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Grooms v. Wiggins

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

March 4, 2014

TYRONE WIGGINS, et al. Defendants.



Deborah Grooms has sued Tyrone Wiggins; the City of Philadelphia; former Police Commissioners Richard Neal, John Timoney, and Sylvester Johnson; and the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, for violations of her constitutional rights actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Before the Court are motions to dismiss filed on behalf of the City, Neal and Johnson. For the reasons below, the motions will be granted in part without prejudice and denied in part as moot.

I. Facts[1]

Tyrone Wiggins was a Philadelphia Police Officer. On March 25, 2011, he was sentenced to seventeen and one half to thirty five years’ incarceration following his conviction for criminal charges stemming from his eight-year long campaign of horrifying sexual abuse of Plaintiff Deborah Grooms. Although Wiggins is a defendant to this lawsuit, he is not a party to the present motions.

When Grooms was ten years old, she was enrolled in a karate class taught by Wiggins that took place at the Olney Recreation Center, a facility operated by the Parks Department. A fair inference from the Complaint is that the Police Department could dictate whether or not Wiggins taught at Olney. Wiggins ingratiated himself with Grooms’s family, and after he had known Grooms for about two years he began to abuse her. Over the next eight years he raped her repeatedly.

Wiggins used his physical strength, proximity to Grooms’s family, and his status as a police officer to intimidate Grooms. He threatened her with incarceration if she ever told anyone about his actions. He also committed some of his crimes against Grooms while he was on duty as a police officer: he would drop Grooms’s brother off at the police station’s weight room so that the brother could exercise while Wiggins drove to Fairmount Park to abuse Grooms, and when a radio dispatcher called to ask where he was, Wiggins would lie. On more than one occasion, Wiggins was at Grooms’s apartment, and he was so loud that neighbors reported the disturbances. Wiggins frustrated any possibility that the reports would free Grooms from Wiggins’s terrorizing behavior by flashing his badge and telling the officers who responded to the scene that he was a police officer and that “everything was okay.”[2] No one at the police department ever investigated these disturbances further.

Finally in 2006, Grooms mustered the courage to call the police herself and report Wiggins’s history with her. Wiggins was suspended pursuant to an order of Johnson. However he was still permitted to teach karate at Olney Recreational Center during the investigation, and before it concluded, Wiggins was returned to active duty. Later, he was permitted to resign, which may have enabled him to retain his pension, and after his arrest the Police Department continued to allow him to teach karate at Olney.

II. Standard of Review

As the Supreme Court has held, “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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.”[3] The pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, ”[4] and therefore a Plaintiff’s “complaint must contain enough factual allegations, ” accepted as true, to permit a court to infer that “discovery would provide evidence of each element of the claim.”[5]

III. Discussion

A.§ 1983 Claims

The moving defendants do not dispute that Grooms has stated an injury cognizable under § 1983, namely a violation of her substantive due process right to bodily integrity, nor do they argue that her action is time-barred.[6] They do, however, argue that Grooms’s complaint fails to state a sufficient factual basis to impose liability on the moving defendants, two police commissioners and the City of Philadelphia.

Grooms has advanced two theories of liability with respect to the moving defendants. First she has alleged that they should be held liable for failing to train police officers; second, that the City caused her constitutional violations pursuant to official policies or customs.

In order to establish liability for failure to train, Grooms must plead (1) that the individual defendants were “deliberately indifferent to the need to train” police officers about sexual abuse and “(2) that the lack of training actually caused the [constitutional] violation in this case.”[7] To establish deliberate indifference, Grooms must allege “that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action.”[8] To allege that “action pursuant to official municipal policy caused [her] injury, ” she may point to “the decisions of a ...

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