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Graham-Smith v. City of Wilkes-Barre

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 18, 2017

DELILAH GRAHAM-SMITH and RODNEY G. SMITH, her husband, Plaintiffs
CITY OF WILKES-BARRE and ALAN GRIBBLE, in his individual capacity, Defendants



         (Judge Munley)

         Before the court for disposition is Defendants City of Wilkes-Barre and police officer Alan Gribble's (collectively “the city defendants”) motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 34). For the following reasons, the court will grant the motion.


         On November 12, 2012, a motorist ran a red light in downtown Wilkes-Barre and struck Plaintiff Delilah Graham-Smith's (hereinafter “plaintiff”) automobile. (Doc. 35, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (hereinafter “SOF”) ¶¶ 17, 19).[1] Shortly after the accident, the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department and Defendant Alan Gribble, a City of Wilkes-Barre police officer (hereinafter “Officer Gribble”), arrived at the scene. (SOF ¶¶ 23-24). At some point, plaintiff walked across the street to Luzerne Bank. (SOF ¶ 27). Officer Gribble learned that plaintiff left the accident scene, and soon arrived at Luzerne Bank as well. (SOF ¶¶ 29, 35).

         At Luzerne Bank, Officer Gribble ordered plaintiff to return to the accident scene. (SOF ¶ 37). Plaintiff, however, wrapped her legs around a chair and refused to leave. (SOF ¶¶ 49-50). To remove plaintiff from the chair, Officer Gribble grabbed plaintiff's thumb and pulled it back in accordance with the Wilkes-Barre Police Department's Use of Force Policy. (SOF ¶ 51). At that point, plaintiff removed her fingers and her hand from the arm of the chair. (SOF ¶ 53). Plaintiff, however, remained non-compliant and refused to stand up. (SOF ¶ 54). Officer Gribble, therefore, lifted plaintiff from the chair. (SOF ¶ 54). He then placed plaintiff's hands behind her back and handcuffed her. (SOF ¶¶ 55-56).

         After handcuffing plaintiff, Officer Gribble led plaintiff from the bank to the accident scene.[2] (SOF ¶ 64). He placed plaintiff in the backseat of a police cruiser and, shortly thereafter, drove her to the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital for a mental health evaluation. (SOF ¶¶ 65, 69). At the hospital, Officer Gribble involuntarily committed plaintiff to hospital personnel pursuant to section 302 of Pennsylvania's Mental Health Procedures Act, 50 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 7302 (“section 302”). (SOF ¶ 71).

         Based upon the November 2012 incident, plaintiff filed a nine-count complaint on November 10, 2014, against the city defendants, the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, and Wilkes-Barre police chief Gerard E. Dessoye. (Doc. 1, Compl.). On May 19, 2015, the court dismissed Defendants Wilkes-Barre Police Department and Dessoye, as well as Officer Gribble in his official capacity. (Doc. 16). Additionally, plaintiff has conceded to withdraw her state law claims. (Doc. 42, Pl.'s Br. in Opp. at 11-12). Thus, remaining in this case are the following 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (hereinafter “section 1983”) claims: Count II, unlawful seizure, false imprisonment, and excessive force claims against Officer Gribble in his individual capacity; and Count III, a municipal liability claim against the City of Wilkes-Barre.

         On November 15, 2016, the city defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 34). The parties briefed their respective positions and the matter is ripe for disposition.


         As this case is brought pursuant to section 1983 for a violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”). We have supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Standard of Review

         Granting summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Int'l Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chem. Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by establishing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the nonmovant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.


         The city defendants move for summary judgment on plaintiff's remaining section 1983 claims. Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights; rather, it provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). Section 1983 states, in pertinent part,

Every person who, under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizens of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a claim under section 1983, two criteria must be met. First, the conduct complained of must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law. Kaucher v. Cty. ofBucks, 455 F.3d 418 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999)). Second, the conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution or federal law. Id. (citing Am. Mfrs., 526 U.S. at 49-50). The city defendants challenge only the second criterion, first with respect ...

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