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Nwani v. Greene

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 30, 2018

IFEANYI NWANI, Plaintiff,
v.
DOMMONIEKE GREENE, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Ifeanyi Nwani, proceeding pro se, brings this action alleging violations of his civil rights arising from his arrest and subsequent incarceration at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility against the following Defendants: Target Store (“Target”)[1]; Dommonieke Greene, an undercover security employee of Target; Police Officer Daniel Boyd; Police Officer Justin Laird; the Springfield Police Department; Health Services Administration of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility; Deputy Warden of Operation (John Doe #1); Warden (John Doe #2); Springfield Township; and the Upper Darby Police. (Doc. No. 22.) Nwani, still an inmate at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility, alleges constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state law claims. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages in this case. (Id. at 6.)

         Before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss, one filed by Defendants Officer Daniel Boyd, Springfield Township, and the Springfield Police Department (“Springfield Defendants”) (Doc. No. 25) and the other filed by Defendants Dommonieke Greene and Target (“Target Defendants”) (Doc. No. 26).[2] The Motions are now ripe for disposition.[3] For reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (Doc. Nos. 25, 26.)

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[4]

         On the evening of May 18, 2017, Plaintiff was shopping at the Target[5] located on Baltimore Pike in Springfield, Pennsylvania and removed from a shelf a CHI flat iron.[6] (Doc. No. 22 at 1.) Because there were no shopping baskets available, Plaintiff placed the merchandise in his own white plastic shopping bag. (Id.) The item was visible in the white bag and “was not concealed.” (Id.) He then walked towards the checkout area and looked to see whether there was a bus outside.[7] (Id.) At the same time, Defendant Dommonieke Greene, who was dressed in plain clothes, grabbed Plaintiff's shirt and shoved him back into the store. (Id. at 1-2.) Greene did not announce who he was or that he was employed by Target as an undercover security officer. (Id.) Shocked and frightened, Plaintiff left the store without the flat iron that he intended to purchase. (Id. at 2.)

         Greene contacted the Springfield Police Department and spoke to Defendant Officer Daniel Boyd about the incident with Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Greene falsely said that Plaintiff took the flat iron with him[8] and that he pushed Greene aside to flee the store. (Id.) Greene also mentioned that Plaintiff had been involved in a previous theft. (Id.)

         Outside of Target, Officer Boyd approached Plaintiff from behind in a marked police vehicle. (Id. at 3.) Defendant Officer Justin Laird then emerged from the vehicle and chased after Plaintiff “in an aggressive and assertive matter.”[9] (Id.) Officer Laird “body slammed Plaintiff to the ground” while using a racial epithet and pinned Plaintiff down until other police officers arrived. (Id.) Officer Boyd and other officers then handcuffed Plaintiff, who asked for medical assistance for the injuries he sustained during his altercation with Laird. (Id.) Plaintiff claims this request was ignored by Springfield law enforcement officers. (Id.)

         Next, he was taken to the Springfield police station, where he collapsed and was confined to a cell, and “where he suffered from cold to his lungs, and severe pain to his head, back, and ribs.” (Id.) On or about May 19, 2017, Plaintiff had a preliminary arraignment on charges filed against him. (Id.) He pled guilty to retail theft and resisting arrest. Commonwealth v. Nwani, Cr. A. No. CP-23-CR-3367-2017 (Pa. Ct. Com. Pl. Del. Cty., Aug. 22, 2017) (hereinafter “Ct. Com. Pl. Docket”). Plaintiff was then transferred to the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Thornton, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff notified the prison's Health Service Administration of the injuries he sustained during his arrest, but no response was given. (Doc. No. 22 at 3.) When he arrived at the prison Intake Process Unit, Plaintiff observed that it was “overcrowded and unsanitary.” (Id.) He was temporarily confined in a unit with over twenty other inmates and had to sleep on the floor adjacent to a toilet, which was utilized by the inmates. (Id.) From May 19 to 22, 2017, Plaintiff was not permitted to take a shower and was strip-searched twice. (Id.)

         On July 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed his first Complaint against Defendants Dommonieke Greene, Target Store, Daniel Boyd, the Springfield Police Department, Justin Laird, the Health Services Administration, Deputy Warden of Operation (John Doe #1) and Warden (John Doe #2). (Doc. No. 4.) On September 28, 2017, Defendants Daniel Boyd and the Springfield Police Department filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 14.) On the same day, Defendants Target and Dommonieke Greene also filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 15.)

         On October 13, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint against the same parties and also added Springfield Township and Upper Darby Police as Defendants.[10] (Doc. No. 18.) On October 20, 2017, without leave of Court, Plaintiff filed another Amended Complaint against the same Defendants named in the October 13, 2017 Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 22.) However, upon review of both versions of the Amended Complaints, it is evident that the facts and allegations are not substantially different. Accordingly, the Court will rely upon the October 20, 2017 second Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 22) for the purposes of this Opinion.

         Based on the facts alleged, the Court gleans that the second Amended Complaint filed October 20, 2017 contains the following counts pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: In Count I, Plaintiff asserts Fourth Amendment claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution against Officers Boyd and Laird, the Springfield Police Department, and Springfield Township. In Count II, Plaintiff asserts a violation of the equal protection laws under the Fifth and Fourteen Amendments of the United States Constitution, in the form of racial profiling, against Officers Boyd and Laird and the Springfield Police Department. Count III asserts a municipal liability claim against Springfield Township. In Count I V, Plaintiff claims that Greene and Target violated his Fourth Amendment rights. In Count V, he asserts a Fourth Amendment claim of false imprisonment and an Eighth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs and cruel and unusual punishment against the Warden, Deputy Warden, and Health Services Administration of the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. Aside from monetary and punitive damages, Plaintiff also requests a “stay on his previous lawsuit”[11] and “a federal investigation on the above defendants.”[12] (Doc. No. 22 at 6.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The motion to dismiss standard under Rule 12(b)(6) is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). After Iqbal it is clear that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 678; see also Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544. “To survive dismissal, ‘a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Tatis v. Allied Interstate, LLC, 882 F.3d 422, 426 (3d Cir. 2018) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Facial plausibility is “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Instead, “[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. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         Applying the principles of Iqbal and Twombly, the Third Circuit in Santiago v. Warminster Township, 629 F.3d 121 (3d Cir. 2010), set forth a three-part analysis that a district court in this Circuit must conduct in evaluating whether allegations in a complaint survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss:

First, the court must “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Second, the court should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Finally, “where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.”

Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675, 679). The inquiry is normally broken into three parts: “(1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         A complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff's entitlement to relief, it must “show” such an entitlement with its facts. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008)). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). The “plausibility” determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         When determining a motion to dismiss, the court must “accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Where, as here, the complaint is filed pro se, the “complaint, ‘however inartfully pleaded' must be held to ‘less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Fatone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184, 193 (3d Cir. 2015) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972)). It should be dismissed only if it appears “beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [his] claim that would entitle [him] to relief.” Olaniyi v. Alexa Cab Co., 239 Fed.Appx. 698, 699 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing McDowell v. Del. State Police, 88 F.3d 188, 189 (3d Cir. 1996)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Defendants Officer Daniel Boyd, Springfield Township, the Springfield Police Department, Target, and Dommonieke Greene move to dismiss the second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[13] (Doc. Nos. 25, 26.) Defendants submit that Plaintiff's claims regarding his arrest and prosecution are barred under Heck v. Humphrey, in which the United States Supreme Court held that an inmate can only seek damages for an unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) if their conviction or sentence was reversed on appeal or otherwise invalidated. 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). Defendants also argue that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against them with respect to any of his Section 1983 claims because he has not adequately pled that his Fourth, Fifth, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.

         A. Plaintiff Is Barred From Raising Section 1983 Claims Against All Defendants

         Because Plaintiff has not set forth any facts to show that his conviction or imprisonment has been reversed, expunged by executive order, or otherwise declared invalid or called into question, he is precluded from raising Section 1983 claims against all Defendants.[14]

         To recover damages for an alleged unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment under Section 1983, “a plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck v. Humprey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994). In Heck, petitioner filed a Section 1983 suit while the appeal from his conviction was still pending. Id. at 478-79. The Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the Section 1983 action, holding that “[o]ne element that must be alleged and proved in a malicious prosecution action is termination of the prior criminal proceeding in favor of the accused.” Id. at 484. The purpose of this requirement was to avoid

parallel litigation over the issues of probable cause and guilt . . . and it precludes the possibility of the claimant . . . succeeding in the tort action after having been convicted in the underlying criminal prosecution, in contravention of a strong judicial policy against the creation of two conflicting resolutions arising out of the same or identical transaction.

Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly, a court must dismiss a Section 1983 suit for damages “unless there was no conviction or sentence or ‘the plaintiff can demonstrate that [a] conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.'” Curry v. Yachera, 835 F.3d 373, 378 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Heck, 512 U.S. at 487).

         In the instant case, Plaintiff has not set forth any facts to show that his conviction or sentence has been invalidated or otherwise reversed. Moreover, upon review of the docket in his state court proceedings, the Court notes that his conviction was not overturned. (Ct. Com. Pl. Docket.) In fact, on August 22, 2017, Plaintiff pled guilty before the state court to the charges of retail theft and resisting arrest. (Ct. Com. Pl. Docket at 2, 5.) Under Heck v. Humphrey, a guilty plea is “sufficient to bar a subsequent § 1983 claim.” Gilles v. Davis, 427 F.3d 197, 219 n.8 (3d Cir. 2005). Thus, in accordance with Heck, Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims are barred because his sentence has not been invalidated and will be dismissed.

         B. Even If Plaintiff's Section 1983 Claims Were Not Barred, Plaintiff Still Fails to State a Section 1983 Claim Against the Springfield Police Officers and Springfield Police Department

         Apart from the fact that Plaintiff is barred from raising Section 1983 claims under Heck, Plaintiff's claim for false arrest and malicious prosecution will be dismissed because Officers Boyd and Laird had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for retail theft and therefore did not violate Plaintiff's rights under the Fourth Amendment. He has also not shown how Defendants violated his rights under the equal protection clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

         1. The Police Officers Had Probable Cause to Arrest Plaintiff

         Given that Officer Boyd and the other members of the Springfield Police Department who were involved in Plaintiff's arrest acted under the color of the law, the relevant inquiry is whether they deprived Plaintiff of a constitutional right. In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that they violated his Fourth Amendment right when they relied upon Dommonieke Greene's allegations without their own independent evidence to conclude that Plaintiff was acting unlawfully. (Doc. No. 22 at 2.) He further alleges that the officers “were motivated by racial profiling and discrimination against minorities.” (Doc. No. 22 at 2.)

         Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers are required to have probable cause before making an arrest. Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 169 (1972); Reedy v. Evanson, 615 F.3d 197, 211 (3d Cir. 2010). A police officer has probable cause to arrest “when the facts and circumstances within the arresting officer's knowledge are sufficient in themselves to warrant a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been or is being committed by the person to be arrested.” Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 788 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)). A court must evaluate the totality of circumstances to determine whether the objective facts available to the arresting officers were sufficient to justify a reasonable belief that a suspect had committed or was committing a crime. Merkle, 211 F.3d at 789.

         Based on the allegations in the second Amended Complaint, Dommonieke Greene of Target contacted Officer Boyd after his incident with Plaintiff at the store.[15] Officer Boyd had no reason to disbelieve Greene's statements, particularly because he was a security guard employed by Target. Officer Boyd was outside Target and located Plaintiff, whom he reasonably believed committed retail theft based on the source and the information provided.[16] Officer Boyd identified Plaintiff and pursued him in his police vehicle.

         The police officer relied on the facts relayed to him by Greene and he had sufficient probable cause to believe the retail theft crime occurred. He was not obligated to conduct a full- scale investigation before making an arrest. Statements made to a police officer from a source whom he finds credible can be sufficient to provide probable cause. The officer is not required to conduct an extensive investigation and identify other witnesses. See Merkle, 211 F.3d at 790 n. 8 (finding that a detective “was not required to undertake an exhaustive investigation in order to validate the probable cause that, in his mind, already existed.”).

         Since Plaintiff has failed to show his arrest was made without probable cause, he cannot proceed on his malicious prosecution claim. See Lippay v. Christos, 996 F.2d 1490, 1502 (3d Cir. 1993) (“Under Pennsylvania law, the elements of a malicious prosecution claim are that the defendant (1) instituted the proceedings (2) without probable cause with (3) actual malice and (4) that the proceedings terminated in favor of the plaintiff.”). Thus, Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims against Officer Boyd, Officer Laird, and the Springfield Police Department fail because the police officers had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff.

         2. Defendants Officer Boyd and Officer Laird Are Entitled to Qualified Immunity Under Section 1983

         The claims against Defendants Officer Boyd and Officer Laird will also be dismissed because these Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Their actions did not violate clearly established law.

         In a suit for damages, state officials are entitled to qualified immunity unless a plaintiff shows “(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct.'” Mirabella v. Villard, ...


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