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Ekwunife v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 11, 2017

SYLVESTER EKWUNIFE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         Plaintiff Sylvester Ekwunife (“Plaintiff”) brought this suit against the City of Philadelphia, the former Philadelphia District Attorney, a former assistant district attorney, and two individual police officers following his three-year detention on the basis of sexual assault allegations that were later withdrawn. Plaintiff brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, failure to intervene, and conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, alleging that there was no probable cause to arrest, imprison, or prosecute him, and that the defendants knew or should have known that the sexual assault allegations were fabricated. All of the defendants except the individual police officers filed motions to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, which the Court granted. The two remaining defendants now move for summary judgment. Plaintiff opposes the motion.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         In early December 2011, Sharon McFayden and her daughter, K.R., Plaintiff's step-grandchild, who was 11 years old at the time, walked into the Special Victim's Unit (“the SVU”) of the Philadelphia Police Department and told Defendant Detective Laura Hammond (“Detective Hammond”) that K.R. had been sexually assaulted. See Hammond Dep. at 8:11-21, June 9, 2017, ECF No. 47-9. At the time, Detective Hammond documented the complaint via computer, and a forensic interview was later arranged with the Philadelphia Children's Alliance (“the PCA”). Id. at 9:18-10:22.

         On December 21, 2011, the PCA interviewed K.R. and her mother, McFayden, regarding the alleged sexual assault. See Forensic Interview Summary (“PCA Report”) at 1, Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. (“Mot.”) Ex. 1, ECF No. 47-1. The PCA first interviewed McFayden, and then interviewed K.R. See Id. at 3-4. According to the PCA's summary of the December 21, 2011 interview with McFayden, McFayden reported that on December 3, 2011, K.R. told her that Plaintiff, K.R.'s step-grandfather, had raped her. See Id. at 2. McFayden explained that when K.R. first told her about the alleged rape, K.R. would not answer questions about when the alleged abuse occurred. See Id. McFayden further stated that the morning after K.R. reported the rape to her, McFayden took K.R. to the hospital, where she was examined, and no signs of physical trauma were found. See Id. Regarding the amount of contact K.R. would have had with Plaintiff during K.R.'s lifetime, McFayden told the PCA interviewer that K.R. had lived with Plaintiff until she was two years old, and thereafter, up until 2007, K.R. visited Plaintiff nearly every weekend, including overnight visits. See id.

         The PCA separately interviewed K.R., who reported that Plaintiff anally and vaginally raped her when she was three or four years old. See Id. at 5. K.R. told the interviewer that Plaintiff told K.R. he would kill her if she told anyone about the abuse. See id.

         Under the PCA's general policy, PCA interviews are watched through closed circuit television by a police officer from the SVU and by a caseworker from the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (“DHS”). See Mot. Ex. 2 at 2, ECF No. 47-2. The interview is also taped for later viewing by a prosecutor from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office (“the D.A.'s Office”). See Id. In this case, Detective Kim Boston (“Detective Boston”) observed the PCA interview in place of Detective Hammond. See PCA Report at 2.

         Following the PCA interview, Detective Hammond, who was not present at the interview, filled out an affidavit in support of an arrest warrant. See Hammond Dep. at 10:13-24. Detective Hammond testified at her deposition that she based the affidavit on (1) the video of the PCA interview; (2) the written summary of the PCA interview; and (3) an interview with McFayden on January 28, 2012. See Id. at 10:13-11:2; 15:13-16:4.

         In Detective Hammond's affidavit of probable cause, Plaintiff's name, social security number, and date of birth were correct. See Aff. Probable Cause at 1, Mot. Ex. 5, ECF No. 47-5. However, Plaintiff's race and gender were entered incorrectly: Plaintiff was identified as a white woman instead of an African-American man. See Id. This misinformation was repeated on the warrant itself. See Warrant of Arrest, Mot. Ex. 5, ECF No. 47-5. Detective Hammond subsequently appended information to Plaintiff's arrest report stating “Defendant's race and sex was entered in error, please ensure corrections.” Phila. Police Dept. Arrest Report at 2, Mot. Ex. 5, ECF No. 47- 5. Defendant Police Officer Joseph Carter (“Officer Carter”) executed the arrest warrant and arrested Plaintiff at his home on February 27, 2012. See Id. at 1-2. It is unclear from the record whether Detective Hammond's correction to the arrest report was made before or after Plaintiff's arrest.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was incarcerated for three years pending trial. See Fourth Am. Compl. (“FAC”) ¶¶ 2, 54, ECF No. 32. In January 2015, on the morning of the trial, K.R. recanted the majority of her allegations against Plaintiff, except her allegation that Plaintiff had digitally penetrated her on one occasion when she was five years old. See Mot. Ex. 4 at 4, ECF No. 47-4. The D.A.'s Office subsequently dropped the charges and Plaintiff was released from incarceration less than a week later. See Ekwunife Dep. at 48:14-17, June 9, 2017, ECF No. 47-8.

         According a report prepared by DHS dated January 14, 2015, K.R. later explained that her mother had told her to lie, and to conflate Plaintiff's actions with those of another relative, who had raped K.R. on numerous occasions when she was in third and fourth grade. See Report of Suspected Child Abuse at 2-3, Mot. Ex. 4, ECF No. 47-4. K.R. reported that her mother told her to lie and state that Plaintiff committed all of the abuse against her, because the other relative who raped her was a minor and the accusations would “ruin his life.” Id. at 2.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed an initial pro se complaint on January 21, 2016, asserting claims against the City of Philadelphia (“the City”) and the D.A.'s Office. ECF No. 3. The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims against the D.A.'s Office pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), explaining that (1) a district attorney's office is not an “entity” for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and therefore is not susceptible to suit, and (2) the doctrine of absolute immunity shields prosecutors from liability related to their official acts. ECF No. 2.

         Plaintiff amended his complaint on February 10, 2016. ECF No. 4. Plaintiff's amended complaint brought only one claim, the violation of Plaintiff's due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, and named only three defendants: the City, Former Assistant District Attorney Heba Gore (“Former ADA Gore”), individually and as an official, and Detective Hammond, individually and as an official. Id. On March 1, 2016, the Court issued an order dismissing Plaintiff's claims against Former ADA Gore pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) under the doctrine of absolute prosecutorial immunity. ECF No. 5.

         On May 11, 2016, the City filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint. ECF No. 9. On June 27, 2016, after Plaintiff had retained counsel and following a hearing, the Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss without prejudice, allowing Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint and add additional defendants. See ECF No. 16. Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint on July 18, 2016, ECF No. 18, followed by a third amended complaint on July 19, 2016, ECF No. 19. The third amended complaint added Officer Carter and Former District Attorney Seth Williams (“Former DA Williams”) as defendants, and added back Former ADA Gore. See Id. Defendants filed two motions to dismiss the third amended complaint, which the Court granted on October 17, 2017, dismissing Plaintiff's claims against all defendants without prejudice and with leave to amend. See ECF No. 31.

         On November 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Fourth Amended Complaint, bringing claims for violation of due process and failure to train (Counts I and II), malicious prosecution (Count III), false arrest and false imprisonment (Count IV), failure to intervene (Count V), failure to investigate (Count VI), conspiracy (Count VII), intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VIII), and false arrest and false imprisonment in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Count IX). ECF No. 32. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $15 million. Id. ¶ 62.

         On December 2, 2016, Former ADA Gore and Former DA Williams (“the DA Defendants”) moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint. ECF No. 34. On December 6, 2016, the City, Detective Hammond, and Officer Carter moved to dismiss all claims against the City. ECF No. 35. The Court granted both motions, dismissing Plaintiff's claims against the DA Defendants and the City with prejudice. ECF No. 40.

         On July 26, 2017, the two remaining defendants, Detective Hammond and Officer Carter, filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 47. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on August 9, 2017. ECF No. 48. The Court is now ready to rule on the motion.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is awarded under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sweeney, 689 F.3d 288, 292 (3d Cir. 2012). “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 non-existence 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.

         In undertaking this analysis, the court views all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving 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) (citing Reliance Ins. Co. v.Moessner,121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)). 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 ...


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