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Raymond S. Pratt v. City of Philadelphia

February 22, 2013


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


Raymond Pratt, proceeding pro se, brings federal constitutional claims and state law claims against the City of Philadelphia (the "City"), Police Officer Justin Rios, and Police Officer Sammy Brinson (collectively, the "Officer Defendants"). Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied.


Plaintiff's claims arise out of his arrest on January 14, 2011. (Defs.' Concise Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 1-3.) While the Officer Defendants were engaged in a vehicle stop, Plaintiff approached their patrol car. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff admits to consuming alcohol on the day of his arrest. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Concise Statement of Material Facts ¶ 4.) After he approached the patrol car, Plaintiff claims the Officer Defendants assaulted him, arrested him without probable cause, placed him in excessively tight handcuffs, and drove him around for hours in the patrol car while Plaintiff was in an uncomfortable position. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 7.) In contrast, Defendants claim that Plaintiff approached the patrol car then failed to move away from it after the Officer Defendants requested that he do so. (Decl. of Police Officer Sammy Brinson ¶¶ 5-7; Decl. of Police Officer Justin Rios ¶¶ 5-7.) Plaintiff yelled at the Officer Defendants, refused to calm down, and acted in a disorderly fashion. (Decl. of Police Officer Sammy Brinson ¶¶ 9-12.) The Officer Defendants then arrested Plaintiff, but claim that Plaintiff's handcuffs were not uncomfortably tight. (Id. ¶ 16.) As a result of the incident, Plaintiff received a citation for disorderly conduct. (Defs.' Concise Statement of Material Facts ¶ 7.) However, following a trial in which the Officer Defendants testified, the disorderly conduct charges were subsequently dismissed by the Municipal Court of Philadelphia County on June 7, 2011. (Pl.'s Aff. in Supp. of Motion Papers Ex. E [State Court Docket].)

Plaintiff filed the Second Amended Complaint on November 14, 2011. The Court granted two motions to dismiss on February 22, 2012, leaving only the City and the Officer Defendants (collectively, the "Defendants") in the case. On October 12, 2012, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. On November 8, 2012, Defendants filed a joint partial motion for summary judgment and opposition to Plaintiff's motion. Although Plaintiff challenges the timeliness of Defendants' motion and opposition, the Court finds that both were timely filed pursuant to the Court's September 20, 2012 Amended Scheduling Order. (See ECF Document No. 47 ("Dispositive motions shall be filed by November 15, 2012. Responses to any motions for summary judgment shall be filed by December 1, 2012.").)


Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, it must identify evidence in the record establishing the absence of a genuine factual issue. Nat'l State Bank v. Fed. Reserve Bank, 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). When the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if sufficient evidence is provided to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find for the nonmoving party at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In reviewing the record, a court must "view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Spence v. ESAB Grp., Inc., 623 F.3d 212, 216 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v. Darling-Delaware Co., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993). A court must apply the same standards to cross-motions for summary judgment. Lawrence v. City of Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008).


A. § 1983 Claim Against City

Plaintiff claims that the City violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights by encouraging or ignoring police corruption and the use of excessive force by its police officers. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 166-173.) "A government entity may not be held liable under section 1983 under the respondeat superior doctrine. To obtain a judgment against a municipality, a plaintiff must prove that the municipality itself supported the violation of rights alleged." Andrews v. City of Phila., 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990). "Liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 attaches to the municipality only when 'execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may be fairly said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury.'" Downton v. Phone, 441 F. App'x 91, 92 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480). A government policy or custom can be established in two ways: (1) when a decision maker issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict; or (2) when "such practices of state officials [are] so permanent and well settled as to virtually constitute law." Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480 (alteration in original) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Plaintiffs cannot rely on conclusory allegations to establish that a policy or custom existed. See Bayer v. Monroe Cnty. Children & Youth Servs., 414 F. App'x 431, 437 (3d Cir. 2011); Robinson v. Hicks, 450 F. App'x 168, 173 (3d Cir. 2011) (affirming summary judgment because "other than [a] conclusory statement . . ., [Plaintiffs] fail[ed] to show any evidence to prove that such a custom exists"). Plaintiff also carries "the burden of showing that a government policymaker is responsible by action or acquiescence for the policy or custom and at a minimum, the government must act with deliberate indifference to the purported constitutional deprivation in order to ground liability." Weller v. Ransom-Garner, 338 F. App'x 249, 252 (3d Cir. 2009).

Plaintiff fails to identify any City policy or custom that resulted in the deprivation of his rights, as required for a § 1983 claim against a municipality. Although Plaintiff mentions Philadelphia Police Department Directive 114, titled "Employee's Responsibility to Report Corruption, Misconduct, and Other Improper Acts Negatively Affecting the Department," he fails to explain how Directive 114 resulted in a deprivation of his rights. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the Officer Defendants' "conduct and actions against Pratt . . . are within and part of the policy and procedure of Directive 114." (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 171.) To the extent Plaintiff argues that the Philadelphia Police Department has an explicit policy of permitting its officers to use excessive force or encouraging corruption, the Court dismisses this claim, since Plaintiff fails to identify any portion of Directive 114 that encourages use of excessive force or internal corruption. See Brown v. Muhlenberg Twp., 269 F.3d 205, 215 (3d Cir. 2001) (affirming dismissal of § 1983 claims when plaintiff "tendered no evidence of any official policy endorsing [officer's] conduct").

Plaintiff also appears to argue, in the alternative, that "the policy and procedure of Directive 114 is intended to and does intentionally provide organizational cover . . . [for officers] who wholly disregarded and routinely violated Pratt's civil rights" and "by merely conforming their acts, actions and conduct against Pratt to be in compliance with" Directive 114, the City allowed the Officer Defendants to violate Plaintiff's rights with impunity. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 137-39.) To the extent that Plaintiff is arguing that there is a custom of Philadelphia police officers using excessive force and the City ignoring such impropriety when Directive 114 procedures are complied with, Plaintiff has not provided anything other than conclusory statements to support this claim. Plaintiff merely points to the existence of Directive 114, then declares that it "provide[s] organizational cover" for officers to disregard individuals' rights. (Id. ¶ 139.) Now, even following discovery, Plaintiff has failed to present any facts that would support the existence of this type of custom. At the summary judgment stage, the Court requires more than the mere existence of an anti-corruption policy and allegations of "systemic police corruption" to find fault with a municipality under § 1983. See Bayer, 414 F. App'x at 437 (holding that conclusory allegations are insufficient to establish that a municipality had a policy which resulted in a violation of plaintiff's rights); Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 637 (3d Cir. 1995) ...

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