A federal judge, for the second time, has partially dismissed a complaint by a Philadelphia police officer who is suing the city over an alleged incident in which she was roughed up and unlawfully arrested following an altercation with two fellow officers while the plaintiff was off-duty.
In an April 13 order filed at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O’Neill, Jr. granted the city’s motion to dismiss two counts contained within Shanda White’s complaint, which alleged claims of civil rights violations and malicious prosecution.
The order simultaneously left open the opportunity for White to re-file an amended complaint on the claim that the city engaged in deliberate indifference with regard to her incident.
White’s complaint stemmed from a June 30, 2009, incident in which White and her young child were nearly struck by a police patrol car driven through a Philadelphia Housing Authority property by Officers Javier Montinez and Anthony Space, according to background information on the case included in the judge’s ruling.
White, who identified herself as a Philadelphia police officer, approached the two officers and attempted to warn them of the presence of other children in the housing development.
White’s complaint alleges that Montinez and Space then proceeded to yell at White and place her under arrest.
During the arrest, the lawsuit claims, the two officers threw White against nearby vehicles before “roughly” placing her in the police squad car.
White was ultimately set free and never charged with a crime.
The lawsuit claims that the incident and subsequent arrest occurred because the city has failed to properly train its officers in proper police procedure and in properly operating patrol vehicles, as well as in making arrests and using force.
The suit also claimed that after her arrest, White believes she was singled out, albeit not by name, in derogatory statements posted on the now-defunct website domelights.com.
The website, which was the subject of much controversy given the racially divisive nature of the subject matter, and was the subject of its own lawsuits, has since been taken down.
Earlier this year, O’Neill dismissed White’s claims of malicious and selective prosecution because White’s complaint admitted that she was never prosecuted since no criminal charges were ever brought forward.
But the judge’s ruling also granted leave to White to amend her complaint, which she subsequently did. The amended complaint, however, repeated a malicious prosecution claim, and this time around the judge took the same action as he did the first time around.
“It is undisputed that the City never brought charges against White and White does not contest the City’s argument that the malicious prosecution claim should be dismissed,” O’Neil wrote.
O’Neil had previously dismissed what is known as a “Monell” claim in White’s original complaint, because it alleged that the city’s failure to train gave rise to racial harassment on the Domelights website, but it did not allege that the failure to provide a particular form of training caused White harm.
The amended complaint alleges what O’Neill called a “sufficient causal nexus between the absent training and White’s harm,” with White now alleging that the city’s failure to train its officers in proper patrol vehicle operation and making arrests caused the violation of her constitutional rights.
But O’Neil wrote that the amended complaint does not allege facts sufficient to establish that the city acted with “deliberate indifference.”
“The Amended Complaint states in conclusory fashion that the City ‘demonstrated a deliberate indifference,’ but it does not contain any facts that support this conclusion,” the ruling states. “White does not allege that a pattern of unlawful arrests put the City on notice that its training was inadequate.”
O’Neill also wrote that White’s amended complaint does not allege facts sufficient to establish what’s known as “single incident” liability, with White failing to allege that inadequate police training was obvious, or that officers “utterly lacked” the ability to handle the constitutional situations that were present in this case.
“Absent these facts, the Amended Complaint does not allege deliberate indifference and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” the ruling states.
While granting the city’s motion to dismiss the Monell and malicious prosecution claims, the judge granted White leave to file a second amended complaint that conforms with the Supreme Court’s requirements under federal law for establishing deliberate indifference.