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Cannon v. City and County of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 30, 2014

DEVON CANNON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF PHILADELPHIA et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

GENE E.K. PRATTER, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

In this lawsuit arising from Devon Cannon's encounter with the Philadelphia Police in December 2012, Mr. Cannon alleges that his constitutional rights were violated and he was the victim of various state torts. He filed suit against the City of Philadelphia (the "City"), Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (the "Commissioner"), Philadelphia Police Officer Aaron Willis, and two John Doe Philadelphia Police Officers. Now, the Defendants move to dismiss all claims against the City and the Commissioner, as well as a civil conspiracy claim against Officer Willis. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion with respect to Mr. Cannon's claims against the City and the Commissioner, but deny the Motion with respect to the civil conspiracy claim against Officer Willis.

II. ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT[1]

On or about December 2, 2012, Mr. Cannon was driving his car in West Philadelphia with Andre Meyers as a passenger. Allegedly for no apparent reason, Officer Willis followed Mr. Cannon in his police vehicle to a nearby Lowe's Home Improvement business. Officer Willis stopped Mr. Cannon's vehicle in the Lowe's parking lot and conducted an investigatory stop, ordering Mr. Cannon to come over to Officer Willis' vehicle. Officer Willis forced Mr. Cannon against the vehicle and handcuffed him. Officer Willis then transported Mr. Cannon in his police vehicle a short distance to another part of the Lowe's parking lot, at which time Officers John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 arrived in their police vehicles. The Officers searched Mr. Cannon's vehicle without permission and did not discover anything suspicious. However, Officers Willis and Doe 1 searched the vehicle a second time and took $800.00 that they discovered in Mr. Cannon's armrest. Officer Doe 1 handed Officer Willis a portion of the money, and Officer Willis told Mr. Cannon that he "got all the big busts" and he was "going to stop you every time I see you." (Compl. ¶¶ 40-41).

Officer Willis arrested Mr. Cannon for disorderly conduct and fabricated facts and evidence to support the arrest. According to Mr. Cannon's account, Officer Willis stated that he was "catching up on paperwork" in the Lowe's parking lot when he observed Mr. Cannon cause a crowd to form. (Compl. ¶ 42). Mr. Cannon also alleges that the City and the Commissioner were "charged with the responsibility and duty of testing, hiring, training, monitoring, supervising and disciplining the individually named defendant Police Officers and all other employees of the [Philadelphia Police Department]." (Compl. ¶ 54).

The Complaint contains 13 counts, including constitutional claims against the City and Commissioner Ramsey-based on the Fourth Amendment (Count 1), First Amendment (Count 3), and Equal Protection clause (Count 5)-and a civil conspiracy claim against Officers Willis, Doe 1, and Doe 2 (Count 13). Defendants move to dismiss all the claims against the City and Commissioner Ramsey, and the civil conspiracy claim against Officer Willis.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, " Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted) (alteration in original), the plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citation omitted).

To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Specifically, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The question is not whether the claimant will ultimately prevail, but whether the complaint is "sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold." Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1296 (2011). An assessment of the sufficiency of a complaint is thus "a context-dependent exercise" because "[s]ome claims require more factual explication than others to state a plausible claim for relief." W. Penn Allegheny Health Sys., Inc. v. UPMC, 617 F.3d 85, 98 (3d Cir. 2010) (citations omitted).

When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court may look only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1251, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). The Court must accept as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations, and view those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Rocks v. City of Phila., 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). Nonetheless, the Court need not accept as true "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, " Doug Grant, Inc. v. Greate Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted), or the plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions, " Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. MR. CANNON'S CLAIMS AGAINST THE CITY AND COMMISSIONER RAMSEY

"To determine the sufficiency of a complaint under the pleading regime established by [ Iqbal and Twombly ], a court must take three steps: First, the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

1. Mr. Cannon's Fourth Amendment Claims Against the City and Commissioner Ramsey

a. The Elements of Mr. Cannon's Fourth Amendment Claim

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and unreasonable seizures. "To succeed on a Fourth Amendment claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendant's actions constituted a search' or seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and were unreasonable' under the circumstances." Verdier v. Borough, 796 F.Supp.2d 606, 619 (E.D. Pa. 2011). "Absent immunity or an adequate defense, a person who, acting under color of state law, directly and intentionally applies the means by which another is seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment can be held liable under § 1983." Berg v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 272-72 (3d Cir. 2000).

Different standards of liability apply to the City (as a municipality) and the Commissioner (as a supervisor). The City cannot be held liable for the unconstitutional acts of its employees on a theory of respondeat superior. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Instead, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the violation of his rights was caused by either a policy or a custom of the municipality. See Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir. 1996). To state a claim against the City under § 1983, Mr. Cannon must allege that (1) the City had a policy or custom that deprived him of his constitutional rights; (2) the City acted deliberately and was the moving force behind the deprivation; and (3) his injury was caused by the identified policy or custom. See Stewart v. Moll, 717 F.Supp.2d 454, 464-65 (E.D. Pa. 2010). To survive the Motion to Dismiss, Mr. Cannon must allege that the City, through one of its policymakers, affirmatively adopted the policy or acquiesced in the widespread custom that caused the violation. See Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 155-56 (3d Cir. 2007). "In limited circumstances, a local government's decision not to train certain employees about their legal duty to avoid violating citizens' rights may rise to the level of an official government policy for purposes of § 1983." Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011). To be actionable under § 1983, a failure to train must amount to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the untrained employees come into contact or are foreseeably likely to do so. Id. Moreover, Mr. Cannon must allege that the City's practice proximately caused the injuries he suffered. See Losch v. Borough of Parkesburg, 736 F.2d 903, 910 (3d Cir. 1984). Proof of proximate causation requires that there be "an affirmative link between the policy and the particular constitutional violation alleged." City of Okla. City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823 (1985).

With respect to supervisory liability, there are two theories that may apply. First, like municipalities, "[i]ndividuals who are policymakers may be liable under § 1983 if it is shown that such defendants, with deliberate indifference to the consequences, established and maintained a policy, practice or custom which directly caused [the] constitutional harm.'" A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Det. Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Stoneking v. Bradford Area Sch. Dist., 882 F.2d 720, 725 (3d Cir. 1989)). Second, "a supervisor may be personally liable under § 1983 if he or she participated in ...


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