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Daniels v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 3, 2017

CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.


          Schiller, J.

          Lamont Daniels was arrested two years ago while dropping off clothing for his girlfriend's daughter. Daniels alleges, among other things, that his arrest lacked probable cause and was marked by excessive force. He also alleges that the City of Philadelphia maintains a policy, practice, or custom that caused the constitutional violations against him. The City of Philadelphia moves to dismiss the claims against it, and Officers Michael Berkery and Ryan Pownall move to dismiss the excessive force claim against them. The Court agrees that Daniels has failed to state a claim against the City of Philadelphia, and therefore will dismiss that claim. The excessive force claim against the individual police officers, however, may proceed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Daniels owns and operates a security company that provides armed security services for clients. (Compl. ¶ 11.) He is authorized to carry a firearm. (Id.)

         Daniels was working on the evening of August 8, 2014. (Id. ¶ 12.) Around 6pm that day, Daniels had finished work at one of his clients and was driving to another client located in Philadelphia. (Id.) On his way, he stopped by the home of his girlfriend's daughter to drop off some clothes for his girlfriend's daughter. (Id. ¶ 13.) Daniels parked outside the home, and waited in his SUV for her to come outside and get the clothes. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) While waiting in his SUV, Daniels saw a police car drive by and stop in front of him. (Id. ¶ 15.) The police car radioed that the registration on Daniels's car had expired. (Id. ¶ 16.) A second police car arrived on the scene and parked behind Daniels's car. (Id. ¶ 17.) Police Officers Berkery and Pownall exited the second police car and walked toward Daniels's car. (Id. ¶ 18.) Officer Berkery stood outside Daniels's open driver's side window and Officer Pownall stood outside Daniels's open passenger side window. (Id. ¶ 20.) Daniels, who was wearing his security uniform with his firearm on his right side in its holster, asked the officers if there was a problem. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 22.) Officer Berkery replied that there was an alleged 911 call about somebody in the area with a gun, and he asked Daniels if Daniels would consent to a search of his car. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 23.) Daniels provided the officers with his work identification, his certificate allowing him to carry a firearm, and his fugitive recovery identification. (Id. ¶ 24.)

         As Daniels complied with Officer Berkery's directive to step out of his car, Daniels “was immediately forcibly subjected to an unlawful frisk and search.” (Id. ¶ 25.) Officer Berkery removed Daniels's firearm from its holster and forcibly wrestled with Daniels's duty belt. (Id. ¶ 27.) Officers Berkery and Pownall then pushed Daniels into the back of a police car. (Id. ¶ 28.) Officer Berkery directed unnamed officers in the first police car to arrest Daniels, but those officers told Officer Berkery to issue a ticket for the registration and to let Daniels leave. (Id. ¶ 29.) Officer Berkery then removed Daniels from the police car Daniels was in and pushed Daniels into his police car. (Id. ¶ 30.) Daniels sat in Officer Berkery's police car for an hour while his car was illegally searched without consent. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 33.)

         Officers Berkery and Pownall arrested Daniels and charged him with carrying a firearm without a license, possession of marijuana, carrying a firearm in public in Philadelphia, and driving an unregistered vehicle. (Id. ¶ 34.) The unregistered vehicle charge was disposed of in the Magisterial District Court. (Id. ¶ 37.) On September 18, 2015, Daniels was found not guilty of the remaining charges against him. (Id.)

         Plaintiff has not only sued individual police officers, but he has also brought a claim against the City of Philadelphia. Plaintiff claims that the Philadelphia Police Department (“PPD”) “has a well documented history of excessive force, unlawful searches and seizures, and unlawful arrests without probable cause or reasonable suspicion which has led to several civil rights lawsuits against The City for PPD's wrongful conduct often by unreasonable force and against persons of African American and/or Latino race or ethnicity.” (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff claims that former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey was responsible for making and enforcing personnel decisions and policies that ensured effective policing. (Id. ¶¶ 42-44.) Plaintiffs allege that the actions of Defendant police officers were the result of policies, practices, and customs of the City of Philadelphia, as well as the failure to train, supervise, and discipline police officers on constitutional standards. (Id. ¶ 45.)

         Daniels brings claims for excessive force against Defendant police officers and the City of Philadelphia, unreasonable search and seizure against Defendant police officers and the City of Philadelphia, unlawful arrest against Defendant police officers and the City of Philadelphia, and bystander liability and malicious prosecution against Defendant police officers.


         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Powell v. Weiss, 757 F.3d 338, 341 (3d Cir. 2014). A court need not, however, credit “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions” when deciding a motion to dismiss. Anspach ex rel. Anspach v. City of Phila., Dep't of Pub. Health, 503 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         “Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]” of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Simply reciting the elements will not suffice. Id. (holding that pleading that offers labels and conclusions without further factual enhancement will not survive motion to dismiss); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231. In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court may consider “allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record.” Schmidt v. Skolas, 770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014).

         The Third Circuit has established a two-part analysis for a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, the legal conclusions and factual allegations of the claim should be separated, with the well-pleaded facts accepted as true but the legal conclusions disregarded. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court must make a common sense determination of whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 211. If the court can only infer the possibility of misconduct, the complaint must be dismissed because it has alleged-but failed to show-that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id.

         III. ...

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