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Luis R. Lazarde, Sr., et al v. City of Reading

September 28, 2012

LUIS R. LAZARDE, SR., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
CITY OF READING, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



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

MEMORANDUM

Luis Lazarde and his wife, Abigail Lazarde, contend that a Reading police officer, Christopher Cortazzo, intentionally ran over Mr. Lazarde's foot with his police cruiser. Mr. Lazarde claims that he was subsequently summoned to the police station to answer questions about an unrelated assault case and was "roughed up" by Angel Cabrera, another Reading police officer. The City of Reading moves for partial summary judgment on Count II, a derivative Monell claim against the City, and Counts IV and V for false imprisonment and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, to the extent those counts are asserted against the City. For the following reasons, I will grant the defendants' partial motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Pursuant to my policies and procedures, the defendants filed a separate, short, and concise statement of material facts containing numbered paragraphs. My policies and procedures require the party opposing a motion for summary judgment to include "a separate, short, and concise statement of the material facts, responding to the numbered paragraphs set forth" by the defendants. The plaintiffs suggest that they "dispute the facts set forth in Defendant's 'Statement of Relevant Undisputed Facts In Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.' So the facts are not 'undisputed.'" Pls.' Br. in Opp'n at 3. However, the plaintiffs do not respond to the numbered paragraphs in the defendants' statement of undisputed facts. The plaintiffs failed to follow my policies and procedures.

Instead, the plaintiffs reference their amended complaint which "details the facts of this matter" and incorporate the amended complaint by reference. Id. at 3. The nonmoving party cannot avert summary judgment with speculation or conclusory allegations, such as those found in the pleadings. See Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. for M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999). My policies and procedures require "references to the parts of the record" that support the statement of material facts. Plaintiffs' "statement of facts" on page three of their brief contains three short paragraphs without a single reference or citation to the record. Pls.' Br. in Opp'n at 3. Furthermore, the unsupported "facts" contained only on page 3 of the plaintiffs' brief are not even relevant to the Monell claim at issue in the City's motion.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)(2) allows me to consider the defendants' statement of uncontested facts undisputed because the plaintiffs failed to properly address the defendants' assertions of fact as required by Rule 56(c). Accordingly, because the plaintiffs failed to follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and my own policies and procedures, for purposes of this motion, I will accept as true the defendants' statement of undisputed material facts attached as Exhibit A to its motion for partial summary judgment.*fn1

A. The Allegations in the Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint

This suit arises from two alleged incidents. On October 6, 2008, Mr. Lazarde alleges that defendant Officer Christopher Cortazzo purposely ran over Mr. Lazarde's foot with his police cruiser after the two men had a disagreement.*fn2 A second incident occurred on December 5, 2008, when Mr. Lazarde alleges he was "roughed up" by defendant Officer Angel Cabrera while being questioned by Officer Cabrera at the Reading Police Station about a recent stabbing that had occurred.*fn3 The plaintiffs assert multiple state and federal claims against Officer Cortazzo and Officer Cabrera.*fn4 The plaintiffs also assert a derivative Monell claim against the City and state tort law claims against the City.

B. Citizen Complaints and Internal Affairs*fn5

The City of Reading has an Internal Affairs Department that investigates complaints against police officers, makes recommendations regarding the merits of the complaints, and if warranted, imposes discipline and/or additional training. In the 21 years prior to the December 5, 2008, incident, Officer Cabrera, who has handled thousands of arrests, has been the subject of only a handful of complaints, none of which were similar to the misconduct plaintiffs allege here and none of which were sustained as having any merit.*fn6 Officer Cabrera has received extensive training, numerous awards, thank you letters from citizens, and accolades from the Reading Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.

In the 17 years prior to the October 6, 2008, incident, Officer Cortazzo, who has handled thousands of arrest, has been the subject of some complaints, none of which were similar to the misconduct plaintiffs allege here and only one of which was sustained has having any merit.*fn7 Officer Cortazzo also has received extensive training, numerous awards, thank you letters from citizens, and accolades from the Reading Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.

The Internal Affairs Department investigated all citizen complaints made against Officers Cabrera and Cortazzo, as well as other officers. The Reading Police Department has instituted discipline when the complaints were sustained and where discipline was appropriate. When Mr. Lazarde filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Officer Cortazzo on October 14, 2008, regarding the alleged incident that occurred on October 6, 2008, the Internal Affairs Department investigated the complaint by conducting interviews of Mr. Lazarde and his proffered witnesses, taking photographs, and requesting any pertinent medical records that Mr. Lazarde claimed supported his complaint. At the conclusion of this investigation, Internal Affairs concluded that Mr. Lazarde's claim was "not sustained." The Reading Police Department defines a "not sustained" complaint as one without enough evidence to prove or disprove the allegation. Out of an abundance of caution, Internal Affairs nevertheless recommended that Officer Cortazzo seek counseling from his platoon supervisors about his interactions with the public and how to properly document all of his contacts with the public. The plaintiff did not file a complaint with Reading Police Department's Internal Affairs Department about the December 5, 2008, incident with Officer Cabrera. Accordingly, no investigation was undertaken or warranted.

C. There Are No Prior Findings of Police Misconduct by Any Reading Police Officers

Although the City of Reading has been the subject of lawsuits alleging police misconduct in the past 10 years, there has not been a single finding by a jury that any officer has violated a citizen's civil rights or that the City of Reading has a custom, practice, or policy of condoning or permitting civil rights violations. To the contrary, when presented with such ...


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