Malicious Prosecution • Inappropriate Police Investigation • Malice • Intentional Torts

Combs v. Blowes, PICS Case No. 13-3387 (C.P. Philadelphia November 4, 2013) Rizzo, J. (18 pages).

Jury acted reasonably when it found in favor of Plaintiff on claim for malicious prosecution, where there was ample evidence that detective’s lack of appropriate investigation into the alle-gations against plaintiff resulting in her arrest on false charges constituted malice.

Plaintiff brought an action against Defendant for malicious prosecution based on failures by Defendant in her police investigation resulting from false allegations of kidnapping leveled against Plaintiff by her daughter. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of Plaintiff and awarded her $150,000 compensatory damages and an additional $1000 in punitive damages. Defendant moved for post-trial relief, alleging that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict of the intentional tort of malicious prosecution, because there was no evidence from which a reasonable person could find that Defendant acted with actual malice towards Plaintiff, and that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict on the issue of Defendant’ engaging in willful misconduct because the evidence showed, at worse, that Defendant engaged in gross negligence with regard to the extent and scope of her investigation. The court denied the motion, and Defendant appealed.

The court of common pleas filed a 1925(a) opinion asserting that denial of the post-trial motion be upheld.

Here, it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that Defendant acted with malice. Defendant recklessly and with extreme disregard filed an arrest warrant for Combs even though she had no probable cause to do so. Defendant did little basic investigation into the alleged crime, yet is-sued the warrant. When asked to check the validity of the warrant 10 months later, did no further investigation. Defendant filled out an affidavit of probable cause filled with material misstatements and omissions of facts. She did not properly follow police directives or execute a basic investigation into the alleged crimes. Further, pursuant to police directive, if a warrant is not executed within 30 days of its issuance, the case requires re-investigation. Yet, 10 months after the initial missing person reports were filed, Defendant merely checked to see if the war-rant was still in effect when another officer asked about it. She did no follow-up investigation to establish probable cause for the arrest. As a result, Combs was publicly arrested at her place of employment in front of her supervisors, colleagues and students.

Lack of investigation or even minimal fact checking, documentation, or corroboration by Defendant, as well as Defendant’s extreme deviation from police protocols, the lack of case assignment during her work absence, the alleged focus on Delaware, and the lack of re-investigation after 10 months which resulted in Plaintiff’s arrest recklessly disregarded Plain-tiff’s rights and constituted malice for purposes of malicious prosecution.