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Nasheen anderson v. City of Philadelphia

August 8, 2012

NASHEEN ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Summary Judgment Motion of Defendant Police Officers James Connell, Chris Fuentez, Jhonathan Lackey, Maribelle Quiles, and Edward Wright of the Philadelphia Police Department.*fn1 For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This matter arises out of the alleged false arrest and use of excessive force on Plaintiff Anderson by officers of the Philadelphia Police Department. At the time of the underlying action, Plaintiff was a thirteen-year-old middle school student that resided with his mother in Southwest Philadelphia. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A1, Dep. of Nasheen Anderson ("Anderson Dep.") 10:13--15; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. 1, Pl.'s Statement of Uncontested Facts, at 1 n.2.) The Defendant Officers are police officers in the Philadelphia Police Department's 12th District in Southwest Philadelphia.

At approximately 9:17 p.m. on June 1, 2010, an announcement was made over the Philadelphia Police radio network informing officers to report to the scene of gunshots fired near the intersection of Greenway Avenue and Gould Street in Southwest Philadelphia. (See Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 12, Dispatcher Incident History Summary ("Dispatch Log").) At this same time, Plaintiff Anderson was outside playing with his friends at the same intersection. (Anderson Dep. 37:12--13; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. J1, Statement of Nasheem Anderson ("Anderson Statement"), at 1.) At this point, the parties' stories diverge. According to Plaintiff, during friendly horseplay with his friends, a young boy named Reef/Reif*fn2 began to chase him down Gould Street. (Anderson Dep. 40:6--24.) Anderson avers that, at some unknown point during the chase, he turned to discover that Reif was no longer chasing him. (Id. at 41:15--18.) Rather, he was being pursued by a police officer. (Id. at 41:19--20.)

According to Officers Fuentez and Lackey, they were together in their patrol car when the gunshots report came through. (See Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. J, Dep. of Christopher Fuentez ("Fuentez Dep.") 7:8--16; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. L, Dep. of Jhonathan Lackey ("Lackey Dep.") 16:3--4.) As the two approached the corner of Greenway and Gould, they witnessed Anderson take off running.

(Fuentez Dep. 16:5--6; Lackey Dep. 22:1.) Suspecting him of being the shooter, Officer Lackey pursued him on foot. (Fuentez Dep. 16:7--8, 19:3--11; Lackey Dep. 27:14--17, 28:15--16, 29:8--14.) Officer Fuentez then broadcast over the police radio that his partner was in foot pursuit of a suspect of the shooting. (Fuentez Dep. 18:15--17.) Officers Wright and Quiles, who heard the radio reports, arrived at the corner shortly thereafter. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. I, Dep. of Edward Wright ("Wright Dep.") 11:12--24; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. E, Dep. of Maribell Quiles ("Quiles Dep.") 12:20--24.) Upon their arrival, Officer Fuentez instructed them to assist Officer Lackey in his foot pursuit of Anderson. (Wright Dep. 14:21--24; Quiles Dep. 21:7--10.)

During the chase, Anderson and Officer Lackey ran past another group of nearby police officers that included Officer Hoover. (Lackey Dep. 32:2--4.) Officer Hoover thereafter joined in the chase. (Id. at 41:1--24; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. G1, Statement of P/O Maribelle Quiles ("Quiles Statement") at 1.) At this point, Officer Lackey slowed his pace to catch his breath and lost sight of Anderson and Officer Hoover. (Lackey Dep. 42:4--5.) During the chase, Officer Hoover allegedly drew his gun and yelled at Anderson to "put your f___ hands up" and "don't f____ move." (Anderson Dep. 49:1--15; Anderson Statement at 1; Compl. ¶ 19.) Anderson complied, and turned to face the officer. (Anderson Dep. 50:13--14.) Officer Hoover then allegedly grabbed Anderson by the neck, forcibly turned him around, pushed him into a nearby iron railing, and hit him over the head with the end of his gun. (Id. at 50:13--24, 51:20--24, 55:1--9, 56:21--23, 57:1--24, 58:5--10, 59:2--24, 60:1--18, 61:1--24, 62:1--24.) When Anderson tried to tell Officer Hoover that he had not been running away from him, Hoover apparently responded by punching Plaintiff in the ribs several times and pressing his head into the iron railing. (Id. at 56:21--23, 57:14--16, 59:11--22.) According to the record, Officers Hazzard and Connell were also present during this alleged encounter. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Statement of P/O Edward Wright ("Wright Statement") at 2.) While he was being assaulted, Anderson heard one of the other officers instruct Officer Hoover to "put him down," to which Hoover responded by lifting him by the hood of his sweatshirt and slamming him to the ground. (Id. at 2--3; Anderson Dep. 65:9--24.) While laying on the ground, Officer Hoover and other unidentified police officers proceeded to kick and beat him, and scrape his face along the rough sidewalk. (Id. at 67:2--24, 68:1--24.) At some point, Anderson was lifted off the ground and handcuffed. (Anderson Statement at 1.) An officer then frisked Anderson, during which time he pulled down his pants and unzipped his sweatshirt. (Id. at 2; Compl. ¶ 34.) When Anderson allegedly asked the officer to pull his pants back up, he was told to "shut up." (Id. ¶ 35; Anderson Statement at 2.) Officer Connell, the supervising officer in charge, then allegedly approached Anderson and asked him, "what the f___ were you running for?" (Anderson Dep. 77:6--14.) Officer Connell thereafter proceeded to racially insult him. (Id. at 77:16--20.) Anderson was then shoved into the back of a police vehicle operated by Officer Fuentez, and Officers Fuentez and Lackey were instructed to transport him to the 12th District police headquarters for further investigation. (Fuentez Dep. 33:17--19, 36:4--6; Lackey Dep. 57:6--17.)

Once at the police station, Officer Fuentez parked in a small lot adjoining the station. (Anderson Dep.80:1--24.) Anderson was not removed from the vehicle immediately, but rather remained handcuffed inside while Officer Fuentez consumed a small pizza. (Id. at 81:4--24, 82:10--17; Anderson Statement at 2.) At this same time, Plaintiff's mother, Hope Anderson, called the police station in search of her son based on information she had received from his friends. (Compl. ¶ 46.) She was allegedly told that her son was not there, and her request to speak to a supervising officer was denied. (Id. ¶ 48.)

Shortly thereafter, Officer Connell came out of the station and asked whether the other officers found any drugs or weapons on Anderson's person, to which they responded that they had not. (Anderson Dep. 82:19--21, 83:1--19.) When Connell discovered that Anderson was only thirteen-years-old, he allegedly became angry, and directed the other officers to release him. (Id. at 83:21--24, 84:1--7.) According to Plaintiff, despite Officer Connell's instruction, he was not immediately released, but rather remained in the police vehicle while Officer Fuentez finished eating his pizza. (Id. at 84:8--17.) Fuentez then proceeded to ask Plaintiff several questions prior to releasing him from the vehicle and removing his handcuffs. (Id. at 84:22--24, 85:1--23.) As Anderson exited the parking lot, other police officers apparently made snide comments to him. (Id. at 87:10--17.) Plaintiff estimates that he was detained in the police vehicle for approximately fifteen minutes. (Id. at 87:8.) He was never charged with any violation of the law during his encounter with the police. (Compl. ¶ 60.)

Plaintiff thereafter walked to his friend's nearby house and contacted his parents. (Anderson Dep. 88:1--12.) His parents photographed his wounds and filed a complaint with a different Police District. (Id. at 92:1--24.) Anderson was then taken to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was treated and held overnight for observation. (Id. at 93:1--3; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. C, Child. Hosp. of Phila. Records ("CHOP Med. Records").) Social services at the hospital contacted the 12th District Police Department, but received no response. (Id.) Plaintiff subsequently filed a citizen's complaint with the Internal Affairs Division ("IAD") of the Philadelphia Police Department. (Anderson Dep. 93:5--7, 95:19--22, 96:4--24.) Anderson and his family heard nothing from IAD for over a year, at which time they received a notice that their complaint could not be "sustained" because of a lack of "independent officers and denials by the informed officers."

(Compl. ¶ 59.)

Plaintiff filed the instant civil rights action in federal court on October 7, 2011, alleging that Defendants violated his rights under the United States Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although not relevant to the instant Motion, Plaintiff also brings state law claims for assault and battery against the Defendant police officers. Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on June 8, 2012, and Plaintiff responded in opposition on June 25, 2012. In his Response in Opposition, Plaintiff withdrew his specific claims against Officer Fuentez for state law assault and battery, use of excessive force, and failure to intervene in the excessive force used by other officers.*fn3 On July 9, 2012, the parties entered into a stipulation-which the Court signed and approved-that all counts against the City of Philadelphia and Officers Dougherty and Lugo would be dropped and that these parties would be dismissed as defendants. As such, the Court presently considers whether the remaining Defendants in this action are entitled to summary judgment on their claims.

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, 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, Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, 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, 587-88 (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 bears the initial burden of showing 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 case." 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]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Summary judgment may be granted when "the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative." Id. at 249-- 50 (citations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff avers that the Defendant police officers in this action violated his constitutional rights by falsely arresting and using excessive force on him. In the instant Motion, Defendants allege that they are entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's false arrest claim. Defendants also move for summary judgment on the basis that Anderson cannot show that Officers Fuentez, Lackey, Quiles, and Wright "failed to intervene" to stop the alleged excessive force, and that Officer Connell, as the supervising officer in charge, cannot be held liable under a "failure to supervise" theory. Because the qualified immunity doctrine serves as an affirmative defense, the Third Circuit has cautioned the district courts to "resolve any immunity question at the earliest possible stage of any litigation[.]" See Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 483 (3d Cir. 1995); Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 587 (1998) ("[Q]ualified immunity is an affirmative defense[.]"). The Court therefore first considers Defendants' qualified immunity defense in relation to Plaintiff's false arrest allegation, and then assesses whether Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the remainder of Plaintiff's claims.

A. The Qualified Immunity Doctrine*fn4

Qualified immunity exists when a reasonable officer could have believed his conduct was lawful in light of clearly established law. Moreover, the plaintiff's subjective beliefs are irrelevant in determining whether the qualified immunity doctrine applies. See Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 636 (1987); Green v. City of Patterson, 971 F. Supp. 891, 901 (D.N.J. 1997). The doctrine provides sufficient room for mistakes in the officers' judgment, and serves to protect "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Green, 971 F. Supp. at 901 (quoting Orsatti, 71 F.3d at 484) (further citations omitted). In Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982), the Supreme Court established the standard for invoking a qualified immunity defense, stating that: "government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Id. at 818 (internal citations omitted).

In Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), the Court refined this standard by formulating a two-pronged inquiry into the officer's conduct: (1) whether, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the alleged facts indicate the deprivation of an actual constitutional right; and (2) if so, whether the right was clearly established such that a reasonable officer could have believed that the particular conduct at issue was lawful. Id. at 201, overruled in part on other grounds; see also Holmes v. Cnty. of Del., No. Civ.A.04-4794, 2007 WL 954122, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 28, 2007); Pagan v. Ogden, No. Civ.A.09-00002, 2010 WL 3058132, at *6 (E.D. Pa. July 30, 2010); Bergdoll v. City of York, No. Civ.A.1:08-01879, 2009 WL 25093, at *7--8 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 5, 2009). In Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223 (2009), the Supreme Court held that the sequence of the Saucier inquiry is not mandatory, and that district courts should exercise their "sound discretion" in determining which prong to address first. Id. at 236; see also Pagan, 2010 WL 3058132, at *6; Verdier v. Borough, 796 F. Supp. 2d 606, 630 (E.D. Pa. 2011).

The first prong of Saucier instructs the Court to consider whether the facts alleged by Plaintiff indicate that the officers' conduct violated a constitutional right. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Anderson contends that the Defendant police officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and to be secure in his person when they falsely arrested him. (Compl. ¶ 79; Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n 11.) In response, Defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff's false arrest claim because they had probable cause to arrest him, and therefore no constitutional violation occurred. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 18.) More specifically,

Defendants allege that probable cause existed for Anderson's arrest because he was seen running from the street corner where fired gunshots had just been reported, and they therefore "were not in a position to know whether Plaintiff was involved [in] any gun incident, or whether he had potentially discarded any contraband material while running." (Id. at 19.)

Broadly stated, the Fourth Amendment*fn5 prohibits the unreasonable seizure of a person absent a judicially-sanctioned warrant supported by probable cause.*fn6 See Orsatti, 71 F.3d at 482."A seizure of the person within the meaning of the Fourth [ ] Amendment[] occurs when, 'taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.'" Kaupp v. Texas, 538 U.S. 626, 629 (2003) (quoting Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 437 (1991); Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 569 (1988)). The Supreme Court has articulated numerous examples of circumstances that constitute a "seizure" within the context of the Fourth Amendment, including: "the threatening presence of several officers, the display of a weapon by an officer, some physical touching of the person of the citizen, or the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer's request might be compelled." Kaupp, 538 U.S. at 630 (quoting United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980)).

All official seizures of a person, such as a formal arrest, must be supported by probable cause. See Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692, 696 (1981) (citing Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 207 (1979)). The law is clear that an individual can bring a § 1983 claim for false arrest when probable cause is absent to form the basis of an arrest. See Criss v. Crossgrove, No. Civ.A.04-2244, 2007 WL 542228, at *7 (D.N.J. Feb. 16, 2007) (citing Ramirez v. United States, 998 F. Supp. 425, 430 (D.N.J. 1998)). "Therefore, a defense to a false arrest claim is the establishment of probable cause." Criss, 2007 WL 542228, at *7 (citing Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)). The Supreme Court has indicated that probable cause exists when, considering the totality of the circumstances, "the facts and circumstances within the officer's knowledge were sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing a crime had been committed." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 228 (1991); see also Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 818 (3d Cir. 1997).

In this case, there are simply too many unsettled facts surrounding Anderson's encounter with the police officers of the 12th District in order for the Court to definitively decide whether any officer-or all the Defendant police officers for that matter-actually violated Anderson's constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. As an initial matter, the Court is unable to glean from the record at which point Anderson was "seized" such that he could be deemed falsely arrested in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Anderson was certainly under arrest-and therefore seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment-at the time that he was captured, detained, and handcuffed by Officer Hoover. See Torres v. McLaughlin, 163 F.3d 169, 174 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 (1968)) ("It is beyond dispute that the Fourth Amendment has been construed to include events both ...


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