Nicholas Malfitano Jun. 22, 2016, 9:01am


PHILADELPHIA – Mother and daughter plaintiffs who accused officers from the Philadelphia Police Department of unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, excessive force and other charges in connection with an incident at a city gentleman’s club have lost those claims in federal court.

On Monday, Judge Gerald J. Pappert of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed the allegations brought by Helen Reiber and Heather Hughes versus the City of Philadelphia, Penthouse Club at Philly and several individual department officers who arrested the plaintiffs, for failure to state a claim.

The plaintiffs went to Penthouse Club on the evening of Nov. 17, 2013 after attending a Philadelphia Eagles game earlier that day, and claimed they used cash to pay for two drinks and to tip dancers. Before finishing their drinks, the plaintiffs say they were approached by unidentified employees working as security guards and asked to leave “without explanation.” The plaintiffs complied and left the club.

While outside, two city police officers and several club employees approached plaintiffs, alleging they “had not paid for their drinks and accusing them of theft.” The officers – later identified as defendants Jose Perez and Steven Fillipone – arrested plaintiffs for harassment and disorderly conduct.

According to the plaintiffs, the officers in question allegedly did not tell them why they were being arrested and held them in custody overnight. The charges against both plaintiffs were later dismissed.

This led to the filing of a lawsuit on Nov. 17 of last year, against Penthouse Club, Penthouse John Does 1–25, the City, Officer Fillipone, Officer Perez and Officer John Does 1–25.

The complaint alleges claims of discriminatory practices and false imprisonment against Penthouse Club for unlawful arrest pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and discriminatory practices and false imprisonment under state law; (2) Municipal liability and unlawful arrest under Section 1983 and state law for false imprisonment against the City; (3) Excessive force, assault, inadequate medical care, malicious prosecution, conspiracy and unlawful arrest and state law for assault, battery, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment under Section 1983 for Officer Filipone; (4) Malicious prosecution, conspiracy and unlawful arrest and state law for malicious prosecution, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment under Section 1983 for Officer Perez; and (5) malicious prosecution, conspiracy and unlawful arrest under Section 1983 and state law for malicious prosecution, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment, for unnamed department officers.

In May, Penthouse Club motioned to dismiss the suit in its entirety for failure to state a claim.

“The elements of false imprisonment under Pennsylvania law are: (1) The detention of another person and (2) The unlawfulness of such detention. Plaintiffs’ complaint does not allege that the club confined them,” Pappert stated. “To the contrary, the complaint states that Penthouse Club employees asked plaintiffs to leave the club and that they complied with this request. Plaintiffs instead contend that the club, a private entity, falsely imprisoned them when it gave police ‘false information’ that they committed theft. This allegedly “caused a chain of events resulting in plaintiffs’ arrests.”

Pappert labeled the plaintiffs’ theory of liability as “too attenuated”, and specified a private individual or entity may only be charged with false arrest or false imprisonment if they knowingly provide false information to authorities and an arrest results from that same false information.

“Plaintiffs fail to allege any facts that show their imprisonment resulted from false information provided by Penthouse Club. While plaintiffs assert that club employees accused them of theft, they do not provide any facts to support a claim that this information resulted in their arrest,” Pappert said.

“In fact, plaintiffs were not charged with theft. They were, as the complaint alleges, arrested on charges of harassment and disorderly conduct. Their false imprisonment claim necessarily fails,” Pappert added.

Pappert further dismissed the plaintiffs’ unlawful gender discriminatory practices claim against Penthouse Club, due to its filing after the expiration of the statute of limitations.

“Any such claim needed to be filed within 180 days after the alleged act of discrimination, unless otherwise required by the Fair Housing Act. The claim here was brought two years after the alleged act of discrimination and is well past the statutory time limit, which plaintiffs’ counsel acknowledged at oral argument,” Pappert said.

Pappert concluded by disallowing further amendment of the suit and dismissed all claims against Penthouse Club with prejudice.

“At oral argument, plaintiffs’ counsel requested leave to amend. Any proposed amendment of the remaining counts against Penthouse Club would be futile. Plaintiffs are unable to cure the defects in their false imprisonment claim inasmuch as their arrest for harassment and disorderly conduct did not result from Penthouse Club’s purportedly false allegations of theft,” Pappert stated in conclusion.

“Plaintiffs are similarly unable to cure the fact that they are well past the statutory time period to file a claim for unlawful discriminatory practices under state law. Any amendment would therefore be futile and the claims against Penthouse are dismissed with prejudice.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Lloyd Long III of Krasner & Long, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Aaron Shotland of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department, plus William J. Conroy, Alicia S. Luke and Katherine A. Wang of Campbell Campbell Edwards & Conroy, in Berwyn.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-06192

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

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