GILES v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION RE: MOTION TO DISMISS. SIGNED BY HONORABLE MITCHELL S. GOLDBERG ON 2/29/2012. 2/29/2012 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(tomg, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA,
February 29, 2012
Plaintiff, Emmit Giles, has brought suit against Defendant, the City of Philadelphia, pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that Defendant has violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth
Amendment rights in withholding the results of an Atomic Absorption test that was performed
during a homicide criminal investigation. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 23.)
Presently before the Court is Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. For reasons set forth below,
the Court will grant Defendant’s motion.
I. Factual Background
Based upon the averments in the complaint, the pertinent facts, viewed in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows:
On August 17, 1989, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with the shooting death of his
girlfriend. Early the next morning, the police conducted an Atomic Absorption test on Plaintiff’s
hands. This test is used to determine whether someone recently fired a weapon. Prior to trial, the
prosecutor did not provide Plaintiff with the results of this test. On October 31, 1990, following a
bench trial, Plaintiff was convicted of second-degree murder. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-9.)
In the years following his conviction, Plaintiff has sought state and federal post-conviction
relief, but never received the results of the Atomic Absorption test. On August 9, 2006, Plaintiff
requested a copy of the test results via correspondence to then Philadelphia Police Commissioner
Sylvester Johnson. Through correspondence dated August 15, 2006, Philadelphia Police Lieutenant
Michael Dwyer denied Plaintiff’s request, stating that Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Act excluded
disclosure of such test results. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-11.)
On September 14, 2006, Plaintiff filed an action in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas,
again seeking the test results. This suit was dismissed on June 1, 2007, for lack of prosecution.
More than one year later, on October 10, 2008, Plaintiff filed an action against Defendant and the
Philadelphia Police Department in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas seeking injunctive relief
to compel the release of the Atomic Absorption test results. On February 27, 2010, the Philadelphia
court denied Plaintiff’s request. Plaintiff commenced the above-captioned matter on June 10, 2011.
(Compl. ¶¶ 12-14.)
II. Standard of Review
When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the facts pled in the complaint
as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Semerenko v. Cendant Corp.,
223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). A complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949
(2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The plausibility standard
requires more than a “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim is time-barred by the two-year statute of
limitations. Plaintiff counters that his claim is not barred because the statute did not begin to run
until he knew that “no other avenues of relief” were available to him. He contends that this date was
February 27, 2010 when the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas denied his request for injunctive
relief. (Pl.’s Resp. 5-6.)
In a § 1983 action, a federal court applies the relevant state statute of limitations for a
personal injury tort action. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 276 (1985); see also Urrutia v.
Harrisburg Cnty. Police Dep’t, 91 F.3d 451, 457 n.9 (1996). Federal courts sitting in Pennsylvania
have determined that, pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5524, a two-year statute of limitations applies.
See Sameric Corp. of Del. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998).
A § 1983 cause of action accrues “when the plaintiff knew or should have known of the
injury upon which its action is based.” Sameric Corp. of Del., 142 F.3d at 599. For example, in
Derrickson v. Del. Cnty. Dist. Attorney’s Office, 2006 WL 2135854 (E.D. Pa. July 26, 2006), the
plaintiff initiated a § 1983 suit against the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office and related
defendants, alleging a violation of due process for refusing to provide him with certain evidence
gathered in his criminal investigation. Derrickson, 2006 WL 2135854, at *1. The court determined
that the plaintiff’s § 1983 cause of action accrued when he received a letter from the prosecutor
rejecting his request for evidence. The court reasoned that the statute began to run at that time
because the plaintiff knew upon receipt of the letter that the prosecutor was withholding the
evidence. Id. at *20-21.
The facts before us are very similar to Derrickson. Viewing these facts in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff, at the very latest, he knew that Defendant would not give him the test results
on August 15, 2006, when he received Lieutenant Dwyer’s correspondence refusing his request. (Id.
¶ 11.) Plaintiff’s cause of action therefore accrued upon his receipt of this letter as he then knew of
the injury of which he now complains. See Sameric Corp. of Del., 142 F.3d at 599; Derrickson,
2006 WL 2135854, at *20-21. Consequently, his filing of the instant suit in 2011 is well beyond the
two-year statute of limitations.
Further, Plaintiff’s contention that the statute of limitations began to run when the
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas denied him injunctive relief does not rest on the applicable
standard. (See Pl.’s Resp. 5.) The statute of limitations accrues when Plaintiff “knew or should have
known” that Defendant denied his request for access to the test results, not when he knew “no other
avenues of relief” could provide him with the evidence. See Sameric Corp. of Del., 142 F.3d at 599.
Accordingly, because Plaintiff commenced this action more than four years after receiving
Lieutenant Dwyer’s letter, his claim is time-barred.1
For the reasons set forth above, Defendant’s motion to dismiss will be granted, and Plaintiff’s
complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Our Order follows.
We note that, because the statute of limitations bars Plaintiff’s claim, the Court need not
address whether the Pennsylvania Criminal History Records Information Act prevents the release
of the results of an Atomic Absorption test in a § 1983 action.
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