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Williams v. Borough of Hill

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 5, 2013




Now before me is a motion to dismiss plaintiff Howard Donovan Williams’ amended complaint by defendants Borough of Sharon Hill and Sean William Johnson, Dkt. No. 17, and plaintiff Howard Donovan Williams’s response thereto. Dkt. No. 18. For the reasons that follow, I will deny in part and grant in part the motion to dismiss.


Plaintiff’s amended complaint alleges the following facts. His wife, Chanane Williams, was involved in a child custody dispute with her ex-spouse, Elliott Brown, III. Compl. ¶¶ 7-9. At approximately 6:18 p.m. on July 18, 2011, defendant Allastair Crosbie, [1] who had been retained by Brown’s attorney, appeared with Elliott Brown III and Chanane Williams’ son Elliott at plaintiff’s home at 90 Kenny Avenue, Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania to serve a subpoena for a deposition in the child custody matter. Id. at ¶¶ 10, 14-16. The subpoena was directed to Clarence P. Williams, not Howard Donovan Williams. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10. No one by the name of Clarence P. Williams resided at 90 Kenney Avenue. Id. at ¶ 11. Plaintiff alleges that “there were no lawful grounds to believe that ‘Clarence P. Williams’ was the same person as Plaintiff, Howard Donovan Williams” and that “[o]ther than the address information contained on the Subpoena to Attend and Testify, there was no legal basis for believing that a ‘Clarence P. Williams’ would be found at Plaintiff’s residence” on the evening in question. Id. at ¶¶ 13-14.

Defendant Officer Sean William Johnson, of the Borough of Sharon Hill Police Department, was parked outside of plaintiff’s house when Crosbie appeared with the subpoena. Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges that before attempting to serve the subpoena Crosbie “contacted the Borough of Sharon Hill Police Department, specifically Defendant, Officer Johnson, and represented that the party [on] whom he was serving the subpoena, ‘Clarence P. Williams, ’ was a dangerous drug dealer.” Id. at ¶ 12. He claims that Crosbie “requested police presence at the time he served such subpoena . . . .” Id.

On July 18, 2011, plaintiff claims he heard a knock at the front door of 90 Kenney Avenue. Id. at ¶ 15. He claims he answered the door and “found Elliott Brown, III and Chanane Williams’ son Elliott, at the door. Chanane William’s [sic] son, Elliott, walked inside the home and went upstairs to see his mother. Elliott Brown, III remained at the door.” Id. at ¶ 16. Plaintiff asserts that Crosbie then “ran up the front steps to the front door, ” approaching plaintiff with the subpoena for Clarence P. Williams. Id. at ¶ 17. Then, plaintiff claims “Crosbie[ ] showed to Plaintiff a badge and asserted his authority to act under color of law as a representative from the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.” Id. at ¶ 18. Plaintiff alleges that Crosbie then “called to Defendant Officer Johnson, who was parked outside of Plaintiff’s home” and “represented to . . . Johnson that Plaintiff was ‘Clarence P. Williams.’” Id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges that Johnson “without cause or justification, approached Plaintiff and directed Plaintiff to step outside on his porch and provide Plaintiff’s name and identification.” Id. at ¶ 20. He claims that “Johnson asserted his authority to act under the color of law.” Id.

Plaintiff asserts that he “stepped out onto his porch and suggested that Defendant, Officer Johnson speak with the attorney Plaintiff had retained in a separate immigration matter” but that “Johnson indicated that he did not wish to speak to Plaintiff’s attorney, only to the Plaintiff.” Id. at ¶¶ 21-22. Plaintiff claims he told Johnson “that his name was Howard Donovan Williams and not ‘Clarence P. Williams.’” Id. at ¶ 23. Johnson allegedly began interrogating plaintiff and directed him “to sit on the floor of his front porch in full view of his neighbors” while plaintiff “verbally protested” Johnson’s direction and “indicated that he did not wish to sit on his front porch.” Id. at ¶ 26. He claims that “Johnson made it clear to Plaintiff that if Plaintiff did not sit on the front porch, he would make Plaintiff sit on the front porch.” Id. at ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges that he sat “on the front porch, but continued to protest his interrogation.” Id. at ¶ 28. He also claims that while Johnson was interrogating him, “Crosbie pointed his finger in Plaintiff’s face and attempted to provoke Plaintiff by claiming that Plaintiff was a ‘bad guy.’” Id. at ¶ 24.

Plaintiff asserts that he told Johnson that proof of his identity was “in his room on the second floor of his home and asked if he could go inside and get his identification or have his wife get the identification.” Id. at ¶ 29. He claims that Johnson refused to allow him inside and told him that “his wife did not have anything to do with the matter . . . .” Id. at ¶ 30. Johnson allegedly “thereafter asked Plaintiff if he had ever been locked up before” and “Plaintiff responded that he had been arrested in the past.” Id. at ¶ 33. “Johnson asked Plaintiff under what name was Plaintiff . . . arrested and why he had been arrested.” Id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiff claims he told Johnson he “had been charged several years earlier with the offense of possession of marijuana under the name of Howard Smith.” Id. at 34. He alleges that in 2006, he was charged with possession of marijuana and the charges were dismissed. Id. at ¶ 35. Plaintiff claims he had no prior convictions. Id. at ¶ 36.

Plaintiff asserts that Johnson then “directed his assisting officer to handcuff Plaintiff.” Id. at ¶ 37. He avers that while handcuffed and being placed in a squad car, “in full view of his neighbors, ” his wife came outside with his passport, which bore the name Howard Donovan Williams. Id. at ¶ 38. He alleges that “in the absence of any probable cause to believe that Plaintiff was any other person, including, “Clarence P. Williams, ” Defendant, Officer Johnson refused to release Plaintiff, instead indicating to the Plaintiff’s wife that the Plaintiff was a drug dealer.” Id. at 39.

“Plaintiff was taken to the Borough of Sharon Hill Police Station, held overnight and was not informed of the charges against him until the following morning when he was brought before the District Justice Edward Gannon” and “charged with presenting a false identification to law enforcement and disorderly conduct.” Id. at ¶ 40. His amended complaint alleges that “Johnson’s conduct in arresting Plaintiff and charging him with presenting false identification to law enforcement and disorderly conduct violated well developed and clearly established law.” Id. at ¶ 41. Further, he alleges that at the time of his arrest, “Johnson lacked knowledge or reasonably trustworthy information of facts and circumstances to believe that plaintiff had committed” the crimes with which he was charged, having

failed to conduct a reasonably thorough investigation by corroborating: (a) the information provided to him by Defendant, Crosbie; (b) the identity of Plaintiff; (c) the identity of “Clarence P. Williams”; (d) that “Clarence P. Williams could be found at Plaintiff’s address; (e) that Plaintiff was “Clarence P. Williams[”]; and (f) that Plaintiff had presented false identification to Defendant Officer Johnson.

Id. at ¶¶ 42-43. Plaintiff claims that Johnson “ignored: (a) the statements of Plaintiff regarding his identity; (b) the statements of Plaintiff’s spouse regarding Plaintiff’s identity; and (c) Plaintiff’s passport indicating that Plaintiff was indeed ‘Howard Donovan Williams’ and not ‘Clarence P. Williams.’” Id. at ¶ 44. He asserts that “[a] substantial and motivating factor in Defendant, Officer Johnson’s decision to arrest Plaintiff was Defendant Officer Johnson’s ill will directed toward Plaintiff as a result of Plaintiff’s verbal protest of his interrogation by Defendant, Officer Johnson . . .” and that plaintiff was “exercising his protected First Amendment right to verbally oppose the conduct of Defendant, Officer Johnson in interrogating Plaintiff on his front porch and prohibiting Plaintiff from going into his home to retrieve proof of his identity.” Id. At ¶¶ 45, 47. He also alleges that Johnson lacked any reason to believe that Plaintiff

intended to cause public inconvenience annoyance or alarm, or recklessly created a risk thereof by (a) engaging in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; (b) making unreasonable noise; (c) using obscene language, or making an obscene gesture; or (d) creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose.

Id. at ¶ 45. Plaintiff asserts that “Johnson, in his individual capacity, acted willfully, deliberately, maliciously or with reckless disregard of Plaintiff’s ...

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