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Glover v. City of Wilmington

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 7, 2013

DOROTHEIA GLOVER, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WILMINGTON and GERALD J. CONNOR, Defendants.

Stephen Price Norman, Esq. (argued), THE NORMAN LAW FIRM, Dagsboro, DE. Attorney for Plaintiff Dorotheia Glover.

Rosamaria Tassone-DiNardo, Esq. (argued), CITY OF WILMINGTON LAW DEPARTMENT, Wilmington, DE., Attorney for Defendants City of Wilmington and Gerald J. Connor.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Dorotheia Glover filed her complaint on May 17, 2011. (D.I. 1). The Complaint asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for "Fourth Amendment Malicious Prosecution, " "Fourth Amendment Unlawful Detention, " "Fourth Amendment Use of Excessive Force, " and "Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection" against Defendants City of Wilmington and Master Corporal Gerald J. Connor, Jr. of the Wilmington City Police Department. The Complaint also asserts violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act against the City. On March 6, 2012, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. (D.I. 51). The Amended Complaint also asserts a Monell claim against the City as well as claims for "Failure to Provide Medical Care" and "State Malicious Prosecution" against the City and Officer Connor.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims on January 22, 2013. (D.I. 89). The motion is fully briefed (D.I. 90, 103, 105), and the Court heard oral argument on June 13, 2013. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment.[1]

I. FACTS

This case arises out of a car accident that occurred on July 3, 2009, in which Plaintiffs vehicle was struck by a drunk driver. Plaintiffs version of the events that evening differs greatly from those of Officers Connor and Schifano. Plaintiff claims that she was a passenger in her own vehicle when her car was struck by the drunk driver. (D.I. 97 at Al 155). When Officer Schifano arrived on the scene, Plaintiff told him that she was not driving her vehicle when the collision occurred and that she was having a panic attack. (Id. at Al 155, 1162). Officer Connor later arrived on the scene and took over questioning Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that she told Officer Connor that she was not driving her car and that the driver was her companion, June Goldborough. (Id. at Al 156). Plaintiff also claims that she informed Officer Connor that she was having a panic attack. Officer Connor, believing that the symptoms of Plaintiff s panic attack were a sign of intoxication, administered a portable breath test, which showed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.000. (Id.). Plaintiff also told Officer Connor that she had taken percocet the day before and that it might still be in her system. (Id. at Al 164). Officer Connor asked Plaintiff whether she wanted an ambulance, which Plaintiff refused. (Id. at Al 156, 1164). Officer Connor then told her that she was being arrested for refusing medical care. (Id. at Al 156). After handcuffing Plaintiff, Officer Connor pushed her to the ground, which caused her to sustain deep cuts on her knees. (Id. at Al 157). Plaintiff was then transported to the police station and imprisoned in a cell for several hours, while she continued to have a panic attack. Plaintiff was later charged with resisting arrest. (Id. at Al 163). The State ultimately filed a nolle prosequi in the criminal proceeding against Plaintiff for resisting arrest, terminating the prosecution. (D.I. 93 at A459-62).

Ms. Goldborough's deposition testimony mostly supports Plaintiffs version of events. She testified that she, not Plaintiff, was driving Plaintiffs car and that they both told the police that Plaintiff was not driving. (D.I. 93 at A550-52). Ms. Goldborough also testified that Officer Connor shoved Plaintiff to the ground either while he was handcuffing her or after she was handcuffed. (Id. at A529, 532-33).

Officer Schifano and Officer Connor both assert that Plaintiff first admitted to driving and then later backtracked and said that she was not driving. (D.I. 94 at A631, 676; D.I. 95 at A839-43). They claim that none of the witnesses or the other two people who were in Plaintiffs car could identify the driver. (D.I. 95 at A843-44). Officer Connor also stated that he observed Plaintiff slurring and mumbling and that she could not stand without swaying or stumbling. (D.I. 94 at A632, 644, 646). He asked Plaintiff to recite the alphabet, to which she responded that she was having a panic attack. (Id. at A749-50). He asked whether she needed an ambulance, and she said no. (Id. at 640-41). Believing Plaintiff might be under the influence of drugs, Officer Connor asked her if she had taken any medication. (Id. at A653-54, 665). Plaintiff admitted that she had taken percocet the previous day. It was his opinion that Plaintiff was using her panic attack symptoms to mask her intoxication. He decided to take her to the police station for further investigation of driving under the influence. He maintains that Plaintiff pushed and pulled away from him in an attempt to prevent him from placing handcuffs and purposely fell to the ground to prevent him from taking her to his police vehicle. (Id. at A676-78). It was later decided that DUI charges would not be pursued. Officer Connor, however, did charge Plaintiff with resisting arrest. As stated, that charge ultimately was dropped.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A "material fact" is one that "could affect the outcome" of the proceeding. See Lamont v. New Jersey, 637 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 n. 10 (1986). The court will "draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000).

If the moving party is able to demonstrate an absence of disputed material facts, the nonmoving party then "must come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., All U.S. 242, 249 (1986); see also Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. The mere existence of some evidence in support of the nonmoving party, however, will not be sufficient for denial of a motion for summary judgment. Anderson, Ml U.S. at 249. Rather, the nonmoving party must present enough evidence to enable a jury to reasonably find for it on that issue. Id. If the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 411 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Qualified Immunity

Officer Connor first argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiffs § 1983 Fourth Amendment claims because he had reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff had committed the crime of DUI. (D.I. 90 at 4-14). Plaintiff disputes that Officer Connor had either reasonable suspicion or probable cause to arrest her. (D.I. 103 at 11-14).

"[L]aw enforcement officers acting within their professional capacity are generally immune from trial 'insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 786 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614 (1999)); see also Rogers v. Powell, 120 F.3d 446, 454 (3d Cir. 1997). The qualified immunity defense requires a two-step analysis. First, the Court "must 'determine whether the plaintiff has alleged the deprivation of an actual constitutional right.'" Wilson, 212 F.3d at 786 (quoting Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286, 290 (1999)). Second, the Court must '"determine whether that right was clearly established at the time of the alleged violation.'" Id. (quoting Conn, 526 U.S. at 290). In determining whether a right was clearly established, the relevant "inquiry is whether a reasonable officer could have believed that his or her conduct was lawful in light of the clearly established law and the information in the officer's possession." Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 826 (3d Cir. 1997). "A law enforcement officer is entitled to qualified immunity if it would not be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Gilles v. Davis, 421 F.3d 197, 203-04 (3d Cir. 2005). Even if an officer does not have actual reasonable suspicion or probable cause, where "officers of reasonable competence could disagree on [the] issue, [qualified] immunity should be granted." Woodlen v. Jimenez, 173 F.App'x 168, 170 (3d Cir. 2006).

Generally, "the existence of probable cause is a factual issue." Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 635 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Deary v. Three Un-Named Police Officers, 746 F.2d 185, 191 (3d Cir. 1984)). A court may grant summary judgment on probable cause in an appropriate case, id., but this is not such a case.

Viewing the disputed evidence in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Officer Connor did not have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for DUI. There are two factual issues that must be considered. Was the Plaintiff driving? Was she impaired? For purposes of this decision, in view of her testimony and that of Ms. Goldborough, the Plaintiff was not driving and that is what they consistently told both officers, Connor and Schifano. In regards to impairment, there was undisputed evidence that she had taken percocet at some undetermined time in the previous twenty-four hours and that she was showing symptoms that were consistent with impairment and panic attack. If evidence of impairment was not at the probable cause level, it was pretty close. Thus, viewing the disputed evidence as Plaintiff suggests, Officer Connor did not have probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for DUI because he did not have probable cause that she had driven the vehicle.

Using the same standard of review, however, Officer Connor did have a reasonable suspicion that the Plaintiff was driving under the influence. The primary argument of Plaintiff is that there was no reasonable suspicion that she had been driving because she and Ms. Goldborough told the officers that Ms. Goldborough had been driving. Accepting that as truth, as I must, it does not follow that Officer Connor did not have reasonable suspicion that the Plaintiff was the driver. Plaintiff owned the car; Plaintiff had the car keys shortly after the accident. Although obviously less than conclusive that Plaintiff had been the driver (and not sufficient to establish probable cause), those two undisputed facts would provide reasonable suspicion that the Plaintiff had been the driver, notwithstanding that Plaintiff and Ms. Goldborough told the officers a contrary story. Thus, Officer Connor had reason to continue the investigation.

Delaware cases provide that under some circumstances, a person suspected of DUI, but for whom the police officer does not have probable cause, may lawfully be taken to the police station for further investigation. E.g., State v. Maxwell, 1996 WL 658993, *2 (Del. Super. Ct. May 20, 1996) ("in very limited circumstances"); Williams v. Shahan, 1993 WL 81264, *2 (Del. Super. Ct. Aug. 30, 1996).[2] Plaintiff has not cited any Delaware cases in support of the proposition that Delaware law prohibits taking a person against the person's will to a police station for investigative purposes. While there could be arguments about whether this was an appropriate case to take the suspect to ...


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