FREEMAN v. MURPHY et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JOEL H. SLOMSKY ON 2/24/2014. 2/25/2014 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(sg, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
OFFICER WILLIAM MURPHY, et al.,
February 24, 2014
Anthony Freeman (“Plaintiff”) brings this action against Police Officer William Murphy
(“Officer Murphy), an unknown police officer (“Unknown Officer”), and the City of Chester,
following his arrests on April 2, 2011 and November 21, 2012.
In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following claims in five counts: (1)
violation of his right to be free from excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, and
malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I)1; (2) failure to train, supervise, and
discipline against the City of Chester pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); (3) assault and
battery under Pennsylvania state law (Count III); (4) malicious prosecution under both 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and Pennsylvania state law (Count IV); and (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress
Presently before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Partially Dismiss the Amended
Complaint and Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition. (Doc. Nos. 11, 12.) Defendants seek to
Plaintiff makes the same claim for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in both
Counts I and IV. The decision of this Court on the sufficiency of this claim will apply to both
dismiss Counts II and IV.2 For reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part Defendants’
Motion to Partially Dismiss the Amended Complaint with respect to Count II. The Court will
deny the Motion with respect to the malicious prosecution claim contained in Counts I and IV.
The case therefore will proceed to discovery on Counts I, III, IV, and V.
Viewing the allegations in the Amended Complaint in the light most favorable to
Plaintiff, he alleges that on April 2, 2011, he attended his cousin’s birthday party on the 800
block of Hinkson Street in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 9 at ¶ 8.) Sometime between 12:00
p.m. and 1:00 p.m., Plaintiff left the party and began walking down the street to his mother’s
house. (Id. at ¶ 9.) As he was walking, Officer Murphy assaulted Plaintiff without warning or
justification, by grabbing the hood of his sweatshirt, dragging him by his hood, pinning him
against a wall, and choking him around his neck. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.) Officer Murphy also
screamed and cursed at him. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Together with Unknown Officer, Officer Murphy
arrested Plaintiff and issued him a citation for Disorderly Conduct of a Hazardous Offensive
Nature. (Id. at ¶ 13.)
According to the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff was never issued a summons to appear
before a Magisterial Court in the City of Chester in connection with this incident. (Id. at ¶ 14.)
On November 21, 2012, however, an arrest warrant was issued for Plaintiff by the Magisterial
Court. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Pursuant to the warrant, Plaintiff was arrested and incarcerated in Delaware
County Prison from November 21, 2012 to November 22, 2012. (Id. at ¶ 16.) On December 13,
On September 20, 2013, a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss was held. At the hearing, Plaintiff
agreed to dismiss his malicious prosecution claim under Pennsylvania state law as alleged in
Count IV. Therefore, only the claim in Count IV for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 will be considered here.
2012, Plaintiff was tried and found not guilty of the charge by Magistrate Judge Vann of the
Chester Magisterial Court. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff instituted the instant action on March 26, 2013.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The motion to dismiss standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is set
forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). After Iqbal, it is clear that “threadbare recitals of
the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice” to
defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 663; see Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544 (2007). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ethypharm S.A. France v.
Abbott Labs., 707 F.3d 223, n.14 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d
239, n. 27 (3d Cir. 2010)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id. “This means that our inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1)
identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory
allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating
whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.” Malleus
v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). A complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff’s
entitlement to relief, it must “show” such an entitlement with its facts. Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (citing Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d
Cir. 2008)). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged — but it has not ‘shown’ — ‘that the pleader
is entitled to relief.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The “plausibility” determination is a “contextspecific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common
Count II (failure to train, supervise, and discipline against the City of
Chester under 42 U.S.C. § 1983) Will Be Dismissed
In Count II of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts a municipal liability claim
against the City of Chester pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. No. 9 at ¶¶ 23-26.) Plaintiff
alleges that “the City of Chester, as a matter of policy and practice, failed to discipline, train,
supervise, or otherwise sanction police officers who violate the rights of citizens, including the
plaintiffs, thus encouraging defendants Officer Murphy and Unknown Officer in this case to
engage in the unlawful and actionable conduct described above.” (Id. at ¶ 24.) Plaintiff claims
that the City of Chester was on notice that they needed to train Officer Murphy and Unknown
Officer prior to this incident, “as other similar incidents have occurred in the past involving
defendants Officer Murphy and Unknown Officer.” (Id. at ¶ 26.)
A governmental entity can only be held responsible under § 1983 “when execution of a
government’s policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts
may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts injury.” Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of
City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694-95 (1978). In City of Canton v. Harris, the Supreme Court
held that “the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where
the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the
police come into contact.” 489 U.S. 378, 388-89 (1989). The Supreme Court has also noted that
“[a] pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ‘ordinarily necessary’
to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train.” Connick v. Thompson,
131 S. Ct. 1350, 1360 (2011). Further, a municipality’s failure to train its employees must
amount to “deliberate indifference to the rights of persons which whom the [untrained
employees] come into contact.” Connick, 131 S. Ct. at 1370-71 (citing City of Canton, 489 U.S.
at 388.) “[P]roving that an injury or accident could have been avoided if an [employee] had had
better or more training, sufficient to equip him to avoid the particular injury-causing conduct”
will not suffice.”) Id.
To establish a municipal liability claim, a plaintiff “must identify a custom or policy, and
specify what exactly that custom or policy was.” Id. at 658. “Mere assertion of an entitlement to
relief, without some factual showing, is insufficient.” Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also
Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231–32 (3d Cir. 2008) (pleading standards require
“a showing, rather than blanket assertion of entitlement to relief”) (internal quotations omitted).
Viewing the Amended Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, it fails to
identify a specific custom or policy sanctioned by the City of Chester which caused the alleged
constitutional harm. Rather, the Amended Complaint contains a general allegation that “as a
matter of policy and practice, [the City of Chester] failed to discipline, train, supervise, or
otherwise sanction police officers who violate the rights of citizens, including the plaintiffs, thus
encouraging defendants Officer Murphy and Unknown Officer in this case to engage in the
unlawful and actionable conduct described above.” (Doc. No. 9 at ¶ 24.) Plaintiff fails to allege
any specific examples of the policy or practice to which he refers. Plaintiff also fails to provide
any specific facts to support this general allegation of municipal liability. Specific examples of
training, practice, or procedure are needed to establish such a claim. See Hewitt v. Luquis, 2012
WL 3704814, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 28, 2012) (dismissing plaintiff’s failure to train claim for
failing to “provide even one fact supporting a specific practice or procedure that [defendant]
failed to employ”); Bradshaw v. Township of Middleton, 145 Fed. Appx. 763, 768 (3d Cir. 2005)
(dismissing plaintiff’s failure to train claim for failing to state “specific examples of training”
needed to support such a claim); Almodovar v. City of Philadelphia, 528 Fed.Appx. 129 (3d Cir.
2013) (holding that a complaint stating that “lack of training, oversight, and rules” led to attack
on plaintiff was nothing more than a conclusory allegation).
Moreover, Plaintiff does not allege the requisite contemporaneous knowledge that would
establish § 1983 municipal liability under Monell and its progeny. Instead, Plaintiff makes a
general statement that the City of Chester was on notice that Office Murphy and Unknown
Officer were involved in similar incidents in the past, but does not explain or elaborate on these
“similar incidents” — when they occurred, what happened, or how the City of Chester’s failure
to train caused the incidents. Russoli v. Salisbury Township, 126 F.Supp. 2d 821, 865 (E.D.Pa.
2000) (refusing to find that a municipality had knowledge of “similar incidents” even where
plaintiff clearly established that the municipality knew of one similar instance, but only generally
referred to other similar instances).
Finally, Plaintiff does not establish that the City of Chester’s failure to train its police
officers reflects deliberate indifference to the constitutional deprivations that Plaintiff alleges
here. See City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 389 (“Only where a municipality's failure to train its
employees in a relevant respect evidences a “deliberate indifference” to the rights of its
inhabitants can such a shortcoming be properly thought of as a city “policy or custom” that is
actionable under § 1983.”). In fact, Plaintiff does not assert any type of deliberate indifference
against the City of Chester in his Amended Complaint.
Given these limited allegations, Count II against the City of Chester will be dismissed.
2. Plaintiff’s Claim for Malicious Prosecution Alleged in Counts I and IV Against
Officer Murphy and Unknown Officer Will Not Be Dismissed
To establish a claim for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
satisfy the following five elements:
(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal
proceeding ending in his favor; (3) the defendant initiated the
proceeding without probable cause; (4) the defendant acted
maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to
justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty
consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal
Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 81-82 (3d Cir. 2007).
Viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Amended Complaint
alleges facts sufficient to establish the above five elements that are required to allege a malicious
prosecution claim. The Amended Complaint contains the following factual allegations:
10. While walking to his mother’s house without warning or
justification, defendant Officer William Murphy assaulted the
plaintiff by grabbing the plaintiff from behind around plaintiff’s
sweatshirt hood and neck.
11. Defendant Murphy then continued his assault upon the
plaintiff by dragging the plaintiff by his hood, pinning the plaintiff
against a wall, and choking the plaintiff around his neck.
12. While choking the plaintiff, Defendant Murphy screamed at
the plaintiff “What the f***, you think you can just stand your
mother******* a** out here.”
13. Defendants Murphy and Unknown officer then illegally
arrested and then issued the plaintiff with a citation for Disorderly
Conduct of a Hazardous Offensive Nature.
(Doc. No. 9 at ¶¶ 10-13.) According to these facts, Defendants initiated a criminal proceeding
against Plaintiff when they arrested him without justification and issued him a citation for
Disorderly Conduct of a Hazardous Offensive Nature. (Id. at ¶ 13.) This criminal proceeding
ended in Plaintiff’s favor when he was found not guilty of the charges by Judge Vann of the
Chester Magisterial Court. (Id. at ¶ 17.) From these facts, it does not appear that Defendants had
probable cause to arrest Plaintiff. Further, when viewing these facts in the light most favorable
to Plaintiff, they establish that Defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing
Plaintiff to justice. Finally, the arrest caused Plaintiff to suffer a deprivation of liberty. Thus, the
facts as alleged in the Complaint support a claim for malicious prosecution.
In seeking dismissal of the malicious prosecution claim, Defendants argue that Plaintiff
was arrested on November 21, 2012 pursuant to a warrant that was issued when Plaintiff failed to
appear in court. Defendants assert that this arrest was not connected to their actions but could
only have been pursuant to a warrant issued by the Magisterial Court for Plaintiff’s failure to
appear at a hearing. The Amended Complaint, however, alleges that Plaintiff was arrested twice,
first on April 2, 2011 and again on November 21, 2012, which is the date that Defendants
highlight. On April 2, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested by Officer Murphy and Unknown Officer
when they issued him a citation for Disorderly Conduct of a Hazardous Offensive Nature. As
stated above, the facts surrounding the April 2, 2011 arrest are sufficient to establish a claim for
Plaintiff was also arrested on November 21, 2012, but Defendants have not provided the
Court with any documentation to support their argument that this second arrest was not
connected to the April 2, 2011 incident or to the actions of Defendants. The Court will not
speculate on the reason for the second arrest. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claim for malicious
prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as alleged in Counts I and IV will proceed.3
Because Plaintiff has not satisfied the elements of the claim contained in Count II, the
Court will grant in part Defendants’ Motion to Partially Dismiss the Amended Complaint with
respect to the Monell claim. (Doc. No. 11.) The case will proceed on Counts I, III, IV, and V.
An appropriate Order follows.
As noted, at the September 20, 2013 hearing, the parties agreed to dismiss the claim for
malicious prosecution under Pennsylvania state law. Therefore, the above discussion relates only
to the federal malicious prosecution claim.
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