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Price v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 7, 2017

CLYDE PRICE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         Table of Contents

         I. INTRODUCTION ............................................ 2

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND ...................................... 3

         III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY ...................................... 6

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD .......................................... 9

         V. DISCUSSION ............................................ 11

         A. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims ............... 14

         1. Count One: Retaliation ....................... 15

         2. Count Two: Excessive Force ................... 21

         a. Officer Simmons ......................... 24

         b. Officer Little .......................... 29

         3. Count Three: Unreasonable Search and Seizure. 31

         a. Seizure ................................. 34

         b. Search .................................. 40

         4. Count Four: Equal Protection ................. 42

         B. Plaintiff's State Law Claims ...................... 47

         1. Counts Five and Six: False Arrest and False Imprisonment ................................. 48

         2. Count Seven: Abuse of Process ................ 53

         3. Count Eight: Malicious Prosecution ........... 56

         C. Punitive Damages .................................. 57

         VI. CONCLUSION ............................................. 59

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this action, Plaintiff Clyde Price (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, alleges that Philadelphia Police Officers Tyrone Simmons (“Officer Simmons”) and James Little (“Officer Little”) wrongfully stopped, searched, and arrested him, using excessive force, in retaliation for Plaintiff's previous filing of a lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department. Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania state law against the City of Philadelphia (“the City”), Officer Simmons, Officer Little, and former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (“Former Commissioner Ramsey”) (“collectively, “Defendants”). After the Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss as to the City, but denied the motion as to Officer Simmons, Officer Little, and Former Commissioner Ramsey, Defendants deposed Plaintiff. The remaining Defendants now move for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff has also filed a motion to strike Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to all of Plaintiff's claims against Officer Little and Officer Simmons, with the exception of Plaintiff's claims against Officer Simmons under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1) excessive force and (2) unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court will also deny Plaintiff's motion to strike Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         The facts of this case are relatively straightforward. On April 13, 2013, Plaintiff became involved in an argument with a female acquaintance near the corner of Lindenwood and Jefferson Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Price Dep. 13:14-16, 16:1-2, 17:7-24, Nov. 6, 2015, Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. A, ECF No. 19-1; Simmons Decl. ¶¶ 3-5, Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. B, ECF No. 19-2. Officers Simmons and Little, on patrol in the area, observed the dispute. Price Dep. 23:2-10, Simmons Decl. ¶¶ 5-7.

         According to Plaintiff, he and his acquaintance yelled at each other, and she moved her hands in front of Plaintiff's face. Price Dep. 22:20-23:10. While Officer Simmons refers to the interaction between Plaintiff and his acquaintance as “an altercation, ” and Officer Little claims that he “observed the female grabbing [Plaintiff] by his collar, ” it is undisputed that Plaintiff did not touch his acquaintance during the course of their argument. Simmons Decl. ¶ 5; Little Decl. ¶ 6, Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. C, ECF No. 19-3.

         After observing the argument, Officer Simmons and Officer Little approached Plaintiff and his acquaintance. Price Dep. 24:2-10; Simmons Decl. ¶¶ 5-7. At some point during their approach, Plaintiff started moving away from the officers.[2] At that time, Officer Simmons grabbed Plaintiff and placed him in handcuffs. Price Dep. 24:7-8, 25:5-6; Simmons Decl. ¶ 9.

         Plaintiff testified that after Officer Simmons approached Plaintiff and before he placed Plaintiff in handcuffs, he “threw” Plaintiff against the police vehicle with “force, but not with that much force.” Price Dep. 24:7-8, 25:5-6, 28:24-29:7. Officer Simmons does not make any statement regarding his physical interaction with Plaintiff, and Officer Little states that he walked away to speak with Plaintiff's acquaintance after Officer Simmons placed Plaintiff in handcuffs. See Little Decl. ¶¶ 10-11. The parties do not dispute that after Officer Simmons placed Plaintiff in handcuffs, he searched Plaintiff and located a pocketknife and several bags containing a substance that was later discovered to be crack cocaine.[3] Price Dep. 25:5-12, 42:11-43:19; Simmons Decl. ¶¶ 12-20. Officer Simmons then placed Plaintiff under arrest. Simmons Decl. ¶ 18.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was in custody from April 13, 2013, until August 8, 2013, at which time his motion to suppress the evidence gathered during Officer Simmons' search was granted and he was released from prison. Am. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 11. At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that the evidence was suppressed following a hearing before a magistrate judge, and that all charges against him were ultimately withdrawn. Price Dep. 38:20-39:12. Plaintiff believes that the evidence was suppressed on the basis of Officer Simmons' lack of probable cause for the search and failure to inform Plaintiff of his Miranda rights prior to questioning him.[4] Id. at 41:2-6.

         III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed this action on April 10, 2015, initially bringing claims against the City, the Philadelphia Police Department (the “PPD”), and a John Doe police officer. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff's complaint was deemed filed on April 17, 2015, after the Court granted him in forma pauperis status. ECF Nos. 2, 3. The Court immediately dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the PPD as legally baseless, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), after finding that the PPD is not a separate legal entity from the City subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 2.

         On June 30, 2015, the City answered Plaintiff's complaint, asserting affirmative defenses of (1) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and (2) sovereign immunity under Pennsylvania's Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa. Const. Stat. §§ 8541-42. ECF No. 6. The City then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, ECF No. 9, which Plaintiff did not oppose.[5]

         On August 28, 2015, following a hearing, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice as to the City, and without prejudice as to the individual John Doe police officer. ECF No. 10. The Court also (1) granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint naming Officer Simmons as a defendant; (2) granted Defendant leave to take Plaintiff's deposition following the filing of the amended complaint; and (3) ordered Defendant to file a motion for summary judgment following the deposition. Id.

         Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on September 21, 2015, adding Former Commissioner Ramsey and Officers Simmons and Little as defendants, and reasserting claims against the City. ECF No. 11. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, prior to the April 13, 2013, incident, he had filed a previous lawsuit against the 19th District of the Philadelphia Police Department. Id. at ¶ 15. He alleges that Officers Simmons and Little stopped, searched, and arrested him during the incident at issue in this case in retaliation for his filing of the previous lawsuit. Id. at ¶¶ 11-12, 15.

         Plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania state law for (1) retaliation; (2) excessive force; (3) unreasonable search and seizure; (4) violation of equal protection rights; (5) false arrest; (6) false imprisonment; (7) abuse of process; (8) malicious prosecution; (9) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (10) respondeat superior liability as to the City and Former Commissioner Ramsey; (11) supervisory liability as to the City and Former Commissioner Ramsey; and (12) violation of Plaintiff's Miranda rights. Id. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendants' actions violated his rights, $500, 000 in compensatory damages, $500, 000 in punitive damages, and reasonable costs and fees. Id.

         Rather than following the Court's instruction to take Plaintiff's deposition, on October 6, 2015, Defendants moved to dismiss and/or strike Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, ECF No. 12, which Plaintiff opposed, ECF No. 13. The Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Plaintiff's claims against the City, but denied the motion with respect to the other Defendants. ECF No. 17. The Court again instructed Defendants to file a motion for summary judgment after taking Plaintiff's deposition. Id.

         The remaining Defendants took Plaintiff's deposition in November 2015, and they filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to all claims asserted against them on February 8, 2016. ECF No. 19. Following a telephone conference with the parties, the Court stayed Plaintiff's claims against Former Commissioner Ramsey pending a ruling on Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the claims against Officers Simmons and Little. ECF No. 20. The Court explained that, because Plaintiff's claims against Former Commissioner Ramsey are based on a theory of supervisory liability for the acts of Officers Simmons and Little, if Plaintiff's claims against the officers do not survive summary judgment, there is no need for the Court to consider Plaintiff's claims against Ramsey. Id.

         Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 22, as well as a separate “Motion to Strike and or Deny Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ” ECF No. 23. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is now ripe for disposition.

         IV. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by ‘the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact.” Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and a dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         The Court views the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. “After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” Pignataro v. Port Auth., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010). In short, the essential question is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         A document filed pro se is to be “liberally construed” and “a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). In addition, when considering a motion in a pro se plaintiff's proceedings, a court must “apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name.” Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999). However, on a motion for summary judgment, “a pro se plaintiff is not relieved of his obligation under Rule 56 to point to competent evidence in the record that is capable of refuting a defendant's motion for summary judgment.” Ray v. Fed. Ins. Co., No. 05-2507, 2007 WL 1377645, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 10, 2007). “[M]erely because a non-moving party is proceeding pro se does not relieve him of the obligation under Rule 56(e) to produce evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact.” Boykins v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 78 F.Supp.2d 402, 408 (E.D. Pa. 2000).[6]

         V. DISCUSSION

         In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants first argue that all of Plaintiff's federal claims against Officer Little and Former Commissioner Ramsey fail as a matter of law because neither of those Defendants participated in the alleged wrongs, as required for a claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Defs.' Mem. Law Support Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 19, 8-10 [hereinafter Defs.' Mem.]. Next, Defendants argue that Plaintiff fails to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact with respect to every one of his claims. See Id. at 10-27. Defendants further argue that Plaintiff's federal claims against Officers Simmons and Little are barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity, and that Plaintiff's state law claims are barred by the Pennsylvania Tort Claims Act. See Id. at 27-30. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff is not entitled to punitive damages. See Id. at 30.

         In response, Plaintiff argues that, with the exception of his Miranda claim and his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, both of which he concedes are not viable, there are genuine issues of material fact with respect to each of his federal and state claims.[7] See Pl.'s Mem., ECF No. 22. He also argues that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity because his constitutional rights were clearly established, Id. at 22-23, and that he is entitled to punitive damages, Id. at 15-17.

         Plaintiff also filed a separate motion to strike and/or deny Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis that Defendants failed to file a separate statement of undisputed material facts, which Plaintiff avers is required under the Local Rules. Pl.'s Mot. to Strike, ECF No. 23. As neither the Local Rules of Civil Procedure nor this Court's Outline of Pretrial and Trial Procedures requires a party moving for summary judgment to submit a separate statement of undisputed material facts, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion to strike.[8]

         A. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

         Plaintiff brings claims against Officers Simmons and Little under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1) retaliation (Count One); (2) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count Two); (3) unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count Three); (4) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause ...


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