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Booker v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 2, 2017

JOHN BOOKER, Plaintiff,
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.


          STENGEL, J.

         John Booker filed this civil rights action against the City of Philadelphia and four of the police officers who were involved in his arrest, obtaining a search warrant for the vehicle he was driving at the time of his arrest, and completing paperwork subsequent to his arrest. The City of Philadelphia, along with Detective Sean Walsh and Sergeant Thomas Walsh, filed a motion for summary judgment.[1] The defendants argue that the plaintiff's failure to train claim fails because he cannot show that the City of Philadelphia acted with deliberate indifference or that its police training caused the alleged constitutional violations, and that the claims against Detective Walsh and Sergeant Walsh fail as a matter of law. I will deny the defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to the failure to train claim against the City of Philadelphia. I will, however, grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment with respect to all other claims against the City and all claims against Detective Sean Walsh and Sergeant Thomas Walsh.


         On January 29, 2010, Philadelphia police officers received a radio call stating that a black male driving a newer white vehicle with license plate FXC0006 had just used a gun to commit a robbery at 3300 North Front Street. (Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“DSUMF”) ¶ 1.) Three to five minutes after hearing the radio call, Officer Richard Prior saw the plaintiff, an African American male, driving the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 2.) At that time, the vehicle was five blocks from the scene of the robbery. (Id. ¶ 3.)

         After he pulled over the plaintiff's vehicle, Officer Prior conducted a frisk for officer safety and felt a bulge on the plaintiff's ankle. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4; Pl.'s Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“PSUMF”) ¶ 3.) Officer Prior then lifted the plaintiff's pant leg to investigate the bulge and saw that it was an ankle monitor.[2] (DSUMF ¶ 4-5.) Officer Prior testified at his deposition that it was then that he saw marijuana inside the plaintiff's shoe. (DSUMF ¶ 5 (citing Deposition of Richard Prior, June 17, 2016 (“Prior Dep.”) 29:8-30:1).) The plaintiff maintains that the bags of marijuana were not discovered until after he was brought back to the police station. (PSUMF ¶ 5 (citing Deposition of John Booker, Dec. 30, 2014 (“Plaintiff Dep.”) 13:4- 7).) The defendants assert that the plaintiff was placed under arrest for two reasons: (1) because of the marijuana and (2) because the robbery victim was transported to the scene and identified the plaintiff as the robber. (DSUMF ¶ 6 (citing Prior Dep. 29:8-30:7).) According to the plaintiff, however, the robbery victim only “pointed” and “nodded yes” at the plaintiff, while sitting in the back of Officer Alivera and Officer Luciano's patrol car, and no evidence has been provided to establish what Alivera and Luciano said to the victim that prompted his gestures. (PSUMF ¶ 6 (citing Plaintiff Dep. 12:5-9; Prior Dep. 30:1-7).)

         After the robbery victim pointed to the plaintiff, Alivera decided to open the hood of the plaintiff's vehicle. (DSUMF ¶ 7.) Alivera said that he opened the hood to check the vehicle identification number (“VIN”). (DSUMF ¶ 8 (citing Prior Dep. 52:10-23).) After opening the hood, Alivera saw a black revolver. (DSUMF ¶ 9.) Alivera later stated that he “observed a handgun in the air filter of the engine.” (Am. Compl. Ex. F, Search Warrant Affidavit of Probable Cause.) Officer Prior saw Alivera searching under the hood of the car, and asked Alivera and the other officers at the scene to back away from the car because he wanted to obtain a search warrant before the car was searched. (PSUMF ¶ 9 (citing Prior Dep. 33:1-16).)

         At the time of the plaintiff's arrest, Philadelphia Police Department Directive 92 permitted warrantless searches of vehicles “only when exigent circumstances exist, ” and stated that a “search warrant must be obtained otherwise.” (DSUMF ¶ 17 (citing Ex. H, Philadelphia Police Department Directive 92 at 4).) Directive 92 only contains one reference to identifying a VIN, which states that it should be compared to the vehicle registration. (PSUMF ¶ 17 (citing Ex. H, Directive 92 at 3).) Officer Prior was trained on, and is familiar with, Directive 92. (DSUMF ¶ 18 (citing Prior Dep. 65:22-66:1).) Every recruit in the Philadelphia Police Academy receives at least twenty-four hours of training on searches and seizures, including detailed training on what constitutes probable cause, how warrantless searches are disfavored, and when a vehicle may be searched without a warrant. (DSUMF ¶ 19 (citing Ex. I, Philadelphia Police Basic Recruit Curriculum at 3, 22-27, 38-39, 61-65, 95, 105, 107, 117).)

         Detective Sean Walsh[3] applied for and obtained a search warrant to search the plaintiff's vehicle for firearms and ammunition. (DSUMF ¶ 11 (citing Ex. B, Affidavit of Sean Walsh, July 6, 2015 (“S. Walsh Aff.”) ¶ 9; Ex. D, Search Warrant Application).) The probable cause affidavit in support of the search warrant application relies on Alivera's discovery of the gun under the hood of the car. (PSUMF ¶¶ 9-12 (citing Ex. J, Search Warrant Application; Ex. K, Probable Cause Affidavit; Ex. N, Statement of Officer Alivera).) Pursuant to the resulting search, a gun was recovered from the vehicle. (DSUMF ¶ 12.) The only gun recovered from the search was the gun initially discovered by Alivera. (PSUMF ¶ 12 (citing Ex. E, Property Receipt for Gun).)

         Detective Sean Walsh also tested baggies that were found on the plaintiff's person during a search incident to arrest, which tested positive for marijuana.[4] (DSUMF ¶ 13.) Sergeant Thomas Walsh's involvement was limited to reviewing police paperwork related to the plaintiff's case. (DSUMF ¶ 16 (citing Ex. G, Deposition of Thomas Walsh, June 5, 2015 (“T. Walsh Dep.”) 33:10-13; Plaintiff Dep. 8:21-9:17).)

         On April 23, 2010, following a preliminary hearing, a judge held that the charges against the plaintiff should proceed to trial. (DSUMF ¶ 14.) During the plaintiff's criminal proceedings, a judge granted his motion to suppress evidence of the gun and dismissed the charges related to the possession of the firearm and the robbery. (PSUMF ¶ 14 (citing Ex. F, Docket for Initial Criminal Proceedings at 4-5; Ex. G, Docket for Criminal Trial at 5, 9).) On November 28, 2011, the plaintiff was convicted of illegal drug possession. (DSUMF ¶ 15.)


         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). A factual dispute is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For an issue to be “genuine, ” a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

         On summary judgment, the moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that shows the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). It is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Boyle v. Cty. of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted). Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citations omitted).

         The moving party must establish an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, but it need not “support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Instead, it can meet its burden by “pointing out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's claims.” Id. at 325. If the non-moving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The mere existence of some evidence in support of the non-movant is not sufficient to support a denial of a motion for summary judgment; there must be enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find in the non-movant's favor on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).


         After careful consideration of the parties' arguments and the evidence in the record, I find that genuine issues of material fact remain with respect to the illegal search claim. I also find, however, that those factual disputes are not relevant to the claims against Detective Walsh and Sergeant Walsh because of the nature of their involvement in the plaintiff's case, and I therefore find that they are entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff's illegal search claims against them.[5] As discussed below, the plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, and the defendants are therefore entitled to summary judgment on those claims as well. I also find that Detective Walsh and Sergeant Walsh are entitled to summary judgment as to the plaintiff's due process and equal protection claims in count two, as well as the state law claims in counts three and four.

         As for the City of Philadelphia, I first find that it is not entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiff's failure to train claim in count one, and the defendants' motion is denied as to that claim. I also find, however, that the City is entitled to summary judgment as to all the other claims against it, and its motion is therefore granted with respect to the plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims in count one and all claims in counts two, three, and four.

         A. Count One: Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Claims

         In count one, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[6] (Am. Compl. at Preliminary Statement and Count One.) With respect to Detective Sean Walsh, the plaintiff alleges that the detective knew that Alivera had searched the plaintiff's car without a warrant, but nonetheless used the illegally obtained evidence of the gun as probable cause for obtaining a search warrant. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 40-41.) With respect to Sergeant Thomas Walsh, the plaintiff alleges that he approved the complaint prepared by Detective Sean Walsh, even though he knew that the plaintiff's rights had been violated. (Id. ¶41.) With respect to the City of Philadelphia, he alleges that the City acted with deliberate indifference by failing to train its officers. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.)

         I will first address the plaintiff's false imprisonment and false arrest claims, followed by a discussion of his illegal search claim and whether there can be municipal liability for that claim.

         1. False Imprisonment and False Arrest

         The defendants argue that the plaintiff's § 1983 claims for false arrest and false imprisonment are barred by Heck v. Humphrey.[7] (Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 10.) In Heck v. Humphrey, the Supreme Court held that

in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.

Heck, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (emphasis in original).

         In this case, the parties dispute the facts surrounding the plaintiff's arrest and the discovery of the marijuana that led to his conviction for illegal drug possession. The plaintiff alleges that, under his version of the facts, his arrest, detention, and conviction were unlawful.

         Thus, the plaintiff's allegations call into question the legality of that arrest and his subsequent conviction. As the plaintiff's conviction for illegal drug possession has not been reversed, expunged, or otherwise called into question or declared invalid, the principles set forth in Heck apply to bar these claims. Accordingly, the defendants are ...

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