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Wells v. Philadelphia Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 23, 2017

OTTO WELLS, Plaintiff,
v.
PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT; EDWIN PEREZ; TIMOTHY GIBSON; MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA; and PHILADELPHIA CITY COUNCIL, Defendants.

          OPINION DEFENDANTS MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL'S MOTION TO DISMISS, ECF NO. 25 - GRANTED PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, ECF NO. 29 - DENIED PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL, ECF NO. 30 - GRANTED IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR AN ORDER COMPELLING DISCOVERY, ECF NO. 32 - DENIED

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Otto Wells, a prisoner proceeding pro se, filed his Complaint in this matter in May 2016, alleging that in December 2014 Defendants Timothy Gibson and Edwin Perez, both members of the Philadelphia Police Department, punched, kicked, and stomped him, and then threatened to arrest him if he sought medical attention for the injuries they inflicted. ECF No. 1. The case was placed in suspense pending the resolution of Wells's criminal case and was removed from suspense in March 2017. ECF No. 9. In July 2017, Wells filed an Amended Complaint, adding the Mayor of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia City Council as Defendants. ECF No. 19. These newly-added Defendants (“Moving Defendants”) have filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against them. ECF No. 25.[1] Wells, meanwhile, has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 29, a Motion for Appointment of Counsel, ECF No. 30, and a Motion for Order Compelling Discovery, ECF No. 32. For the reasons set forth below, Moving Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted, Wells's Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion for Order Compelling Discovery are denied, and Wells's Motion for Appointment of Counsel is granted in part.

         II. The Mayor and the City Council's Motion to Dismiss is granted.

         Wells's Amended Complaint alleges that on the evening of December 18, 2014, he and his girlfriend were walking in Philadelphia when two Rottweiler dogs began to follow them. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-3. Wells began to run and ended up at his family residence at 2440 N. 30thStreet, at which point Defendant Officers Edwin Perez and Timothy Gibson approached him, pulled him out of the doorway, and proceeded to physically attack him and to direct racial slurs at him.[2] Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3-4. Following the attack, the officers “attempted to prevent [Wells] from seeking medical treatment for [the] injuries they inflicted by suggesting if he did not go to the hospital for treatment . . . they would let him go and not arrest him, ” but if he sought treatment “they would place criminal charges against him.” Am. Compl. ¶ 5. Wells “refused the defendants['] offer . . . and demanded that he be taken to the hospital for treatment.” Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Upon arriving at the hospital, where he received emergency medical treatment for his injuries, the officers again threatened to file criminal charges against him. Am. Compl. ¶ 6. Wells alleges that these events occurred “[a]s a direct and proximate result of a pattern and practice of racial discrimination” by the Philadelphia Police Department. Am. Compl. ¶ 1.

         The Mayor and the City Council move to dismiss Wells's claims against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), contending that Wells has failed to allege any facts to support any claims against them, and pointing out that he fails to even mention their names in the body of his Amended Complaint. Wells responds that the Mayor and the City Council have a duty to protect citizens from unreasonable and excessive force from police officers, are responsible for passing legislation to ensure proper police conduct, and “are responsible for rogue police officers who do not follow the proper procedures.” Pl.'s Resp. Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 28.

         To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Based on Wells's response to the Mayor and the City Council's motion, it appears that he is seeking to hold the Mayor and the City Council liable because of their positions of authority over Officers Perez and Gibson. But the Mayor and the City Council cannot be held liable for the officers' conduct simply by virtue of their governmental positions or roles. Rather, “[a] government official is liable only for his or her own conduct and accordingly must have had some sort of personal involvement in the alleged unconstitutional conduct.” Argueta v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enf't, 643 F.3d 60, 71 (3d Cir. 2011). Based on this principle, there are “two general ways in which a supervisor-defendant may be liable for unconstitutional acts undertaken by subordinates.” Barkes v. First Corr. Med., Inc., 766 F.3d 307, 316 (3d Cir. 2014), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042 (2015). First, “supervisors can be liable if they established and maintained a policy, practice or custom which directly caused the constitutional harm, ” and, second, supervisors can be liable if “they participated in violating plaintiff's rights, directed others to violate them, or, as the persons in charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced in their subordinates' violations.'” Parkell v. Danberg, 833 F.3d 313, 330 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 129 n.5 (3d Cir. 2010)). Wells's Amended Complaint fails to state a claim against the Mayor and the City Council under either of these theories. Rather, as Moving Defendants point out, Wells's Amended Complaint fails to include any allegations at all concerning these Defendants. Accordingly, Wells's claims against these Defendants are dismissed.

         Wells will be permitted leave to amend his claims against these Defendants. See Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 236 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002)). (“[I]f a complaint is vulnerable to 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile.”). In light of the Court's decision to refer this matter to the Prisoner Civil Rights Panel and to stay all proceedings while Wells's case is pending before the Panel, as discussed in more detail below, the Court will not, at this time, set a deadline for Wells to file a second amended complaint.

         III. Wells's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied as premature.

         Wells moves for summary judgment on his claims against the Philadelphia Police Department, Officer Gibson, and Officer Perez, contending that the undisputed facts show that these Defendants violated his constitutional rights. ECF No. 29. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Here, Wells's Motion is premature, because the parties have not yet completed discovery and there remain genuine disputes of material fact between the parties. See Doe v. Abington Friends Sch., 480 F.3d 252, 257 (3d Cir. 2007) (“[T]he non-moving party's burden at summary judgment rests on the assumption that the party ‘had a full opportunity to conduct discovery.'” (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 257 (1986))). Accordingly, Wells's motion is denied, without prejudice to renew after the completion of discovery.

         IV. Wells's Motion for an Order Compelling Discovery is denied as moot.

         Wells seeks an order compelling Defendants to answer interrogatories and to produce certain documents. ECF No. 32. In a filing dated October 13, 2017, Defendants certified that they have now responded to Wells's interrogatories and requests for production of documents. ECF No. 34. Accordingly, Wells's motion seeking an order compelling this discovery is denied as moot.

         V. Wells's Motion for Appointment of Counsel is granted in part.

         In his Motion for Appointment of Counsel, Wells states that his imprisonment “will greatly limit his ability to litigate. The issues involved in this case are complex, and will require significant research and investigation that requires . . . expert testimony.” Pl.'s Mot. Counsel, ECF No. 30. In addition, “[a] trial in this case will likely involve conflicting ...


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