WALLS v. LEE
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JOHN M. YOUNGE ON 7/16/21. 7/16/21 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(jaa, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 21-CV-1733
JULY 16, 2021
Paul Walls filed this pro se civil action using a preprinted form for use by non-prisoners
filing a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendant is Officer Lee, identified as a
Philadelphia police officer. Lee is named in his official capacity only. Walls also seeks to
proceed in forma pauperis. For the reason that follow, the application to proceed in forma
pauperis will be granted and the Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.
Walls’s allegations are brief. He asserts that on June 19, 2019, Officer Lee, while on
patrol in uniform, “confronted” Walls at 20th and Cumberland Streets in Philadelphia as Walls
was engaged in a conversation with his landlord. (ECF No. 1 at 4.) 1 He alleges Lee exited his
vehicle and “stood there for about 3 min and out of no where grab my arms behind my back and
cuff me I ask him why he is doing this and he told me to shut up and be still.” (Id.) Walls was
allegedly hospitalized for two days “as a result of my false arrest” due to high blood pressure.
(Id. at 5.) Walls seeks money damages and to “take this Officer Lee off of the streets dealing
with the plublic [sic].” (Id.)
The Court adopts the pagination supplied by the CM/ECF docketing system.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court grants Walls leave to proceed in forma pauperis since he appears unable to
pay the filing fee for this case. Accordingly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which
requires the Court to dismiss the Complaint if it fails to state a claim. Whether a complaint fails
to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions
to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184
F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint
contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Conclusory
allegations do not suffice. Id. As Walls is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations
liberally. Higgs v. Att’y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).
Since Walls filed this action using a form for § 1983 non-prisoner claims, the Court will
interpret his Complaint as raising constitutional claims. Section 1983, the vehicle by which
federal constitutional claims may be brought in federal court, provides in part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or
usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to
be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the
Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.
42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged
deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988).
Walls asserts claims against Officer Lee in Lee’s official capacity as a Philadelphia
police officer. Claims against City officials named in their official capacity are indistinguishable
from claims against the City itself. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985)
(“Official-capacity suits . . . ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against
an entity of which an officer is an agent.’”) (quoting Monell v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 690, n. 55 (1978)). “[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be
treated as a suit against the entity.” Id.
Local governments can be liable as “persons” under § 1983, however, this liability
extends only to “their own illegal acts.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (emphasis
in original) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986)); see Monell, 436 U.S. at
665-83. This limitation is based on the well-established principle that municipalities “are not
vicariously liable under § 1983 for their employees’ actions.” Connick, 563 U.S. at 60; Monell,
436 U.S. at 691 (“[A] municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor —
or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior
theory.”) (emphasis in original). Because there is no respondeat superior for municipal liability
under § 1983, meaning that the City is not liable solely based on Lee’s conduct, Wall’s official
capacity claim cannot proceed on this basis.
Rather, to plead a basis for municipal liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that
the municipality’s policy or custom caused the violation of his constitutional rights. See Monell,
436 U.S. at 694. “To satisfy the pleading standard, [the plaintiff] must . . . specify what exactly
that custom or policy was.” McTernan v. City of York, PA, 564 F.3d 636, 658 (3d Cir. 2009).
“‘Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy
with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.’” Estate of Roman v.
City of Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 798 (3d Cir. 2019) (quoting Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895
F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990)). “‘Custom, on the other hand, can be proven by showing that a
given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so wellsettled and permanent as virtually to constitute law.’” Id. (quoting Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915
F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990)). For a custom to be the proximate cause of an injury, the
Defendant must have “had knowledge of similar unlawful conduct in the past, failed to take
precautions against future violations, and that its failure, at least in part, led to his injury.” Id.
(internal quotations and alterations omitted).
A plaintiff may also state a basis for municipal liability by “alleging failure-tosupervise, train, or discipline . . . [and alleging facts showing] that said failure amounts to
deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of those affected.” Forrest v. Parry, 930 F.3d
93, 106 (3d Cir. 2019). “This consists of a showing as to whether (1) municipal policymakers
know that employees will confront a particular situation, (2) the situation involves a difficult
choice or a history of employees mishandling, and (3) the wrong choice by an employee will
frequently cause deprivation of constitutional rights.” Id.
As the United States Court of Appeals recently stated,
If the alleged policy or custom at issue is a failure to train or supervise . . . the
plaintiff must show that this failure “amounts to ‘deliberate indifference’ to the
rights of persons with whom [the municipality’s] employees will come into
contact.” Thomas v. Cumberland Cty., 749 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting
Carter v. City of Phila., 181 F.3d 339,357 (3d Cir. 1999)). “Ordinarily,” this
requires a plaintiff to identify a “‘pattern of similar constitutional violations by
untrained employees’” that “puts municipal decisionmakers on notice that a new
program is necessary.” Id. at 223 (quoting Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 62
(2011)). Otherwise, the plaintiff needs to show that failure to provide the
identified training would “likely . . . result in the violation of constitutional rights”
— i.e., to show that “the need for more or different training [was] so obvious.”
City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 390 (1989).
Johnson v. City of Phila., 975 F.3d 394, 403 (3d Cir. 2020).
Walls makes no allegation that he suffered a constitutional injury due to a policy or
custom of the City of Philadelphia. He also makes no allegations that the incident he describes
was due to a failure of the City to properly train or supervise Officer Lee. Accordingly, his
official capacity claim is not plausible and must be dismissed. However, because Walls may
have merely checked the “official capacity” box on the form complaint without understanding
the nature of his act, and the Court cannot say at this time that Walls can never assert plausible
claims against Officer Lee either in his official or individual capacities, the dismissal will be
without prejudice. Walls will be given an opportunity to file an amended complaint if he is able
to cure the defects in his official capacity claim or to assert his false arrest claim against Officer
Lee in his individual capacity. 2
An appropriate Order follows giving Walls additional instructions should he decide to
amend his false arrest claim.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ John Milton Younge
JUDGE JOHN MILTON YOUNGE
“To state a claim for false arrest under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must establish: (1)
that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was made without probable cause.” James v. City of
Wilkes–Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 680 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 634
(3d Cir. 1995); Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988) ). Should Walls opt to file an
amended complaint, he is encouraged to provide as much information and detail about the incident so that
he can establish that his claims are plausible.
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