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Dillon v. Munley

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2019

VERTIS DILLON, III, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN MUNLEY, et al., Defendants.

          Caputo, Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SUSAN E. SCHWAB, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. Introduction.

         This action comes before this court for a screening review of the complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the complaint states false-arrest claims against two of the defendants (Detectives Munley and Conrad), but that the complaint otherwise fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Although we granted the plaintiff Vertis Dillon, III leave to file an amended complaint, he has informed the court that he will not be filing an amended complaint. Thus, we recommend that the court dismiss all Dillon's claims except the false-arrest claims against Detectives Munley and Conrad.

         II. Background.

         Dillion, a pre-trial detainee at the Lackawanna County Prison, commenced this action pro se on July 17, 2019, by filing a complaint, along with an application to proceed in forma pauperis. The defendants named are John Munley and Corey Conrad, who are identified as detectives with the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office; the city of Scranton; and the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office. Dillon brings his claims against Detectives Munley and Conrad in both their individual and official capacities.

         Dillon contends that Detectives Munley and Conrad arrested him without probable cause. He also alleges that Munley lied in an affidavit of probable cause.[1]According to Dillon, Munley stated that on the evening of June 14, 2019, he observed Dillon drive past him without his headlights. In the affidavit of probable cause, Munley recounted that he pursued Dillon and activated his lights and siren to conduct a traffic stop, but Dillon accelerated and began throwing plastic baggies containing suspected crack cocaine from his vehicle. After Munley radioed for assistance, another officer retrieved the baggies that Dillon had purportedly thrown from his vehicle. According to Munley's affidavit of probable cause, after a further chase, Dillon abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot. Munley asserted that he searched Dillon's vehicle and found four plastic bags containing what was suspected to be crack cocaine as well as a cell phone, which was open and on which Munley could see text messages coming in for Dillon. Munley put out a BOLO for Dillon.

         Dillon contends that Munley provided false information in his affidavit of probable cause and that Munley had not identified Dillon as the driver of the vehicle in question at the time. According to Dillon, Munley stated in an incident report that there was no identification of the driver, and only 30 minutes later was he purportedly identified as the driver.[2] Dillon also alleges that a newspaper article regarding the incident stated that there was no identification of the driver.

         Dillon alleges that Munley also made knowingly false statements in connection with the affidavit of probable cause to search the phone that Munley found in the vehicle. According to Dillon, although Munley stated that he saw text messages coming in for Dillon, after the phone was searched, nothing was found, not even a text message.

         Although Dillon claims that Detectives Munley and Conrad falsely arrested him, it is not clear from the complaint exactly when or how Dillon was arrested. He cryptically states that “Munley, is currently trying to obtain identification of Plaintiff to have probable cause for his arrest of Plaintiff, ” and that “Munley should have obtained this information prior to arresting” him. Doc. 1 at 4. At some point, a buccal swab of Dillon was taken at the Lackawanna County Courthouse. During that process, Dillon alleges, after he told Munley that he would sue him for arresting him for a crime he did not commit, Munley and Conrad responded that they did not care because the money would come from the county, and Conrad said he had only seven dollars in his account.

         Dillon alleges that Munley and Conrad radioed that the driver of the vehicle was a black male even though they had “no proof of knowing who the driver was, ” which, according to Dillon, was racial profiling by Munley. Dillon maintains that he did not commit any crime, that the defendants arrested him without probable cause, and that they provided false information in an affidavit of probable cause with “ill intent.” Id. at 5-6.

         According to Dillon, the City of Scranton has a custom of allowing its police officers to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of its citizens. Dillon alleges that the City of Scranton is aware that the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office knows that law enforcement officers have committed “unlawful arrest, but have done nothing to correct it.” Id. at 5. He contends that officers previously arrested citizens with false information, were caught doing so, but were not prosecuted or disciplined. Dillon claims that the City of Scranton's inaction has caused other law enforcement officials in Scranton to make a mockery of the Fourth Amendment.

         Dillon sets forth four counts in his complaint:[3] a count for false arrest/false imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [4] a count for false arrest/false imprisonment under state law, a count for malicious prosecution under state law, and a Monell[5]claim against the City of Scranton.

         We granted Dillon's application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, and we later screened the complaint. Although we granted Dillon leave to file an amended complaint, he has informed the court that he will not be filing an amended complaint. See doc. 10.

         III. Screening of In Forma Pauperis Complaints-Standard of Review.

         This court has a statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of complaints brought by prisoners given leave to proceed in forma pauperis in cases that seek redress against government officials. Specifically, the court must review the complaint in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which provides, in pertinent part:

(a) Screening. The court shall review, before docketing, if feasible or, in any event, as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
(b) Grounds for dismissal. On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the ...

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