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Finnemen v. SEPTA

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 25, 2017

SEPTA, et al. Defendants.


          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         This civil rights action arises out of Plaintiff Nasir Finnemen's[1] arrest at a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (“SEPTA”) station, and subsequent prosecution. The named defendants - who are employed by SEPTA or the City of Philadelphia - have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motions for summary judgment.


         On April 4, 2013, Plaintiff Nasir Finnemen entered the SEPTA station at Kensington and Allegheny Avenue. Finnemen Dep. 97:9-17, Sept. 24, 2016, ECF No. 67-3 [hereinafter Finnemen Dep. I]. As he was going up the station's escalator, he looked back and saw a man that he thought was “suspicious, ” due to the man's dark clothes, hood, and hat, as well as the fact that it was roughly 11:15 or 11:20 p.m. Id. at 99:11-17. After Plaintiff went through the turnstile and entered the platform, he looked back again, and the man was “right behind” Plaintiff, on the platform. Id. at 99:17-19. He was giving Plaintiff “strange faces” and holding his right hand under his hoodie; Plaintiff thought he was “acting like he was going to, you know, pull out something.” Id. at 99:23-100:15. Plaintiff, who felt like he was in “a dangerous situation, ” looked to the side and “[saw] the SEPTA door cracked open.” Id. at 100:18-20. Plaintiff chose to enter the SEPTA booth, where he squatted behind the door, telling the SEPTA operator in the booth - Defendant Melody Campbell - “that there's a guy out there.” Id. at 100:20-24. Campbell told Plaintiff, “[C]ome on, he's not worrying about you, ” so Plaintiff got up and returned to the platform. Id. at 100:23-25.

         Campbell, who maintains - contrary to Plaintiff's story - that Plaintiff attempted to rob and assault her when he entered the booth, then called SEPTA's Control Center to report that she had just been assaulted. Campbell Dep. 75:16-76:11; 80:19-81:1, Oct. 17, 2016, ECF No. 62-1. The Control Center responded that they were sending help, and Defendants SEPTA Police Officers Caban and Boyd responded to the radio call. Id. at 81:2-21.

         As Plaintiff was standing on the platform, continuing to wait for the train, Officer Caban arrived and spoke to Campbell, who identified Plaintiff as the alleged assailant. Id. at 82:15-23. Officer Caban then approached Plaintiff and told him to turn around and put his hands on the wall. Finnemen Dep. I at 101:6-9. Officer Caban handcuffed Plaintiff and began “pushing [Plaintiff] down” to the station's entrance - walking at the officer's normal pace, even though Plaintiff was injured and walking with a cane. Id. at 101:7-11. Officer Caban then searched Plaintiff, took him out of the station, put him in a patrol car, and took him to a police station, where Plaintiff remained for 24 hours. Id. at 101:12-17. Plaintiff was then taken to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility (“CFCF”), where he remained for approximately six days, until his father posted bail for him. Finnemen Dep. 67:8-12; 69:10-20, Oct. 10, 2016, ECF No. 67-4 [hereinafter Finnemen Dep. II].

         Plaintiff was then charged with robbery, attempted theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person. SEPTA Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. Ex. F, ECF No. 62-1. Plaintiff attended a preliminary hearing on these charges, where Campbell testified as a witness for the Commonwealth. Finnemen Dep. I 32:25-33:14. Ultimately, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office dropped the charges. Id. at 33:24-34:2.

         Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint on April 7, 2015. ECF No. 3. Eventually, he obtained a lawyer, and his claims went through several rounds of pleadings and dismissal before discovery began. Plaintiff's remaining claims are: (1) malicious prosecution, as to Campbell, through § 1983; (2) false arrest, false imprisonment, excessive force, and malicious prosecution as to Officers Caban and Boyd; (3) deliberate indifference to the need for medical treatment, as to unknown and unnamed Philadelphia Police Officers and employees of the Department of Corrections; (4) malicious prosecution, as to Campbell, through state tort law; (5) malicious prosecution, as to Detective Michelle Yerkes, through state tort law; (6) malicious prosecution, as to Officers Caban and Boyd, through state tort law; and (7) assault and battery, as to Officers Caban and Boyd. See Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 45.

         On November 9, 2016, Campbell, Caban, and Boyd (collectively, the “SEPTA Defendants”), as well as Yerkes, filed motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 62, 63. Plaintiff did not respond. The Court then scheduled a hearing on the motions for July 5, 2017, ECF No. 66, and instructed that if Plaintiff intended to oppose the motions with written submissions, he should file those submissions by June 2, 2017, ECF No. 65.

         Plaintiff did not file anything by June 2. Rather, on June 20, Plaintiff filed a response to the SEPTA Defendants' motion.[3] ECF No. 67.

         On June 30, Plaintiff filed a one-sentence response to the Yerkes motion, stating that he does not oppose her motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 68. The Court has reviewed the motion on the merits and will grant Yerkes's motion for summary judgment because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and Yerkes is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[4] Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).

         The SEPTA Defendants' motion for summary judgment is now ripe for disposition.


         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by ‘the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact.” Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         The Court will view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. “After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the nonmoving party, who must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P 56(e)).


         A. Malicious Prosecution Claims Against Campbell

         Plaintiff brings claims of malicious prosecution against Campbell under both § 1983 and state tort law. Specifically, he says, Campbell “intentionally fabricated what occurred in the SEPTA booth for the malicious purpose of having plaintiff arrested and criminally prosecuted, upon her irrational belief that plaintiff was a potential criminal merely because he mistakenly entered the SEPTA booth.” Second Am. Compl. ¶ 20.

         To succeed on a claim for malicious prosecution under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that: “(1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiff's favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.” Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 521 (3d Cir. 2003). To prove a claim for malicious prosecution under Pennsylvania tort law, plaintiff must prove all but the fifth element listed above. Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 791 (3d Cir. 2000).

         Campbell argues that Plaintiff's claims must fail because (1) she did not initiate the criminal proceedings against Plaintiff, and (2) she did not act “maliciously or for a purpose other than to bring Plaintiff to ...

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