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Augustine v. Ramsey

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 21, 2014

NOEL AUGUSTINE et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHARLES RAMSEY et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

BERLE M. SCHILLER, District Judge.

Twenty-six individuals involved in the Occupy Philadelphia movement sued nine named Philadelphia police officers and the City of Philadelphia, claiming that Plaintiffs' arrests during a protest violated their rights under the First and Fourth Amendments and under state law. Defendants move to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court held oral argument on the motion on April 15, 2014. For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motion with respect to Plaintiffs' claims of excessive force and unreasonable search and denies Defendants' motion with respect to Plaintiffs' other claims.

I. BACKGROUND

Occupy Philadelphia, an association of protesters, gathered on or about October 6, 2011 outside City Hall in Philadelphia to protest economic inequality. (Compl. ¶ 18.) Over the course of seven weeks, these protestors demonstrated outside City Hall's Dilworth Plaza and marched throughout the city. ( Id .) Philadelphia police officers, assisted by various federal agencies, shadowed and surveilled the protestors. ( Id .)

On November 27, 2011, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey issued an order evicting the protestors from Dilworth Plaza. ( Id . ¶ 19.) Defendants then planned the removal of the protestors, including Plaintiffs, from Dilworth Plaza. ( Id .) During the evening of November 29, 2011, Commissioner Ramsey, Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel, and Captain William Fisher ("Supervisor Defendants"), Deputy Chief Inspector John Doe, and Deputy Commissioner John Doe decided to arrest the protestors "based solely upon the anticipated march or marches that followed the forced removal of the Occupy Philly encampment from the public space known as Dilworth Plaza." ( Id . ¶ 26.)

On the morning of November 30, 2011, police officers entered Dilworth Plaza, which had been vacated by the protestors. ( Id . ¶ 21.) Officers tore down tents in Dilworth Plaza that had previously been occupied by protesters. ( Id .) At this point, many of the protestors were gathered near the corner of 15th Street and Market Street. ( Id .) Plaintiffs James Savage and T.J. Ghose were unlawfully arrested by Defendant officers while protesting in that area. ( Id . ¶ 22.)

A large group of protestors then began to march through Center City, followed by a "massive contingent" of Philadelphia police officers on foot, on bicycles, and in vehicles. ( Id . ¶ 24.) When the protestors, including twenty-four of the Plaintiffs, reached the intersection of 15th Street and Hamilton Street, a large group of police officers surrounded them, blocking their movement. ( Id . ¶ 25.) Following instructions from Commissioner Ramsey, Deputy Commissioner Bethel ordered that the protest be terminated. ( Id . ¶ 28.) Captain Fisher then ordered the protestors, including Plaintiffs, to move from the street to the sidewalk, and he announced that protestors who did not comply with his order would be arrested. ( Id . ¶ 29.) Plaintiffs, complying with Captain Fisher's order, moved from the street to the sidewalk. ( Id .) Plaintiffs were then surrounded by Defendant officers on bicycles and "corralled against the wall of a building, " where they were unable to move. ( Id .) Upon orders from Commissioner Ramsey, Deputy Commissioner Bethel, and Captain Fisher, Defendant officers then falsely arrested and handcuffed Plaintiffs. ( Id . ¶¶ 30, 31.)

Plaintiffs were charged with the following misdemeanors: failure to disperse, obstructing the highway, and criminal conspiracy. ( Id . ¶ 31.) They were held for over twenty-four hours in police custody and released on bail. ( Id .) Plaintiffs were later acquitted of all charges. ( Id . ¶ 36.) As a result of Defendants' actions, Plaintiffs suffered physical pain, substantial and potentially permanent physical injury, loss of liberty, anxiety, fear, mental harm, and financial loss. ( Id . ¶ 35.)

Plaintiffs now bring fourteen claims against the police officer Defendants. The federal claims are retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, civil conspiracy, and excessive force, unreasonable search, assault, unlawful arrest, and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. ( Id . ¶¶ 37-44, 47-48, 51-52, 55-58, 61-62.) In addition, Plaintiffs bring state law claims, including battery, assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. ( Id . ¶¶ 45-46, 49-50, 53-54, 59-60, 63-68.) Plaintiffs seek to hold the City of Philadelphia liable under Monell for the constitutional violations by Defendant officers. ( Id . ¶¶ 69-76.) See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of New York , 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, and attorney's fees and costs. (Compl. ¶ 78.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers & Allied Craftsmen Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs. , 237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A court need not, however, credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" when deciding a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. Although the federal rules impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). "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." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. Simply reciting the elements will not suffice. Id . (holding that a pleading that offers labels and conclusions without further factual enhancement will not survive motion to dismiss); see also Phillips , 515 F.3d at 231.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has directed district courts to conduct a two-part analysis when faced with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, the legal elements and factual allegations of the claim should be separated, with the well-pleaded facts accepted as true but the legal conclusions disregarded. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court must make a commonsense determination of whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 211. If the court can only infer the mere ...


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