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Castillo v. Guzley

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 9, 2019

OFFICER BRYAN GUZLEY, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court by way of a Complaint lodged by Charlie Castillo, proceeding pro se. (ECF No. 2.) Also before the Court are Castillo's Applications to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF Nos. 1, 7), his Motion to Have the Court Mail Copies (ECF No. 5), and his “Petition for a Copy of Booking Photo and Assign[ment] of Counsel” (ECF No. 9). Because it appears that Castillo is unable to afford to pay the filing fee, the Court will grant him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Complaint will be dismissed in part pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), and Castillo will be permitted to file an Amended Complaint within thirty days.

         I. FACTS[1]

         Castillo, a pretrial detainee currently incarcerated at the Lehigh County Jail, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights seeking to assert claims for illegal search, false arrest, false imprisonment, excessive force, illegal seizure, and municipal liability, among others. (ECF No. 2 at 3, 6-8.)[2] In the Complaint, Castillo names the following Defendants: (1) Police Officer Bryan Guzley of the Allentown Police Department; (2) Police Officer Shade, Guzley's partner;[3] (3) the Chief of Police of the Allentown Police Department;[4] (4) the Mayor of the City of Allentown;[5] (5) Marisa R. Lopez Rodriguez, M.D. of St. Luke's Hospital, Emergency Room Department in Allentown; (6) an Attending “John Doe” M.D.; and (7) Israel Colon-Cabeza. (ECF No. 2 at 2-4.)

         Castillo alleges that on or about June 22, 2019, he got into an argument with Luis Colon-Cabeza[6] over money Colon-Cabeza owed Castillo. (Id. at 6.) The argument between Castillo and Luis Colon-Cabeza resulted in a “physical altercation[, ]” which prompted Luis Colon-Cabeza to call the police. (Id.) Castillo asserts that Luis Colon-Cabeza “filed a false report” with the police. (Id.) According to Castillo, the police “officers [then] entered [Castillo's] apartment without a warrant, arrested [Castillo], put [him] in restraints and escorted [him] to the police car.” (Id.) Castillo further asserts that once he was inside the front seat of the police car “for questioning, ” he inquired about his rights, and Officer Guzley then “slammed [Castillo's] face off of the dashboard, causing an open wound on the bridge of [his] nose, cuts to [his right] eyebrow …, and a black eye.” (Id.)

         Following this “unprovoked assault, ” Castillo alleges that he “requested immediate medical attention at the ER to ensure [he] sustained no permanent injuries and as proof of [his] mistreatment.” (Id. at 7.) Castillo contends that upon arrival at the Emergency Room Department at St. Luke's Hospital, Officers Guzley and Shade “painfully and torturously restrain[ed] [him], while the medical personnel who told [the Officers] to ‘hold [him]' took [Castillo's] blood, AGAINST [his] adamant refusal.” (Id..) Additionally, Castillo contends that on the way to the hospital, the Officers confiscated his wallet, which contained his public transportation passes, bankcards, state ID, his Social Security card, and his birth certificate. (ECF No. 2 at 7.) Once at the hospital, Castillo alleges, the Officers then confiscated his glasses and his cell phone. (Id.) Finally, Castillo asserts more generally that “no one read [him his] Miranda Rights” at any time from his first contact with Officers Guzley and Shade through his arrival at Leigh County Jail. (Id.)


         The Court will grant Castillo leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action. Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if, among other things, the Complaint fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains “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) (quotations omitted). Conclusory allegations and generalized statements do not suffice to state a claim. See Id. As Castillo is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         In the Complaint, Castillo seeks to bring claims for violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the vehicle by which federal constitutional claims may be brought in federal court. “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Whether a defendant is acting under color of state law - i.e., whether the defendant is a state actor - depends on whether there is “such a ‘close nexus between the State and the challenged action' that seemingly private behavior ‘may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.'” Leshko v. Servis, 423 F.3d 337, 339 (3d Cir. 2005) (internal quotations omitted).

To answer that question, [the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has] outlined three broad tests generated by Supreme Court jurisprudence to determine whether state action exists: (1) whether the private entity has exercised powers that are traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the state; (2) whether the private party has acted with the help of or in concert with state officials; and (3) whether the state has so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with the acting party that it must be recognized as a joint participant in the challenged activity.

Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 646 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotations and alteration omitted).

         “A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs.” See Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988). Moreover, “[b]ecause vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676.

         A. Official Capacity Claims Against the Officers, Chief of Police and the Mayor

         Castillo seeks to bring § 1983 claims against the Chief of Police of the Allentown Police Department and the Mayor of Allentown, as well as Officers Guzley and Shade, in their official capacities. (ECF No. 2 at 3, 8.) Claims against city officials named in their official capacity are indistinguishable from claims against the city. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (“Official-capacity suits . . . ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'”) (quoting Monell v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 55 (1978)). “[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky, 473 U.S. at 166. In other words, Castillo's official capacity claims are effectively claims against the City of Allentown.

         To plead a basis for municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that the municipality's policy or custom caused the violation of his constitutional rights. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. “To satisfy the pleading standard, [the plaintiff] must . . . specify what exactly that custom or policy was.” McTernan v. City of York, PA, 564 F.3d 636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009). “‘Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.'” Estate of Roman v. City of Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 798 (3d Cir. 2019) (quoting Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). “‘Custom, on the other hand, can be proven by showing that a given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually to constitute law.'” Id. (quoting Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990)). A plaintiff illustrates that a custom was the proximate cause of his injuries by demonstrating that the defendant “had knowledge of similar unlawful conduct in the past, failed to take precautions against future violations, and that its failure, at least in part, led to his injury.” Id. (internal quotations and alterations omitted).

         Alternatively, a plaintiff may also state a basis for municipal liability by “alleging failure-to-supervise, train, or discipline . . . [and alleging facts showing] that said failure amounts to deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of those affected.” Forrest v. Parry, 930 f.3d 93, 106 (3d Cir. 2019). “This consists of a showing as to whether (1) municipal policymakers know that employees will confront a particular situation, (2) the situation involves a difficult choice or a history of employees mishandling, and (3) the wrong choice by an employee will frequently cause deprivation of constitutional rights.” Id.

         Here, Castillo has not plead facts sufficient to state a plausible Monell claim. Castillo's primary relevant allegation is that the Mayor and the Chief of Police, in their official capacities, “are directly responsible for police actions through hiring, training, and supervisory functions of their stations, in accord with local and state law.” (ECF No. 2 at 8.) Castillo does not specify the exact custom or policy that he alleges resulted in a violation of his constitutional rights, see McTernan, 564 F.3d at 658, nor does Castillo allege facts to demonstrate that the City failed to supervise, train, or discipline its municipal employees (in this instance, police officers, ) in a manner that amounts to deliberate indifference. See Forrest, 2019 WL 2998601, at *8. Castillo's conclusory allegations and generalized statements against the City are insufficient to state a plausible Monell claim. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Accordingly, Castillo's official capacity claims against Defendants will be dismissed without prejudice.

         B. Claims Against Medical Personnel at St. ...

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