Third Circuit Court dismisses search and seizure, other allegations versus Philadelphia police

By Nicholas Malfitano | Oct 17, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – An appellate court has dismissed charges of unconstitutional search and seizure, violation of equal protection and due process and a fabrication of warrant against the City of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department.

On Oct. 13, judges D. Michael Fisher, Patty Shwartz and Robert E. Cowen decided to uphold a trial court verdict dismissing all claims brought on behalf of Aaron Houston against the City of Philadelphia and various members of the Philadelphia Police Department, in conjunction with Houston’s arrest and the subsequent confiscation of his firearm.

Houston was involved in an altercation with his former roommates and two of their friends. Houston, the legal owner of a pistol, pulled the gun in self-defense but did not fire it. He was then arrested by members of the Philadelphia Police Department and his pistol was confiscated. Criminal charges were brought against Houston, which were later dismissed and expunged from his record, and he wanted to re-obtain his pistol.

“Because he did not comply with the City’s legal procedures for the return of confiscated property, the pistol was not returned. Subsequently, Houston bought a new pistol, and sought a license to carry from the City,” the Third Circuit said. “The application was denied for several reasons, and when Houston appealed the denial to the relevant city agency, that agency affirmed that denial. Houston declined to appeal the agency decision to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.”

Houston filed his complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in July 2013, raising claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and under state law, against the City of Philadelphia, the City Police Commissioner, Officer Anthony Barbera, Detective Mary Caldwell, the Philadelphia Police Department’s Forensic Investigation Unit, and other representatives of the department.

In his lawsuit, Houston alleged (1) A Fourth Amendment false arrest claim against Officer Barbera; (2) a Fourth Amendment search and seizure claim; (3) a fabrication of warrant claim against Detective Caldwell; (4) a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against the City of Philadelphia; and (5) a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against the City of Philadelphia.

In response, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, against which Houston submitted an affidavit stating that he witnessed Officer Barbera confiscate his firearm without a warrant at 4:30 a.m. the morning of his arrest.

“By contrast, a police report entered by the defendants indicated that a warrant was obtained at 10:15 a.m., and that Houston’s bedroom was searched and his weapon seized after. Houston had specifically testified at a deposition, however, that Officer Barbera was not the police officer who seized the gun,” the appellate court stated.

The District Court granted summary judgment on all claims for the defendants, and Houston timely appealed.

“We will affirm the District Court’s decision for substantially the reasons it provided in its July 20, 2015, decision,” the Third Circuit said, and outlined the reasons for the affirmation.

“First, Houston failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to his false arrest and false warrant claims. Second, he failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact as to his search and seizure claim, and the District Court appropriately disregarded the affidavit attached to his reply because of the inconsistencies between his prior deposition and the subsequent affidavit,” the Third Circuit said.

“Third, Houston failed to demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact regarding his equal protection and due process claims. Finally, Houston failed to demonstrate a violation of his Second Amendment rights,” the Third Circuit concluded.

The defendants are represented by Aaron Shotland, of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3048

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 2:13-cv-04442

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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