A federal judge has granted a motion to dismiss that was filed by a number of high-ranking Philadelphia officials who were named in a lawsuit initiated by a city man who alleged he was unlawfully detained and roughed up by Philadelphia police officers after an encounter in January 2011.
U.S. District Judge Berle M. Schiller ruled that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, District Attorney R. Seth Williams and others cannot be held liable under the Section 1983 claim that was filed by Raymond S. Pratt.
Pratt had sued following a Jan. 14, 2011 arrest in which he contends officers unreasonably detained him after he approached their patrol vehicle to ask for assistance.
The officers, who were conducting a traffic stop at the time, told Pratt that he would have to wait until they were done with their business to respond to his request for help, to which he agreed.
Nevertheless, Pratt’s lawsuit contended, the officers then grabbed Pratt, slammed him against their patrol car, tightly placed handcuffs on him and forced him to the back of their cruiser.
After he was taken to a police precinct for booking, he was left in the back of the patrol car for 45 minutes, Pratt’s suit claims. He was eventually released and issued a citation for disorderly conduct based on his encounter with the initial two officers, identified as Officers Justin Rios and Sammy Brinson.
Pratt filed his civil suit on Feb. 25, 2011, and then filed an amended complaint on June 22 of that year. Yet another amended complaint was filed in mid November 2011.
Pratt’s suit contained claims of federal civil rights violations as well as state-law claims of common law conspiracy, assault and battery, excessive force, false arrest, unlawful detention, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The defendants asserted that the claims against them should be dismissed because Pratt makes no allegations that these defendants were directly involved in the events that form the basis of Pratt’s suit.
Pratt, however, maintained that his allegations were sufficient to make out supervisory liability claims under Section 1983 against the defendants on the ground that they were policymakers who were aware of and allowed corruption and excessive use of force by police officers.
Schiller agreed with the defendants, ruling that vicarious liability is unavailable under Section 1983.
“A plaintiff must plead that a government official violated the Constitution through his or her own actions,” Schiller wrote.
Schiller also wrote that Pratt failed to state a claim under his conspiracy allegations, ruling that he “fails to allege an agreement, a necessary element of conspiracy, or include factual allegations that these Defendants were motivated by racial or other class-based animus,” something required by law.
Schiller also wrote that Pratt’s state-law tort claims against a handful of the defendants cannot be sustained because Pennsylvania’s Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act provides immunity for the intentional acts of municipal employees unless their conduct constitutes a “crime, actual fraud, actual malice or willful misconduct.”
“The factual allegations do not demonstrate criminal, fraudulent, or malicious conduct or willful misconduct by these Defendants, who had no involvement in Pratt’s arrest and prosecution,” Schiller wrote.
Schiller also agreed with District Attorney Williams that he is protected by civil claims by absolute prosecutorial immunity.
While Schiller dismissed the claims against Nutter, Ramsey, Williams an assistant prosecutor, a police captain and a police sergeant, the judge let stand claims against the City of Philadelphia, as well as officers Rios and Brinson.