HILL v. THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA et al
MEMORANDUM. SIGNED BY HONORABLE C. DARNELL JONES, II ON 8/1/2017. 8/1/2017 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(amas)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.,
August 1, 2017
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff initiated the present action alleging that he
endured hours of interrogation by Philadelphia police officers, during which Plaintiff was
choked, slammed on a table, and called a racial slur. Plaintiff claims that the officers violated
Plaintiff’s constitutional rights, and as a result, the City of Philadelphia is subject to municipal
liability for its failure to properly train, supervise, and sanction its police force. The City of
Philadelphia filed the present Motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim of municipal liability on the
grounds that Plaintiff fails to identify a municipal custom or policy that led to the violations
alleged and a policymaker to whom said custom or policy may be attributed. For the reasons that
follow, this Court will GRANT Defendant City of Philadelphia’s Motion to Dismiss with leave
to amend the Complaint within fourteen days of the filing of the Order that follows.
The following facts are presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. On July 18,
2014, the Philadelphia Police Department contacted Plaintiff and instructed him to immediately
report to the department’s homicide division. (Compl. ¶ 5). The contacting officer warned
Plaintiff that SWAT would be sent to retrieve Plaintiff if he did not come of his own volition.
(Compl. ¶ 5).
Plaintiff went to the police station where he met with Lt. Riehl and two other
Philadelphia police officers. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-9). Defendant Riehl began the interrogation,
forcefully questioning Plaintiff about the facts surrounding a homicide that occurred several
years prior. (Compl. ¶ 10). Defendant Riehl and the two other officers then locked Plaintiff in a
small room, where the interrogation continued for another two and one half hours. (Compl. ¶ 12).
At some point during the interrogation, Defendant Riehl grabbed Plaintiff by his neck and throat,
choked him, and slammed him on a table. (Compl. ¶ 13). Plaintiff tried to tell Defendant Riehl
that he could not breathe, but Defendant Riehl continued to choke him for some time. (Compl. ¶
14). As this occurred, one of the other police officers went through Plaintiff’s pockets. (Compl. ¶
15). As Plaintiff was being “manhandle[ed],” Defendant Riehl stated that he did not care if
Plaintiff talked because it would be “one less nigger to worry about.” (Compl. ¶¶ 15-16).
Plaintiff was detained for another five to six hours. (Compl. ¶ 17). In all, Plaintiff was held in
police custody from around 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. (Compl. ¶ 17).
Based on the above-described conduct, Plaintiff brings suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983
against the City of Philadelphia, Lt. Riehl, and two unnamed police officers for violations of
Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights. (Comp. ¶ 1). In his claim against Defendant City of
Philadelphia, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant City of Philadelphia has been “deliberately
indifferent to police practice, patterns, policies and customs” of false arrest and imprisonment
and excessive force, and have ignored “the need for more or different training, supervision
investigation or discipline”. (Compl. ¶ 23). Plaintiff further claims that Defendant City of
Philadelphia failed to “properly sanction and discipline its police force, which encouraged
officers to violate citizens’ civil rights. (Compl. ¶ 24). Defendant City of Philadelphia timely
filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim of municipal liability for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. Presently before this Court is Defendant City of Philadelphia’s
Motion and Plaintiff’s Response thereto.
In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts must “accept all factual
allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and
determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled
to relief.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation
marks omitted). After the Supreme Court’s decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007), “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “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. at 678 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). This standard, which applies to all civil cases, “asks for more than a
sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678; accord Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (“[A]ll civil complaints must contain more than an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”) (internal quotation marks
A municipality can be subject to liability under § 1983 for constitutional deprivations that
are the result of a failure to properly train or supervise its employees. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978) (establishing municipal liability for § 1983 violations
generally); City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989) (establishing and defining
municipal liability for a failure to train employees); Reynolds v. Municipality of Norristown, No.
15-0016, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93766, at *31-32 (E.D. Pa. July 17, 2015) (outlining the
requirements for establishing municipal liability for a failure to supervise). To prove municipal
liability under Monell for §1983 violations, a plaintiff must establish the following: “(1) the
municipality had a policy or custom that deprived the plaintiff of his constitutional rights; (2) the
municipality acted deliberately and was the moving force behind the deprivation; and (3) the
plaintiff's injuries were caused by the identified policy or custom.” Buoniconti v. City of Phila.,
148 F. Supp. 3d 425, 436 (E.D. Pa. 2015) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 692-94). Plaintiff claims
that as a result of the municipality’s deliberate indifference to incidences of intentional false
imprisonment, excessive force, and improper interrogation technique, Defendant City of
Philadelphia maintained both a policy and custom that resulted in a violation of Plaintiff’s
constitutional rights. (Compl. ¶ 23). Plaintiff argues that the City of Philadelphia failed to
properly train, supervise, and sanction its officers, and must be held liable for the ensuing
constitutional violations. (Compl.¶¶ 23-24).
Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff’s §1983 claim against the City of Philadelphia on
two grounds. First, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to specify a municipal
custom or policy that could serve as the basis of the municipality’s liability. (Mot., 4). Second,
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim fails because Plaintiff does not identify an official
policymaker to whom the alleged wrongful municipal custom or policy may be linked. (Mot., 6).
The Court considers each of Defendant City of Philadelphia’s arguments in turn, and for the
reasons that follow, the Court concludes that Plaintiff fails to adequately plead municipal liability
under §1983 for the alleged constitutional violations he experienced.
Plaintiff Fails to Identify a Specific Policy or Custom and Fails to Provide Factual
Support to Establish a Monell Claim
Plaintiff’s claim fails in the first instance because Plaintiff fails to plead facts that
establish a municipal policy or custom as the cause of the constitutional violations he
experienced. To satisfy the pleading standard, Monell requires the plaintiff to allege facts
showing that municipal policymakers established a policy or custom which was the moving force
behind the constitutional violation experienced. See Monell, 463 U.S. at 694. A municipal policy
exists when a “decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with
respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.” Andrews v. Philadelphia,
895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990), superseded in irrelevant part by statute, Civil Rights Act of
1991, Pub. L. No. 102-166, 105 Stat. 1072. Municipal custom exists where there is a “course of
conduct” that has not been endorsed or authorized by law, but is “so well-settled and permanent
as virtually to constitute law.” Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990). It is
insufficient for a plaintiff to merely state the “phraseology” of an alleged policy or custom if the
allegations are unaccompanied by supporting facts. Saleem v. Sch. Dist., No. 12-3193, 2013 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 152740, at *9 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 24, 2013). Pleadings that are “bereft of any assertions
of relevant facts,” containing only the “plaintiff's bare allegations…are insufficient to show his
entitlement to relief.” Id. at *9. To survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must “identify a
custom or policy, and specify what exactly that custom or policy was.” McTernan v. City of
York, 564 F.3d 636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009).
Parties have successfully used the following types of factual allegations to identify the
custom or policy implicated by a plaintiff’s Monell claim: specific reference to “multiple
incidents” where police officers used excessive force and were reckless in their use of batons,
Harris v. City of Philadelphia, 171 F. Supp. 3d 395, 401–02 (E.D. Pa. 2016), references to a
report prepared by the Department of Justice concluding the defendant’s defensive tactics
training was deficient, Id.; repeated citations of incidences of police inaction and failures to
investigate reports of police brutality, Simpson v. Ferry, 202 F. Supp. 3d 444, 452 (E.D. Pa.
2016); and statistical analysis of the number of lawsuits brought against the defendant police
department for use of excessive force. Id. at 453.
Plaintiff’s Complaint contains none of the aforementioned facts. Plaintiff makes the
conclusory allegation that the City of Philadelphia maintained a custom or policy of failing to
train and supervise its officers, but provides no factual information in support thereof. (Compl.
¶¶ 23-24). Aside from a boilerplate recitation of the Monell factors, Plaintiff fails to allege any
facts that provide support for the claim that a municipal custom or policy exists, much less that
an official custom or policy caused the harm alleged here. Plaintiff’s claim fails to sufficiently
plead the existence of a specific policy or custom that precipitated the alleged constitutional
violations. For this and the reasons that follow, Defendant’s Motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim
for municipal liability under Monell is granted.
Plaintiff Fails to Allege or Identify a Municipal Policymaker in the Monell Claim
Even if Plaintiff sufficiently pleaded the existence of a municipal policy or custom that
would support the imposition of municipal liability, Plaintiff’s claim against the City of
Philadelphia necessarily fails because Plaintiff does not identify or allege a municipal
policymaker or decisionmaker who was aware of or directed the municipal policy or custom at
issue. To establish municipal liability, Monell requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that an official
who has policymaking authority is responsible “for either the affirmative proclamation of a
policy or acquiescence in a well-settled custom.” Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 F.2d at 850 (citing
Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480). Absent identification of one such “decisionmaker possess[ing] final
authority to establish municipal policy,” a plaintiff cannot establish that, as a matter of law, the
City of Philadelphia should be subject to § 1983 liability. Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480.
Plaintiff’s allegation that the City of Philadelphia was “deliberately indifferent” to the
wrongful policies and customs underlying the alleged constitutional violations does not
sufficiently identify a policymaker for the purposes of Monell. McTernan, 564 F.3d at 659
(holding that the plaintiff’s Monell claim failed because the plaintiff too broadly plead the
defendant municipality’s liability and did not identify a final policymaker such as “the Mayor or
Police Chief”). It is equally untenable for Plaintiff to attempt, through his Response in
Opposition to the present Motion, to identify a policymaker when one such identification is
conspicuously absent in the Complaint. Pennsylvania ex rel. Zimmerman v. Pepsico, Inc., 836
F.2d 173, 181 (3d Cir. 1988) (“It is axiomatic that the complaint may not be amended by the
briefs in opposition to a motion to dismiss.”). Monell and its prodigy are clear that only those
municipal officials who have final policymaking authority may by their actions subject the
government to §1983 liability. See Monell, 423 U.S. at 694; Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480;
Buoniconti, 148 F. Supp. 3d 425, 437 (E.D. Pa. 2015). Plaintiff’s failure to allege the existence
of a policymaker responsible for the official policy or complicit in the official custom underlying
the alleged harm is fatal to its claim against the City of Philadelphia.
Plaintiff’s §1983 claim against the City of Philadelphia fails to satisfy the standard for
alleging municipal liability under Monell. Plaintiff fails to adequately plead the existence of an
official custom or policy to which the alleged constitutional violations can be attributed, and fails
to identify a policymaker responsible for the custom or policy at issue. For the foregoing reasons
this Court grants Defendant City of Philadelphia’s Motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim for
municipal liability. Plaintiff is granted leave to amend within fourteen days of the filing of the
corresponding Order that follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ C. Darnell Jones, II
C. Darnell Jones, II
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