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Donald P. Brown, Sr v. Eric Cohen

June 11, 2012


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


Donald Brown alleges that police officer defendants Erik Cohn and Ragen Miller arrested him without reason on July 1, 2007, beat him, and then failed to ensure that he received adequate medical care for his injuries. Brown was subsequently convicted of Aggravated Assault on Officer Cohn and Officer Miller, Simple Assault, and Resisting Arrest in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the remaining claims in this action.*fn1 For the following reasons, I will grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment.


On July 1, 2007, at about 6:30 a.m., Officer Cohn*fn2 and Officer Miller were on routine patrol in a marked police cruiser in the area of 3100 North 26th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Commonwealth v. Donald Brown, CP-51-CR-0014316- 2007, at 3 (Pa. Super. Ct. June 11, 2009). The officers received a radio dispatch for "a man with a knife at 3011 North Taney Street" and drove to that address. Id. This was the second time the officers went to that address because earlier in the evening the officers responded to a domestic disturbance at the residence. Id. When the officers arrived the second time, the Officers again spoke with Brown's girlfriend and her daughter who informed them that Brown was carrying a knife. Id.

The officers subsequently saw Brown running through a school yard in the 3000 block of North 26th street. Id. The officers finally caught up to him on the 3100 block of North 26th Street. Id. According to Officer Cohn, Brown was told to stop but he continued to run between parked cars. Id. Officer Miller pursued Brown on foot while Cohn tried to cut him off with the police cruiser. Officer Miller finally was able to catch up to Brown and grab his left arm. Id. Officer Cohn got out of her vehicle while Officer Miller attempted to handcuff Brown, but Brown began swinging at the officers in a wild manner. Id. Officer Cohn deflected some of the swings with her baton and then struck Brown in the leg, causing the baton to break. Id. The officers eventually were able to subdue Brown and arrest him. Id. The officers took Brown to the hospital. Id.

Brown was charged with Aggravated Assault, Recklessly Endangering Another Person, Resisting Arrest, Disorderly Conduct, and two counts of Harassment. Id. At trial, Brown testified in his defense and had a different version of the events that transpired. Id. He claimed that he had a fight with his girlfriend but left the residence when she called the police because he was on probation and feared that he might be found in violation of the conditions of his release. Brown Trial Tr., 41-51, Brown Dep. 31, 51. Brown testified that he ran for a couple of minutes while the officers pursued him. Id. Brown stated he was eventually struck by the police cruiser, and then apprehended without incident by Officer Miller. Trial Tr. at 41. He testified that Officer Cohn hit him over the head and body with the baton, but that he never swung at the officers. Id.

Following a bench trial in the Court of Common Pleas, the Court found for the Commonwealth and Brown was convicted of Aggravated Assault on Officer Cohn and Miller, Simple Assault, and Resisting Arrest. Commonwealth v. Donald Brown, CP-51-CR-0014316-2007, at 1 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009). Brown appealed his conviction to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and the conviction was affirmed on April 27, 2010. Commonwealth v. Brown, 998 A.2d 1024 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2010). Brown appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which denied his petition. Commonwealth v. Brown, 608 Pa. 615 (Pa. 2010). Brown exhausted his state court appeals and did not pursue habeas relief.


Summary judgment is appropriate when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). 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.

The party moving for summary judgment always bears the initial burden of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing relevant portions of the record, including depositions, documents, affidavits, or declarations, or showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or showing that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). Summary judgment is therefore appropriate when the non-moving party fails to rebut the moving party's argument that there is no genuine issue of fact by pointing to evidence that is "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322; Harter v. GAF Corp., 967 F.2d 846, 852 (3d Cir. 1992).

Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 255. The nonmoving party cannot avert summary judgment with speculation or conclusory allegations, such as those found in the pleadings, but rather, must present clear evidence from which a jury can reasonably find in its favor. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. for M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999). Finally, in reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court does not make credibility determinations and must view facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Siegel Transfer v. Carrier Express, 54 F.3d 1125, 1127 (3d Cir. 1995).


The factual record in Brown's state criminal trial and his subsequent appeal of his conviction conclusively establish that Brown cannot maintain his Fourth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, or state law claims because the officers' use of reasonable force was justified when Brown attempted to swing and hit the officers with his closed fist and resist arrest. Brown's Fourth Amendment claims must be dismissed pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey because Brown's criminal conviction was not reversed on appeal or called into question and success in his civil suit would require proof of facts that are entirely inconsistent with the findings made in the state criminal action. Brown has come forth with no evidence to establish that Officer Cohn and Miller were deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need because the officers took him to Albert Einstein Medical Center immediately after they subdued Brown and effectuated an arrest. The remaining state law claims must also be dismissed because (1) Brown's criminal conviction conclusively establishes probable cause for his arrest and (2) the officers were acting under their lawful authority when they used appropriate force against Brown.

A. Pursuant to the Supreme Court's Decision in Heck v. Humphrey, Brown's Fourth Amendment Claims Must be Dismissed Because Success in this Civil Suit Would ...

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