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JONES v. LOGUE

August 14, 1985

JAMES A. JONES, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
JERRY LOGUE, DAVID VAUPEL, FLOYD NEVLING, JAMES MILES, GEORGE REILLY, GARY START, and MARTY SMITH, individually and in each of their capacities as police officers with the Allegheny County Police Dept., and the ALLEGHENY COUNTY POLICE DEPT., Defendants


Maurice B. Cohill, Jr.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHILL, JR.

COHILL, C. J.

 Presently before us is Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c).

 The Complaint alleges that defendants violated plaintiff's civil rights by seizing alleged fireworks and by destroying some of the fireworks without testing them to determine whether, in fact, they were fireworks. Plaintiff alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff demands compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. We will deny Defendants' motion.

 Standard

 In considering a motion brought under Rule 12(c), all of the well pleaded factual allegations in the adversary's pleadings are assumed to be true and all contravening assertions in the movant's pleadings are taken to be false. 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1368, at 691. The motion only has utility when all material allegations of fact are admitted and only questions of law remain. Society Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1980). In addition, all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party. NLRB v. Weirton Steel Co., 146 F.2d 144 (3d Cir. 1944); Chuy v. National Football League Players Ass'n, 495 F. Supp. 137, 138 (E.D. Pa. 1980). Since a motion for judgment on the pleadings is directed towards a determination of the substantive merits of the controversy, courts are generally unwilling to grant such a motion unless it is clear that the merits can be fairly and fully decided in this summary manner. 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, supra, § 1369, at 700.

 The Complaint

 The Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was arrested on June 29, 1983 and charged with the unlawful sale of fireworks. Complaint, paras. 6-7. At the time of arrest, Defendants allegedly confiscated certain items which were destroyed by Defendants some time between June 29 and July 13, 1983. Id. PP 8-9. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants followed procedures of the Allegheny County Police Department in destroying certain items listed in Exhibit 1 to Plaintiff's Complaint, but never examined these items prior to their destruction to determine whether or not they were "fireworks" as defined by Pennsylvania law. Id. PP 11-12. Plaintiff alleges that defendants never obtained a court order authorizing destruction of plaintiff's property, and that no evidence was ever presented at plaintiff's trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County as to whether or not the items listed in Exhibit 1 were, in fact, fireworks.

 Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment to declare unconstitutional the procedure by which defendants destroy suspected fireworks without a hearing or court order; a declaratory judgment that an owner of fireworks may have fireworks returned if he can demonstrate that the fireworks will be transferred to or sold in a state where such sale is legal; a permanent injunction prohibiting defendants from destroying suspected fireworks without a hearing or court order; compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney's fees.

 Discussion

 Defendants have moved for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing that, accepting as true "all uncontradicted facts," they are entitled to judgment based on four theories: 1) failure to exhaust state remedies; 2) collateral estoppel; 3) mootness of the claims for declaratory and injunctive relief; and 4) that the items seized and destroyed were "fireworks" as defined under Pennsylvania law, and were properly confiscated and destroyed. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, paras. 1, 2. We will examine these contentions in turn, noting, however, that defendants' assertion that all "uncontradicted" facts are taken is true is erroneous. As we stated before, the standard under Rule 12(c) requires us to take as true all the factual allegations of the Complaint.

 A. Failure to Exhaust State Remedies

 A party is not required to exhaust state remedies as a prerequisite to bringing civil rights action in federal court. Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 183, 81 S. Ct. 473, 482, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492, 503 (1961); see also Patsy v. Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 500, 102 S. Ct. 2557, 2559-60, 73 L. Ed. 2d 172 (1982); Allee v. Medrano, 416 U.S. 802, 94 S. Ct. 2191, 40 L. Ed. 2d 566, 580 (1974); Schultz v. Baumgart, 738 ...


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