Nicholas Malfitano May 4, 2016, 3:37pm


PHILADELPHIA -- The City of Philadelphia has been dismissed from an action alleging illegal search and seizure of a city man’s home, a federal court recently ruled.

City of Philadelphia
City of Philadelphia

On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s Judge John R. Padova decreed the city would be excused from Luis Gelpi’s lawsuit, initially filed against it and seven of its police officers for both state and federal statutory claims.

In February or March 2013, Luis’s brother, Juan Gelpi, was wanted for aggravated assault and related charges by the Philadelphia Police Department. The department subsequently visited Luis and his wife’s home several times, searching for Juan, despite allegedly being told Juan did not reside there.

Despite these denials, officers returned to the Gelpi home in early May 2013 for another search, with Mrs. Gelpi’s permission. The search revealed no trace of Juan, or that he had ever lived there.

When the officers returned yet another time, Luis requested they produce a warrant or leave the premises. One of the officers reportedly commanded Luis to “open the f---ing door.” When Luis again asked for a warrant, the officers allegedly broke down the door and entered the Gelpi home.

According to the complaint, two of the defendants, officers William Redanauer and Thomas Iarosis, grabbed Luis and threw him onto the floor. Redanauer allegedly punched Luis multiple times in the head, face and back, and twisted his arm, which was in a cast. Simultaneously, Iarosis drove his knee into Luis’s back.

Throughout this altercation, Luis continued to request a warrant and the other officers present did not intervene, or were already engaged in searching the residence.

At that time, one of the officers present realized Luis was not the person they were searching for. Luis followed up by reporting the incident to Philadelphia Police and its Internal Affairs Department, but allegedly received no response.

Luis filed suit against the city and the seven officers for violation of his rights to free speech and warrantless search and seizure under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, along with state law claims against the officers.

The city moved to dismiss the charges against it (Counts I and II) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In response, Luis withdrew the second count of the complaint, leading Padova to rule exclusively on Count I -- the City’s alleged violations of Luis’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, under 42 U.S.C. Sections 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1988.

“Here, the City argues, inter alia, that Count I of the amended complaint should be dismissed [under Section 1983] because the amended complaint fails to identify a municipal policymaker, as required by Monell. Indeed, at no point in the amended complaint is a policymaker identified,” Padova said.

The judge similarly found no applicable criteria for Count I under Section 1981 as well, which alleged racial discrimination.

“The amended complaint does not allege that plaintiff is a member of a racial minority, much less that the City intended to discriminate against him based on his race,” Padova wrote. “Furthermore, even if the amended Complaint included such allegations, it cannot state a Section 1981 claim against the City ‘because a private cause of action cannot be asserted against a municipal [actor] for a violation of Section 1981.”

As to Luis’s claims of a conspiracy on the part of the police, Padova likewise rejected such a rationale.

“Here, the amended complaint does not allege that plaintiff is a member of a specific race or that he is a member of any other class for the purposes of equal protection. In addition, the amended complaint does not allege that the City was motivated by any particular animus, let alone a racial or class-based animus,” the judge wrote.

Finally, Padova also dismissed Luis’s Section 1988 claim under Count I, regarding payment of attorney’s fees.

“Because plaintiff’s Section 1981, 1983, and 1985 claims have all been dismissed, we similarly grant the City’s motion to dismiss Count I insofar as it asserts a claim to attorney’s fees pursuant to Section 1988,” the judge wrote.

“For the foregoing reasons, we grant the City’s motion to dismiss Count I of the amended complaint. As plaintiff has voluntarily withdrawn Count II, the only other claim against the City, we dismiss the City of Philadelphia as a party to this action.”

The plaintiff is represented by Brian Francis Humble in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Matthew K. Hubbard of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department, in the Office of the City Solicitor’s Civil Rights Unit, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-01974

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

More News