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Francis v. Harmon

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2014

NADINE FRANCIS, et al.
v.
JOSEPH HARMON, et al.

MEMORANDUM

MARY A. McLAUGHLIN, District Judge.

This is a Section 1983 action brought by a husband and wife against two state troopers and one police officer. The plaintiffs, Nadine Francis and Odinga Arthur, were driving northbound on I-95 when they were stopped by State Troopers Joseph Harmon and James Sparenga. Chester Township Police Officer Richard Barth arrived shortly thereafter. The plaintiffs allege that they were obeying all traffic laws and that the defendants had no reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop them. They allege that, even though the plaintiffs cooperated and posed no threat to the officers, the defendants violently pulled Arthur through the front passenger window of the car and shot Francis with a Taser gun. The plaintiffs allege that they were subsequently arrested and held overnight without probable cause.

The plaintiffs allege violations of the plaintiffs' rights under Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The plaintiffs bring claims for unlawful detention, racial profiling, excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Before the Court is defendant Richard Barth's motion for partial dismissal. Barth argues that the plaintiffs' malicious prosecution, false arrest, and false imprisonment claims against him should be dismissed. The Court will deny the motion.

I. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

Nadine Francis ("Francis") and Odinga Arthur ("Arthur") are a married African-American couple. On late February 14, 2012, they were driving northbound on I-95 near Chester, Pennsylvania, making a trip from Florida to New York to relocate for Arthur's job. Francis was driving and obeying all speed limits and traffic laws. Arthur was sleeping in the front passenger seat. At approximately midnight on February 15, 2012, State troopers Joseph Harmon and James Sparenga pulled over the plaintiffs' car. Shortly after the troopers stopped the plaintiffs, Chester Township Police Officer Richard Barth ("Barth") arrived as backup. Compl. ¶¶ 11-17.

Trooper Harmon asked Francis for her license and registration, and she provided it to him. The troopers then asked Arthur for his identification. Arthur did not refuse, but asked the troopers if he could ask a question. The troopers refused to allow Arthur to ask a question, and when Arthur did not immediately present his identification, Trooper Harmon ordered Arthur to exit the car. Id. at ¶¶ 19-22.

Before Arthur could exit the car, Trooper Sparenga began to pull Arthur through the front passenger window by grabbing his neck, causing him to choke. Upon seeing this, Francis screamed and begged for Trooper Sparenga to stop. Trooper Harmon took out his Taser gun and shot Francis with it. Id. at ¶¶ 23-26.

Once Arthur was removed from the vehicle, Trooper Sparenga slammed Arthur into the ground, and kept him face down on the ground while the defendants handcuffed him and removed his wallet. After Arthur was handcuffed, Trooper Harmon began to interrogate him about how much money he was carrying and where he was going. Arthur answered all of the questions truthfully. The defendants then removed Francis from the car and put her face down on the ground, handcuffed her, and interrogated her. Id. at ¶¶ 30-36.

Throughout this sequence of events, the defendants never informed the plaintiffs as to why they were pulled over. The plaintiffs did not commit any unlawful acts and never posed a threat to the defendants. The plaintiffs did not attempt to resist or evade arrest and were not acting violently or dangerously. The defendants did not have reasonably suspicion or probable cause to handcuff the plaintiffs. The defendants did not read the plaintiffs their Miranda rights. Id. at ¶¶ 16, 18, 24, 27, 31, 32, 34, 37, 38, 39.

After being held outside for a lengthy period of time, Trooper Harmon announced that the plaintiffs' licenses "came up clean." The plaintiffs were then loaded into the troopers' vehicle and were taken to a police station in Delaware County where they were booked and held overnight. Id. at ¶¶ 41-42.

The defendants prepared Affidavits of Probable Cause for Francis and Arthur, which contained false statements or omissions. Based on the Affidavit of Probable Cause prepared by the defendants, Francis was charged with (1) one count of driving in the left land, (2) one count of disregarding traffic lane, (3) one count of disorderly conduct, and (4) one count of resisting arrest. Based on the Affidavit of Probable Cause prepared by defendants, Arthur was charged with (1) one count of disorderly conduct and (2) one count of resisting arrest. Following the arraignment on February 15, 2012, the plaintiffs were released on bail. Id. at ¶¶ 44, 49, 55.

On March 6, 2013, the plaintiffs' motions to quash, that were unopposed by the Delaware County District Attorney, were granted by the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County. The criminal proceedings against Francis and Arthur were dismissed. Id. at 56.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of ...


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