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Durham v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 16, 2019

TAJAN DURHAM, Plaintiff,


          EDWARD G. SMITH, J.

         The pro se plaintiff seeks damages from several defendants for a variety of purported claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, primarily stemming from a May 2016 incident involving two Pennsylvania state troopers. By the plaintiff's own admission, after the troopers discovered there were pending arrest warrants against him during a traffic stop, he led them on a car chase from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, where they performed the PIT maneuver to stop his car.[1] The plaintiff alleges that after the collision, one of the troopers brandished his firearm and threatened to shoot him if he did not comply with an order not to move his hands, which he claims amounted to excessive force.

         After the troopers arrested the plaintiff, New Jersey and Pennsylvania both brought charges against him relating to the chase. At the time, there were pending charges against him in Philadelphia and Montgomery County, which he does not describe other than to provide the state criminal docket numbers. He alleges a variety of wrongdoing in connection with both the May 2016 and preexisting charges, including a double jeopardy claim against the state troopers for filing complaints against him in multiple jurisdictions, a largely unspecified due process claim, malicious prosecution claims against all three district attorney's offices, speedy trial violation claims against two of those offices, and an Interstate Agreement on Detainers claim.

         The defendants filed four separate motions to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff's claims suffer from numerous fatal procedural and substantive defects.[2] All three district attorney's office defendants argue that they are not entities liable to suit under section 1983 or are otherwise entitled to absolute immunity. The district attorney's offices, along with Montgomery County and the City of Philadelphia, also argue that any potential claims under Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) fail because the plaintiff did not identify an official municipal policy, custom, or decisionmaker that caused the purported constitutional violations. The Bucks County District Attorney's Office argues that the Monell claims were also deficient because Monell does not allow respondeat superior liability or punitive damages. The troopers argue that any Monell claims fail as to them specifically, because individuals cannot be held liable under Monell and their state employer, Pennsylvania, has immunity for Monell claims under the Eleventh Amendment. The Montgomery and Bucks County District Attorney's Offices both also argue that the plaintiff has not satisfied the favorable termination rule established in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), which is fatal both to his malicious prosecution and speedy trial claims. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, the City of Philadelphia, and the troopers also argue that none of the alleged facts suggest any constitutional violation. Lastly, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office argues that the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (the “IAD”) does not create a private right of action and, even if it did, the pled facts do not suggest that it violated the IAD, and that all the plaintiff's state law claims likewise suffer fatal defects.

         The court agrees that the amended complaint fails to state a cause of action, both because several of the defendants are not proper parties and because the facts, as alleged, do not suggest wrongdoing on the part of any defendant. To the contrary, the allegations suggest that the plaintiff acted unjustifiably and recklessly, and that the state troopers acted reasonably and professionally to mitigate the danger that he posed to themselves and the public. None of the pled facts suggest that the counties or district attorney's office defendants acted improperly in seeking to hold the plaintiff accountable for those and other alleged crimes.

         Moreover, dismissal with prejudice is appropriate as to all defendants because the key deficiencies in the amended complaint are incurable, and any amendment would be futile. First, the three district attorney's offices are not proper defendants under section 1983; no additional allegations could change that fact. Second, the speedy trial rights claim necessarily fails because the state criminal records reflect that one case ended in dismissal and the other ended with a guilty plea, both of which foreclose a later speedy trial suit. Moreover, a plaintiff likely cannot receive damages for a speedy trial violation anyway. Third, the state criminal records indisputably prove that no defendant violated the Pennsylvania procedural rule requiring a bench warrant hearing, which is the only allegation that could potentially support a due process cause of action. Fourth, the IAD does not create a private right of action. Fifth, the allegations against the troopers come nowhere close to stating a claim for excessive force, and the total absence of any facts that would potentially support such a claim demonstrates that amendment would be futile. The same is true for the Equal Protection Clause claim. Sixth, as a matter of law, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not apply to charges brought by separate sovereigns. Seventh, the Monell claims fail because there is no surviving underlying constitutional claim, and the troopers' employer (the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) is immune under the Eleventh Amendment. Lastly, allowing amendment would be inequitable considering the history of this case. Therefore, the court will grant the motions to dismiss and dismiss the amended complaint with prejudice.


         The pro se plaintiff, Tajan Durham (“Durham”), filed an application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, attaching a proposed complaint and a motion for a preliminary injunction, on November 15, 2017. Doc. No. 1. The court denied the application without prejudice on November 28, 2017, because Durham did not file a certified copy of his prisoner account statement. Doc. No. 2. Durham filed a second application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, including an amended complaint and a copy of his prisoner account statement, on December 4, 2017. Doc. Nos. 3-4. In the amended complaint, Durham asserted claims against the City of Philadelphia, Bucks County, Montgomery County, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, the “Pa. State Trooper Department, ” and Pennsylvania State Troopers Jeffery Hand and Preston Grey. Doc. No. 3-2. On December 5, 2017, he mailed a letter informing the court that he had submitted a copy of his “inmate trust account” before receiving the court's November 28, 2017 order denying the first application. Doc. No. 5.

         Before the court ruled on the second application, Durham filed another motion for a preliminary injunction, alleging violations of his speedy trial rights. Doc. No. 6. He sent another letter and copy of his prisoner trust account statement on December 28, 2017, requesting that the court rule on his application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Doc. Nos. 7-8. On February 28, 2018, Durham sent a letter to inform the court of a change of address and that “a waiver of summons ha[d] be[en] sent to each Defendant on February 1, 2018.” Doc. No. 9 at ECF p. 1.

         On March 13, 2018, the court denied the motions for preliminary injunctions and the application to proceed in forma pauperis as moot, in light of Durham's apparent release from prison. Doc. No. 11. Durham then filed a proper non-prisoner application to proceed in forma pauperis, Doc. No. 12, which the court granted via an order entered on May 23, 2018. Doc. No. 14. In the same order, the court dismissed all claims against the “Pa. State Trooper Department” with prejudice, because the Pennsylvania State Police are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Id. at 2 n.2. The court also directed Durham to submit completed USM-285 forms to the United States Marshals Service so that it could serve the amended complaint on the remaining defendants. Id. at 2. Per the court's order, the clerk of court entered the proposed amended complaint onto the docket. Doc. No. 16. The same day, Durham filed a motion requesting the court to award attorney's fees or appoint an attorney for him. Doc. No. 17.

         On June 11, 2018, Durham filed a “Petition for Judgment (Expedited Judgment Request), ” in which he represented that “the summons and complaint were duly served on the Defendants, Governor Tom Wolf and et al. defendants[.]” Doc. No. 18 at ECF p. 1. On June 26, 2018, the court denied the motion for attorney's fees or appointment of counsel and the petition for judgment, explaining why each of the claims appeared to lack merit. Doc. No. 19 at 2-3 n.1. The court also noted that the Durham's reference to serving Governor Wolf was misplaced, as he did not name the governor as a defendant in the amended complaint, and the purported service of the other defendants could not have been effective because he claimed to have effected service before the court had granted in forma pauperis status and deemed the amended complaint to have been filed. Id. at 4 n.1.

         Having received no updates from Durham by August 15, 2018, the court entered another order directing him to complete all necessary USM-285 forms and warning him that the court may dismiss the case for failure to comply with Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or lack of prosecution as to any defendant for whom he did not provide a proper form. Doc. No. 20 at 2. On November 5, 2018, after the Marshals Service represented to chambers that Durham had provided some, but not all, of the completed USM-285 forms, the court entered a third order directing him to complete and submit the necessary forms and again warned that failure to do so could result in dismissal as to the relevant defendants. Doc. No. 21 at 2. On January 10, 2019, Durham filed a “Temporary Restraining Order Request (Requesting Immediate Relief of Detention).” Doc. No. 22. The court denied the request less than a week later, explaining that the request was not based on any of the facts alleged in the amended complaint, and a motion for a writ of habeas corpus was the proper mechanism to seek release from custody. Doc. No. 23 at 1 n.1.

         The Philadelphia County District Attorney's Office moved to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim on January 16, 2019. Doc. No. 24. The City of Philadelphia filed its motion to dismiss on January 31, 2019. Doc. No. 29. On February 4, 2019, Durham filed a “(TRO) Deem for Judgment Expeditious Request.” Doc. No. 30. The court denied the request as moot the next day, explaining that the court had already denied his request for a temporary restraining order. Doc. No. 31 at 1. After receiving an extension of time to respond to the amended complaint, Troopers Gray and Hand filed a joint motion to dismiss on February 28, 2019. Doc. Nos. 26, 28, 35. Montgomery County and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office filed a joint motion to dismiss on April 5, 2019. Doc. No. 37. The Bucks County District Attorney's Office received an extension of time to respond to the amended complaint on February 22, 2019, Doc. No. 34, and filed its motion to dismiss on April 18, 2019. Doc. No. 40.

         In May 2019, the court learned from the Marshals Service that Durham had not completed and returned a USM-285 form for Bucks County and entered an order to show cause why the court should not dismiss Bucks County from the case in light of the prior orders. Doc. No. 42. Durham filed an untimely response to the order to show cause, in which he did not address specifically whether he had prepared a USM-285 form for Bucks County and requested “an extension of 40 days to show cause and file motion in response to Motion to Dismiss.” Mot. for Continuence [sic] of ‘Order to Show Cause,' (“Continuance Mot.”), Doc. No. 43 at ECF p. 2. The court scheduled an in-person conference to discuss the requested extension for June 28, 2019. Doc. No. 44. When Durham had not arrived twenty-five minutes after the conference was scheduled to begin, the court allowed counsel for all the defendants to leave. Durham then arrived, and court staff informed him that the court could not hear argument on any issues now that defense counsel were no longer present, and that he was free to file a written submission explaining why the court should grant the requested extension, as well as why he was late to the conference. The court waited two weeks for Durham's written submission but never received one.


         Troopers Hand and Gray stopped Durham for a traffic violation near the intersection of Bleigh Street and State Road in Philadelphia on May 27, 2016 around 5:35 p.m. Am. Compl. at ECF p. 10, Doc. No. 16. Upon running Durham's license, Trooper Hand discovered that there were multiple outstanding warrants against him. Id. At that point, Trooper Hand ordered Durham to get out of his car. Id. Durham did not comply and instead fled in his car “causing a Hot Persuit [sic].” Id. After the chase crossed into New Jersey, Trooper Gray performed the PIT maneuver to stop Durham's car. Id. Following the collision, Trooper Hand “commanded to see [Durham's] hands” and threatened multiple times to “blow his head off” if he did not comply. Id. Durham alleges that he “began to obey the officers” when Trooper Hand threatened, “I swear to God if you move your hands [I]'ll blow your head off.” Id. After apprehending Durham, the troopers took him to Camden County Correctional Facility in New Jersey. Id. The same day, the troopers caused New Jersey authorities to bring several charges against Durham. Id. Approximately two weeks later, the troopers caused the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to bring its own charges against Durham in connection with the chase. Id.

         Durham alleges that the troopers conspired to threaten him, which caused him “severe mental anguish, ” including “multiple bad dreams and flash backs [sic] of the day that he looked into the barrel of Defendant Trooper Hand's firearm praying to God that he didn't die and thinking he was going to be another young African-America[n] male to be killed by police brutality.” Id. at ECF p. 11. He claims that he was unarmed, and Trooper Hand's threats to kill him therefore amounted to excessive force.[3] Id. Durham further claims that the troopers subjected him to double jeopardy in violation of the Fifth Amendment by “filing (2) complaints against [him] for the same offense . . . .” Id. He then alleges, with no supporting facts, that both troopers “intentionally, or with deliberate indifference and callous disregard of [his] right[s], deprived [him] of his right [to] equal protection of the laws and impeded the due course of justice in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment[s] . . . .” Id.

         Durham asserts that the “Pa. State Trooper Department” and Bucks County employed and controlled Troopers Gray and Hand and that they “knowingly, recklessly, or with deliberate indifference and callous disregard [to his] right[s], failed to instruct, supervise, control and discipline on a continuing basis” the troopers. Id. at ECF p. 14. Specifically, Durham claims that the troopers should have been trained

to refrain from: (1) unlawfully and maliciously apprehending a citizen who has Constitutional and Statutory rights, privil[e]ges, and immunities; (2) unlawfully and maliciously imprisoning and prosecuting a citizen who has Constitutional and Statutory rights, privileges, and immunities; (3) Using exces[s]ive force while making an arrest, whether the arrest was lawful or unlawful; (4) Conspiring to violate the rights, privileges, and immunities g[ua]ranteed to [him] by the Constitution and laws of the United States and the laws of the State of Pennsylvania; and (5) otherwise depriving [him] of his Constitutional and Statutory rights, privileges, and immunities.

Id. He further alleges that the “Pa. State Trooper Department” and Bucks County “directly or indirectly, under color of law, approved or ratified the unlawful, deliberate, malicious, reckless, and wanton conduct” of the troopers. Id.

         In August 2016, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office “obtained temporary custody of [Durham]” from New Jersey and incarcerated him at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. Id. at ECF p. 12. At the time, two criminal actions were pending against him in Philadelphia, one of which was “disposed of” during the eleven days before he was transferred back to New Jersey. Id. Durham alleges that in effecting this transfer, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and “conspiring Defendants” violated the IAD because they had not yet “dispos[ed] of the untried complaints in the State of Pennsylvania.” Id. After completing his sentence in New Jersey, Durham was transferred to Montgomery County in Pennsylvania for resolution of the charges there. Id. Durham was still detained in Montgomery County at the time he filed the amended complaint. Id. Durham claims that the Bucks County District Attorney's Office withdrew its charges against him for double jeopardy reasons. Id. at ECF p. 13.

         Durham also claims that the Montgomery and Philadelphia District Attorney's Offices have held him in pretrial incarceration longer than 365 days, in violation of his federal and state speedy trial rights. Id. He submitted a pro se petition to both courts to dismiss the charges on these grounds, but the courts did not rule on the motions. Id. He further alleges that the Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Bucks County District Attorney's Offices all maliciously prosecuted him, in violation of his constitutional rights. Id. Lastly, Durham asserts a claim against all defendants (except for the Bucks County District Attorney's Office) for his loss of income and “severe mental anguish in connection with the deprivation of his Constitutional and Statutory[ ]rights g[ua]ranted by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and protected by 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Id. at ECF p. 15.


         A. Standard of Review - Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a party to move for dismissal of a complaint or a portion of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests “the sufficiency of the allegations contained in the complaint.” Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). As the moving party, “[t]he defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented.” Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

         In general, a complaint is legally sufficient if it contains “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “The touchstone of [this] pleading standard is plausibility.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012). Although Rule 8(a)(2) does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, ” it does require the recitation of “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). In other words, “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quotation omitted). “In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, courts can and should reject legal conclusions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted references, unwarranted deductions, footless conclusions of law, and sweeping legal conclusions in the form of actual allegations.” Bright v. Westmoreland Cty., 380 F.3d 729, 735 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Ultimately, a complaint must contain facts sufficient to nudge any claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         B. Analysis

         1. Claims Against the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, and the Bucks County District Attorney's Office

         All of Durham's claims against the three district attorney's offices fail, because they are not entities subject to liability under section 1983. See Reitz v. Cty. of Bucks, 125 F.3d 139, 148 (3d Cir. 1997) (“[T]he Bucks County District Attorney's Office is not an entity for purposes of § 1983 liability . . . .”); Estate of Tyler ex rel. Floyd v. Grossman, 108 F.Supp.3d 279, 288 (E.D Pa. 2015) (relying on Reitz to conclude Philadelphia District Attorney's Office was not subject to suit under section 1983); Dickerson v. Montgomery Cty. Dist. Attorney's Office, No. Civ. A. 04-CV-4454, 2004 WL 2861869, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 10, 2004) (“A review of the relevant Pennsylvania state law reveals that there is no authority permitting Plaintiff to continue this suit against the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office.”). No. facts that Durham could theoretically elicit during discovery could change this result. And even if that were not the case, each of Durham's claims against these defendants would fail because of other deficiencies discussed below.[4]

         a. Malicious Prosecution

         A plaintiff must establish five elements to move forward with a malicious prosecution claim:

(1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiff's favor; (3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause; (4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.

Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 318 F.3d 497, 521 (3d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). There is no real dispute that the defendants initiated criminal proceedings or that Durham was deprived of his liberty in connection with those proceedings, so the court must assess whether he has adequately pled the second, third, and fourth elements for each district attorney's office defendant.

         As to the second element, requiring a plaintiff to demonstrate that the criminal proceeding ended favorably to him “precludes the possibility of the claimant [sic] 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.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 484 (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). That means the plaintiff must show “that a prior criminal case [was] disposed of in a way that indicates the innocence of the accused . . . .” Kossler v. Crisanti, 564 F.3d 181, 187 (3d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). Regarding the third element, probable cause exists if there is a “reasonable ground of suspicion supported by circumstances sufficient to warrant an ordinary prudent man in the same situation in believing that the party is guilty of the offense.” Thomas v. E. J. Korvette, Inc., 476 F.2d 471, 474 (3d Cir. 1973) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Concerning the fourth element, malice is “ill will in the sense of spite, lack of belief by the actor himself in the propriety ...

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