted her license, he responded that this was an official police investigation and stated, "[I]f you don't show me your license, I'm going to arrest you."

(J. Watson Dep. 62:2--13; Pike Dep. 20:5--11.) After repeatedly objecting, Mrs. Watson eventually shut off the leaf blower, told the Officer that her license was in the house, and walked into the house. (J. Watson Dep. 62:23--63:9; Pike Dep, 21:5--24:5.) He described her as "uncooperative," "confrontational," and "argumentative." (Id. at 25:19--27:3.) Mrs. Watson, in turn, described him as "aggressive." (J. Watson Dep. 61:20--62:16.)

After this discussion, Mrs. Watson entered her house through the back door and closed the door behind her. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 4.) When she got into the house, however, Mrs. Watson called her county commissioner, Mario Olivia, because he knew of the ongoing neighborhood dispute. (J. Watson Dep. 64:13--17.) She managed to get a hold of him and explain the situation, but he simply said he would look into it. (Id. at 64:23--65:7.) She did not feel that that was a satisfactory response, so she called 9-1-1. (Id. at 65:7--21.) In the meantime, Officer Pike went to the back door of the Watsons' residence and knocked on the door, announcing himself as police. (Pike Dep. 30:14--31:9.) While Mrs. Watson was on the phone, Mrs. Watson's mother, Frances Tornetta, opened the door. (Id. at 31:10--16; Pl.'s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E.) He told Ms. Tornetta that he was looking for the lady who just came into the house, and she replied that it was her daughter, invited him in, and directed him to the kitchen. (Pike Dep. 31:18--32:17.) As Mrs. Watson was speaking with the 9-1-1 operator, she heard Officer Pike tell her to hang up the phone. (J. Watson Dep. 67:2--4.) He again requested her for identification, but she refused to give it to him. (Pike Dep. 36:2--5.) According to Officer Pike, Mrs. Watson again walked over and picked up the phone to call 9-1-1. (Id. at 39:19--40:24.) Officer Pike then received a radio message asking if he was okay, to which he responded that dispatch should send another car since he was going to arrest Mrs. Watson. (Id. at 40:17--24.)

At this point, Officer Gill also received a radio message to come into the house through the rear door, which he promptly did. (Gill Dep. 14:18--15:14.) After Mrs. Watson again disregarded Officer Pike's orders to hang up the phone, he then took the phone from her ear and either placed it on or threw it across the kitchen counter. (J. Watson Dep. 67:4--7; Pike Dep. 43:22--45:17; Gill Dep. 19:8--20.) He told her that if she did not give him her license, he was going to arrest her.

(J. Watson Dep. 70:7--12.) When Ms. Tornetta asked what the license had to do with Mrs. Watson being outside raking leaves, Officer Pike stated something to the effect of, "[I]f you don't shut up, I'll take you in as well." (Id. at 70:13--18; Pike Dep. 46:2--5.)

At that point, Officer Pike ordered Mrs. Watson to put her arms behind her back so he could handcuff her. (Gill Dep. 19:21--24.) Instead, she put her hands together in front of her body to prevent her wrists from being cuffed. (Pike Dep. 46:21--47:3; Gill Dep. 21:17--19.) Officer Pike then grabbed her and proceeded to handcuff her by use of force with help from Officer Gill. (J. Watson 70:20--22, 71:17--72:17; Gill Dep. 21:20--22:3; Pike Dep. 52:4--14.) Mrs. Watson purportedly told Officer Pike that he was hurting her, but he did not reply. (J. Watson 74:16--24.) She also asked to be allowed to put on her shoes and coat, and Officer Pike stated that she did not need shoes where she was going. (J. Watson Dep. 75:7--76:9.) The two officers then purportedly picked her up under her arms and either walked or dragged her down the whole length of the driveway to the police car. (J. Watson Dep. 76:11--22; Pike Dep. 52:21--53:11; Gill Dep. 25:22--27:8.) Mrs. Pili stated in her affidavit that she observed Mrs. Watson coming out of her house in handcuffs being escorted by two officers, that she was struggling and trying to get out of the handcuffs, and that she was wearing her shoes but no coat.

(D. Pili Aff. ¶¶ 21--23.) When they got to the rear door of the police car, Officer Pike told her to get in. (J. Watson Dep. 79:21--22.) When she did not move, he screamed in her ear and then pushed her into the car. (Id. at 80:1--82:15.)

Upon arrival at the police station, Mrs. Watson was escorted to a room and handcuffed to a bench. (J. Watson Dep. 83:20--84:2.) The police officers did fingerprints, took photographs, and asked her questions about her age, name, and date of birth. (Id. at 84:3--85:7.) Subsequently, she was escorted down a hallway to a jail cell. (Id. at 85:15--86:12.) Mrs. Watson indicated that she was in a lot of pain from a previous injury, yet she remained in this "freezing cold" jail cell with no shoes, minimal toilet paper, and a filthy toilet. (Id. at 87:1--14.) When she asked if she could have a drink and call her husband to bring her pain pills, she was refused. (Id. at 87:19--88:2.) During that time, Officer Pike consulted with Officer Gill and Sergeants Todd and Redding. (Pike Dep. 59:2--16.) Together, they decided to charge Mrs. Watson with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and interfering with lawful authority. (Id. at 59:17--21; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 5.)

The following morning, Mrs. Watson was taken out of her jail cell and Officer Pike was assigned to take her to court for an arraignment. (J. Watson Dep. 88:3--21; Pike Dep. 77:7--9.) She was given her shoes and coat, put in a car outside the jail cell, and driven to the courthouse.

(J. Watson Dep. 88:24--90:11.) She arrived at the courthouse in handcuffs and was taken into the building. (Id. at 91:1--9.) The district judge arraigned her, immediately after which time she collapsed. (Id. at 91:12--92:23.) Officer Pike called an ambulance, which took her to the hospital, where she was treated and released. (Pike Dep. 81:4--82:3; J. Watson Dep. 93:2--95:9.) Ultimately, the charges against her were dismissed. (J. Watson Dep. 101:11--102:15.)

In December 2008, the Haverford Township Police conducted an internal administrative investigation of the events surrounding Mrs. Watson's arrest and imprisonment. (Pls.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E.) During interviews, several of Pike's superiors expressed their disapproval with his handling of the situation.*fn2 (Id.)

Plaintiffs commenced this action on November 17, 2010, against the Haverford Township Police Department, the Township of Haverford, Chief of Police Carmen Pettine, Harvey Pike, Steven Gill, John Pili, and John Does 1, 2, and 3. In Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, filed on January 10, 2011, Plaintiff Janet Watson asserted (1) violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1988, and her First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights against all Defendants (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 75--83.); (2) assault and battery against Defendants Pike and Gill (id. ¶¶ 84--87); (3) false imprisonment and arrest against Defendants Pike, Gill, and Does 2 and 3 (id. ¶¶ 88--90); (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendants Pike, Gill, and Does 2 and 3 (id. ¶¶ 88--90); and (5) negligence against Defendants Pike, Gill, and Does 1 through 3. (Id. ¶¶ 95--100.) Plaintiff William Watson also asserted a claim for loss of assistance, companionship, consortium, and society of his wife. (Id.) Plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed Defendant Pettine from this action on February 3, 2011, and, on June 6, 2011, the Court denied Defendant John Pili's Motion to Dismiss.

On April 4, 2012, both Plaintiffs and the Haverford Defendants filed Motions for Summary Judgment. The Responses were filed on April 24, 2012 and April 25, 2012. The Haverford Defendants then submitted a Reply Brief on May 11, 2012, and Plaintiffs followed with a Sur-reply Brief on May 16, 2012, making both Motions ripe for judicial review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For an issue to be "genuine," a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

On summary judgment, the moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145--46 (3d Cir. 2004). It is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Boyle v. Cnty of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi's IGA Supermkts., Inc. v. Darling-Del. Co. Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993)). Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citing United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987). If a conflict arises between the evidence presented by both sides, the court must accept as true the allegations of the non-moving party, and "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

Although the moving party must establish an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not "support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can meet its burden by "pointing out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims." Id. at 325. Once the movant has carried its initial burden, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586. "[T]he non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006). If the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Moreover, the mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant will not be adequate to support a denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for the non-movant on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249--50.

III. DISCUSSION

In the present matter, both parties move for summary judgment on Count I, while the Haverford Defendants seek summary judgment on the Complaint in its entirety. For ease of discussion, the Court addresses several of Defendants' preliminary arguments and then discusses each of the substantive causes of actions.

A. Whether the John Doe Defendants Must Be Dismissed

The Haverford Defendants first seek dismissal of the John Doe Defendants, who have yet to be named in this case. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21 provides that, "on motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party." Fed. R. Civ. P. 21. "Use of John Doe defendants is permissible in certain situations until reasonable discovery permits the true defendants to be identified." Blakeslee v. Clinton Cnty., 336 F. App'x 248, 250 (3d Cir. 2009). "If reasonable discovery does not unveil the proper identities, however, the John Doe defendants must be dismissed." Id. Thus, at that juncture, "[i]t is appropriate, before proceeding to trial, to eliminate [the] fictitious defendants from [an] action under Fed. R. Civ. P. 21." Adams v. City of Camden, 461 F. Supp. 2d 263, 271 (D.N.J. 2006).

In the present case, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on November 17, 2010, giving them well over a year to identify the John Doe Defendants and amend the Complaint to name them. Given the passage of a reasonable period of time and Plaintiffs' failure to attach an identity to any of these Defendants, the Court now dismisses the John Doe Defendants, and any causes of action against them, from this suit.*fn3

B. Whether the Haverford Police Department Defendant Must Be Dismissed

Defendants next seek to dismiss the Haverford Police Department from this litigation. "In Section 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities, because the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local municipality, and is not a separate judicial entity." DeBellis v. Kulp, 166 F. Supp. 2d 255, 264 (E.D. Pa. 2001). Thus, a police department "is not a 'person' subject to suit in a § 1983 civil rights action because it lacks an identity separate from the municipality of which it is a part." Draper v. Darby Twp. Police Dep't., 777 F. Supp. 2d 850, 856 (E.D. Pa. 2011); see also Martin v. Red Lion Police Dep't, 146 F. App'x 558, 562 n.3 (3d Cir. 2005) (dismissing police department from suit where municipality was also a defendant).

In the present action, Plaintiffs have sued both Haverford Township Police Department and Haverford Township itself. Because the Police Department has no identity separate from the municipality of which it is a part, it is properly dismissed as a defendant in this action.*fn4

C. Section 1983 Claims Against Officers Pike and Gill

The next point of contention between the parties focuses on the viability of the civil rights claims against Officers Pike and Gill. Section 1983 provides that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress[.]

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute itself does not independently create substantive rights, but rather merely "provides a remedy for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal laws." Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 775--76 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284--85 (2002); Bush v. Lancaster City Bureau of Police, No. Civ.A.07-3172, 2008 WL 3930290, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2008). A plaintiff may bring a § 1983 action if he alleges that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In other words, a plaintiff alleging a § 1983 violation must demonstrate that: (1) the ...


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