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Williams v. Moyer

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 13, 2015

DEBRA L. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAD R. MOYER, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

Hon. John E. Jones III, Judge.

Presently pending in this § 1983 First Amendment retaliation action is a Motion to Dismiss filed by remaining Defendants, Thomas L. Kearney III and York County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 101). For the reasons articulated herein, the Court will grant the Motion.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 2, 2011, Officers Chad R. Moyer and Gregory T. Hadfield responded to a report of a domestic dispute at a residence in Springettsbury Township. (Doc. 106, ¶¶ 7-8). When they arrived at the home, the officers observed Plaintiff being restrained by a male on the kitchen floor. (Id. ¶ 9). Plaintiff was noticeably distraught, yelling profanities, and attempting to get up. (Id. ¶ 10). Officer Hadfield instructed the male to let go of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 11). Thereafter, Officer Hadfield kneed Plaintiff in her right rib cage, causing her to fall to the ground and suffer a rib injury. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13). The officers then handcuffed Plaintiff behind her back. (Id. ¶ 14).

At the time of her arrest, Plaintiff suffered from anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. (Id. ¶ 16). Plaintiff believes that it should have been clear to the officers that she was emotionally ill, as she was shouting that she wanted to die, asked the officers to shoot her, and stated that she would kill herself. (Id. ¶ 15).

Due to her agitation and fear of Officer Hadfield who had just harmed her, Plaintiff did not cooperate when the officers attempted to place her in the back of the police cruiser. (Id. ¶ 17). Officer Hadfield responded by drive-stunning Plaintiff in the calf with a taser. (Id.). When Plaintiff kicked at the inside rear of the patrol car, the officers removed her and applied shackles. (Id. ¶ 18). Officer Hadfield then pushed Plaintiff into the back of the vehicle, punching her at least two times in the face and upper body and grabbing her by the neck. (Id. ¶ 19). Officer Moyer also entered the vehicle and punched and slapped Plaintiff at least twice in the head and upper body. (Id. ¶ 20). The patrol vehicle’s video camera captured the officers’ actions. (Id. ¶ 19).

Following the arrest, the officers prepared and submitted false police incident reports to Springettsbury Township, in that the reports did not accurately relate the force employed by the officers or Plaintiff’s actions. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23). They filed or permitted to be filed a Criminal Complaint against Plaintiff, charging her with two counts of aggravated assault, one count of resisting arrest, and one count of disorderly conduct in connection with Plaintiff’s conduct against the officers. (Id. ¶ 24). The affidavit attached to the Criminal Complaint contained false statements and omitted material facts. (Id. ¶ 25). Specifically, the affidavit did not disclose any of the force employed by Officer Moyer and did not indicate the extent of the force used by Officer Hadfield, and it falsely stated that Plaintiff resisted arrest and assaulted the officers. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27). Officer Hadfield signed the Criminal Complaint, verifying its veracity. (Id. ¶ 28).[1]

On June 8, 2012, the criminal charges against Plaintiff were withdrawn, and she pled guilty to a single count of simple assault, which charge related solely to her conduct against the male actor who had been restraining her. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30).

When the instant lawsuit was filed on March 14, 2013, Defendant Kearney issued a public statement that, upon learning about the video footage showing the circumstances of Plaintiff’s arrest, he referred the matter to the Township for investigation. (Id. ¶ 35). Defendant Kearney stated that he did not investigate the matter further because he never received a referral back from the Township requesting that he do so. (Id.). Later, Defendant Kearney publicly admitted that he did not refer the matter to the Township as initially claimed. (Id. ¶ 42). Regardless of whether the Township conducted an internal investigation, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Kearney was obligated to conduct a criminal investigation into the officers’ actions and did not need a referral from the police department to initiate one. (Id. ¶¶ 37-41). Plaintiff characterizes Defendant Kearney’s failure to investigate the incident as a “failure to properly perform the duties of his office” and his statement regarding the Township’s failure to refer the case back to him as a “failed attempt to cover up same.” (Id. ¶ 43). She believes that her lawsuit exposed this deficiency, causing Defendant Kearney to suffer embarrassment and public ridicule. (Id.).

Defendant Kearney, at some point, did initiate an investigation into the alleged police misconduct related to Plaintiff’s arrest and published the results of said investigation on September 5, 2013, in a 24-page press release. (Id. ¶ 49; Doc. 106-3, pp. 1-34). Among other things, the report references and describes interviews with Plaintiff, some of Plaintiff’s relatives and relations, and the arresting and responding officers; the police cruiser video footage; Plaintiff’s medical records; the police officers’ training records; and the Springettsbury Township Police Department case file. (Doc. 106-3). The report includes Defendant Kearney’s legal analysis, concluding that the amount of forced used by the arresting officers was reasonable under the circumstances. (Id. at pp. 22-24). It also appends the expert opinion of Sargent Charles Mory of the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, who reviewed the video footage and opined that the actions of Officers Moyer and Hadfield were consistent with accepted law enforcement practices and training. (Id. at pp. 33-34). In terms of personal and medical information, the report relates Plaintiff’s statements that she is bipolar and that, on the night of her arrest, she was having an “episode” and attempted to hurt herself by ingesting pills and procuring a knife. (Id. at p. 3). Plaintiff’s boyfriend described her as very depressed and suicidal. (Id. at p. 4). Interviews also suggest that Plaintiff may have been attempting to cheat on her boyfriend on the night in question. (Id. at p. 6). The report indicates that Plaintiff was taking multiple medications for depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety, and that she had a history of hospital admissions for mental treatment. (Id. at p. 12).

Additionally, Plaintiff maintains that the dissemination of the press release violated Defendant Kearney’s own policy of not publicizing criminal investigations unless and until charges are filed. Plaintiff cites an email sent by Defendant Kearney on June 23, 2011, for evidence of the policy.[2] The email appears purposed to explain the procedure employed by police departments and the district attorney when a complaint is filed against an officer. (Doc. 106-2). Defendant Kearney outlined that the first step is for a police department to conduct an internal investigation to determine whether a departmental policy has been violated, and he notes that such inquiries are for departmental improvement and are not shared publicly. (Id.). If the investigation reveals that a criminal law may have been violated, the matter is referred to an outside police agency for a separate inquiry. (Id.). Defendant Kearney stated that he then reviews the results of the criminal investigation to decide whether charges should be filed. (Id.). The statement Plaintiff highlights as indicative of Defendant Kearney’s policy against publicizing criminal investigations is as follows: “I certainly do not share a criminal investigation publicly unless and until charges are filed and then only through the discovery process.” (Id.). The message then remarks that a Chief Seibel is “aware [of] your concerns” and notes that Defendant Kearney has “full confidence in him.” (Id.).

Based on the remark in the aforementioned email, Plaintiff believes that no information regarding the police misconduct inquiry should ever have been disclosed because the investigation report concluded that criminal charges were not appropriate, . (Doc. 106, ¶ 51). She maintains that the press release was circulated for the purpose of retaliating against Plaintiff for embarrassing Defendant Kearney when she filed her civil rights suit. (Id. ¶ 48).

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff commenced the instant civil action with the filing of a Complaint on March 14, 2013 (Doc. 1), and, soon after, submitted an Amended Complaint. (Doc. 3). The action was lodged against certain employees of the Springettsbury Township Police Department, the Department, the Township, and York County, Pennsylvania. She alleged, among other things, excessive use of force, malicious prosecution, supervisory liability, and, pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) and its progeny, municipal liability. Various of the parties filed motions to dismiss, including York County. In our Memorandum of August 6, 2013 addressing those motions, we held, among other things, that Plaintiff had failed to state a claim against York County for municipal liability. (Doc. 45). We explained that municipalities may be held liable for a plaintiff’s constitutional injury only where “the municipality itself, by implementing a municipal policy, regulation or decision either formally adopted or informally adopted through custom, actually caused the alleged constitutional violation.” (Id. at p. 18 (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 691) (internal quotation marks omitted)). We further described that a plaintiff must proffer sufficient facts whereby a jury could find that the municipality was the “moving force behind the injury alleged.” (Id. at p. 21 (quoting Board of Cnty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)) (internal quotation marks omitted)). We held that Plaintiff had failed to show that York County was the “moving force” behind her alleged harm. Plaintiff had advanced only that the County had failed to investigate her injury after the incident, and did not establish that a county policy or ...


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