United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.
action arises from the alleged arrest and subsequent
three-year detention of Plaintiff Sylvester Ekwunife
(“Plaintiff”) on sexual assault charges that were
later dismissed. Plaintiff alleges that the affidavit of
probable cause submitted by the Philadelphia Police
Department in support of its application for his arrest
warrant contained multiple misstatements and omissions,
resulting in his false arrest and false imprisonment.
Plaintiff also alleges that after the sole victim recanted
her accusation against Plaintiff, the prosecutor continued to
pursue her case against Plaintiff and attempted to use the
recanted testimony to coerce a guilty plea from Plaintiff, in
violation of his constitutional rights.
brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1985, as well as various state law claims, against the
City of Philadelphia (“the City”); Detective
Laura Hammond of the Philadelphia Police Department's
Special Victims Unit (“Detective Hammond”), in
her individual and official capacities; Philadelphia Police
Officer Joseph T. Carter (“Officer Carter, ” and
collectively with the City and Detective Hammond, “the
City Defendants”), in his individual and official
capacities; Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams
(“DA Williams”), in his official capacity; and
former Assistant District Attorney Heba Gore (“Former
ADA Gore”), in her individual and official capacities
(together with DA Williams, “the DA Defendants”).
the June 24, 2016, dismissal without prejudice of
Plaintiff's pro se Amended Complaint, Plaintiff filed a
second and then a third amended complaint - this time
represented by counsel - bringing claims of false arrest,
false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, failure to train
and supervise, and conspiracy. On October 17, 2016, following
a hearing, the Court granted the City Defendants' and DA
Defendants' motions to dismiss the Third Amended
Complaint, and granted Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint
yet again, in accordance with the guidance the Court provided
at the hearing. Plaintiff has now filed a Fourth Amended
Complaint, and the City and DA Defendants have each filed
separate motions to dismiss.Plaintiff opposes the DA
Defendants' motion, but has not filed a response to the
City Defendants' motion. For the reasons that follow, the
Court will grant both motions to dismiss.
alleges the following facts, all of which are presumed to be
true for purposes of resolving the motions to dismiss.
alleges he and his wife allowed Sharon McFayden
(“McFayden”), the mother of Plaintiff's
wife's granddaughter, to live with her children at a
house Plaintiff owned, with the understanding that McFayden
would pay the mortgage on the property. See Fourth Am. Compl.
(“FAC”) ¶ 15, ECF No. 32. After McFayden
failed to pay the mortgage, Plaintiff asked her to move out
of the home so that it could be rented. See Id.
McFayden moved out of the home, but “started plotting
against Plaintiff.” Id. She kept Plaintiff
from receiving notices from the bank regarding the mortgage,
and later arranged with the bank to forfeit the property.
to Plaintiff, McFayden has been diagnosed with bipolar
disorder and schizophrenia. Id. As a result,
Plaintiff's wife's son, Danny Rosario
(“Rosario”), wanted custody of Karizma, the
daughter of Rosario and McFayden. Id. at ¶ 16.
Before the custody battle began, however, McFayden contacted
Philadelphia's Department of Human Services
(“DHS”) and reported that Plaintiff had sexually
abused Karizma. Id. at ¶ 17. DHS case workers
then visited the home to investigate the complaint.
Id. at ¶ 18. During the home visit,
Plaintiff's wife and Rosario both informed the DHS case
workers that Karizma “was known for fabricating things,
” and that her mother “was mentally ill, and had
a motive to lie against [P]laintiff.” Id. The
case workers did not allow Plaintiff, or anyone else in the
household, to tell them Plaintiff's side of the story.
Id. at ¶ 19.
February 18, 2012, Plaintiff was arrested and detained on
sexual assault charges. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff
alleges that the Philadelphia Police Department obtained a
warrant to arrest him on the basis of an affidavit of
probable cause prepared and filed by Detective Hammond.
Id. at ¶ 44. According to Plaintiff, Detective
Hammond provided “false information” in her
affidavit, including (1) incorrectly identifying Plaintiff as
a white man; (2) listing the alleged victim as 11 years old,
whereas she was between 3 and 4 years old at the time of the
incident; and (3) listing the incorrect address where the
incident allegedly occurred. See id.
alleges that at some point after his arrest, the Court of
Common Pleas held a hearing at which “the Judge found
that there was no ‘digital penetration'” in
the sexual assault case. Id. at ¶ 21. At some
unspecified later point, Karizma “recanted her
story” to the Assistant District Attorney prosecuting
the case, Heba Gore. Id. Despite the victim's
recantation, Plaintiff claims, the DA's Office
“left [P]laintiff in custody while continuing to try to
extort a guilty plea from him with a real threat of a 50-year
sentence.” Id. at ¶ 22. In January 2015,
nearly three years after Plaintiff was arrested, the DA's
Office requested a dismissal of the case against him without
explanation. Id. at ¶ 23. On May 1, 2015, the
state court expunged Plaintiff's arrest record.
Id. at ¶ 24.
alleges that as a result of Defendants' actions, he was
humiliated and beaten by “other inmates who perceived
him to be a child molester, and had to be taken to the
hospital multiple times.” Id. at ¶ 60.
Plaintiff also alleges that he was “publicly shamed,
ridiculed, [and] humiliated, ” and he lost the
opportunity to care for his special-needs son. Id.
at ¶¶ 59, 61.
filed an initial pro se complaint on January 21, 2016,
asserting claims against the City and the Philadelphia
District Attorney's Office. ECF No. 3. The Court
dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the Philadelphia
District Attorney's Office pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e), explaining that (1) a district attorney's office
is not an “entity” for purposes of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and therefore is not susceptible to suit, and (2)
the doctrine of absolute immunity shields prosecutors from
liability related to their official acts. ECF No. 2.
subsequently amended his complaint on February 10, 2016. ECF
No. 4. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint brought only one
claim, violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Due
Process rights, and named only three defendants: the City of
Philadelphia, Former ADA Gore, individually and as an
official, and Detective Hammond, individually and as an
official. See Id. On March 1, 2016, the Court issued
an order dismissing Plaintiff's claims against Former ADA
Gore pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) under the doctrine
of absolute immunity. ECF No. 5.
11, 2016, the City filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint. ECF No. 9. The City argued that Plaintiff
failed to state a claim for municipal liability under §
1983 and Monell v. Department of Social Services,
436 U.S. 658 (1978), because Plaintiff (1) failed to identify
a municipal policymaker, (2) failed to allege facts regarding
a municipal policy or custom that deprived Plaintiff of his
constitutional rights, and (3) failed to identify specific
instances of prior police misconduct caused by the City's
policies or practices. See Id. Plaintiff did not
respond to the motion.
7, 2016, Plaintiff retained counsel. See ECF No. 12. On June
24, 2016, the Court held a hearing on Defendants' motion
to dismiss the Amended Complaint. See ECF No. 15. At the
hearing, the Court stated that Plaintiff's allegations
regarding a policy, practice, or procedure relating to the
alleged failure to train were conclusory, and granted
Defendants' motion to dismiss without prejudice, allowing
Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint. See Hr'g Tr. at
15, Jun. 24, 2016, ECF No. 29. During a discussion regarding
Plaintiff's failure to properly allege a policymaker, the
Court noted that absolute immunity does not apply to the
District Attorney's Office to the extent the office is
acting in an administrative capacity instead of a
prosecutorial capacity. See Id. at 8-9. The Court
suggested that Plaintiff add the District Attorney's
Office as a defendant if Plaintiff intended to allege that
the District Attorney's Office is the policymaker for
purposes of his § 1983 claim and that the office was
acting in an administrative capacity. See Id. at
filed a Second Amended Complaint on July 18, 2016, ECF No.
18, followed by a Third Amended Complaint on July 19, 2016,
ECF No. 19. The Third Amended Complaint added Officer Carter
and DA Williams as defendants, and re-added Former ADA Gore.
ECF No. 19. The DA Defendants and City Defendants each filed
separate motions to dismiss, ECF Nos. 22, 25, which Plaintiff
opposed, ECF Nos. 27, 28. On October 17, 2016, following a
hearing, the Court granted both motions to dismiss,
dismissing the claims against the City and the DA Defendants
in Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint without prejudice
and with leave to amend. At the hearing, the Court asked
Plaintiff to make the following changes in the Fourth Amended
Complaint: (1) identify each of the defendants and the claims
Plaintiff is making against each defendant; (2) identify the
facts supporting each claim against each defendant, including
sufficient facts to make the claim plausible under Twombly
and Iqbal, and (3) to the extent Plaintiff intended to bring
a Monell claim, identify the specific policy or custom at
issue. See Hr'g Tr. 36:5-37:10, Oct. 14, 2016, ECF No.
November 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Fourth Amended Complaint,
bringing claims for violation of due process and failure to
train (Counts I and II), malicious prosecution (Count III),
false arrest and false imprisonment (Count IV), failure to
intervene (Count V), failure to investigate (Count VI),
conspiracy (Count VII), intentional infliction of emotional
distress (Count VIII), and false arrest and false
imprisonment (Count IX). ECF No. 32. Plaintiff seeks
compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $15
million. Id. at ¶ 62.
December 2, 2016, the DA Defendants moved to dismiss
Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint. ECF No. 34. On
December 6, 2016, the City Defendants moved to dismiss all
claims against the City. ECF No. 35. On December 15, 2016,
Plaintiff filed a “Memorandum of Law in Support of
Plaintiff's Response to Motion to Dismiss the Fourth
Amended Complaint Sub Judice [sic], ” which appears to
oppose only the DA Defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF No.
36. Plaintiff's time to respond to the City
Defendants' motion to dismiss has expired. The Court is
now ready to rule on both motions.
may move to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When
considering such a motion, the Court must “accept as
true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party.”
DeBenedictis v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 492 F.3d
209, 215 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Rocks v. City of
Phila., 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989)). To withstand
a motion to dismiss, the complaint's “[f]actual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This “requires
more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation
of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Id. Although a plaintiff is entitled to all
reasonable inferences from the facts alleged, a
plaintiff's legal conclusions are not entitled to
deference and the Court is “not bound to accept as true
a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”
Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).
pleadings must contain sufficient factual allegations so as
to state a facially plausible claim for relief. See,
e.g., Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d
187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009). “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.”
Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009)). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the
Court limits its inquiry to the facts alleged in the
complaint and its attachments, matters of public record, and
undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's
claims are based upon these documents. See Jordan v. Fox,
Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250,
1261 (3d Cir. 1994); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White
Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint, he brings claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of due process,
failure to train, false arrest, false imprisonment, and
failure to intervene; a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1985; and state law claims for intentional infliction
of emotional distress, false arrest, and false imprisonment.
Plaintiff also brings malicious prosecution and
failure-to-intervene claims, without specifying whether he is
bringing those claims under state or federal law.
City Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state a
claim with respect to any of his § 1983 claims against
the City, because (1) he has not adequately pleaded that his
constitutional rights were violated by a municipal policy or
custom, as required to state a § 1983 claim against a
municipality under Monell, and (2) he has failed to plead a
failure-to-train claim because he has not identified any
instances of prior police misconduct. Plaintiff has not
responded to the City Defendants' motion. As
Plaintiff's time to oppose the City Defendants'
motion has expired, the Court will grant the motion as
unopposed. See Local R. 7.1(c) (providing that “[i]n
the absence of timely response, [a] motion may be granted as
uncontested except as provided under Fed.R.Civ.P.
56.”). However, in the interest of completeness, the
Court will address the City Defendant's arguments below.
Defendants argue that (1) Plaintiff's § 1983 claims
against the DA Defendants in their official capacities fail
because Plaintiff has not adequately pleaded an
unconstitutional policy or custom that violated
Plaintiff's rights or a failure-to-train claim; (2) a
failure-to-intervene claim does not apply to the facts
Plaintiff alleges; (3) Plaintiff has failed to state a claim
against the DA Defendants under any subsection of §
1985; (4) Plaintiff's state law claims against the DA
Defendants in their official capacities are barred by the
Pennsylvania Tort Claims Act; (5) Plaintiff's claim under
the Pennsylvania Constitution fails because there is no
private right of action; and (6) Plaintiff's claims
against Former ADA Gore in her individual capacity fail under
the doctrine of absolute immunity.
reasons discussed below, the Court concludes that Plaintiff
fails to establish a § 1985 claim against the DA
Defendants, and that Plaintiff's § 1983 claims
against the City and against the DA Defendants in their
official capacities fail because Plaintiff's conclusory
allegations do not establish a municipal policy or custom
that would support a Monell claim. Further, the Court agrees
with the DA Defendants that Plaintiff's due process and
malicious prosecution claims against Former ADA Gore in her
individual capacity are barred by the doctrine of absolute
immunity, that a failure-to-intervene claim does not apply
here, and that there is no private right of action under the
Pennsylvania Constitution. To the extent that Plaintiff
brings any state law claims against the ...