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Verrecchia v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 20, 2017

RAYLENE VERRECCHIA, et al.,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          John R. Padova, J.

         Plaintiffs brought this action against the City of Philadelphia and seven Philadelphia Police Officers asserting federal and state claims for violations of their rights in connection with the arrest of Plaintiff Raylene Verrecchia. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[1] For the following reasons, we grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Complaint alleges the following facts. Plaintiff Verrecchia is a Philadelphia resident. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff Arthur Camp is Verrecchia's “paramour” and Plaintiff Cassidy Biedrzycki is her minor daughter. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) On January 28, 2014, an unidentified police officer knocked on the front door of Plaintiffs' home and asked to be let inside. (Id. ¶ 8.) Without waiting for a response, four officers kicked in the door. (Id. ¶ 9.) Two of the officers entered the residence with their guns drawn, while the other two waited outside. (Id.) When the officers entered the residence, Camp was walking down the stairs to open the door. (Id. ¶ 31.) The officers forcibly pushed Camp back up the stairs, and three or four of the officers arrested Verrecchia, treating her roughly. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12.) Camp objected to Verrecchia's arrest and rough handling, but was told that he would be arrested if he did not “shut the fuck up.” (Id. ¶ 15.) One of the arresting officers called Camp a “Nigger” and also used the word “Niggershit.” (Id. ¶ 16.) Cassidy heard the officers yell at Verrecchia and Camp, and witnessed the officers drawing their guns and arresting her mother. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.)

         The arresting officers informed Verrecchia that she was being arrested for violation of a protection of abuse (“PFA”) Order that protected her mother. (Id. ¶ 13.) In fact, however, Verrecchia's mother had not obtained a PFA Order against her daughter; rather, Verrecchia had obtained a PFA Order against her mother. (Id. ¶ 20.) Nevertheless, Verrecchia was charged with “Contempt for Violation of Order or Agreement” in violation of 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5114 and “Harassment - Subjecting Other to Physical Contact” in violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 2709. (Id. ¶ 19.) She was imprisoned and bail was set at $2, 000.00. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         Five days prior to Verrecchia's arrest, on January 23, 2014, Defendant Detective Guarna had filed a criminal complaint against Verrecchia for both violation of the PFA Order and Harassment. (Id. ¶ 21.) On January 27 or 28, 2014, Defendant Detective Tague recommended that Verrecchia be arrested for making terroristic threats, and Defendant Sergeant Krause approved that recommendation. (Id. ¶ 22.) In the meantime, Detective Guarna prepared a police report accusing Verrecchia of “[a]ssault and terroristic threats, ” and Defendant Sergeant Dougherty approved that report. (Id.)

         Because Verrecchia was actually the individual protected by the PFA Order, and thus could not have violated the Order, the police officers lacked probable cause to arrest her.[2] (Id. ¶¶ 20, 24, 26.) Defendants not only knew that they lacked probable cause to arrest Verrecchia, but also had no other legal basis to arrest her. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 29.) As a result, the charges against Verrecchia were dismissed on May 13, 2014. (Id. ¶ 27.)

         Plaintiffs filed the instant action on January 22, 2016. Count One asserts claims against Officer Johnson, Detective Guarna, Sergeant Dougherty, Detective Tague, Officer Balmer, Officer Mendez, and Sergeant Krause pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. (Id. ¶¶ 45-48.) Count Two asserts a claim against Officer Johnson pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from excessive force. (Id. ¶¶ 48-50.) Counts Three and Four assert claims against unknown/unnamed members of the City of Philadelphia Police Department pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of Camp's First Amendment right to speech and his Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from racial discrimination. (Id. ¶¶ 51-56) Count Five asserts a Monell claim against the City of Philadelphia for failure to train, supervise, and discipline. (Id. ¶¶ 57-59.) Finally, Count Six asserts state law claims for assault and battery, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against all of the individual Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 60-62.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we “consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” DelRio-Mocci v. Connolly Props., Inc., 672 F.3d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, as the court is “‘not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Wood v. Moss, 134 S.Ct. 2056, 2065 n.5 (2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim, ” which gives 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) (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The complaint must contain “‘sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible, ' thus enabling ‘the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for [the] misconduct alleged.'” Warren Gen. Hosp., 643 F.3d at 84 (quoting Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009)). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Ultimately, we will grant a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient “‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” W. Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat'l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendants argue that we should dismiss Counts One and Two because the factual allegations do not plausibly allege that the Defendant Officers were personally involved in a violation of Plaintiffs' rights. Defendants also argue that we should dismiss the Monell claim in Count Five because ...


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