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I.Z. v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 30, 2017



          Bartle, Judge

         Plaintiff I.Z. filed this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution against defendants for improper searches, retaliation, and excessive force.[1] Defendants include the City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Department of Prisons Commissioner Blanche Carney, and Warden Michele Farrell.[2] Before the court is the motion of these defendants to dismiss Count III and Count VIII of the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008); Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Servs., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). We must then determine whether the pleading at issue “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim must do more than raise a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Under this standard, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.


         The following facts from plaintiff's complaint are taken as true for present purposes. Plaintiff is a transgender individual who was assigned the sex of female at birth but now identifies as and lives as a man. On or about November 6, 2016, plaintiff was brought to the Riverside Correctional Facility as a pretrial detainee. Riverside is a facility within the Philadelphia Prison System that houses women.

         At the time of his arrival at Riverside, plaintiff informed prison staff that he is male. He was then subjected to three searches conducted specifically to determine his gender. During the first search, plaintiff was instructed to remove all clothing and spin around. Plaintiff then underwent a second search, wherein he was instructed to squat and cough while naked. Thereafter, a lieutenant or captain arrived and questioned whether plaintiff had “the surgery” and whether he had already been searched. Plaintiff declined to answer whether he had undergone surgery but responded that he had, in fact, been searched twice already. A sergeant then arrived and escorted plaintiff to a nurse in the medical unit for a third search. The nurse conducted a penetrative genital examination while I.Z. lay naked on a table with his legs spread. As a result of this search, the nurse and the observing sergeant labeled plaintiff as female. Afterwards plaintiff was informed by a nurse that these genital searches are conducted as a routine matter by the Philadelphia prison system to determine gender identity. Plaintiff was also informed that inmates are sent to a male prison if they have a scrotum.

         Plaintiff contends that Riverside prison staff consistently misgendered him by referring to plaintiff as “she” or “her” instead of “he” or “him.” Plaintiff also alleges that prison staff repeatedly made offensive and vulgar comments about his gender identity, including stating that “I'm not calling [plaintiff] ‘he' until she grows a dick, ” referring to plaintiff as “just a bitch with hair” and a “trannie, ” and telling plaintiff “[y]ou are in a women's prison ma'am and you're a girl.” Plaintiff filed grievances about these incidents as well as the initial searches. In retaliation for voicing his complaints, plaintiff was denied shoes, threatened, subjected to disciplinary action, and ultimately was pepper sprayed while shackled and handcuffed. Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered physical and mental anguish, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and a loss of dignity as a result of defendants' actions.


         We turn first to defendants' motion to dismiss Count III of the complaint, which pertains only to the City of Philadelphia, Commissioner Carney, and Warden Farrell. Defendants first assert that plaintiff has failed to state a claim for municipal liability against the city under Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). According to defendants, plaintiff has merely set forth conclusory allegations that paraphrase the elements of Monell liability and has failed to make sufficient factual allegations regarding the conduct of a municipal decision maker as required under Monell.

         Section 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Under § 1983, a municipality may not be held liable for constitutional violations on a vicarious liability theory rooted in respondeat superior. Mulholland v. Cty. of Berks, 706 F.3d 227, 237 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Andrews v. City of Phila., 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). Instead, a municipality may be held responsible only “when the injury inflicted is permitted under its adopted policy or custom.” Id. (quoting Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir. 1996)). Based on the Supreme Court's reasoning in Monell, courts have recognized a “two-path track” to municipal liability under § 1983:

Policy is made when a “decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action” issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict. A course of conduct is considered to be a “custom” when, though not authorized by law, “such practices of state ...

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