IHLENFELD v. DARBY BOROUGH POLICE DEPARTMENT et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE GERALD J. PAPPERT ON 1/13/17. 1/13/17 ENTERED & E-MAILED.(fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DARBY BOROUGH POLICE
DEPARTMENT et al.,
January 13, 2017
Dennis Ihlenfeld was arrested in 2014 for his role in an alleged fight in which he was
accused of trying to run over another man with his truck. Ultimately, prosecutors decided not to
pursue a case against him. Ihlenfeld sued the Borough of Darby, Officer Mathew Barr, Police
Chief Robert Smythe and four John Doe Defendants alleging constitutional violations under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution,
assault and battery. The Defendants moved to dismiss all claims. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court grants Defendants’ Motion.
On May 14, 2014 Darby Borough Police Officer Mathew Barr responded to a call to
investigate an ongoing fight at a residence. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20, ECF No. 12.) On his way to the
incident, Officer Barr received an update that a suspect was attempting to run over another
person with a truck. (Id. ¶ 21.) By the time he arrived, however, the fight was over.
At the scene, Officer Barr met the alleged victim, Isheem Smith. Smith told Officer Barr
that Plaintiff Dennis Ihlenfeld had started a fight with him over a set of tools. (Id. ¶ 22.)
Ihlenfeld had loaned tools to Jamie Wright, who lived with Smith.1 When Ihlenfeld came to
collect the tools, Smith did not allow him to enter the property. (Id. ¶ 26.) According to Smith,
Ihlenfeld proceeded to verbally berate him while brandishing a metal pole. (Id.) Smith ran from
Ihlenfeld and Ihlenfeld chased him in his truck, in an attempt to run him over. (Id. ¶ 28.) Smith
claimed that he was ultimately forced to dive into shrubbery to avoid being hit. (Id. ¶ 29.) Smith
provided a written statement to police. (Defs.’ Ex. D-1, Affidavit of Probable Cause, hereafter
“Affidavit.”) Officer Barr also showed Smith a photo of Ihlenfeld which Smith positively
identified as a picture of his attacker. (Id.)
Officer Barr recorded all of the above information in his affidavit of probable cause.2 See
(Affidavit). Based on Barr’s affidavit, a neutral magistrate issued a warrant for Ihlenfeld’s arrest.
(Am. Compl. ¶ 32.) Later that day, three or four Darby Borough police officers arrested
Ihlenfeld for aggravated assault, simple assault and terroristic threats. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 4, 34.) Ihlenfeld
was incarcerated for approximately four or five days. (Id. ¶ 33.) During his incarceration, he
allegedly suffered extreme pain and discomfort due to his medical condition, endocarditis, which
was exacerbated by jail conditions and jail personnel’s failure to provide him with his
medication. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 38.)
On June 11, 2014 a preliminary hearing was held in the Darby Borough Magisterial
District Court, where, according to Ihlenfeld, Smith provided inconsistent and perjurious
Smith told Officer Barr that Wright was his friend and roommate while, in reality, Wright is Smith’s father
and was employed by Ihlenfeld. (Id. ¶¶ 23–24.)
“In deciding motions under Rule 12(b)(6), courts may consider documents integral to or explicitly relied
upon in the complaint or any undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to
dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document.” In re Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig. (No. VI), 822 F.3d
125, 133 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Ihlenfeld’s claims are based on his allegedly
unlawful arrest made by Officer Barr pursuant to a warrant supported by an affidavit. Defendants have attached
Officer Barr’s affidavit of probable cause to their motion to dismiss. Ihlenfeld acknowledges the affidavit’s
authenticity by citing to it repeatedly in his response to the Defendants’ motion. See, e.g., (Pl.’s Resp., at 3–5, ECF
testimony. (Id. ¶¶ 41–42.) Nevertheless, Ihlenfeld’s charges were held over after the hearing.
(Id. ¶ 88.) The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, however, ultimately decided not to
pursue the case against Ihlenfeld and all charges were dismissed with prejudice on December 17,
2014. (Id. ¶ 40.)
Ihlenfeld sued the Darby Borough Police Department and Officer Barr on April 27, 2016.
(ECF No. 1.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on August 16, 2016. (ECF No. 9.) Ihlenfeld
filed an amended complaint against the Borough of Darby, Officer Barr, Police Chief Robert
Smythe and four John Doe Defendants on September 6, 2016. (ECF No. 12.) Defendants’ filed
a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on September 20, 2016. (ECF No. 15.) Ihlenfeld
filed a response on October 11, 2016, (ECF No. 17), and Defendants filed their reply on October
14, 2016, (ECF No. 18).
To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide “more than
labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (citation omitted). While a
complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide “more than an unadorned, thedefendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
Twombly and Iqbal require the Court to take three steps to determine whether the second
amended complaint will survive Defendants’ motion to dismiss. See Connelly v. Lane Const.
Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, it must “take note of the elements the plaintiff
must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, it must identify the
allegations that are no more than legal conclusions and thus “not entitled to the assumption of
truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where the complaint includes well-pleaded
factual allegations, the Court “should assume their veracity and then determine whether they
plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
This “presumption of truth attaches only to those allegations for which there is sufficient
factual matter to render them plausible on their face.” Schuchardt v. President of the United
States, 839 F.3d 336, 347 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotation and citation omitted). “Conclusory
assertions of fact and legal conclusions are not entitled to the same presumption.” Id. This
plausibility determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on
its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. (quoting Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786–87).
This plausibility standard, however, “does not impose a heightened pleading
requirement” and does not require a plaintiff to plead specific facts. Id. In other words, “courts
cannot inject evidentiary issues into the plausibility determination.” Id. The Third Circuit has
also made it clear that “at least for purposes of pleading sufficiency, a complaint need not
establish a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss” because a “prima facie case
is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement and hence is not proper measure of
whether a complaint fails to state a claim.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 789 (internal quotations and
citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff should plead “enough facts to raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements.” Id. (quoting Phillips
v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).
Ihlenfeld asserts claims against all Defendants3 under § 1983 for false arrest and
imprisonment under the Fourth Amendment and for allegedly improper medical care he received
while incarcerated under the Fourteenth Amendment. To establish a prima facie case under
§ 1983, Ihlenfeld must show that a person acting under color of law deprived him of “rights,
privileges, or immunities” secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. 42 U.S.C. §
1983; see Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 786 (3d Cir. 2000).
Ihlenfeld claims police arrested him pursuant to a warrant that was not supported by
probable cause. Because Ihlenfeld was arrested pursuant to a warrant, he must plead facts
demonstrating that (1) the officer “knowingly and deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for
the truth, made false statements or omissions that create a falsehood in applying for a warrant”
and (2) that “such statements or omissions are material, or necessary, to the finding of probable
cause.” Wilson, 212 F.3d at 786–87; see also Paszkowski v. Roxbury Tp. Police Dept., 581 F.
App’x 149, 152 (3d Cir. 2014). Statements are “made with reckless disregard” for the truth
when an officer has “obvious reasons to doubt the accuracy of the information he reported” or
when he has “serious doubts as to the truth of his statements.” Id. at 788. “[O]missions are
Ihlenfeld purports to sue Chief Smythe, Officer Barr and the John Doe Defendants in both their official and
individual capacities. “Individual, or personal, capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government
official for actions he takes under the color of state law.” Helm, 2015 WL 437661, at *9 (citing Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)). “Official capacity suits, however, are just another way of pleading an action
against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Id.; see also Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55
(1978). Therefore, if “the governmental entity receives notice of the suit and an opportunity to respond to it, an
official-capacity suit is, in all respects, to be treated as a suit against the government entity itself.” Helm, 2015 WL
437661, at *9 (citing Graham, 473 U.S. at 166).
Because Ihlenfeld also sued the Borough of Darby, his official capacity claims against Chief Smythe,
Officer Barr and the John Doe Defendants are redundant. The Court analyzes the claims against these individuals in
their individual, not official, capacities.
made with reckless disregard for the truth when an officer recklessly omits facts that any
reasonable person would know that a judge would want to know.” Id. at 783 (quotation omitted).
Ihlenfeld does not allege that Office Barr made false statements or omissions in his
application for an arrest warrant. He asserts instead that Office Barr “made no attempts to
independently corroborate” Smith’s story with Ihlenfeld or other witnesses prior to Ihlenfeld’s
arrest. (Am. Compl. ¶ 27.) Ihlenfeld asserts that this failure to corroborate amounts to causing a
warrant to issue in reckless disregard of the truth. (Id. ¶ 32.) This argument is meritless.
Once an officer believes he has probable cause, he is “not required to undertake an
exhaustive investigation in order to validate the probable cause that, in his mind, already
existed.” Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 790 n.8 (3d Cir. 2000); see also
Lincoln v. Hanshaw, No. 08-4207, 2009 WL 1259099, at *5 (E.D. Pa. May 6, 2009) (quoting
Vassalo v. Timoney, No. 00-84, 2001 WL 1243517, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 15, 2001) (“An officer
who has probable cause to arrest is not required to conduct further investigation for exculpatory
evidence or to pursue the possibility that the suspected offender is innocent.”)). Thus, the “mere
fact that a police investigation could have been more thorough does not vitiate probable cause.”
Mitchell v. Obenski, 134 F. App’x 548, 551 (3d Cir. 2005). This is because “the probable cause
standard by definition allows for the existence of conflicting, even irreconcilable, evidence.”
Dempsey v. Bucknell Univ., 834 F.3d 457, 468 (3d Cir. 2016). It “does not require that officers
correctly resolve conflicting evidence or that their determination of credibility, were, in
retrospect, accurate.” Id. (quoting Wright v. City of Philadelphia, 409 F.3d 595, 603 (3d Cir.
2005)). Probable cause “thus provides individuals protection ‘against unreasonable searches and
seizures’ while simultaneously enabling investigating officers to act quickly—before necessarily
obtaining evidence sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt—to effect an arrest.” Id.
at 467 (quoting U.S. Const. amend. IV)).
In this Circuit, “statements of a victim witness are typically sufficient to establish
probable cause in the absence of independent exculpatory evidence or substantial evidence of [a]
witness’s own unreliability that outweigh[s] the probable cause that otherwise exists.” Dempsey,
834 F.3d at 477–78 (quoting Wilson, 212 F.3d at 790; Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 818 (3d
Cir. 1997) (internal quotations omitted)); see also Sharrar, 128 F.3d at 818 (“When a police
officer has received a reliable identification by a victim of his or her attacker, the police have
probable cause to arrest.”).
In this case, Officer Barr had a firsthand complaint by Smith, the purported victim, who
specifically named and positively identified Ihlenfeld (via a photograph) as the suspect.
Ihlenfeld does not allege that Officer Barr possessed exculpatory evidence or substantial
evidence that Smith was unreliable at the time he applied for the warrant. He points, instead, to
two inconsistencies in Smith’s story which Officer Barr failed to detect: Smith’s relationship
with Jamie Wright and the absence of shrubbery where Ihlenfeld allegedly almost hit Smith.
Neither purported inconsistency undermines the validity of Officer Barr’s warrant application.
Ihlenfeld explains that Smith told Officer Barr that Wright was his friend and roommate
when, in reality, Wright is Smith’s father. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 23–25.) It appears Ihlenfeld uses this
fact in an attempt to show that Smith was not a credible witness. This is certainly evidence that,
if true, Ihlenfeld could have used at his own trial to impeach Smith. But unless Officer Barr
knew or had reason to know that Smith was lying to him, this information is not relevant to
evaluate whether Barr made materially false statements or omissions in his warrant application.
Ihlenfeld also attempts to show that Smith was not a credible witness by focusing on a
particular detail of Smith’s story: Smith’s claim that he was forced to dive into shrubbery to
avoid being hit by Ihlenfeld’s truck. Ihlenfeld asserts that, had Officer Barr attempted to
corroborate Smith’s story, he “would have easily discovered” that there was no shrubbery near
the location Smith described. (Am. Compl. ¶ 31.) As explained above, however, Officer Barr
was not under an obligation to corroborate Smith’s story before finding probable cause to seek a
warrant for Ihlenfeld’s arrest.
Even if Officer Barr had noticed that there was not shrubbery at the relevant location, it is
not clear that this omission would be material since “some unreliability or exculpatory evidence
will not fatally undermine probable cause otherwise established.” Id. at 478. In Wilson v. Russo,
212 F.3d 781 (3d Cir. 2000), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was faced with more significant
omissions in a warrant application: exculpatory evidence suggested the suspect was significantly
taller than the arrestee, a different victim was unable to identify the arrestee, and a victim
changed her story before identifying the arrestee as the suspect. See Wilson, 212 F.3d at 790–91.
The Court held that these omissions were not material and therefore the victim identification
contained in the warrant application supported probable cause. Id. at 792.
Ihlenfeld also contends that the Borough of Darby has a custom or practice allowing its
police department to engage in a pattern of unlawful arrests. (Am. Compl. ¶ 57.) A municipality
cannot be held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the misconduct of its
employees. See Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990). Rather, a
municipality can only be liable under § 1983 when a constitutional injury results from the
implementation or execution of an officially adopted policy or informally adopted custom. See
Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs.
of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694–95 (1978)).4
Ihlenfeld has failed to state a claim against the Borough of Darby because he pleads no
facts to support these bare allegations. In any event, a municipality cannot be held liable under
Monell if there is not an underlying constitutional violation. See Johnson v. City of Philadelphia,
837 F.3d 343, 354 n.8 (3d Cir. 2016). Having failed to allege that Officer Barr lied or omitted
material information in his arrest warrant application, Ihlenfeld has failed to state a claim for the
underlying constitutional violation and his claims against the Borough of Darby also fail.5
Ihlenfeld also claims the medical treatment he received while in custody and the
conditions of the jail violated his constitutional rights. Pretrial detainees have a right to medical
care guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment that is “at least as great as the Eighth Amendment
protections available to a convicted prisoner.” City of Revere v. Mass. Gen. Hosp., 463 U.S. 239,
244 (1983); see also Natale v. Camden Cty Corr. Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2003).
When the pretrial detainee alleges deficient medical treatment, the Third Circuit has applied the
deliberate indifference standard used in similar challenges under the Eighth Amendment. See
Natale, 318 F.3d at 582; Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636–37 (3d Cir. 1995); see
Ihlenfeld also alleges there was a failure to properly train officers. Where “the policy in question concerns
a failure to train or supervise municipal employees, liability under section 1983 requires a showing that the failure
amounts to ‘deliberate indifference’ to the rights of persons with whom those employees will come into contact.”
Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 357 (3d Cir. 1999). Moreover, “the identified deficiency in a . . .
training program must be closely related to the ultimate injury,” in other words, it “must have actually caused the
constitutional violation.” Thomas v. Cumberland County, 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting City of Canton,
Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 391 (1989)) (quotations omitted). “Ordinarily, a pattern of similar constitutional
violations by untrained employees is necessary to demonstrate deliberate indifference for the purposes of failure to
train.” Id. at 223 (quoting Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 62 (2011)). Ihlenfeld’s reference to prior lawsuits
brought against the Borough is insufficient to support his failure to train claim.
Ihlenfeld’s claims against Chief Smythe and the four John Doe Defendants are similarly deficient.
Individuals must have personal involvement in a violation of another’s civil rights to be held liable under § 1983.
See Chavarriaga v. N.J. Dept. of Corr., 806 F.3d 210, 222 (3d Cir. 2015).
also Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). Under this analysis, Ihlenfeld must show that
Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs and that those needs were serious.
Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 1999).
Ihlenfeld has failed to state claim under this theory because he has not alleged that any
named defendant was responsible for his care at the jail. See, e.g., (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38–39, 56).
In his amended complaint, Ihlenfeld describes what happened “during his incarceration” but does
not allege who was responsible for his care or even where he was held. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 56.) He
references “officers at the jail” who allegedly refused to administer his medication, but he never
identifies them.6 (Id. ¶ 39.) Since an individual can only be held liable for violating another’s
civil rights if he has personal involvement in the violation, the failure to allege any facts against
Officer Barr, Chief Smythe or the four John Doe Defendants is fatal to this claim.7 See Evancho
v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005); see also Rode v. Dellaciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207
(3d Cir. 1988).
Ihlenfeld alleges that his unlawful incarceration was the “direct result of the
longstanding custom, policy, usage, and practice of Defendant Borough of Darby and Defendant
Smythe” which has allowed the police department to engage in a repeated pattern of unlawful
arrests. (Am. Compl. ¶ 57.) His failure to state a claim for an underlying constitutional violation
is fatal to his Monell claim. See Johnson, 837 F.3d at 354 n.8.
While Ihlenfeld has named four John Doe Darby County officers, his complaint suggests that these
Defendants were the arresting officers and not the officers responsible for his care at the jail. Compare (id. at ¶ 34)
with (id. at ¶ 39).
Finally, in addition to his failure to allege any facts against Defendants, Ihlenfeld’s claim regarding the
jail’s “deplorable conditions” is not entitled to a presumption of truth because he did not include “sufficient factual
matter to render [his claim] plausible on [its] face.” Schuchardt, 839 F.3d at 347. While a plaintiff need not plead
detailed facts, he must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
Officer Barr is also entitled to qualified immunity. “The doctrine of qualified immunity
protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not
violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known.’” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald,
457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The Supreme Court has made clear that the “driving force behind
creation of the qualified immunity doctrine was a desire to ensure that insubstantial claims
against government officials will be resolved prior to discovery.” Id. at 231–32 (quoting
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 n.2 (1987) (internal quotations omitted)). It has thus
“stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in
litigation.” Id. at 232 (quoting Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991)).
“When evaluating a claim of qualified immunity, courts engage in a two-pronged inquiry.
The first prong probes whether the allegations, “taken in the light most favorable to the party
asserting the injury show the officer’s conduct violated a federal right.” Muth v. Woodring, ___
F. App’x ___, No. 15-4101, 2016 WL 6694546, at *2 (3d Cir. Nov. 15, 2016) (quoting Saucier v.
Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 2014 (2001) (internal quotation omitted)). “The second prong asks whether
the law was clearly established at the time of the violation.” Id. (quoting Kelly v. Borough of
Carlisle, 622 F.3d 248, 253 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotations omitted)). The defendant has the
burden of establishing qualified immunity. Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 776 (3d Cir. 2004).
Courts assessing qualified immunity are free to examine these two prongs in either order. Kelly,
622 F.3d at 253–54.
Ihlenfeld alleges that Officer Barr violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth
Amendment because he failed to corroborate the statements of a victim or conduct any further
investigation before applying for an arrest warrant. As explained above, nothing Officer Barr is
alleged to have done violated Ihlenfeld’s clearly established federal rights. See supra Subsection
Ihlenfeld also brings state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment, malicious
prosecution, assault and battery. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
these remaining claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); see also Hedges v. Musco, 204 F.3d 109,
123 (3d Cir. 2000).
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), “courts may grant . . . amendments ‘when
justice so requires.’” Fraser v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 352 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing
Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)). While Rule 15 states that “leave to amend should be ‘freely given,’ a
district court has discretion to deny a request to amend if it is apparent from the record that (1)
the moving party has demonstrated undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motives, (2) the
amendment would be futile, or (3) the amendment would prejudice the other party.” Id.; see also
Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371
U.S. 178 (1962)).
Ihlenfeld may amend his § 1983 claim with respect to his Fourteenth Amendment theory
of liability. See supra Subsection III.A.2. Ihlenfeld’s § 1983 claims under the Fourth
Amendment are dismissed with prejudice because amendment would be futile. See supra
Subsections III.A.1 and III.A.3.
An appropriate order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Gerald J. Pappert
GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.
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