Pennsylvania Record

Friday, February 28, 2020

Court partially dismisses lawsuit over Chinese restaurant dispute that led to fight at customer's home

Federal Court

By Charmaine Little | Sep 10, 2019


PHILADELPHIA - A stop at a Philadelphia Chinese restaurant turned into a physical dispute and a lawsuit, which has been partially dismissed.

Judge Cynthia M. Rufe of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled on the case Aug. 30.

James Albert McCall III and his stepson, Yaaseen Nixon, sued the City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Police Department officers Deayoung Park, Matthew Farley, Bruce Wright and Timothy Dougherty. He claimed they violated his rights in the Fourth and 14th amendments, while also filing state tort law claims against Good Luck Chinese Restaurant, employee Ling Lin and her husband and coworker, Zhou Zhao.

Lin allegedly followed McCall to the home he shared with his wife and Nixon after McCall was upset with a fruit salad he purchased from Good Luck, the decision reads. Zhao was also present during the alleged altercation that followed, which resulted in McCall and Nixon being arrested nearly two months later. They then sued, stating they experienced wrongful arrest and excessive force at the hands of the officers.

Park filed a motion to dismiss only the excessive force and unlawful search claims, not the unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution, but Farley, Wright and Dougherty asked the court to dismiss all of the claims.

The court denied the motion to dismiss the unlawful search and malicious prosecution claims, saying the plaintiffs “have properly (pleaded) enough factual allegations regarding the personal involvement of officers Farley, Wright, and Dougherty in the alleged unlawful arrests and malicious prosecutions.”

The court also denied the motion to dismiss the unlawful search claims. McCall and Nixon said the officers came to their home with no justification and that the search did not uncover any evidence of a crime, the lawsuit read.

However, the court dismissed the excessive force, saying McCall and Nixon failed to prove any specific instances during which police used excessive force.

The court dismissed section 1983 claims against the city, saying the plaintiffs failed to provide any previous pattern that would align the claims that the city encouraged misconduct.

All defendants will face Pennsylvania tort law claims alleging negligence, false arrest/false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, fraud, defamation, slander, negligent infliction of emotional distress and outrageous conduct causing emotional distress, denying the city's and officers' motion to dismiss.

Good Luck, Lin and Zhou said the state tort law claims should be dismissed for lack of supplemental jurisdiction, but the court disagreed. It said the claims “are related to the eventual search, arrest, detention, and prosecution of plaintiffs, as they allege such actions against them were largely based on the fabrication of facts during the investigation period. Thus, the court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims as arising from a common nucleus of operative facts at this stage,” the court ruling read.

The restaurant and its workers also said the plaintiffs didn’t state a Pennsylvania tort law claim, which the court granted for Zhao, but not for Lin or the restaurant. Zhao was hardly named in the complaint, the court ruled, but Lin allegedly acted inappropriately in more ways than one, the lawsuit alleges. 

The court said employers can be responsible for a worker’s actions if it caused injury to a third party, as long as they were acting within the scope of their employment. The court determined that this part is unclear, so it refused to dismiss this complaint against Lin and the restaurant.

This all started after McCall went into the restaurant and bought a fruit salad from Lin on Sept. 3, 2016. He came back to the restaurant and complained that the fruit wasn’t fresh, and the two got into a verbal altercation in which Lin tossed money at McCall, who flipped over a trash can before walking out of the restaurant, the lawsuit said. McCall walked home and Lin threw a glass bottle while following behind him, the lawsuit said. Lin followed him home and threatened that McCall was going to jail, the lawsuit read. McCall’s wife came outside of their homem and Lin allegedly spit in her face, the lawsuit read. Zhao was also there and got closer to McCall, the lawsuit read.

Things got even uglier when Nixon came out of the home and pushed Zhao away from McCall, the lawsuit read. McCall, his wife and Nixon then went inside their home to prevent any further issues. But nearly two months later, Lin and Zhao went to the Philadelphia Police Department. Park interviewed them about their encounter with the plaintiffs, and Lin claimed that McCall’s wife aimed a shotgun at her during their dispute, the lawsuit said. She added that Nixon punched Zhao, the lawsuit read. Park was approved for a search warrant of the plaintiffs’ home on Oct. 26, 2016, but found no proof of any illegal activity, the lawsuit read. Still, McCall and Nixon were charged with criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of a crime, making terrorist threats, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person and carrying firearms in public.

In July 2017, the plaintiffs went to the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, and the criminal charges were withdrawn. They then filed the lawsuit, stating they suffered excessive force, unlawful arrest and search, and malicious prosecution.

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