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Lee v. City of Chester

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 31, 2019

BONG LEE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHESTER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Tucker, J.

         Before the Court is Defendant Officer Todd Rose's (“Defendant” or “Defendant Rose”) Motion for Summary Judgement (Doc. 16), Plaintiff Bong Lee's (“Plaintiff”) response thereto (Doc. 19), and Defendant's Reply (Doc. 20). Upon consideration of the Parties' submissions and exhibits and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiff commenced this action in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Defendants City of Chester, Officer Todd Rose, and Unknown City of Chester Police Officers. See Compl., Doc. 1. Plaintiff pled state law and constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Rose include: false arrest and false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, excessive force, defamation, and false light invasion of privacy. Plaintiff's claims against the Unknown Officers include: malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff's claims against the City of Chester include: failure to properly train and supervise the Defendant officers.

         On June 13, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or in the alternative for a More Definite Statement. Doc. 5. On May 10, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Mot. to Dismiss Order, Doc. 11. Specifically, the Court denied Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and excessive force. The Court granted Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's failure to train claim, removing the City of Chester as a defendant. In addition, the Court granted Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's claims of defamation and false light invasion of privacy, removing Defendant as to these claims. Mot. to Dismiss Order, Doc. 11. The Court denied Defendants' Motion for a More Definite Statement. Mot. to Dismiss Order, Doc. 11.

         On June 7, 2018, Defendant Rose filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint with Affirmative Defenses. Def. Answer, Doc. 12. Discovery was completed on November 5, 2018. See Scheduling Order, Doc. 15. This matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, summary judgment is granted.

         II. STATEMENT OF FACTS[1]

         On September 21, 2016, Plaintiff was working as the manager of Angel Cleaner II (“Angel Cleaner”) in Chester, Pennsylvania. Pl. Dep. 12:2-15; 13:10-11; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1, Doc. 16. That same afternoon, Defendant entered Angel Cleaner to retrieve a garment he had left for cleaning. Pl. Dep. 51:3-6; 54:4-6; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1. Plaintiff explained to Defendant that the spot on his shirt could not be removed without damaging the garment. Pl. Dep. 55:13-19; Def. Dep. 18:19-24; 19:6. Defendant then refused to pay for the shirt and walked out of the store while cursing at Plaintiff. Pl. Dep. 54:9-12; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1.

         Juanita Simpkins (“Ms. Simpkins”) and Kathleen Clarke (“Ms. Clarke”) entered the store approximately five to ten minutes after Defendant left. Pl. Dep. 61:21-24; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1. Ms. Simpkins alerted Plaintiff that Angel Cleaner damaged the buttons on a pair of pants that she previously had cleaned. Pl. Dep. 62:10-24; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1. Plaintiff agreed to re-attach the buttons at no charge, but declined to reimburse Ms. Simpkins for the pants. Pl. Dep. 63:4-12; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1. Plaintiff asserts that Ms. Simpkins stated that she was going to call the police, at which time Ms. Clarke went outside to phone the police. Pl. Dep. 63:15-17; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1.[2] In the interim, Plaintiff opines that she was in the process of locating the clothing listed on the receipt that Ms. Simpkins presented to her for pickup. Pl. Dep. 64:12-16; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1.

         The Delaware County 911 dispatcher radioed the police supervisor in response to Ms. Simpkin's report of the dispute at Angel Cleaner. Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 2. The police supervisor advised the dispatcher that the “first available” officer would respond. Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 2. Defendant responded to the radio call and was advised by the dispatcher that “the caller is a customer and the clerk [was] refusing to give the clothes to the complainant and also [that] they appear[ed] to be damaged.” Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 2. Thereafter, the Parties largely dispute the version of events. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant walked in while she was looking for Ms. Simpkin's clothing. Pl. Dep. 66:16-18; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3. Plaintiff further contends that she tried to talk to Defendant when he walked in, at which point he told her to shut up. Pl. Dep. 68:22-24; Pl's Br. Opp'n Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 2, Doc 19-2. Thereafter, Plaintiff placed Ms. Simpkin's clothing on the hanger and told her the price she owed for the cleaning, to which Defendant responded, “no pay” and proceeded to arrest her. Pl. Dep. 69:12-14; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 3-4. Next, Plaintiff describes Defendant grabbing her left arm first and then the right arm, putting them behind her back, and placing them in handcuffs. Pl. Dep. 72:18-20; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 4. Afterwards, Defendant dragged her to the police car and pushed her into the car with her hands handcuffed behind her back. Pl. Dep. 74:1-2; 75:10-11.

         Once at the police station, Defendant took Plaintiff into a building and handcuffed her to a wooden chair with her hands behind her back. Pl. Dep. 79:17-24. Defendant left and Plaintiff began to complain that the handcuffs were hurting her. Pl. Dep. 80:14-15; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 5. Thirty minutes later an unnamed police officer repositioned the handcuffs from behind her back and fastened them to the chair. Pl. Dep. 80:14-18.

         Plaintiff was released from custody that day and charged with theft by unlawful taking and theft by deception. Pl's Br. Opp' Supp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. G; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 7. On January 23, 2017 Plaintiff attended a preliminary hearing before Magisterial Disrict Judge Wilden Davis. Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 7. At this hearing, Judge Wilkins entered an order that notified Plaintiff that “[she was] convicted of or pled guilty to violating the above charge(s)[3] and [he] sentenced [her] to the following: [f]ines, [c]osts, and [r]estitution”, which totaled $161.00. Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 8. The order further outlined that Plaintiff could “change [her] guilty plea to a not guilty plea by notifying the Magisterial District Judge in writing within 30 days after [her] sentence [was] imposed” and that if she “changed [her] plea, the Magisterial District Judge [would] vacate this sentence” and forward her case to “the Court of Common pleas for further proceedings.” Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J., Ex. N. Plaintiff received the order and paid the fines, costs, and restitution, at which time the charges against her were dismissed. Pl. Dep. 93:7-18; Def.'s Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 8.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is awarded only when “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sweeney, 689 F.3d 288, 292 (3d Cir. 2012). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, there must be a factual dispute that is both genuine and material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-49, (1986); Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 549 F.3d 225, 229 (3d Cir. 2008). A “material” fact is one “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law[.]” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute over a material fact is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of a material fact. Goldenstein v. Repossessors, Inc., 815 F.3d 142, 146 (3d Cir. 2016). “Where the defendant is the moving party, the burden is on the defendant to show that the plaintiff has failed to establish one or more essential elements of her case.” Burton v. Teleflex Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d Cir. 2013). If the movant sustains its initial burden, “the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410, 416 (3d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)).

         At the summary judgment stage, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted); Jiminez v. All American Rathskeller, Inc., 503 F.3d 247, 253 (3d Cir. 2007). In doing so, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Horsehead Indus., Inc. v. Paramount Communications, Inc., 258 F.3d 132, 140 (3d Cir. 2001). Nonetheless, the court must be mindful that “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Plaintiff is suing under Section 1983, a civil rights law passed by Congress that provides a remedy to persons who have been deprived of their federal constitutional or statutory rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides in pertinent part as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the ...

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