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Washington v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 5, 2017

ROSCOE BROWN, et al., Defendants.


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Plaintiff Faruq Washington, who is legally blind, was arrested and charged with criminal mischief and disorderly conduct as the result of an interaction with Roscoe Browne, [1] a bus driver for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (“SEPTA”). After the criminal charges against him were dropped, Washington sued Browne for malicious prosecution. He also sued unnamed SEPTA or Philadelphia police officers for malicious prosecution, false arrest and use of excessive force. He claims that the police violated his constitutional rights during his confinement and that they also committed assault and battery and false light invasion of privacy. Finally, Browne asserted Monell claims against the City of Philadelphia and SEPTA.

         The City filed a motion to dismiss the Monell claims against it. SEPTA and Browne filed a motion to dismiss the Monell claims against SEPTA and the malicious prosecution claim against Browne. Washington subsequently abandoned his Monell claims. The Court accordingly grants the City's motion in its entirety and grants SEPTA's motion with respect to the Monell claims against it. For the reasons below, however, the Court denies SEPTA's motion to dismiss the malicious prosecution claim against Browne in his individual capacity.


         Faruq Washington is legally blind.[2] (Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 3.) On August 12, 2015, he boarded a SEPTA bus driven by Browne at 22nd and Chestnut Streets. (Id. ¶ 10.) When Washington boarded the bus, he had his cane in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other. (Id. ¶ 11.) He was also wearing dark sunglasses, as he routinely does. (Id.) Washington contends he politely told Browne that he was blind and needed to travel to 69th and Market Streets and requested that Browne let him know when the bus reached that stop. (Id. ¶ 12.) Washington then heard someone he believed to be Browne make a comment to other passengers to the effect that Washington was not blind because of the way he was moving. (Id. ¶ 13.) Washington responded that he was blind and sat near the front of the crowded bus. (Id. ¶14.) Washington then repeated to Browne where he needed to go. (Id. ¶ 15.) Because Browne did not respond to his request, Washington asked another passenger to let him know when the bus reached his stop. (Id. ¶ 15.) Browne told Washington not to ask “his passengers” for assistance. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         At this point, Browne's conduct alarmed Washington and caused him to fear that he would be left stranded somewhere and would not know where he was. (Id. ¶ 17.) Washington requested to get off the bus immediately. (Id.) He contends Browne refused to stop the bus to let him off and made a comment to the effect that he could not handle Washington. (Id. ¶ 18.) Panicked, Browne got out of his seat to get off the bus and attempted to reach the exit by feeling his way along the bus windows, all while carrying his belongings. (Id. ¶ 19.) The bus was still moving, however, and while it is not entirely clear from the Complaint, it appears that Washington may have been “tossed about” as he attempted to make his way to the exit. (Id.) Though it is unclear from the pleadings if the bus sustained any damage as a result of this incident, [3]Washington contends that “[a]t no time did [he] plan to damage the bus, in his attempt to get off the bus.” (Id. ¶ 21.) Washington also claims that Browne's treatment of him alarmed other passengers, who told Browne that Washington was blind and to let him off the bus. (Id. ¶ 20.)

         Browne stopped the bus at 23rd and Market Streets. (Id. ¶ 22.) Washington claims that Browne then called either SEPTA police officers or Philadelphia police officers to have Washington arrested. (Id.) According to Washington, Browne told the police that Washington had committed a crime despite knowing that Washington had not done so, that any damage to the bus had occurred accidentally (and as a result of Washington's desperation to get off the bus) and that Washington had not intended to cause any type of disruption to the bus route or other passengers. (Id. ¶ 23.) Washington also claims that Browne knew he was somewhat hysterical from Browne's taunting him and refusing to let him depart. (Id.)

         As Washington walked away from the bus stop, several police officers approached him, told him to put his hands up, forcefully searched him, grabbed and twisted his arms, handcuffed him, pushed him against a wall and made him sit with his head angled to the ground. (Id. ¶ 24.) According to Washington, numerous SEPTA passengers witnessed this and were “protesting [Washington's] arrest” and “telling [the police officers] that [Washington] had not done anything wrong [and] that any damage to the bus was an accident, based on his desperation to get off the bus because defendant Browne was harassing him, and he became fearful.” (Id. ¶ 42); see also (id. ¶ 36). Washington contends, however, that the police officers did not engage with the passengers and “refused to do even the most superficial investigation to find out what had occurred before intentionally manhandling [Washington], arresting him, and starting the process toward prosecution.” (Id. ¶ 35.) One of the officers commented that Washington was not blind and “to hell with him.”[4] (Id. ¶ 26.) Washington was then taken to a precinct and placed in a jail cell. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         Washington contends that police officers threw out his food, confiscated his cell phone and broke his sunglasses, though he is unsure whether this was done by the officers who arrested him or those at the precinct. (Id. ¶ 29.) He also claims that though he informed officers at the precinct that his kidney disease required him to follow a special herbal diet and that he could not eat the food they served him, the officers did not make an accommodation. (Id. ¶ 30.) As a result, Washington did not eat until he was released the following afternoon. (Id.)

         Initially, Washington was charged with two misdemeanors: criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. (Id. ¶ 31.) Prior to his first court appearance, however, Washington contends that the Philadelphia District Attorney upgraded the criminal mischief charge to a felony count based on information provided by Browne or SEPTA. (Compl. ¶ 31.) This carried a possible prison sentence of 7 years and a $15, 000.00 fine. (Id. ¶ 31.) At the preliminary hearing on November 4, 2015, Browne was the only witness called by the prosecution. (Pl.'s Resp., at 7, ECF No. 17.) Based on the evidence presented at that hearing, the Court dismissed all of the charges against Washington. (Compl. ¶ 45.)

         In sum, Washington was arrested on August 12, 2015, detained in a jail cell for one night and remained under legal process from August 13, 2015, when he was arraigned and released, until his preliminary hearing on November 4, 2015. (Id. ¶ 32.) After the charges were dropped, Washington filed this lawsuit. The City filed a motion to dismiss on October 7, 2016; Browne and SEPTA filed a motion to dismiss on October 17, 2016. (ECF Nos. 13 & 14-1.) In his November 14, 2016 response to the motions, Washington stated that he is no longer pursuing the Monell claims against the City and SEPTA. (ECF No. 17, at 18-19.) The Court's analysis therefore focuses on whether Washington's allegations against Browne are sufficient to survive under Rule 12(b)(6).


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The “mere possibility of misconduct” is not enough. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). The court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 790 (3d Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). However, a court need not accept as true inferences drawn by the plaintiff that are unsupported by facts. See Cal. Pub. Emps.' Ret. Sys. v. Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004).

         “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations and alterations omitted); see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009) (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). A court should “consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.” Lum v. Bank of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 221 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004). Whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context-specific task that “requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citations omitted).

         Under Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps. See Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787. First, it must “tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Second, it should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should ...

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