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Quintana v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 21, 2017

CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Noel Quintana was arrested and later charged with attempted murder, rape and other offenses. After his acquittal on all charges, Quintana sued the City of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and eighteen individuals including officers, detectives and assistant district attorneys, asserting claims related to his arrest and prosecution under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985 and state law.

         The gravamen of Quintana's allegations seems straightforward enough: he was arrested, charged and prosecuted for crimes he did not commit, with those responsible for doing this to him ignoring purported evidence of his innocence to cover up for their own mistakes in an unrelated investigation. This alleged narrative becomes confused and sometimes lost entirely in an overreaching, duplicative, overlapping and at times inherently contradictory pleading. The Defendants have filed two separate motions to dismiss Quintana's Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, the Court grants the Defendants' motions and gives Quintana leave to amend some of his claims.


         Rachel Patterson was attacked on November 28, 2010 at approximately 10:45 p.m. on the 1900 block of Backius street in Philadelphia. (Am. Compl. ¶ 35, ECF No. 8.) Patterson's attacker grabbed her, put a box cutter against her neck and then attempted to rape her. (Id.) Patterson fought back and the attacker fled the scene. (Id.) Defendant police officers John Cole and Timothy Miller responded to a radio call to aid Patterson and then relayed information about the attack over police radio. (Id. ¶ 36.)

         Fifteen minutes later, Quintana was walking on the 2000 block of Wheatsheaf lane (about a mile away from 1900 Backius) when Defendant police officers Jeffrey Schmidt and Sean Matrascez stopped him and asked for his identification. (Id. ¶ 33.) The officers, who had not yet received word of the Patterson attack, permitted Quintana to leave. (Id. ¶¶ 33 & 37.)

         The next morning, Defendant detective Phillip Nardo interviewed Patterson. (Id. ¶ 40.) Nardo had been working on two other rape/murder investigations. (Id.) At the time, a so called “Kensington Strangler”-an individual police believed was responsible for a number of rapes and murders in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia-was on the loose. (Id. ¶ 32.) During the interview, Detective Nardo showed Patterson a department of motor vehicles photograph of Quintana.[1] (Id. ¶ 40.) Patterson positively identified Quintana as her attacker. (Id. ¶ 41.) According to the Amended Complaint, it was at this time that the police believed Quintana was the Kensington Strangler and accordingly distributed his information online. (Id. ¶ 42.)

         Detective Nardo, with approval from Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Mitrick, then prepared an affidavit of probable cause regarding Quintana's attempted homicide.[2] (Id. ¶ 43.) Later that day, Quintana was brought into the homicide unit for questioning by Defendant detectives Bambrusky and Williams. (Id. ¶ 44.) Officers Cole and Miller then arrested Quintana.[3] (Id. ¶ 45.) Quintana, unable to make bail, would remain incarcerated until he was acquitted at trial on September 30, 2014. (Id. ¶ 62.)

         At some point, Defendant detective McGoldrick interviewed Patterson. (Id. ¶¶ 50-51.) Patterson described her attacker as being a thirty-five-year-old, Puerto Rican male, who was five-foot-eleven-inches tall, with a medium build, light skin, and a goatee, who wore dark blue jeans, a gray hoodie and a yellow jacket. (Id. ¶ 51.) According to the Amended Complaint, however, Quintana is only five-feet-six-inches tall and 154 pounds. (Id. ¶ 59.) The Amended Complaint alleges that “by this point, ” Defendants Nardo, Bambrusky and Williams had provided Patterson with Quintana's “description and particulars” so that Patterson would repeat it to other police and detectives and could ultimately testify that Quintana was her attacker. (Id. ¶ 52.) The Amended Complaint also alleges that Patterson's statement was “approved by” Defendants Lieutenant Anthony Mirabella, Jr. and Sergeant John Morton “for the arrest of” Quintana.

         Quintana alleges that Defendant detectives knew Quintana was not the Kensington Strangler, but falsely charged him with the attempted murder and rape of Patterson anyway. (Id. ¶ 53.) Mitrick, McGoldrick, Mirabella and Morton approved charging Quintana. (Id. ¶¶ 53, 58.)

         The Amended Complaint next alleges that on December 1, 2010, Quintana was “fingerprinted, photographed and charged with three murders as the ‘Kensington Strangler.'”[4] (Id. ¶ 63.) Despite this, “at no point in time” was Quintana prosecuted in court for murder. (Id. ¶ 64.) Patterson later failed to identify Quintana at a prison line-up, (Id. ¶ 65), something Defendants rationalized by claiming (without explanation) that Quintana had attempted to change his appearance. (Id. ¶¶ 66-67.)

         On January 17, 2011, police arrested Antonio Rodriguez, a new suspect in the Kensington Strangler case. (Id. ¶ 68-69.) Despite this, Quintana alleges that Defendants in the District Attorney's Office did not produce any of the initial discovery that had led them to believe he was the Kensington Strangler. (Id. ¶ 68.) The police confirmed that Rodriguez was the real Kensington Strangler via DNA testing shortly after January 17, 2011. (Id. ¶ 71.) Defendants did not withdraw Quintana's charges-he remained in custody for the attempted rape and murder of Rachel Patterson. (Id. ¶ 70.)

         On February 23, 2011, Quintana learned that the charges against him had changed: he was now charged with, among other crimes, attempted murder, aggravated assault, attempted rape, and unlawful restraint. (Id. ¶ 73.) The state parole board also placed a detainer on Quintana, who had been out on parole in an unrelated matter prior to his arrest for attacking Patterson. (Id. ¶ 74.) On May 24, 2011, Quintana's bail was lowered to “ROR, ” but he remained incarcerated because of the state parole board's detainer. (Id. ¶ 75.) Quintana was acquitted of all charges at trial on September 30, 2014. (Id. ¶¶ 62, 94.)

         The Amended Complaint alleges that after Defendants falsely arrested Quintana, they conspired to convict him for attacking Patterson in order to cover up their false arrest and malicious prosecution. (Id. ¶ 79.) Specifically, Defendants ignored “ample evidence” supplied to them by Quintana's defense attorney that exonerated Quintana.[5] (Id. ¶¶ 80, 82, 83, 84.) Defendants also allegedly conspired to present testimony at Quintana's preliminary hearing and trial about Quintana's physical appearance matching Patterson's description when they knew this information was false. (Id. ¶¶ 92-93.)


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough 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).” Id. (citation omitted). While a complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Twombly and Iqbal require the Court to take three steps to determine whether the second amended complaint will survive Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, it must “take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, it must identify the allegations that are no more than legal conclusions and thus “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where the complaint includes well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court “should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         This “presumption of truth attaches only to those allegations for which there is sufficient factual matter to render them plausible on their face.” Schuchardt v. President of the United States, 839 F.3d 336, 347 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotation and citation omitted). “Conclusory assertions of fact and legal conclusions are not entitled to the same presumption.” Id. This plausibility determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. (quoting Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786-87).

         This plausibility standard, however, “does not impose a heightened pleading requirement” and does not require a plaintiff to plead specific facts. Id. In other words, “courts cannot inject evidentiary issues into the plausibility determination.” Id. The Third Circuit has also made it clear that “at least for purposes of pleading sufficiency, a complaint need not establish a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss” because a “prima facie case is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement and hence is not proper measure of whether a complaint fails to state a claim.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 789 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff should plead “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements.” Id. (quoting Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).


         Quintana asserts sixteen disparate counts against numerous individuals and entities. The Amended Complaint, however, asserts duplicative claims sounding in false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and equal protection violations brought under federal law (specifically, under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983 and 1985) and Pennsylvania law (both state constitutional claims and state tort claims) against all Defendants.


         As an initial matter, City departments cannot be sued separately from the City of Philadelphia itself. See 53 P.S. § 16257; Lee v. Abellos, No. 13-0486, 2014 WL 7271363, at *1 n.2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 19, 2014); Costobile-Fulginiti v. City of Philadelphia, 719 F.Supp.2d 521, 525 (E.D. Pa. 2010). Instead, plaintiffs must sue the City directly. Article III, section 3-100 of Philadelphia's Home Rule Charter establishes the “offices, departments, boards, commissions, and agencies.” The Police Department is listed among the departments; Quintana cannot separately sue the Department. See Phila., Pa, Charter Art. III, ch. 1 § 3-100(d) (2016); see also Butler v. City of Philadelphia, No. 12-1955, 2012 WL 1605759, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 4, 2012); Sorrentio v. City of Philadelphia, No. 96-6604, 1997 WL 597990, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 16, 1997) (collecting cases).

         The District Attorney's Office, however, is “technically not a department of the City, but is a separate entity created by state law.” Sourovelis v. City of Philadelphia, 103 F.Supp.3d 694, 710 (E.D. Pa. 2015) (Robreno, J.) (citing 16 P.S. §§ 7701-42)); but see Estate of Tyler ex rel. Floyd v. Grossman, 108 F.Supp.3d 279, 288 (E.D. Pa. 2015). Quintana may sue the District Attorney's Office in addition to the City, something the District Attorney's Office does not contest.[6]


         The individual district attorney Defendants-Seth Williams, Erin O'Brien, Rochelle Keyhan, Tiffany Oldfield and Jennifer Mitrick-contend that they are entitled to absolute immunity. The Court agrees and, with two small ...

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