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Davila v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 28, 2017

ANGELICA DAVILA, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Mark R. Hornak, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Angelica Davila's Motion for Reconsideration in No. 14-cv-70, ECF No. 16.[1] Ms. Davila filed this suit against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346, 2671, et seq., following a traffic stop, which she asserts was predicated upon her Hispanic heritage and which led to her warrantless arrest. Davila raised claims of false arrest and false imprisonment[2] based on the role of a Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer, Special Agent Brianna Tetrault, in that arrest.[3]

         The Court previously granted the United States' Motion to Dismiss[4] Davila's false arrest and false imprisonment claims under the FTCA, concluding that Agent Tetrault had probable cause to request that local law enforcement detain Davila without a warrant under the authority of 8 U.S.C. § 1304(e) and Davila's actions therefore could not give rise to liability on the part of the United States. ECF No. 14 at 9-12. Davila subsequently filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration, arguing that the Court's dismissal of her claims against the United States was in error.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Davila's Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's dismissal of her claims against the United States, ECF No. 16. Upon such reconsideration, the Court concludes that questions of fact preclude the dismissal of Davila's false arrest and false imprisonment claims against the United States. The Court's dismissal Order, ECF No. 15, will therefore be vacated to the extent it granted the United States' Motion to Dismiss Davila's false arrest and false imprisonment claims. The United States will remain a defendant in No. 14-cv-70 as to those claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court has set forth previously the extensively pled facts of this case, including those relevant as to claims against other Defendants in No. 13-cv-70. The Court repeats here those facts relevant to the determination of the instant Motion, accepting as true those factual allegations in the Complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences therefrom in Davila's favor. Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         The parties agree that Davila is a United States citizen who was born in Mexico. Davila legally immigrated to the United States with her parents when she was two years old, and she became a lawful permanent resident of the United States when she was sixteen. She moved to the Pittsburgh (PA) area in 2007. Davila previously sought derivative citizenship status under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, 8 U.S.C. § 1431, et seq., under which a child automatically becomes a citizen on the date she satisfies certain requirements.[5] Davila became a citizen by operation of law in 2001, and the United States does not dispute that fact.[6]

         On January 22, 2011, Davila drove to a grocery store in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Joel Garrete was her passenger. Around 5:45 p.m., Davila drove out of the grocery store parking lot onto Perry Highway. She drove approximately 250 feet on the highway before Officer Andrew Bienemann, a local patrolman, pulled her over. Bienemann informed Davila that he stopped her because her headlights were off.

         Officer Bienermann asked Davila for her driver's license, proof of vehicle registration, and proof of vehicle insurance. Davila provided all three.[7] Bienemann then questioned Mr. Garrete. Since Garrete did not speak English, Bienemann asked Davila to act as a translator, and she obliged. Bienemann asked for Garrete's identification. In response, Garrete provided Bienemann with a pay stub showing his address. Bienemann asked Garrete whether Garrete was legally present in the United States, and Garrete responded that he was not.

         Officer Bienemann returned to his patrol car, contacted the police dispatcher, and asked the dispatcher to check the immigration status of both Davila and Garrete with ICE. As a result of Bienemann's request, ICE Law Enforcement Specialist Hayhurst conducted an immigration alien query (IAQ) on both Davila and Garrete. For Davila, this initial IAQ was based on her name, date of birth, place of birth (Mexico), and sex. ECF No. 1 at 8. Certain ICE records[8] from the initial IAQ show that Davila was listed as "out of status." There was "no match found" for Garrete. ECF No. 1 at 6; see also No. 13-cv-70, ECF No. 112-5 at 7.

         While Davila was stopped on the side of the road, Special Agent Brianna Tetrault, an ICE officer, contacted Officer Bienemann on his cell phone. Bienemann relayed Davila's name and date of birth to Tetrault. Bienemann also informed Tetrault that Davila had a Pennsylvania driver's license that listed her residence as West Mifflin, a suburb of Pittsburgh (PA). Tetrault then asked to speak to Davila, and Bienemann handed Davila his phone.

         Agent Tetrault told Davila that the reason she was asking questions about Davila's immigration status was because Tetrault, like Bienemann, wanted to use Davila as an interpreter to speak with Garrete. Davila agreed to this arrangement. In response to Tetrault's questions, Davila provided Tetrault with her name, date of birth, address, and cell phone number. Davila also told Tetrault her country of origin. ECF No. 1 at 6; No. 13-cv-70, ECF No. 138 at 7. Tetrault asked Davila if she had a visa. Davila told Tetrault-mistakenly-that she was a lawful permanent resident of the United States rather than a citizen.[9] Davila said that she had lived in the United States for many years. Tetrault asked Davila whether Davila had her lawful permanent resident card with her, and Davila responded that she did not.[10] ECF No. 1 at 7. When Tetrault was done questioning Davila, Davila interpreted for Tetrault while Tetrault questioned Garrete.

         At some point during all of this, the results of Specialist Hayhurst's IAQ-that Davila was "out of status" and that there was "no match found" for Garrete-were relayed to both Officer Bienemann and to Agent Tetrault. ECF No. 1 at 6. The police dispatcher relayed the results to Bienemann, and Special Agent Jason Kenwood, another ICE agent, relayed them to Tetrault. Id.

         Agent Tetrault then requested that Officer Bienemann detain both Davila and Garrete and take them to the Allegheny County Jail for holding. This occurred approximately two (2) hours after Bienemann pulled Davila's car over. Tetrault advised Bienemann that she would execute immigration detainers for Davila and Garrete and fax them to Bienemann's local police station. Davila and Garrete were handcuffed, placed in Bienemann's vehicle, and taken to the local police station. ECF No. 1 at 9. Tetrault signed federal immigration detainers for Davila and Garrete and faxed them to Bienemann. Davila's detainer misspelled her last name as Devila-Garcoa. The detainer also described Davila as an "alien" and listed her nationality as "Mexican." ECF No. 1 at 10. Within about an hour of her arrival at the local police station, Davila was taken to the Allegheny County Jail.

         ICE records located after Davila's imprisonment show that Davila had multiple Alien Registration Numbers, or "A-numbers"-numbers issued by the Department of Homeland Security to an individual when she becomes a lawful permanent resident of the United States or attains other lawful, non-citizen status. In all, the search turned up three A-numbers: one listing Davila as "family fairness granted, " a status which provides for relief from removal and authorizes a legal permanent resident's spouse or unmarried child to be employed; a second listing Davila as "family fairness denied"; and a third listing Davila as status IR-7, a classification used for legal permanent residents who are children of a U.S. citizen. See No. 13-cv-70, ECF No. 112-5 at 7.

         These later-discovered records led to Davila's release. Id. After completing a review of the immigration detainer, Agent Kenwood told Officer Bienemann that a mistake had been made regarding Davila's identity. Kenwood informed Bienemann that Davila may have been incorrectly detained and that she should be released. This was at or around 9:50 p.m.-about four hours after the stop, about two hours after Agent Tetrault issued the immigration detainer, and about one hour after Davila's arrival at local the police station. In addition to Kenwood telling Bienemann that Davila should be released at or around 9:50 p.m., ICE sent a fax at 11:05 p.m.to the Allegheny County Jail ordering Davila's release. ICE provided the Allegheny County Jail with a copy of Davila's lawful permanent resident card and other proof of her legal residence.

         Despite all this, Davila was not released from the Allegheny County Jail until 7:30 a.m. the following morning. In all, Davila was detained for about fourteen hours: two full hours at the side of the road, approximately another hour during travel to and at the local police station, and then overnight in the Allegheny County Jail.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A court should grant reconsideration of a prior order if the moving party demonstrates (1) an intervening change in the controlling law, (2) the existence of new evidence that was unavailable when the court issued its order, or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent a manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A.

         Davila asks the Court to reconsider its Order dismissing the United States from the case based upon the Court's conclusion that Agent Tetrault had probable cause to request that local law enforcement detain Davila without a warrant under the authority of 8 U.S.C. § 1304(e) and Davila's actions therefore could not give rise to liability on the part of the United States for false arrest or false imprisonment. ECF No. 14 at 9-12.

         8 U.S.C. § 1304(e) provides that:

Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d) of this section. Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.

8 U.S.C. § 1304.

         Both Davila and the United States tell the Court that its conclusion that Agent Tetrault had probable cause to request Davila's detention without a warrant under the authority of 8 U.S.C. § 1304(e) was in error. ECF No. 17 at 2-3; ECF No. 20 at 1-3; ECF No. 21 at 1. This, according to Davila, was because the Court failed to consider the limitations on Tetrault's authority to conduct a warrantless arrest, certain of which are set forth in another provision of federal law: 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(2). See ECF No. 16 at 1-2; ECF No. 21 at 1. The United States agrees that the limitations of 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(2) constrain Tetrault's authority in this case. ECF No. 20 at 1-3. But, the United States says, the Court's error was "harmless" because § 1357(a)(2)-rather than § 1304(e)-provided Tetrault with probable cause to request Davila's detention. ECF No. 20 at 1-3.

         Because the parties agree that 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(2) limits Agent Tetrault's authority, the Court concludes that an evaluation of the extent of Tetrault's authority under that provision is necessary to render a determination of whether Davila sufficiently stated a claim for false arrest and false imprisonment such that the United States can be liable under the FTCA. The Court will therefore assume for the purposes of resolving the instant Motion to Reconsider, without deciding, that its conclusion that Tetrault had probable cause to request Davila's detention under 8 U.S.C. § 1304(e) was in error.[11] Davila's Motion for Reconsideration, ECF No. 16, will therefore be granted, and the Court will reconsider its July 28, 2014 Opinion and Order dismissing the false arrest and false imprisonment claims against the United States, ECF Nos. 14-15, in order to address the limitations 8 U.S.C. § 1357(a)(2) places on Tetrault's authority.[12]

         B.

         The Court now considers for a second time whether the United States' Motion to Dismiss Davila's false arrest and false imprisonment claims under the FTCA should be granted. Under the plausibility standard governing motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), courts must "accept all factual allegations [in the complaint] as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff . . . has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d. Cir. 2009).

         The FTCA waives the United States' sovereign immunity for torts committed by its employees acting within the scope of their employment. 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b)(1). Under the FTCA, the United States must answer for the acts of its employees "in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances." Lomando, 667 F.3d at 373 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2674; United States v. Olson, 546 U.S. 43, 46 (2005)). The scope of FTCA liability is determined by reference to state law. Id. at 372-73. Although the FTCA contains an exception to its waiver of sovereign immunity for false arrest and false imprisonment claims, that exception does not apply where such claims arise out of the acts or omissions of investigative or law enforcement officers of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2680(h).

         The events giving rise to Davila's claims occurred in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law, false arrest and false imprisonment are nearly identical actions. Watson v. Witmer,183 F.Supp.3d 607, 617 (M.D. Pa. 2016). Courts applying Pennsylvania law generally analyze such claims together when they are factually intertwined. See Brockington v. City of Philadelphia,354 F.Supp.2d 563, 571, n.8 (E.D. Pa. 2005). The elements of the claims are essentially the same: (1) the defendant intended to confine the plaintiff; (2) the defendant performed an action that directly or indirectly produced such confinement; and (3) the plaintiff was either conscious of or harmed by the conduct. Witmer, 183 F.Supp.3d at 617. In the context of a seizure by a state officer, the plaintiff must additionally show that such detainment was unlawful. Id. (citing Renk v. City of Pittsburgh,641 A.2d 289, 293 (Pa. 1994)). "[C]ases involving false arrest claims against police officers turn on the existence or nonexistence ...


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