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Gaddy v. City of Phila. Police Dep't

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 4, 2015

TERRANCE GADDY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILA. POLICE DEP'T et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

GENE E.K. PRATTER United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

Terrance Gaddy is suing the City of Philadelphia Police Department and Philadelphia Police Officers Matthew Winscom and Michael Chichearo. His original Complaint (Docket No. 3) alleged that the Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by conducting an illegal search and seizure, using excessive force, violating his due process rights, applying cruel and unusual punishment, engaging in ethnic and racial profiling, and being deliberately indifferent to constitutional violations. The Court granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 12) on the grounds that Mr. Gaddy’s claims were barred by the statute of limitations. However, the Court granted leave for Mr. Gaddy to amend his complaint and plead additional facts in support of his argument that the doctrine of fraudulent concealment tolled the statute of limitations. Mr. Gaddy filed an Amended Complaint (Docket No. 24), and Defendants filed a second Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 27), renewing their argument that Mr. Gaddy’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations.

II. Allegations in the Amended Complaint

On September 20, 2011, in Philadelphia, Mr. Gaddy, an African American male in possession of two weapons, was riding a bicycle when he noticed Officers Winscom and Chichearo, both of whom are white, “staring at him, as if profiling him.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 13). After the officers approached him, Mr. Gaddy fled on his bicycle. Officer Chichearo, in his police car, pursued Mr. Gaddy into an alleyway near the 5200 block of Saul Street. Officer Chichearo’s car struck the rear of Mr. Gaddy’s bicycle, throwing Mr. Gaddy to the ground. Mr. Gaddy alleges that the officers subsequently assaulted him while he was on the ground, and that he drifted in and out of consciousness during the alleged assault. According to Mr. Gaddy, the officers removed the bicycle from the scene of the incident and discovered that he possessed two weapons only after they had assaulted him.

Mr. Gaddy suffered a contusion within his right frontal lobe, a slight subretinal hemorrhage, and, allegedly, memory loss, among other injuries. Mr. Gaddy claims that the memory loss affected his recollection of the September 20, 2011 incident.

Mr. Gaddy was arrested on the day of the incident and was charged with numerous crimes. There was a preliminary hearing on November 17, 2011. At that hearing, Officer Chichearo testified that the officers approached Mr. Gaddy because they saw a bulge in his waistband, but that Mr. Gaddy fled on foot. He further testified that Mr. Gaddy pointed a gun at Officer Chichearo’s police car during the pursuit, at which time Officer Chichearo used his police car to strike Mr. Gaddy. According to Officer Chichearo’s testimony, only he, Officer Winscom, and Mr. Gaddy were in the alley at the time of the events at issue, and the officers found two firearms on or near Mr. Gaddy while searching him as he lay on the ground.

Mr. Gaddy claims that he only first learned of the actual cause of his injuries in early 2013, when he received a letter from Zorangelie Hernandez, who claimed to be a witness to Mr. Gaddy’s arrest and beating. Mr. Gaddy eventually secured sworn statements from Ms. Hernandez, as well as from Yashira Hernandez and Emanuel Hernandez, two other witnesses who claimed to have seen the events of September 20, 2011. Mr. Gaddy attached those statements to the Amended Complaint.

III. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Although Rule 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). 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 all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from them, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Rocks v. City of Phila., 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989); Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985).

IV. Discussion

Defendants’ motion to dismiss argues that Mr. Gaddy’s claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Mr. Gaddy’s state law claims are governed by a two-year statute of limitations governing torts such as assault and battery . See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(1)-(2), (7). Because “courts entertaining claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should borrow the state statute of limitations for personal injury actions, ” Owens v. Okure, 488 U.S. 235, 250 (1989) (citing Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261 (1985)), Mr. Gaddy’s claims under § 1983 are similarly governed by a two-year statute of limitations. The incident occurred on September 20, 2011, and Mr. Gaddy filed his original Complaint more than two years later on June 17, 2014. Thus, based on the chronological information, the claim appears to be untimely.

Mr. Gaddy argues, however, that the statute of limitations should be tolled under Pennsylvania’s doctrine of fraudulent concealment. The doctrine of fraudulent concealment tolls the statute of limitations when “through fraud or concealment the defendant causes the plaintiff to relax his vigilance or deviate from the right of inquiry.” Ciccarelli v. Carey Can. Mines, Ltd., 757 F.2d 548, 556 (3d Cir. 1985). For the doctrine of fraudulent concealment to apply, a plaintiff must allege facts to suggest “(1) that the defendant actively misled the plaintiff; (2) which prevented the plaintiff from recognizing the validity of [his] claim within the limitations period; and (3) where the plaintiff’s ignorance is not attributable to [his] lack of reasonable due diligence in attempting to uncover the relevant facts.” Cetel v. Kirwan Fin. Grp., Inc., 460 F.3d 494, 509 (3d Cir. 2006). There must be an affirmative and independent act of concealment for this doctrine to apply. See Gee v. CBS, Inc., 471 F.Supp. 600, 623 (E.D. Pa. 1979). “The doctrine does not require fraud in the strictest sense encompassing an intent to deceive, but rather, fraud in the broadest sense, which includes an unintentional deception.” Fine v. Checcio, 870 A.2d 850, 860 (Pa. 2005). The doctrine of fraudulent concealment tolls the statute of limitations ...


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