Statute of limitations dismisses City of Philadelphia, police officer from false imprisonment action

By Nicholas Malfitano | Aug 8, 2018


PHILADELPHIA – One police officer and the City of Philadelphia have been dismissed from a plaintiff’s civil rights infraction and unlawful imprisonment case filed against several fellow Philadelphia police officers, due to the application of state law and a two-year statute of limitations.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Judge Michael M. Baylson dismissed Officer Paul Rich and the City of Philadelphia without prejudice on Aug. 3, from the complaint filed by plaintiff Angelica Rivera against defendant Officers Reginald Graham, Gerald Passalacqua and Philadelphia Police Department John Doe Officers 1-6.

Plaintiff Angelica Rivera brought the instant action under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, alleging as a result of police misconduct, she was incarcerated for three months for narcotics and firearm offenses that she did not commit.

Rivera alleges that defendants Graham, Rich, Passalacqua, and Does 1-6 improperly arrested her on Nov. 3, 2011. Plaintiff alleges that defendants, all police officers at the time: (1) Prepared police paperwork misrepresenting the events that led to plaintiff’s arrest, and (2) Failed to provide exculpatory information they knew about plaintiff’s arrest. Per Rivera’s litigation, without the false allegations, there would have been no probable cause for her arrest and subsequent prosecution.

“Plaintiff alleges that her bail was set for $20,000, and that she was unable to pay. However, according to plaintiff, her bail was reduced to $6,000 on Jan. 5, 2012, and she was thereafter able to pay her bail and secure her release. Plaintiff was acquitted of all relevant charges on Sept. 16, 2015, nearly four years after her arrest on Nov. 3, 2011,” Baylson said.

According to the complaint, between the time of Rivera’s arrest in 2011 and her acquittal in 2015, defendant Graham, a Philadelphia police officer, was the subject of federal and state investigations into police corruption – alleging in May of 2014, defendant Graham failed a polygraph test regarding theft of monies during a 2005 police raid.

“According to plaintiff, on June 22, 2016, defendant Graham admitted to the Internal Affairs Division of the Philadelphia Police Department that he lied during the polygraph test. However, plaintiff alleges that the PPD and Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office concealed defendant Graham’s failed polygraph test from plaintiff and her criminal defense attorneys during the pendency of her criminal case,” Baylson stated.

The plaintiff alleges on Oct. 28, 2016, PPD charged defendant Graham with two offenses: (1) “Conduct Unbecoming,” for engaging in the commission of a felony or misdemeanor (in connection with PPD’s investigation into stolen monies), and (2) “Conduct Unbecoming” for lying or attempting to deceive regarding a material fact during the course of a PPD investigation (for lying about his role in stealing monies).

“According to the complaint, defendant Graham was found guilty on all charges on March 8, 2017, as a result of which his employment with the Philadelphia Police Department was terminated. The complaint also alleges that, in March, 2018, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office disclosed to the public a list of officers deemed ‘not fit to testify in court.’ Defendant Graham appeared on the list,” Baylson said.

“Rivera alleges that ‘she only recently discovered that defendant Graham was the target of investigations into police corruption and was on the District Attorney’s ‘Do Not Call’ list.’ Therefore, plaintiff alleges that she ‘brings this civil rights action based on this newly discovered evidence.”

Therefore, Rivera filed her complaint on May 17. On July 17, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, based on the argument that Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations for Section 1983 claims began tolling at her 2011 arrest and barred the suit – while the plaintiff countered that same two-year limit did not begin to toll until Officer Graham’s name was released on the “Do Not Call” list on March 6.

“Defendants filed a reply brief on July 25, asserting that Pennsylvania’s ‘discovery rule’ would not apply to the instant situation because plaintiff was able to detect her alleged injury – improper arrest – as early as November 2011, when she was arrested. Moreover, according to defendants, to the extent that plaintiff is asserting that exculpatory evidence was unfairly withheld from her, her acquittal means that she was not injured and thus cannot sustain her civil rights claim,” Baylson said.

Baylson explained that Section 1983 does not include a statute of limitations but generally, each state utilizes the statute of limitations connected to personal injury for those same cases. In the instant matter, the judge said the statute of limitations would not be tolled.

“In the present case, it is clear that a two-year statute of limitations applies and that it began to accrue at the time that plaintiff was incarcerated in 2011. Also clear is that the statute of limitations may not be tolled under the Pennsylvania discovery rule, based on the allegations contained in this complaint,” Baylson stated.

“Accepting plaintiff’s allegations as true, which the Court must at this stage, plaintiff knew at least as early as the time she was acquitted in 2015 that she had been injured. Although plaintiff alleges she obtained better evidence of defendant Graham’s improper conduct (related to a separate case) in March 2018, that is not a valid basis for invoking the discovery rule to toll the relevant statute of limitations period, which only applies where it was ‘the latent nature of the injury that prevented [the claimant] from knowing of it,”

Therefore, Baylson granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss.

“All claims against defendant Rich and defendant City of Philadelphia are dismissed without prejudice. However, none of the other defendants have filed a motion to dismiss, and thus cannot be dismissed from the case at this time,” Baylson concluded.

The plaintiffs are represented by Michael Pileggi in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Michael R. Miller of the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:18-cv-02066

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

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