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Young v. City of Chester, PA

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2018

DEVON YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHESTER, PA, DETECTIVE MARC BARAG AND OFFICER WILLIAM CAREY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiff was speaking with his cousin in the area of East 21st Street and Edgemont Avenue when his cousin gave him some money for a loan and he gave his cousin a small package. A Pennsylvania police officer observed this interaction, stopped Plaintiff's cousin, and found 0.4 grams of marijuana. A second officer arrested Plaintiff and he was charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Plaintiff, the defendant in the underlying criminal action, was ultimately acquitted after a jury trial. He now brings claims against the arresting officers, the Commissioner of the Police Department, and the City of Chester (together, “Defendants”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as state law claims arising out of Plaintiff's arrest and prosecution, all of which Defendants move to dismiss.

         I. FACTS

         On July 16, 2015, Detective Marc Barag, an officer with the City of Chester, Pennsylvania Police Department, set up a hidden narcotics surveillance operation in the area of East 21st Street and Edgemont Avenue in Chester, Pennsylvania. At approximately 11:05 a.m., Detective Barag observed Plaintiff, Devon Young, speaking with Basil Evans on the sidewalk in the vicinity of the surveillance operation. Young and Evans engaged in a brief conversation. Before the conversation concluded, Evans handed Young money.

         According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Officer William Carey, Detective Barag observed Young provide a small package to Evans after the two exchanged money.[1]Officer Barag executed a pedestrian stop on Evans a few blocks away and found a clear pink bag containing 0.4 grams of marijuana. As a result, Evans was placed under arrest and transported to Chester Police Headquarters for processing. Two hours later, Officer Carey observed Young on the 2100 block of Madison Street. Officer Goldschmidt apprehended and arrested him. A search incident to Young's arrest did not reveal any narcotics or drug paraphernalia, though the officers did recover $184 in cash and a blue flip cell phone.

         Young was charged with Possession with Intent to Deliver a Controlled Substance in violation of 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. 780-113(a)(30) and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia in violation of 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. 780-113(a)(32). He was held in lieu of $50, 000 bail for ten months at George Hill Correctional Facility until his trial, which commenced on May 3, 2016. At trial, Evans testified in Young's defense. Evans testified that his meeting with Young on July 16, 2015 had nothing to do with drugs. Instead, Evans and Young are cousins and the two discussed an upcoming family reunion. Evans further testified that Young asked for a loan and Evans gave him some money before parting ways. The jury found Plaintiff not guilty on both charges. Plaintiff is suing Officer Carey, Detective Barag, and Police Commissioner Joseph Bail for false arrest and malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C § 1983, as well as the City of Chester, Pennsylvania, under Monell. Plaintiff also brings state law charges of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss.

         II. STANDARD

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain 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 has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “Threadbare” recitations of the elements of a claim supported only by “conclusory statements” will not suffice. Id. at 683. Rather, a plaintiff must allege some facts to raise the allegation above the level of mere speculation. Great Western Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 176 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Furthermore, a court may grant a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) if there is a dispositive issue of law. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989).

         In analyzing a motion to dismiss legal conclusions are disregarded, well-pleaded factual allegations are taken as true, and a determination is made whether those facts state a “plausible claim for relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Generally that determination is made upon a review of the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached appropriately to the complaint and matters of public record. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc. 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Here, where Defendants have attached to their motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Criminal Complaint and the Docket Sheet from the underlying state court proceeding, those may properly be considered. See S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Wah Kwong Shipping Ground Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999).

         III. DISCUSSION

         a. False Arrest

         A claim for false arrest under Section 1983 is analyzed under the “reasonableness” standard of the Fourth Amendment. See Berg v. County of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 268-69 (3d. Cir. 2000). “The Fourth Amendment prohibits arrest without probable cause.” Id. at 269. Therefore, to succeed on a claim of false arrest under Section 1983, the Plaintiff must show that the arresting officers, Barag and Carey, lacked probable cause to arrest him. See Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995). “Probable cause exists whenever reasonably trustworthy information or circumstances within a police officer's knowledge are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution to conclude that an offense has been committed by the person being arrested.” United States v. Myers, 308 F.3d 251, 255 (3d Cir. 2002). The test is an objective one based on “the facts available to the officers at the moment of arrest.” Barna v. City of Perth Amboy, 42 F.3d 809, 819 (3d Cir. 1994). Moreover, “evidence that may prove insufficient to establish guilt at trial may still be sufficient to find the arrest occurred within the bounds of the law.” Id.

         The question of whether probable cause exists for an arrest is generally a question of fact for the jury. See Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000) (“Generally, the question of probable cause in a section 1983 damages suit is one for the jury.”). Where, however, the facts alleged by the Plaintiff, taken as true and drawing all inferences in favor of the Plaintiff, would not support a finding of liability, dismissal is appropriate. See Olson v. Ako, 2018 WL 1391708, at *5 (3d Cir. 2018).

         In this case, the facts alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint establish that Defendants had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-113(32), an ungraded misdemeanor. The relevant statute prohibits “[t]he use of, or possession with intent to use, drug paraphernalia for the purpose of . . . introducing into the human body a controlled substance in violation of this act.” 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 780-113(32). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Officer Carey observed Plaintiff speaking with Evans and exchanging money for a small package and then walking away. Evans was arrested with 0.4 grams of marijuana immediately after this conversation. Plaintiff's Complaint does not contradict Officer Carey's observations. The Complaint merely puts forward an alternate interpretation of the events. Plaintiff alleges that instead of discussing drugs, he spoke with Evans, his cousin, about an upcoming family reunion and that he asked Evans for ...


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