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Johnson v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 7, 2013

ANDRE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA et al. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM H. YOHN, District Judge.

Plaintiff, Andre Johnson, brings this action against the City of Philadelphia (the "City"), probation officer Vince Sterdardo, and an unnamed supervisor ("John Doe I")[1] in the Philadelphia Adult Probation and Parole Department ("APPD"), alleging various violations under the Constitution, along with claims of false arrest and false imprisonment for his arrest and detention as a result of an erroneous bench warrant. Specifically, Johnson alleges a deprivation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, along with false arrest and false imprisonment, by the City and John Doe I under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He also states claims of false arrest and false imprisonment against Sterdardo.[2] Before me is the City's and Sterdardo's motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which also asserts immunity defenses under federal and state law. For the reasons stated below, the defendants' motion to dismiss will be denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Johnson, a probationer of the City, alleges that at some time prior to October 29, 2012, he received a subpoena to appear in court for a "routine probation hearing" scheduled for that date. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) Due to Hurricane Sandy, however, the courts in Philadelphia County were closed on October 29 and October 30, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 11.) Consequently, Johnson's probation hearing was canceled.

The probation hearing was rescheduled for Thursday, November 1, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 12.) Johnson claims, however, that he never received notice of the rescheduling. ( Id. ) It was his intention to ask his probation officer, Sterdardo, about the hearing and its rescheduling when he met with Sterdardo on Monday, November 5, 2012, for a previously planned meeting. ( Id. ¶ 13.) That meeting never occurred, as Johnson was arrested in the early morning of November 5, 2012, by the City of Philadelphia Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office") on a bench warrant that had been issued because of Johnson's failure to appear for the rescheduled probation hearing. ( Id. ¶ 14.)

After being detained by the Sheriff's Office, Johnson was transported to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility ("CFCF"). ( Id. ¶ 15.) While being held at CFCF, Johnson learned that Sterdardo had sought the bench warrant due to Johnson's failure to appear in court on October 31, 2012, even though his original hearing was scheduled for October 29, 2012.[3] ( Id. ¶ 16.) Johnson also learned that he was not to receive a hearing for his probation violation in connection with the bench warrant for thirty days, and as a result would remain at CFCF through November 2012. ( Id. ¶ 18.) Johnson was able to contact a friend, who in turn contacted the APPD and explained the sequence of events which led to Johnson's detention. ( Id. ¶ 19.) Thereupon, the APPD moved Johnson's probation violation hearing to November 8, 2012. ( Id. )

On November 8, 2012, Johnson was transported from CFCF to the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia for his probation violation hearing. ( Id. ¶ 20.) While awaiting his hearing, Johnson was informed that the bench warrant upon which his arrest was based was erroneously issued, and that he would be released from incarceration after being transported back to CFCF. ( Id. ¶ 21.) Johnson was sent back to CFCF that same day, and subsequently released on the evening of November 9, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 22.)

As a consequence of the issuance of the erroneous warrant, and the arrest and detention that ensued, Johnson filed a complaint with the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on April 5, 2013. Following preliminary objections filed by the City, Johnson submitted an amended complaint on May 21, 2013. Thereafter, the defendants removed the case to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and filed this motion to dismiss.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), courts must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The pleading standard of Rule 8 "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" will not suffice. Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to be plausible on its face. See id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"; a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully is not sufficient. Id. Therefore, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to "nudge[] [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

III. DISCUSSION

Johnson alleges that the issuance of the erroneous warrant resulted in his unlawful arrest and detention. Accordingly, he argues that the City and John Doe I have deprived him of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Constitution through his false arrest and false imprisonment. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30.) He brings suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Johnson also claims that Sterdardo's actions resulted in his false arrest and false imprisonment. ( Id. ¶¶ 36-37.) The City and Sterdardo object to Johnson's complaint, arguing that Johnson fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and that the defendants, as government actors, are immune from suit. I will address these arguments as they apply to each defendant.

A. Claims Against the City Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

In count I of his complaint, Johnson alleges that the issuance of an erroneous bench warrant resulted in his false arrest and imprisonment, a violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the Constitution. The defendants advance two arguments against Johnson's claims. First, the defendants argue that under Pennsylvania's Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act ("PSTCA"), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8541, the City is immune from suit. Second, the defendants contend that Johnson has failed to state a Monell claim against the City under 42 U.S.C. § ...


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