Federal court finds no Monell violation from Philly parking enforcement officer

By Nicholas Malfitano | Feb 18, 2016

Philadelphia Parking Authority  

PHILADELPHIA – A man who alleges he was falsely arrested and detained after a supposed altercation with a Philadelphia Parking Authority officer has had claims of a Monell violation dismissed, through a motion of summary judgment granted for the defense.

Judge Michael M. Baylson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said, “Plaintiff has failed to state a Section 1983 claim and thus summary judgment is warranted on all federal causes of action. Even if the Court credits plaintiff’s assertion that Castro lied to the police, such behavior does not constitute ‘state action’ and cannot form the basis of any Section 1983 claim against her.”

On Dec. 6, 2013, Philadelphia Parking Authority Parking Enforcement Officer Luz Castro was patrolling in the vicinity of 1100 Arch Street in Center City, Philadelphia. At that same place and time, plaintiff Krzysztof Wiecek was waiting in a “No Stopping Zone” near 1100 Arch Street, for his cousin to come out from Reading Terminal Market.

Castro and Wiecek had a brief interaction, in which Castro advised Wiecek he could stay there so long as he left his vehicle attended and left when the cousin returned. Afterwards, Castro issued a parking ticket for another vehicle parked down the street owned by a man named Sidney Johnson. According to the suit, while Castro was standing near Johnson’s car, both Johnson and Wiecek confronted Castro to protest the issuance of the ticket.

Feeling threatened, Castro placed a “priority” call to PPA’s communications center requesting immediate assistance, and police were dispatched to Castro’s location. By the time they arrived, Wiecek had left the area, and Castro reported to police that he had struck her in the forehead – an assertion Wiecek denies.

Police officers stopped Wiecek’s car on North Broad Street. After Castro arrived and identified Wiecek, he was arrested, handcuffed and taken into police custody. Wiecek was arraigned and released on bail 10 hours later, and was ultimately acquitted after a bench trial in Municipal Court on Feb. 24, 2014.

Wiecek admitted “there is no evidence that Castro or any other PPA employee have ever previously made a false report to the police to cause the false arrest of a member of the public, or that even any such false report was ever alleged” (grounds for termination) and that agency policy is for PPA officers to call for assistance if they have been assaulted or feel unsafe.

The defendants moved for summary judgment on Wiecek’s federal Monell claims and implied (though not specified) state law claims of malicious prosecution, false imprisonment/arrest and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Baylson’s inquiry became whether Castro was acting under color of law in this case, since parking officers can do so in limited circumstances, such as when issuing tickets. According to Baylson, this argument failed.

“Neither the fact that Castro was on duty at the time she made her statement nor the fact that she used the PPA priority alert system to summon the police are sufficient to render Castro’s behavior state action,” Baylson said. “Castro’s status as a parking enforcement officer and method of bringing police to the scene are simply not a material part of the conduct that gave rise to plaintiff’s alleged injury.”

Baylson also pointed out Wiecek did not cite any cases that “elevated criminal penalties for assaulting a PPA employee can somehow turn the false reporting of said assaults into state action.”

“Therefore, there cannot be any Section 1983 action against Castro, and plaintiff’s federal [Monell] claims as to her shall be dismissed,” Baylson said. “Plaintiff’s allegations fail to prove that the PPA acted with deliberate indifference to plaintiff’s constitutional rights in allowing Castro to remain employed even assuming that everything plaintiff alleges about Castro is true.”

Baylson added even if Wiecek suffered a constitutional injury in this case – “a plainly false assumption as to malicious prosecution and a dubious one at best as to false arrest/imprisonment” – Wiecek’s Monell claim failed because he could not satisfy the standard for liability.

Further, Baylson said since Wiecek did not specify his state law claims, the U.S. District Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them as well.

“Plaintiff’s Section 1983 claims fail as a matter of law because plaintiff does not allege state action and because plaintiff cannot demonstrate sufficient municipal culpability under Monell,” Baylson said. “Accordingly, they shall be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff’s state law claims shall be dismissed without prejudice.”

The plaintiff is represented by John Wendell Beavers in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Patrick J. Doran and Gary D. Fry of Archer & Greiner, plus Steven C. Boc of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, also all in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-06925

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

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