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WEYANDT v. MASON'S STORES

February 9, 1968

Margie J. WEYANDT, Plaintiff,
v.
MASON'S STORES, INC., (Pa.-3), Walter Ellis, trading and doing business as Investigation & Protective Service, also known as I.P.S. Detective Agency, Nadean Matlack, Gerald Prouix, John Price, Donald Fowkes and W. Don Marlin, Justice of the Peace, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARSH

 The action is directed against Mason's Stores, Inc. (Mason), owner of a store wherein certain events recited in plaintiff's Complaint are alleged to have occurred; its store manager, Gerald Prouix; Walter Ellis, proprietor of a detective agency employed by Mason to protect its store; Nadean Matlack, a private detective in the employ of Ellis and assigned to the Mason store; John Price, a police officer of Logan Township, Blair County, Pennsylvania; Donald Fowkes, a deputy constable of Logan Township, Blair County, Pennsylvania; and W. Don Marlin, a justice of the peace of Logan Township, Blair County, Pennsylvania. The Complaint against defendant Marlin was dismissed by order of this court of December 7, 1967, on motion for judgment on the pleadings, on the grounds that as a justice of the peace, defendant Marlin was immune from liability for damages. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-555, 87 S. Ct. 1213, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288 (1967); Bauers v. Heisel, 361 F.2d 581, 584 (3d Cir. 1966).

 Defendants Mason, Prouix, Ellis and Matlack have moved to dismiss the action against them on grounds, inter alia, that they did not act "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage"; that plaintiff pleads no facts which could warrant any inference that they participated in any conspiracy to deprive her of any civil rights; and, there being no diversity of citizenship, that this court has no jurisdiction over tort actions for false arrest, false imprisonment and assault, as averred in para. 4 of the Complaint.

 We think the motions of these defendants should be granted and plaintiff's action against them dismissed.

 On motion to dismiss, the allegations of the Complaint and the inferences to be drawn therefrom must be taken most strongly in plaintiff's favor. Valle v. Stengel, 176 F.2d 697, 701 (3d Cir. 1949). It is likewise axiomatic that in an action for damages under the Civil Rights statutes, the plaintiff must allege highly specific facts. United States ex rel. Hoge v. Bolsinger, 211 F. Supp. 199 (W.D.Pa.1962), aff'd 311 F.2d 215 (3d Cir. 1962), cert. denied 372 U.S. 931, 83 S. Ct. 878, 9 L. Ed. 2d 735 (1963); Pugliano v. Staziak, 231 F. Supp. 347, 349 (W.D.Pa.1964), aff'd 345 F.2d 797 (3d Cir. 1965).

 Plaintiff alleges that on January 13, 1967 she was a customer in the Mason store located at Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Route 220, Altoona, Blair County, Pennsylvania. She alleges that while there for the purpose of making purchases she was confined by store manager Prouix in a private office where she was slapped and beaten by Prouix and other Mason employees and by defendant Matlack; refused her request for permission to contact her attorney; and forcibly restrained from leaving the office when she attempted to do so. Though plaintiff does not say so, her further allegations make clear that defendants Prouix and Matlack suspected her of shoplifting.

 She alleges that when defendants Price and Fowkes arrived at the scene, she was outside the door of the office and continued walking out of the store followed by Price, Fowkes and Prouix, until she reached a distance of approximately 500 feet outside the store, whereupon she was grabbed by Price and bodily carried through spectators back into the store and into the same office and again forcibly restrained.

 She alleges that Matlack, Price and Fowkes insisted she sign a confession, which she refused to do; and that under compulsion she was forced to expose her person and forcibly searched. Thereafter Matlack, Price and Prouix forcibly escorted her to an automobile and Fowkes and Matlack took her before the justice of the peace who charged her with aiding and abetting a shoplifter *fn1" and resisting arrest. Asked how she pleaded, plaintiff said she needed counsel. The justice told her she must post $38 cash bail to be released. She called for bail but was committed to Blair County jail for a number of hours, on instructions of the justice, until bond was placed.

 Subsequently, a summons was served on her to answer a charge of shoplifting on a complaint filed by defendant Matlack. At a hearing held on Friday, January 20, 1967, before the same justice of the peace, the charge was dismissed.

 In addition to the averments of false arrest, false imprisonment and assault, plaintiff alleges that she was deprived of her right to counsel and was committed to jail under color of a charge for which no crime exists in Pennsylvania (para. 4 of the Complaint).

 Count One, in which all of the above events are alleged, appears intended to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, whereby:

 
"Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress."

 A threshold issue in actions based on § 1983 is whether the alleged tortfeasor acted "under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory." For action to be taken under color of State law requires "misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law, * * *." United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326, 61 S. Ct. 1031, 1043, 85 L. Ed. 1368 (1941); accord Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 184, 81 S. Ct. 473, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1961). Since the moving defendants are private individuals and a private corporation, plaintiff resorts to ...


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