U.S. Magistrate Judge dismisses excessive force claim against Philly PD

By Jon Campisi | Dec 28, 2012

A federal judge has denied a plaintiff’s request to add additional defendants to her

A federal judge has denied a plaintiff’s request to add additional defendants to her

excessive force claim against Philadelphia police officers because the claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

The jurist then simultaneously dismissed the entire civil action.

Keturah Anderson sought to amend her complaint more than one year after it was filed on Sept. 30, 2011, to add four police officers as defendants, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice determined that the plaintiff’s amendments are futile because the new claims cannot relate back to the date her complaint was originally filed, which had occurred mere hours before the statute of limitations on her claims were set to expire.

Anderson served her complaint on the city about three months later, on Jan. 5 of this year.

The plaintiff alleged that the unnamed officers violated her federal constitutional rights to be free from excessive force and that they assaulted and battered her during a Sept. 30, 2009 arrest.

Anderson also claimed that the city had a policy, custom or practice that allowed the use of excessive force by police.

On Feb. 4, the city filed an answer to the complaint, denying certain allegations about the John Doe officers, stating they were addressed to defendants other than the answering defendants, according to background information on the case.

The city’s answer also denied allegations regarding the officers’ actions and provided an alternative version of the underlying events.

Most of the remaining allegations were denied by the city as legal conclusions or for lack of information.

This past spring, Rice directed that discovery wrap up by July 27, although he eventually extended the discovery deadline to Sept. 21, the record shows.

Trial was then scheduled for Dec. 3.

City lawyers filed for summary judgment in mid October, arguing that there was no evidence showing the city had a pattern or practice of engaging in excessive force, and noting that Anderson, the plaintiff, had not yet named or served the John Doe defendants and that the statutes of limitation had expired on her claims.

Rice ended up granting summary judgment for the city and ordered Anderson to seek leave to amend her complaint to identify the defendant officers by name and address whether the amendments should relate back to the complaint’s filing date, which she did in late October.

The city’s attorneys opposed the motion for leave to amend the complaint, and on Dec. 19, a month after hearing oral arguments, Rice held an evidentiary hearing during which former counsel for the city and two of the four actual police officers testified about their communication regarding the plaintiff’s complaint.

In his Dec. 20 memorandum and order, Rice wrote that Anderson’s amendments naming the actual officers must be denied as futile because they are barred by the statutes of limitation.

Rice stated that Anderson claimed she needed to depose the officers in order to obtain sufficient information to assert claims against them and, because of scheduling issues, she did not have the opportunity to depose an officer until late September.

Anderson, however, never sought Rice’s assistance in resolving her issues, even though the statutes of limitations on her claims had expired, and both the discovery deadline and the trial start date were just around the corner.

“Given these circumstances – and because I find that the actual officers would be prejudiced if added as parties and served now, more than three years after the alleged incident and well after the discovery period and the dispositive motion deadline have passed – Anderson has not shown ‘good cause’ for an extension of Rule 4(m)’s 120-day service period,” Rice wrote in his memorandum. “Because Anderson cannot show that the actual officers had any notice of her lawsuit within Rule 4(m)’s 120-day service period or that she is entitled to an extension of this period, she cannot satisfy the second element or Rule 15(c)(1)(C)’s relation-back test. I do not need to consider the test’s third element.”

Rule 4(m) generally requires that a complaint be served to a defendant within 120 days of its filing. The phrase “good cause” under Rule 4(m) depends on the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s efforts to serve the defendants, prejudice to the defendant by the lack of timely service, and whether the plaintiff moved for an enlargement of time to serve, according to the judge’s ruling.

Anderson had argued that she made no attempt to serve the actual officers or obtain an extension or Rule 4(m)’s 120-day service period because she did not know the officers’ true identifies, according to the memorandum.

The plaintiff asserted that the city did not provide her with this identifying information until Feb. 23, after the statutory time of service of the officers.

The judge, however, wrote that Anderson took no action to compel the city to provide her with the information earlier on.

“Even after receiving the officers’ names in February 2012, Anderson did not timely move to amend her Complaint to add the actual officers as defendants or seek an extension of the service period,” Rice wrote. “Rather, she waited another eight months to seek leave to amend, doing so only when ordered.”

The reason Anderson’s claims were barred by the statutes of limitations in the first place was because she had named John Does as defendants and not actual police officers.

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