Nicholas Malfitano Apr. 5, 2016, 9:11am


PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia has been granted summary judgment on claims brought by a paraplegic man who claims Philadelphia police officers falsely imprisoned and assaulted him.

Judge Anita B. Brody of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District decided March 29 that Kenyock Wright had not met the burden of proof needed to overcome a finding a summary judgment for the City.

On July 6, 2011, police officers stopped Wright, who was in a wheelchair, on the corner of 13th Street and Huntington Street in Philadelphia. The officers allegedly “questioned Wright, flipped him out of his wheelchair, handcuffed him and dragged him into a police vehicle," while not returning him to his wheelchair until he was at the police station.

Wright was held at the police station for some time before being released, with no charges being filed against him, and claimed to suffer injuries to his hand, wrist, back, and shoulder in connection with this incident.

Wright brought suit against the City, but not against the individual police officers, for false imprisonment and assault under both federal and state law. The City then moved for summary judgment on all claims.

Federally, Wright alleged the City was liable for his injuries under a Monell claim and in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but Brody said he had failed to satisfy the criteria needed to substantiate this allegation – namely, illustrating the municipality itself caused the constitutional violation at issue.

“Wright alleges that the City had ‘customs, policies, and practices’ that sanctioned the false imprisonment of, and use of excessive force against, disabled individuals, but he has failed to identify any official policy or well-settled custom that authorized police officers to engage in such behavior,” Brody said. “With respect to his failure-to-train claim, Wright does not point to a pattern of constitutional violations by police officers against disabled individuals.”

Brody also stated Wright’s mention of a Philadelphia Police Department memo from 2014 outlining transportation of disabled prisoners did not support his allegations – since while it pertained to transportation, it didn’t address the level of suspicion needed to detain disabled individuals or the City’s alleged deliberate indifference towards those same individuals.

“Besides the memorandum, Wright has presented no other evidence indicating that the City failed to properly train its officers regarding their authority to detain and use force against disabled individuals,” Brody said. “In contrast, the City has submitted police training manuals that specifically address how police should interact with disabled citizens. Pursuant to these manuals, police recruits are informed about the relevant statutes governing their interactions with disabled individuals, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 1983, and the consequences of violating these laws.”

Brody further described how Wright’s claims under state regulations also failed to meet the standard required to prove his allegations in a court of law.

“In Pennsylvania, the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (PSTCA) provides that ‘no local agency shall be liable for any damages on account of any injury to a person or property’ unless the injury was ‘caused by the negligent acts of the local agency or an employee thereof’ and the negligence falls within one of the PSTCA’s eight enumerated exceptions,” Brody said.

“Both false imprisonment and assault are intentional torts under Pennsylvania law. As such, neither tort qualifies as a ‘negligent act’ under the PSTCA, and the City is immune from liability for its police officers’ actions,” Brody added. “Therefore, Wright’s state law false imprisonment and assault claims against the City fail. Thus, the City is entitled to summary judgment on all claims.”

The plaintiff is represented by James R. Radmore in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Dimitrios Mavroudis and Matthew K. Hubbard of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department, also based in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-05589

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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