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Kenney v. City of Pittsburgh

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 16, 2015



Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, Nicole Kenney, filed a seven count Complaint (and thereafter an Amended Complaint) alleging numerous constitutional violations and state law claims stemming from her alleged unlawful arrest(s) in July and September of 2012. Doc. No. 17 (Amended Complaint). Kenney contends that her constitutional rights under the Fourth (4th), Ninth (9th) and Fourteenth (14th) Amendment were violated in the following particulars: (1) that Officers Abraham, Jones, and Constables Derrickson and Walter, [1] individually, and on behalf of the City of Pittsburgh (City) and the Pittsburgh Police Bureau, [2] falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted her without probable cause (Counts I, II and VI); (2) that the City had a policy, practice, or custom that amounted to deliberate indifference in allowing Constables to serve arrest warrants that were based upon false affidavits which failed to establish probable cause for her arrest, and that the City failed to train or supervise the Officers who unlawfully violated her rights (Count III); (3) that all Defendants (the City, the Officers/Constables, and Boyd (an informant for the police)) conspired against her because Boyd gave false statements, and the Officers then swore out false affidavits that did not constitute probable cause and that the City wrongfully charged Plaintiff without further investigation, even though her accuser (Boyd) had prior felony convictions (Count IV); (4) that Defendant Officers, Constables, and Boyd intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Plaintiff (Count V); and, (5) Defendant Boyd intentionally battered and assaulted her (Count VII).

The gravamen of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint centers upon two incidents, wherein Constables Derrickson, and Walter, who are not employed by the City in any capacity (but rather by Castle Shannon), allegedly improperly served warrants for her arrest based upon allegedly falsified affidavits of probable cause that were prepared by Officers Jones and Abraham. The alleged basis for the affidavits of probable cause were statements made by Defendant Boyd, with whom Plaintiff had a contentious relationship, for reasons not entirely clear. Plaintiff contends that the Officers, the Constables, the City, and Boyd conspired against her to charge her with crimes she did not commit all because Boyd was an informant for the City. Criminal charges were lodged against Plaintiff as a result of allegations that Plaintiff shot a gun at Boyd and other allegations which Plaintiff contends were false. Ultimately, all charges were dismissed.

Pending before this Court are the joint motions for summary judgment and supporting documentation filed on behalf of Defendants Erika Jones, Jeffrey Abraham, the City of Pittsburgh and the City of Pittsburgh Police Bureau (doc. no. 43), Plaintiff’s response in opposition thereto (doc. no. 51), and Defendants’ Reply (doc. no. 55).

After careful consideration, and for the reasons that follow, this Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to adduce evidence from which a finder of fact could reasonably determine: (1) that there was no probable cause for the arrest of Plaintiff by Defendants Abraham and Jones (thereby eliminating false arrest and malicious prosecution claims); (2) that the Defendants conspired against her to violate her civil rights; and, (3) that the customs, practices, and policies of the City amounted to deliberate indifference to her constitutional rights. Additionally, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. For these reasons, the Court finds that when judging the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the non-moving party, the facts fall short of the quantum of culpability required in order to maintain a civil rights action.

Therefore, summary judgment will be GRANTED as to all claims against the City, and Officers Abraham, and Jones. The Court will decline to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining assault/battery and emotional distress claims against Boyd, and the Constables.

II. Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Woodside v. School Dist. of Philadelphia Bd. of Educ., 248 F.3d 129, 130 (3d Cir. 2001), quoting Foehl v. United States, 238 F.3d 474, 477 (3d Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court must “view the evidence . . . through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden” to determine “whether a jury could reasonably find either that the plaintiff proved his case by the quality and quantity of the evidence required by the governing law or that he did not.” Anderson v. Consolidated Rail Corp., 297 F.3d 242, 247 (3d Cir. 2002), quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986).

When the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party’s burden can be “discharged by ‘showing’ -- that is, pointing out to the District Court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the moving party has carried this burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party who cannot rest on the allegations of the pleadings and must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v. Darling-Delaware Co., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993). Thus, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings, but instead must go beyond the pleadings and present “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), and cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions in attempting to survive a summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir.1989) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325 (1986)). The non-moving party must respond “by pointing to sufficient cognizable evidence to create material issues of fact concerning every element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Simpson v. Kay Jewelers, Div. Of Sterling, Inc., 142 F.3d 639, 643 n. 3 (3d Cir. 1998), quoting Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 762 n. 1 (3d Cir. 1994).

“In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence ‘is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.’ Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).” Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004.) See also Doe v. County of Centre, PA, 242 F.3d 437, 446 (3d Cir. 2001) (court must view facts in the light most favorable, draw all reasonable inferences, and resolve all doubts, in favor of the nonmoving party).

III. Material Facts

The parties have amassed approximately 25 pages of Joint Concise Material Facts, many of which are in fact disputed and are not material. The Court has gleaned the following factual background, which unless otherwise noted, is undisputed.

A. Investigation of Events Leading up to July 4, 2012 Arrest

On June 18, 2012, Defendant Abraham was dispatched to 111 Grimes Avenue in the Hill District section of Pittsburgh, for a criminal mischief report by alleged victim Boyd. Doc. No. 57 at ¶ 1. According to the affidavit of Officer Abraham, Boyd stated that she was at the Red Onion Bar on 2176 Webster Avenue between the hours of 12:00 AM and 1:30 AM on June 17, 2012, when she got into a verbal argument with a male known as Curtis (Edmonds) that she had been dating. During the argument, a female who was with Edmonds went into a Chrysler 300 and allegedly pulled out a black pistol from her purse and pointed it at Boyd and fired two shots. The affidavit explains that Boyd claimed that she fled on foot and called 911 but then left the scene to handle a family emergency. Plaintiff disputes that version of the events and instead claims that Boyd attacked her with mace and/or pepper spray, that she did not fire any shots (as no shell casings were found at the scene), and that Defendants have not produced any record of Boyd’s alleged 911 call. Defendants counter that no shell casings were found because the police did not look for shell casings, and Defendant Abraham received a verbal confirmation of shots fired and did not seek a paper copy of the alleged 911 call until after this lawsuit was filed.

According to Abraham’s prepared Police Report, Boyd (who has not been served and who has not been deposed in this case) also allegedly stated that after the incident at the Red Onion Bar, Edmonds sent Boyd threatening texts stating that he was going to brick her house. When Boyd returned to her residence on June 18, 2012 at 9:30 P.M., she allegedly witnessed the same Chrysler 300 stop in front of her home and she saw Curtis throw a brick through her window. Kenney denies any knowledge of the vandalism to Boyd’s home, and the parties dispute where Kenney was during the vandalism incident. Boyd, who allegedly did not know Kenney’s name, asked others and found out her name; meanwhile, Officer Abraham conducted his own investigation (through the County Quick Arrest system) and determined Kenney’s address, and saw that Kenney had been arrested on another occasion following a complaint of Kenney waiving a gun at another female and her children. Plaintiff takes issue with the fact that Officer Abraham did not check Boyd’s background as well, which would have revealed a criminal record (Boyd was convicted of numerous charges, but only one 2005 crimen falsi conviction). Doc. No. 57 at ¶ 38. It is important to note that Abraham had no prior relationship with, nor did he even know Boyd prior to June 18, 2012. Doc. No. 44-2. Officer Abraham was also not aware that Boyd was an informant[3] for the Pittsburgh police. Doc. No. 57 at ¶ 16.

On June 25, 2012, Boyd picked Kenney’s picture out of a picture line-up, which was created by Detective Scafede. Defendant Abraham completed the paperwork for a warrant for Kenney, which Kenney alleges was deficient because he did not interview either Edmonds or Kenney, only Boyd. Plaintiff contends that she gave a statement to Officer King, which Officer Abraham failed to investigate, but Defendants counter that Plaintiff never produced any record of such a report, other than Plaintiff’s own statement. Id. at ¶ 3-4.

B. July 4, 2012 Arrest

Pursuant to the warrant obtained by Officer Abraham, on July 4, 2012, at approximately 2:00-2:30 A.M., Kenney was arrested by Constables Derrickson and Walter, who arrived at Plaintiff’s residence in Brighton Heights, and began banging on the door. Id. at ¶ 5; Doc. No. 17, Amended Complaint at ¶ 15. Kenney was in her living room when the Constables started pounding on the door. Kenney was not dressed and she grabbed a short robe to cover herself. Plaintiff answered the door and one of the Constables shoved his flashlight in and forced the door open. Doc. No. 57, Plaintiff’s Additional Facts at ¶ 51. After informing Plaintiff that she was under arrest, Plaintiff contends that one of the Constables stood in the living room and inappropriately looked at Plaintiff’s 13 year-old daughter. Doc. No. 57 at ¶ 52; Doc. No. 17, Amended Complaint at ¶ 16. Additionally, one of the Constables followed Plaintiff upstairs to watch as she fully undressed and then dressed herself so that she could be placed in custody. Id. at ¶ 53. Plaintiff and her father asked to see a warrant. Doc. No. 17, Amended Complaint at ¶ 17. The Constables allegedly did not produce an arrest or search warrant upon entering Plaintiff’s residence, and did not read Plaintiff her Miranda rights upon arresting her. Instead, Plaintiff claims that the Constables told her that she was being arrested because she had “shot a woman in the head.” Doc. No. 57 at ¶54. Id. Plaintiff stated that one of the Constables stated to her on the way to the Allegheny Jail, “I know you didn’t do that stuff to Boyd, but we had to come.” Id. at ¶ 55. Plaintiff was taken by the officers to Allegheny County Jail. Id. Officer Abraham was listed as the arresting officer. Doc. No. 17, Amended Complaint at ¶ 18. Plaintiff was charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. Id. at ¶ 19. There is no dispute among the parties that Plaintiff had a harrowing experience on the day of her July 4, 2012 arrest.

Later that day or the next day, Plaintiff attempted to file a police report about the incident at both the Zone 1 and Zone 2 stations of the Pittsburgh Police Department. Id. at ¶ 20. Pittsburgh Police refused to allow her to do so as she did not know the name of her assailant. Id.

On August 1, 2012, at the preliminary hearing before Magistrate Cooper, he decided not to hear the case, and according to Officer Abraham, Boyd was upset with him because ...

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