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William Harris, Jr., Angell Harris, Lorria Ruiz v. Derrick Jacobs

September 18, 2012


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


Presently before the Court is the Summary Judgment Motion of Defendants Detective Derrick Jacobs and the City of Philadelphia, and the Request for Spoilation Sanctions of Plaintiffs William Harris, Jr. ("William"), Angell Harris ("Angell"), and Lorria Harris-Ruiz ("Lorria") (collectively hereinafter "Plaintiffs" or "the Harris siblings.") For the following reasons, Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiffs' Request for Spoilation Sanctions is denied.


This matter arises out of a domestic dispute that occurred between William and his then-girlfriend Trelana Adams ("Adams") at his home in Philadelphia. At approximately 11:00 p.m. on the night of November 7, 2008, William and Adams had an argument after Adams discovered messages on William's cell phone from other females. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A., Dep. of William Biff Harris, Jr. ("William Dep.") 16:2--5; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13, 14.) The fight escalated into a physical altercation when Adams began to beat William over the head with an alarm clock. (Id. ¶ 15; Pls.' Resp. Opp'n, Ex. A, 11/12/08 Phila. Fam. Court Domestic Abuse Hr'g. Trans. ("PFA Hr'g. Trans.") 13:15--25.) William apparently pinned Adams down on the bed in an attempt to restrain her and pry his cell phone out of her hands. (Id. at 10:14--21,13:21--25.) After the altercation, Adams called the Philadelphia Police to report the incident. (William Dep. 16:18--24.) When the police arrived at the scene, they arrested William, took him to the local station, and booked him on charges of simple assault. (Id. at 17:3--16; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 20; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B, 11/07/08 Compl. or Incident Report.) The police eventually took William to the Emergency Room to have his facial lacerations and contusions treated. (William Dep. 17:17--22, 18:10--24, 19:1--4.) Following medical treatment, William returned to jail, where he remained until he was released the following day. (Id. at 19:5--9, 20:23--24, 21:1--3.)

While William was incarcerated, Adams obtained a Temporary Protection From Abuse ("PFA") Order against him from a Philadelphia Family Court. (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n, Ex. C, 11/07/08 Temporary Protection from Abuse Order ("Temp. PFA").) Because the Temporary PFA was in effect at the time of William's release, he was not permitted to return to his home or to have any contact with Adams. (Id.; William Dep. 21:11--16.) William therefore requested to have his two sisters, Lorria and Angell, retrieve his car keys and personal items from his home. (Id.) The police apparently complied with this request. Prior to going to William's house, Lorria allegedly spoke to Adams on the phone and told her that she and Angell were going to retrieve William's things. (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n, Ex. E, Statement of Lorria S. Harris-Ruiz ("Lorria Statement").) During this call, Adams apparently told Lorria that the Temporary PFA gave her the right to keep and use William's vehicle. (Id.)

Philadelphia Police Officers Michelle Long and John Holt escorted William, Lorria, Angell, and their father to William's home in Philadelphia. (William Dep. 21:13--24, 22:6--18; Lorria Statement.) At all relevant times, William remained in his sister's car parked a few blocks away in an effort to comply with the PFA. (William Dep. 25:3--5.) Upon the group's arrival at the house, Lorria and Angell knocked on the door in the presence of the police, but no one answered. (Id. at 22:6--18, 23:17--24.) The sisters then unlocked and entered the house with a separate set of keys that belonged to Angell. (Id. at 24:18--24, 25:1--2; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. C, Dep. of Angell Harris ("Angell Dep.") 14:1--6.) According to the Harris sisters, Officers Long and Holt apparently gave them permission to enter the home with their own set of keys for the sole purpose of retrieving William's belongings, and left the scene shortly thereafter. (Id. at 19:6--7; Lorria Statement.)

Once inside, Lorria and Angell began to search for their brother's things. (Angell Dep. 17:7.) They noticed that lights, a television, and a space heater were all on, and therefore proceeded to call out for Adams to ascertain if she was home, but received no response. (Id. at 17:8--13.) The Harris sisters conducted a thorough search of the house, but were unable to find William's car keys. (Id. at 17:15--19.) Lorria then called Adams, and Adams indicated that she was in rightful possession of William's car and keys pursuant to the PFA. (Lorria Statement; Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. E, Dep. of Lorria Shin Ruiz ("Lorria Dep.") 22:1--21.) Upon entry into the upstairs bedroom, the sisters discovered two strangers-subsequently identified as Adams's cousin and boyfriend-sleeping in their brother's bed. (Angell Dep. 18:1--16.) The Harris sisters asked the strangers who they were and demanded that they leave William's house, but they declined to do so. (Id. at 18:1--17.) Shortly thereafter, the Harris sisters left the house. (Id. at 18:17--21.) Prior to their departure, Angell took a set of keys from the downstairs foyer, which she believed belonged to her brother. (Id. at 18:17--19.) The women then locked the door behind them. (Id. at 18:19--20.) Apparently the door had a double-sided lock, and therefore the two strangers in the home were locked inside. (Lorria Statement.) The sisters then called the police to report the presence of the two strangers in the house, and to obtain their assistance in retrieving William's car keys from Adams. (Id.; William Dep. 26:5--14.) They then sat down on the front stoop to await the police. (Lorria Dep. 36:13--17.)

At this point, Lorria and Angell noticed Adams sitting in their brother's car parked outside. (Lorria Statement.) The women approached the vehicle and demanded the keys, but Adams refused to turn them over. (Id.) Officers Holt and Long arrived on the scene again shortly thereafter, and advised the Harris sisters that, while they could not force Adams to turn over the car keys, they could request to have the vehicle towed. (Id.; William Dep. 26:9--24; Lorria Dep. 29:1--21.) The officers then asked Angell to unlock the door so that Adams's cousin and her boyfriend could exit the house. (Id. at 37:18--24, 38:1--9; Angell Dep. 19:4--11.) The officers then had a separate discussion with Adams, during which she gave permission for William to quickly enter the house to retrieve his belongings. (William Dep. 26:18--24; 27:1--19.) William then went inside, took his things, and left with his family without further incident. (Id. at 28:1--4.) Lorria video recorded the entire course of events that took place at William's house that day, and a DVD of this video has been provided to the Court. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. F, DVD Recording.)

A few days later, on November 12, 2008, a hearing was held on the Temporary PFA before the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. (See generally PFA Hr'g Trans.) Both Adams and William testified at the hearing. Based on their testimonies, the presiding judge refused to enter a permanent PFA against William and discharged the case. (Id. at 17:20--21; William Dep. 30:6--9.) The judge also advised Adams that Willam could lawfully refuse her entry into his home since she and William were not married and she did not own the house. (PFA Hr'g Trans. 18:2--9.)

At approximately the same time, the Philadelphia Police Department was conducting an investigation into the incidents surrounding William's arrest. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, 11/09/08 Investigation Interview Report ("Jacobs Investigation Report").) Detective Derrick Jacobs was assigned to the case. (Id.) According to Plaintiffs, Detective Jacobs is personally involved with Adams or is a member of her family. (Am. Compl. ¶ 51; Angell Dep. 29:11--24, 30:1--24, 31:1--24, 32:1--14.) Plaintiffs allege that his investigation into the matter was therefore "malicious, incompetent and sloppy." (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n 7.) Detective Jacobs apparently only interviewed Adams and her cousin about the incident, but never contacted William, his family, or Officers Long and Holt to discuss the matter. (Id.) Based solely on Adams's account of the incident, Detective Jacobs sought and received arrest warrants for William, Lorria, and Angell. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Exs. H & I, Affs. of Probable Cause.) All three individuals were subsequently arrested and charged with six felonies and six misdemeanors, including: burglary, retaliation, intimidation, criminal conspiracy, criminal trespass, wire tap fraud, unlawful restraint, terroristic threats, obstruction of justice, false imprisonment, theft by unlawful taking, and receipt of stolen property. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. G, Phila. Police Dep't Arrest Record ("Harris Siblings Arrest Record").) William was also charged with violating the Temporary PFA. (Id.) Eventually, all of the criminal counts against the Harris siblings were dismissed by the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia. (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n 9.) Detective Jacobs's case file on the Harris investigation, however, has since gone missing. (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n, Ex. J, 03/16/12 Weisberg-Taylor E-Mails Re: Harris v. Jacobs ("03/16/12 E-Mail Exchange").)

Plaintiffs filed their two-count Complaint on September 16, 2011, alleging that Detective Jacobs and the City of Philadelphia violated their civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the United States Constitution. Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment on June 5, 2012. Plaintiffs responded in opposition on July 3, 2012, and Defendant replied on July 13, 2012. Plaintiffs filed their Sur-reply on August 21, 2012. This matter is now ripe for judicial consideration.


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).


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) (internal citation omitted); 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). Federal law requires a plaintiff to satisfy two steps in order to properly establish a § 1983 claim: (1) the deprivation of a constitutional right or other federal law, and (2) that a "person acting under the color of state law" is responsible for the alleged deprivation. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 119--20 (1992).

In the instant case, Plaintiffs aver that Detective Jacobs, acting under color of state law, violated the Fourth Amendment when he maliciously prosecuted them. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 70--76.) Plaintiffs also seek to hold the City of Philadelphia responsible for the conduct of its police officers under a theory of municipal liability. (Id. at ¶¶ 77--81.) Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiffs lack sufficient evidence to successfully establish their malicious prosecution claim against Detective Jacobs. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 5--9.) In the alternative, Defendants assert that Detective Jacobs is entitled to the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. (Id. at 9--10.) Defendants likewise allege that summary judgment should be granted in the City's favor because Plaintiffs have not established the presence of a policy, practice, or custom upon which municipal liability can be premised. (Id. at 11--13.) In response, Plaintiffs aver that Detective Jacobs's actions here do not entitle him to qualified immunity, and that genuine issues of material fact remain as to their malicious prosecution and municipal liability claims. (Pls.' Resp. Opp'n 13--19.) Plaintiffs also request the Court to enter spoilation sanctions against Defendants on the basis that they have been prejudiced by Defendants' loss and/or destruction of Detective Jacobs's file related to the Harris investigation. (Id. at 9--13.) The Court considers each claim and defense in turn below.

A. Malicious Prosecution

A cause of action for malicious prosecution made pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must allege the following:

(1) The defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiff's favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of a seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.

Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 521 (3d Cir. 2003); see also Henderson v. City of Phila., --- F. Supp. 2d ---, 2012 WL 1071225, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 30, 2012) (internal citation omitted). "If Plaintiffs have not proffered evidence sufficient to create a triable issue of fact as to all five prongs, their malicious prosecution claim must fail as a matter of law." Domenech v. City of Phila., No. Civ.A.06-1325, 2009 WL 1109316, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2009). In the instant case, Defendants concede that Plaintiffs can satisfy the second and fifth elements of their malicious prosecution claim. (Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. 5.) As to the other three elements, the Court finds that genuine issues of material fact remain in the record, thereby precluding summary judgment.

The first element provides that the defendant must have initiated a criminal proceeding against the plaintiff. It is undisputed from the record that criminal proceedings were initiated against William, Angell, and Lorria because all three plaintiffs were arrested, charged with several felonies and misdemeanors, and subsequently cleared of all charges. (Affs. Probable Cause; Harris Siblings Arrest Record; Pls.' Resp. Opp'n 9.) The arrest warrants for Plaintiffs were based upon affidavits of probable cause crafted by Detective Jacobs. As such, it is evident that Detective Jacobs played a significant role in effectuating Plaintiffs' arrests. Defendants assert, however, that Detective Jacobs cannot be held ...

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