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Holmes v. City of Wilmington

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 19, 2017

PATRICIA HOLMES, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF WILMINGTON, Wilmington Police Detective KIMBERLY PFAFF, Wilmington Police Detective RANDY HOWELL, and Police Members JOHN DOE Numbers One Through Ten, Badge Numbers Unknown, Defendants.

          Derek C. Abbott, Esquire of Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell LLP, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Plaintiff. Of Counsel: L. Kenneth Chotiner, Esquire of The Chotiner Firm, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

          Sarah A. Fruehauf, Esquire of City of Wilmington Law Department, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robinson, Senior District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On May 13, 2013, Medford Holmes ("Holmes") filed a complaint against defendants City of Wilmington (the "City"), police detective Kimberly Pfaff ("Pfaff"), police detective Randy Nowell ("Nowell"), and John Doe numbers 1 through 10 (collectively, the "defendants") asserting various federal civil rights and state law tort claims. (D.I. 1) After Holmes death, the court granted a motion to substitute Patricia Holmes, the personal representative of Holmes' estate, as plaintiff in this case (the "plaintiff'). (D.I. 15) Currently pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 47) The court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons discussed below, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In May 2011, Holmes was arrested on charges of First Degree Murder. (D.I. 48 at 2) Three witnesses were presented at Holmes criminal trial in September 2011. (Id. at 4) Two witnesses were unable to identify Holmes and a third witness was not asked to make an identification. (Id.) After the trial ended in a mistrial, the prosecuting attorney decided to nolle prosequi the charges. (Id. at 5)

         The complaint alleges that defendants deprived Holmes of:

[his] right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, verbal abuse, to be secure in ones' [sic] person and property, and to due process [both procedural and substantive] and equal protection of law ... under the laws and Constitution of the United States, in particular the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments thereof, and 42 U.S.C. §§1983 and 1985.

(D.I. I ¶ 39) Holmes asserted a separate claim against the City for municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, often referred to as a Monell claim. (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42) The complaint further claimed that defendants were "acting in concert and conspiracy" to deprive Holmes of these rights. (Id. at ¶ 45) Lastly, Holmes alleged that defendants committed the Delaware common law torts of "assault and battery, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, interference with state constitutional rights, [simple] negligence, gross negligence, and negligent hiring, training, retention and supervision." (Id. at ¶45)

         In briefing on a previous motion to dismiss, Holmes asked the court to dismiss his claims for equal protection, verbal abuse, conspiracy, all state law claims against the City, and state law claims against the individual defendants for intentional infliction of emotional distress and simple negligence. (D.I. 19 at 1 n. 1) The court obliged Holmes on this request. (D.I. 21 at 8 n. 9; D.I. 22) Separately, the court dismissed the excessive force and substantive due process claims for failure to state a claim as a matter of law. (D.I. 21 at ¶¶ 28 & 36; D.I. 22) The court also found that the complaint failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim under Twombly for procedural due process and false arrest/false imprisonment. (D.I. 21 ¶¶ 34, 39) Neither the memorandum nor the order explicitly stated that the procedural due process and false arrest/false imprisonment claims were being dismissed, but the memorandum clearly stated that plaintiff had leave to cure the pleading deficiencies, and the order gave plaintiff until March 4, 2015 to file an amended complaint. (D.I. 21 at ¶¶ 34 & 39; D.I. 22) Plaintiff did not file an amended complaint by that date. Accordingly, the claims for procedural due process and false arrest/false imprisonment are hereby dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim.

         In briefing on the instant motion, plaintiff has asked the court to dismiss the Monell claims against the City and all claims against the John Doe Defendants. (D.I. 56 at 2) As a result of all these procedural developments, the following claims remain subject to defendants' motion for summary judgment: a malicious prosecution claim, a § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim, and claims against Pffaff and Nowell for the Delaware common law torts of assault and battery, false imprisonment, interference with state constitutional rights, and gross negligence.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "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). 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.,415 U.S. 475, 586 n. 10 (1986). A party asserting that a fact cannot be-or, alternatively, is-genuinely disputed must support the assertion either by citing to "particular parts of materials in the record, " or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B). If the moving party has carried its burden, the nonmovant must then "come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matsushita, 415 U.S. at 587 (internal quotation marks omitted). The court ...


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