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Lawson v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 7, 2020

WENDELL LAWSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA and POLICE OFFICER REUBEN ONDARZA, Badge No. 2004, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          DuBois, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case arises from an alleged encounter on the morning of September 27, 2015 between plaintiff Wendell Lawson and defendant Police Officer Reuben Ondarza. Lawson asserts claims against Ondarza for excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and for assault and battery under Pennsylvania state law. Lawson also asserts a Monell claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Philadelphia (“the City”) for the City's alleged failure to properly supervise and discipline its police officers generally, and Ondarza specifically, regarding the use of force. Presently before the Court is the City's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the City's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts[1]

         Plaintiff testified in his deposition that on the morning of September 27, 2015, he was assaulted by a group of men in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pl.'s Resp. Ex. C at 45:20-46:7. After the assault, plaintiff called the police. Id. at 51:16-52:9. As plaintiff was speaking with police dispatch on the telephone, he was approached by defendant Reuben Ondarza, a police officer employed by the City. Id. at 52:23-53:5; Def. Statement Facts ¶ 1. Plaintiff testified that Ondarza told plaintiff, “You're not from around here, ” and pushed him to the ground. Id. As a result, plaintiff suffered a separation of his right shoulder that required reconstructive surgery. Am. Compl. ¶10; Pl.'s Resp. Ex. D.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on December 15, 2017 (Document No. 5). Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on December 22, 2017 (Document No. 8). The Motion was granted in part and denied in part by Memorandum and Order dated February 15, 2018 (Document Nos. 10, 11). The following claims remain in the case: the claim of excessive force against Ondarza in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); the failure-to-supervise and failure-to-discipline claims against the City (Count II); the claim against Ondarza under Pennsylvania state law for assault and battery (Count III).

         On July 11, 2019, the City filed a Motion for Summary Judgment “on all claims made by” plaintiff. Plaintiff responded on July 30, 2019 (Document No. 21). The City replied on August 7, 2019 (Document No. 22). The Motion is thus ripe for decision.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court will grant a motion for summary judgment if “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The Court's role at the summary judgment stage “is not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether . . . there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Id. at 249. However, the existence of a “mere scintilla” of evidence in support of the nonmoving party is insufficient. Id. In making this determination, “the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment[] and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.” Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). The party opposing summary judgment must, however, identify evidence that supports each element on which it has the burden of proof. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         The Court interprets the City's Motion for Summary Judgment “on all claims” made by plaintiff as a motion for summary judgment on Count II of the Amended Complaint because the City is only named as a defendant in that count and, in its Motion, the ...


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