United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
June 11, 2015
ANTONIO JAVIER MORALES, Plaintiff,
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants
CYNTHIA M. RUFE, District Judge.
Plaintiff alleges he was falsely arrested by an unidentified police officer of the City of Philadelphia on July 22, 2014, remained in police custody for twenty hours, and then was falsely imprisoned by an unidentified correctional officer of the City for approximately two weeks. He sued the police officer, the correctional officer, and also brought municipal liability claims against the City under § 1983 and Monell for a deficient policy or custom and for a failure to train. The City has filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims asserted against it.
The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff has a twin brother who shares the same first and last name, but not the same middle name. At the time of Plaintiff's arrest, there was an open warrant for his twin brother, but not for him. Despite having different fingerprints than his twin brother and being fingerprinted by the police officer, Plaintiff was not released from custody for approximately two weeks.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is appropriate where a plaintiff's "plain statement" lacks enough substance to show that he is entitled to relief. In determining whether a motion to dismiss should be granted, the Court must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint, accepting all allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Courts are not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Something more than a mere possibility of a claim must be alleged; plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." The complaint must set forth "direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory, " but a "formulaic recitation" of the elements is insufficient. The Court has no duty to "conjure up unpleaded facts that might turn a frivolous... action into a substantial one."
A. Deficient Policy or Custom Claim
To hold a municipality liable under Monell, Plaintiff must allege facts supporting the inference that there exists a policy or custom that when executed or implemented resulted in a violation of § 1983. This requires Plaintiff to "(1) identify a policy or custom that deprived [him] of a federally protected right; (2) [demonstrate] that the municipality, by its deliberate conduct, acted as the moving force behind the alleged deprivation; and (3) establish a direct causal link between the policy or custom and [his] injury."
Here, Plaintiff makes no factual allegations that "identify a custom or policy, and specify what exactly that custom or policy was.'" Plaintiff merely alleges that the City has deficient "policies, practices, and/or customs" with regard to ensuring individuals with the same name are not falsely arrested or imprisoned. However, Plaintiff does not allege that the warrant had or should have had his twin brother's full name, that Plaintiff's identification had his full name, or that the twin brother's fingerprints were in Defendant's system for comparison. The allegations are too vague and conclusory to allow a reasonable inference of a deficient policy or custom under the circumstances of this case.
Nor does Plaintiff identify a responsible municipal policymaker or link the conduct of that policymaker to an alleged deficient policy or custom. Also, because a specific policy or custom has not been alleged by Plaintiff, there are no facts allowing a reasonable inference of an "affirmative link" or "plausible nexus" between an alleged deficient policy or custom and his injuries. Although the Court recognizes that some evidence can only be developed through discovery, Plaintiff must meet his pleading responsibilities, and has not done so here.
B. Failure to Train Claim
Plaintiff can also plead a Monell claim by showing that the City's failure to train its employees reflects "deliberate indifference to constitutional rights." Generally, failure-to-train claims require pleading facts suggesting a "pattern of similar constitutional violations, " although there may be rare instances where a single incident is enough to find municipal liability. It is insufficient to "merely allege that a single injury could have been avoided if an employee had had better or more training." Instead, Plaintiff must show that "the unconstitutional consequences of failing to train [are] patently obvious" or "highly predictable."
Plaintiff has not pleaded facts that support an inference of a pattern of similar violations or an "obvious" failure to train. Instead, Plaintiff merely alleges Defendant has "failed to properly train" employees how to verify an individual's identification. Here, where the mistaken identity arose from twin brothers sharing first and last names and a birth date, such vague and conclusory allegations do not allow the Court to infer a clear failure in Defendant's training or the systems Defendant's employees were trained to use.
Plaintiffs Monell claims against the City wiII be dismissed without prejudice and leave will be granted to file an amended complaint. An appropriate Order follows.