Holmes v. City of Wilmington et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Sue L. Robinson on 4/19/2017. (nmfn)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
CITY OF WILMINGTON, Wilmington Police
Detective KIMBERLY PFAFF, Wilmington
Police Detective RANDY HOWELL, and
Police Members JOHN DOE Numbers One
Through Ten, Badge Numbers Unknown,
Civ. No. 13-842-SLR
Derek C. Abbott, Esquire of Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP, Wilmington,
Delaware. Counsel for Plaintiff. Of Counsel: L. Kenneth Chotiner, Esquire of The
Chotiner Firm, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Sarah A. Fruehauf, Esquire of City of Wilmington Law Department, Wilmington,
Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.
On May 13, 2013, Medford Holmes ("Holmes") filed a complaint against
defendants City of Wilmington (the "City"), police detective Kimberly Pfaff ("Pfaff'),
police detective Randy Nowell ("Nowell"), and John Doe numbers 1 through 10
(collectively, the "defendants") asserting various federal civil rights and state law tort
claims. (D.I. 1) After Holmes death, the court granted a motion to substitute Patricia
Holmes, the personal representative of Holmes' estate, as plaintiff in this case (the
"plaintiff'). (D.I. 15) Currently pending before the court is defendants' motion for
summary judgment. (D.I. 47) The court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons discussed below, the defendants'
motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.
In May 2011, Holmes was arrested on charges of First Degree Murder. (D.I. 48
at 2) Three witnesses were presented at Holmes criminal trial in September 2011. (Id.
at 4) Two witnesses were unable to identify Holmes and a third witness was not asked
to make an identification. (Id.) After the trial ended in a mistrial, the prosecuting
attorney decided to nolle prosequi the charges. (Id. at 5)
The complaint alleges that defendants deprived Holmes of:
[his] right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, excessive
force, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, verbal
abuse, to be secure in ones' [sic] person and property, and to due
process [both procedural and substantive] and equal protection of law ...
under the laws and Constitution of the United States, in particular the
First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments thereof, and 42
U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985.
39) Holmes asserted a separate claim against the City for municipal liability
under42 U.S.C. § 1983, often referred to as a Monell claim. (Id.
complaint further claimed that defendants were "acting in concert and conspiracy" to
deprive Holmes of these rights. (Id.
45) Lastly, Holmes alleged that defendants
committed the Delaware common law torts of "assault and battery, false imprisonment,
intentional infliction of emotional distress, interference with state constitutional rights,
[simple] negligence, gross negligence, and negligent hiring, training, retention and
In briefing on a previous motion to dismiss, Holmes asked the court to dismiss
his claims for equal protection, verbal abuse, conspiracy, all state law claims against the
City, and state law claims against the individual defendants for intentional infliction of
emotional distress and simple negligence. (D.I. 19 at 1 n. 1) The court obliged Holmes
on this request. (D.I. 21 at 8 n. 9; D.I. 22) Separately, the court dismissed the
excessive force and substantive due process claims for failure to state a claim as a
matter of law. (D.I. 21
28 & 36; D.I. 22) The court also found that the complaint
failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim under Twombly for procedural due
process and false arrest/false imprisonment. (D.I. 21
34, 39) Neither the
memorandum nor the order explicitly stated that the procedural due process and false
arrest/false imprisonment claims were being dismissed, but the memorandum clearly
stated that plaintiff had leave to cure the pleading deficiencies, and the order gave
plaintiff until March 4, 2015 to file an amended complaint. (D.I. 21
34 & 39; D.I.
22) Plaintiff did not file an amended complaint by that date. Accordingly, the claims for
procedural due process and false arrest/false imprisonment are hereby dismissed with
prejudice for failure to state a claim.
In briefing on the instant motion, plaintiff has asked the court to dismiss the
Monell claims against the City and all claims against the John Doe Defendants. (D.I. 56
at 2) As a result of all these procedural developments, the following claims remain
subject to defendants' motion for summary judgment: a malicious prosecution claim, a §
1983 Fourth Amendment claim, and claims against Pffaff and Nowell for the Delaware
common law torts of assault and battery, false imprisonment, interference with state
constitutional rights, and gross negligence.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
"The court shall grant 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). The moving party bears the burden of
demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 415 U.S. 475, 586 n. 10 (1986). A party asserting that a fact
cannot be-or, alternatively, is-genuinely disputed must support the assertion either by
citing to "particular parts of materials in the record," or by "showing that the materials
cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse
party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed. R. Civ. P.
56(c)(1 )(A) & (B). If the moving party has carried its burden, the nonmovant must then
"come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."
Matsushita, 415 U.S. at 587 (internal quotation marks omitted). The court will "draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc.,
530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).
To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party "must present
more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the
existence of a genuine issue." Podohnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d
Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although the "mere existence of some
alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly
supported motion for summary judgment," a factual dispute is genuine where "the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). "If the evidence is merely
colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at
249-50 (internal citations omitted); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986) (stating that entry of summary judgment is mandated "against a party who fails to
make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial").
For the reasons explained below, the court will grant defendants' motion on the
malicious prosecution claim, deny summary judgment on the § 1983 Fourth Amendment
claim, and grant summary judgment on the remaining state law claims asserted against
the officer defendants.
Malicious Prosecution Claim
In order to prove a claim for malicious prosecution, plaintiff must show that "(1)
the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding, (2) the criminal proceeding ended in the
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 a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of
seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding." McKenna v. City of Phi/a., 582 F.3d
447, 461 (3d Cir. 2009). On the previous motion to dismiss, the court warned plaintiff
that the complaint failed to allege facts sufficient to support an element of the malicious
prosecution claim, namely that the criminal proceeding ended in plaintiff's favor. (D.I.
21 at 1f 31) As the court explained, "a nolle prosequi satisfies the favorable termination
requirement only if the record indicates the reason for the entry of the nolle prosequi."
(Id. at 1f 32) More specifically, for a nolle prosequi to be a "favorable termination," the
court must find that the charges were dismissed due to indications that the accused was
actually innocent. Donahue v. Gavin, 280 F.3d 371, 383-84 (3d Cir. 2002). Plaintiff's
complaint was silent as to why the nolle prosequi was entered and plaintiff did not
amend the complaint to cure that defect. (D.I. 1)
The only evidence of why the State decided to nolle prosequi the charges against
Holmes is the criminal docket which states "3/15/2013 - nolle prosequi filed by attorney
general - reason: (14) credibility of witnesses." (D.I. 50 at A-531 ). The reason given by
the State does not establish that the charges were dismissed because Holmes was
innocent. Indeed, the Third Circuit has stated that a prosecutor's decision to dismiss
charges due to lack of evidence to meet burden of proof after witness identifications
were suppressed does not satisfy the favorable termination element of a malicious
prosecution claim. See Woodyard v. Cty. of Essex, 2013 WL 791634, at *5 n. 2 (3rd
Cir. Mar. 5, 2013). Plaintiff has other theories as to why the State thought the evidence
was insufficient to proceed, but they are based on nothing more than speculation, which
is not enough to raise a genuine issue of material fact. Lexington Ins. Co. v. W Pa.
Hosp., 423 F.3d 318, 333 (3d Cir. 2005) ("Speculation does not create a genuine issue
of fact; instead, it creates a false issue, the demolition of which is a primary goal of
summary judgment."). Accordingly, defendants' motion for summary judgment in their
favor on the malicious prosecution claim is granted.
§ 1983 Fourth Amendment Claim
Defendants argued that the officer defendants are entitled to qualified immunity
on plaintiffs§ 1983 Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. (D.I. 48) For the
reasons explained above, the court has dismissed the Fourteenth Amendment claim for
failure to amend the complaint to satisfy the pleading standards under Twombly,
thereby leaving only the Fourth Amendment claim subject to defendants' qualified
immunity argument. Defendants' brief did not squarely address whether Pfaff and
Nowell are subject to qualified immunity against the § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim,
having focused instead exclusively on the § 1983 Fourteenth Amendment claim.
Accordingly, defendants motion for summary judgment on the § 1983 Fourth
Amendment claim is denied.
State Law Claims
Defendants have moved for summary judgment on any remaining state law
claims asserted against Pfaff and Nowell, arguing that those claims are barred by the
Municipal Tort Claims Act. (D.I. 48 at 19-20) Plaintiff did not respond to this argument
at all. (D.I. 56) Accordingly, the court will grant defendants' motion for summary
judgment on the state law claims against the officer defendants.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff's claims for procedural due process and false
arrest/false imprisonment are dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim. The
court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's malicious
prosecution claim and remaining state law claims, and denies summary judgment on
the§ 1983 Fourth Amendment claim.
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