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Weston v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2017

RAYMOND L. WESTON
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, COMMISSIONER CHARLES H. RAMSEY, SERGEANT DIDONATO, SERGEANT GUILIAN, LIEUTENANT JOHN DOE, CAPTAIN JOHN DOE, CAPTAIN DETECTIVE JOHN DOE, POLICE OFFICER HULMES, POLICE OFFICER BANNING, POLICE OFFICER QUINN, POLICE OFFICER LYNCH, POLICE OFFICER JONES, and POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOE 1-2

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Savage, J.

         In his complaint, Raymond Weston asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful search and seizure (First Count), excessive bail (Second Count), and malicious prosecution (Third Count) against seven defendant police officers (defendant officers), and failure-to-train (Fourth Count) and failure-to-discipline (Fifth Count) against the City of Philadelphia and then-Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. He also asserts state-law claims for false arrest and false imprisonment (Sixth Count), malicious prosecution (Seventh Count), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Eighth Count) against the defendant officers. The defendants, except Hulmes, [1] have moved to dismiss the complaint.

         We shall grant the motion to dismiss in part and deny it in part. Weston's § 1983 claims for unlawful search and seizure, excessive bail, and false arrest and imprisonment claims are barred by the statute of limitations. His claims based on malicious prosecution are not time-barred. Although he has not stated a Monell claim against the City, he has sufficiently alleged individual liability of each of defendant officers.

         Background [2]

         Weston's ordeal began on December 20, 2013, when police officers from the Narcotics Strike Force stopped him on the street.[3] They searched him, taking two cell phones and a set of keys.[4] They then placed him under arrest.[5] While Weston was detained, Jones gave the keys to Hulmes.[6] Without a search warrant, Hulmes and other officers entered Weston's residence.[7] Inside, they detained his girlfriend, searched the premises, and removed cash.[8]

         Although he had not committed a crime, Weston was charged with intentionally possessing a controlled substance, intent to deliver a controlled substance, conspiracy, possession of a prohibited firearm, and possession of an instrument of crime with intent to employ it criminally.[9] Unable to post bail, Weston remained in jail for eighteen months.[10] In June 2015, all charges against him were dismissed and he was released.[11] According to the complaint, he was released “when it became known that Defendant Officer Hulmes and other members of the Narcotic Strike Force may have planted evidence, falsified documents/affidavits, lied in court, and assaulted and robbed suspects.”[12]

         By the time he was released, Weston had lost his job, home, and belongings.[13]He claims the officers “caused severe physical and psychological harm.”[14] After his release, he started seeing a psychotherapist.[15] He filed this action on May 30, 2017, three and a half years after his arrest.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss all or part of an action for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The complaint must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). The plaintiff must allege facts that indicate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. Pleading only “facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability” is insufficient and cannot survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         A conclusory recitation of the elements of a cause of action is not sufficient. The plaintiff must allege facts necessary to make out each element. In other words, the complaint must contain facts which, if proven later, support a conclusion that the cause of action can be established.

         In assessing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court engages in a three-part sequential analysis. It must: (1) identify the elements of the causes of action; (2) disregard conclusory statements, leaving only factual allegations; and (3) assuming the truth of those factual allegations, determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Burtch v. Millberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010)).

         Statute of Limitations

         The statute of limitations in a § 1983 action is governed by the limitations period applicable to personal injury actions of the state where the cause of action arose. Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009). The Pennsylvania statute of limitations for a personal injury action is two years. Id. (citing 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(2)). Thus, the statute of limitations for § 1983 claims arising in Pennsylvania is two years.

         Weston argues that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until June 2015, when the charges against him were dismissed and he learned that the defendant officers “may have planted evidence, falsified documents/affidavits, lied in court, and assaulted and robbed suspects.”[16] Contrary to his argument, Weston's claims based on false arrest and false imprisonment, unlawful search and seizure, and excessive bail accrued on December 20, 2013, the date he was stopped, searched, arrested, charged, and bail was set. His malicious prosecution claim, however, did not accrue until June 2015, when the charges were dismissed.

         Citing Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007), Weston argues that the statute of limitations does not bar his false arrest and false imprisonment claims because the “[l]imitations begin to run against an action for false imprisonment when the alleged false imprisonment ends.” Id. at 389 (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting 2 H. Wood, Limitation of Actions § 187d(4), at 878 (rev. 4th ed. 1916)). He mistakenly asserts that his false arrest and false imprisonment ended in June 2015, when the charges were dismissed and he was released from prison.

         An arrest lacking probable cause, as is the case here, can support a cause of action not only for false arrest, but also for false imprisonment. A § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim for false imprisonment is “based on a detention pursuant to that arrest.” Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995). Where a person is imprisoned after having been arrested without probable cause, the imprisonment is deemed false because it was based upon an illegal arrest. Once the person is held on the charges by a judicial authority, the detention is no longer dependent on the false arrest, but rather on a judicial determination. In other words, at the time the plaintiff is held by a judicial authority, his claim transforms from false imprisonment to malicious prosecution-the false imprisonment ends and the malicious prosecution begins at that point.

         Because “[t]he sort of unlawful detention remediable by the tort of false imprisonment is detention without legal process . . . . a false imprisonment ends once the victim becomes held pursuant to such process-when, for example, he is bound over by a magistrate or arraigned on charges.” Wallace, 549 U.S. at 389; see also Hunt v. City of Scranton, 236 F. App'x 740, 743 (3d Cir. 2007). Accordingly, “‘[l]imitations begin to run against an action for false imprisonment when the alleged false imprisonment ends.'” Id. at 387 (quoting 2 H. Wood, supra, § 187d(4), at 878). Thus, the statute of limitations for claims based on false arrest and false imprisonment begins to run when the plaintiff is detained pursuant to legal process. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 397.

         Weston was charged on December 20, 2013, the same day he was falsely arrested. He did not file this action until May 30, 2017. Thus, his false arrest and false imprisonment claims, having accrued more than two years before he filed this action, are barred by the statute of limitations.

         Although Weston's false arrest and false imprisonment claims are barred by the statute of limitations, his malicious prosecution claims are not. “[P]retrial detention can violate the Fourth Amendment not only when it precedes, but also when it follows, the start of legal process in a criminal case.” Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S.Ct. 911, 918 (2017). Although the tort of false imprisonment ends when legal process begins, “unlawful detention forms part of the damages for the ‘entirely distinct' tort of malicious prosecution, which remedies detention accompanied, not by absence of legal process, but by wrongful institution of legal process.” Wallace, 549 U.S. at 390.

         In other words, Weston states a claim for the continuing violation of his Fourth Amendment rights after legal process began-detention pursuant to legal process based on falsified statements and unlawful search and seizure. That claim is for malicious prosecution. See Manuel, 137 S.Ct. at 921 & n.4 (citing McKenna v. City of Phila., 582 F.3d 447, 461 (3d Cir. 2009)) (including the Third Circuit among the majority of circuits ...


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