plaintiff, prevented his leaving the store, and committed an assault and battery upon him. Thereafter on January 31, 1974, Thompson filed a criminal complaint against plaintiff, charging him with disorderly conduct. At his trial before a Lancaster County district justice, plaintiff was acquitted and discharged from arrest and further prosecution.
Invoking the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983) and 42 U.S.C. § 1985,
and their jurisdictional counterparts, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343,
plaintiff thereafter instituted this action. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendants' actions, under color of state law, violated his constitutional rights: (1) of personal security and freedom from arrest except upon probable cause guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment; (2) of due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) to be informed of the nature of accusations against him as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment; (4) reserved under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; and (5) to equal protection of the laws mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment. He further contends that the acts complained of were the result of a scheme and conspiracy by which the defendants sought to deprive him of rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
The corporate defendants contend that inasmuch as plaintiff's claim against them rests solely on a theory of respondeat superior, it must be dismissed. I agree. Notwithstanding the reservations of a few courts
and at least one commentator,
the better view appears to be that the doctrine of respondeat superior has no application in civil rights actions. See Bracey v. Grenoble, 494 F.2d 566 (3d Cir. 1974); Johnson v. Glick, 481 F.2d 1028 (2d Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Employee-officer John, #1765 Badge Number v. Johnson, 414 U.S. 1033, 94 S. Ct. 462, 38 L. Ed. 2d 324 (1973); Jennings v. Davis, 476 F.2d 1271 (8th Cir. 1973); Schumate v. People of State of New York, 373 F. Supp. 1166 (S.D.N.Y. 1974).
In the absence of any allegation of wrongful conduct on the part of the corporate defendants, or even of any authorization of or acquiescence in the acts of their respective employees, I therefore conclude that the complaint must be dismissed with respect to Gimbel Brothers and Park City Associates.
In support of their dismissal motions, defendants Martin and Thompson argue that their actions were not clothed with the requisite color of state law essential to a Section 1983 suit, and that plaintiff's allegations are insufficiently specific to support a civil rights action. Although it is true that the Section 1983 requirement of conduct under color of law rarely can be satisfied in the case of anyone other than a state official, Kadlec v. Illinois Bell Telephone Company, 407 F.2d 624, 626 (7th Cir. 1969); Weyandt v. Mason's Stores, Inc., 279 F. Supp. 283, 288 (W.D. Pa. 1968)
I am unable to say that it appears "beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief," Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521, 92 S. Ct. 594, 596, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652, reh. denied, 405 U.S. 948, 92 S. Ct. 963, 30 L. Ed. 2d 819 (1972), quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 102, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957). That defendant Thompson enjoyed employment as a township police officer as well as a store detective for Gimbel Brothers creates, at this stage of the proceedings at least, a minimal possibility that his conduct might conceivably be characterized as "under color of state law." See, e.g., Basista v. Weir, 340 F.2d 74 (3d Cir. 1965); United States ex rel. Brzozowski v. Randall, 281 F. Supp. 306 (E.D. Pa. 1968); Beauregard v. Wingard, 230 F. Supp. 167 (S.D. Cal. 1964). Indeed, at least one court in this Circuit has held that a store detective, after making an arrest under the Pennsylvania Professional Thieves Act, 18 P.S. § 4821, was acting under color of state law for purposes of any Constitutional deprivations to which he allegedly subjected the suspect. See DeCarlo v. Joseph Horne and Company, 251 F. Supp. 935 (W.D. Pa. 1966); compare Weyandt v. Mason's Stores, Inc., supra at 287. And although it is true, as defendant Martin points out, that a private individual who merely obeys a police order does not act under color of state law, Henig v. Odorioso, 385 F.2d 491, 494 (3d Cir. 1967); Weyandt v. Mason's Stores, Inc., supra at 287, it is equally clear that
[private] persons, jointly engaged with state officials in . . . prohibited action, are acting "under color" of law for purposes of the [civil rights] statute. To act "under color" of law does not require that the accused be an officer of the State. It is enough that he is a willful participant in joint activity with the State or its agent, . . .
Adickes v. S. H. Kress and Company, 398 U.S. 144, 152, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 1605-06, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970), quoting United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 794, 86 S. Ct. 1152, 1157, 16 L. Ed. 2d 267 (1966). Accordingly, at this stage of the proceedings -- prior to the reception of any evidence -- I cannot foreclose the possibility that plaintiff might, at least in theory, successfully maintain a claim against the individual defendants.
Turning to defendants' contention that the allegations of the complaint are insufficiently precise to state a claim under either Section 1983 or Section 1985, it plainly is the rule in this Circuit that Section 1983 actions must be specifically pleaded in order to withstand a motion to dismiss, Kauffman v. Moss, 420 F.2d 1270, 1275 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 400 U.S. 846, 91 S. Ct. 93, 27 L. Ed. 2d 84 (1970); Negrich v. Hohn, 379 F.2d 213, 215 (3d Cir. 1967),
and that broad, conclusory allegations, unsupported by specific factual allegations, are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, id.; Salvati v. Dale, 364 F. Supp. 691, 700 (E.D. Pa. 1973).
Even a cursory reading of the complaint here, however, demonstrates that its allegations easily satisfy the requisite standards of specificity.
Similarly, although standing alone the paragraph of the complaint which alleges a conspiracy between the defendants to deprive plaintiff of certain Constitutional rights would be insufficient to state a Section 1985 claim,
see, e.g., Kadlec v. Illinois Bell Telephone Company, supra; Stephens v. City of Plano, Texas, 375 F. Supp. 985 (E.D. Tex. 1974), when properly read in the context of the four preceding allegations, see generally Rule 8(f), Fed. R. Civ. P.; 2A Moore's Federal Practice § 8.34 at 1895, it is more than adequate to withstand the present motion, see, e.g., Hampton v. City of Chicago, 484 F.2d 602 (7th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 917, 94 S. Ct. 1413, 39 L. Ed. 2d 471 (1974); Hebert v. Morley, 273 F. Supp. 800 (C.D. Cal. 1967).
For the foregoing reasons, the motions of Gimbel Brothers, Inc. and Park City Associates to dismiss this action will be granted, while the motions of David Thompson and James Martin will be denied.
AND NOW, this 11th day of February, 1976, for the reasons expressed in the foregoing opinion
(1) the motions of Gimbel Brothers, Inc. and Park City Associates to dismiss this action pursuant to Rule 12 (b) (1) and (6) are hereby Granted, and the action against those defendants is Dismissed; and
(2) the motions of David Thompson and James Martin to dismiss this action pursuant to Rule 12 (b) (1) and (6) are hereby Denied.
BY THE COURT: J. William Ditter, Jr. / J.