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Lee v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 25, 2015



MARK A. KEARNEY, District Judge.

NOW, this 25th day of March 2015, upon consideration of the pro se Complaint (ECF Doc. No. 1), Defendant Steenson's motion to dismiss (ECF Doc. Nos. 5, 7) and Opposition (ECF Doc. No. 6) and Defendant City of Philadelphia's motion to dismiss (ECF Doc. No. 9) and Opposition (ECF Doc. No. 11),

IT it is hereby ORDERED that Defendant City's Motion to Dismiss and Defendant Steenson's Motion to Dismiss are GRANTED. Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED.

Facts plausibly alleged in Complaint.

Pro se Plaintiff Robert Lee claims the City of Philadelphia ("City")'s police department violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983 by failing to properly investigate a domestic dispute at his home. He also sues his former attorney, Derek Steenson, Esquire for failing to vigorously represent him during the police's investigation of the domestic dispute, thus allegedly breaching a fiduciary duty under Pennsylvania law.[1]

The matter arises from a police visit responding to Lee's call regarding a domestic dispute with his wife at his home. Lee, a former police officer, claims that the responding police officers did not properly investigate because they ordered him to leave the premises. (Complaint, ¶ 19, 21-22). Lee insisted that the police department commence an internal investigation, which they did. ( Id. at ¶ 24). Lee hired an attorney, Defendant Steenson, to represent his interest in the internal affairs investigation, but claims that Steenson, in conjunction with officers handling the questioning, failed to speak on his behalf. Lee sues Steenson for his silence claiming a breach of fiduciary duty under Pennsylvania law. ( Id. at ¶¶ 25, 27). Lee asserts various state law claims against the City for breach of contract and civil conspiracy because the officers' conduct breached a prior settlement agreement between the City and him.[2]

Municipal liability under §1983 against City of Philadelphia

The City may not be held liable for acts of its employees based on the principle of repondeat superior. Monell v. New York Department of Social Services, 463 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Municipal liability may only be imposed under 42 U.S.C. §1983 "when the alleged constitutional transgression implements or executes a policy, regulation or decision officially adopted by the governing body or informally adopted by custom." Wiley v. City of Philadelphia Police Dept., No. 12-5984, 2014 WL 2048187, *7 (E.D. Pa. May 19, 2014), quoting Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir. 1996). A plaintiff can demonstrate a policy by showing that a decision-maker with final authority to establish the entity's policy issues an official proclamation, policy or edict. Id., citing Mulholland v. County of Berks, 706 F.3d 227, 237 (3d Cir. 2013). A custom may be established where officials' practices are so permanent and well-settled as to "virtually constitute law." Id .; Monell, supra. Lee's complaint contains no allegations of any policy or custom by the City that could give rise to liability; the allegations relate purely to his personal experience. Accordingly, he fails to state a claim under § 1983 against the City. Knellinger v. York St. Prop. Dev., LP, No. 14-4712, 2014 WL 5758007, *7 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 6, 2014); Mason v. City of Phila., No. 13-5163, 2014 WL 4722640, *10 (E.D Pa. Sept. 22, 2014).

To plead a § 1983 violation, Lee also must allege facts sufficient to establish that the City deprived him of a right secured by the Constitution and/or by a law of the United States. See Robb v. City of Philadelphia, 733 F.2d 286, 290-91 (3d Cir.1984). It is beyond dispute that §1983 does not provide substantive rights. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994); Green v. Chester Upland School Dist., No. 14-3685, 2015 WL 409569, *2 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 30, 2015). Lee does not allege that the City deprived him of any such right, which provides an additional basis for dismissal of Plaintiffs Complaint.[3] Knellinger, supra at *6 ("[W]ithout an underlying constitutional violation, there can be no Monell claim.).

Conspiracy allegations

Lee also does not plead conspiracy between the City's police officers and his former attorney under either §1983 or state law. Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 178-9 (3d Cir. 2010); Thompson Coal Co. v. Pike Coal Co., 412 A.2d 466, 472 (Pa. 1979). Plaintiffs vague allegations do not support an inference of agreement to act in concert, nor do they establish any affirmative agreement or collusion between any of the individual police officers and Mr. Steenson, Lee's attorney, which deprived him of constitutionally protected rights.[4]

State law claims

Having dismissed Plaintiffs claims under §1983, there is no basis for jurisdiction in this Court. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Lee's state law claims for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract ...

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