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PLASKO v. CITY OF POTTSVILLE

May 26, 1994

JOHN A. PLASKO, SR., Administrator of the Estate of JOHN B. PLASKO, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF POTTSVILLE, DALE REPP, and VARIOUS UNKNOWN OFFICERS OF THE CITY OF POTTSVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRANKLIN S. VAN ANTWERPEN

 VAN ANTWERPEN. J.

 This civil rights action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, arises out of the suicide of John B. Plasko while he was being held in a jail cell. Plaintiff's complaint also asserts supplemental state law claims. Plaintiff, John A. Plasko, Sr., seeks to recover damages resulting from the suicide of his son, John B. Plasko. On October 25, 1991, John B. Plasko hung himself with his belt in a cell at the Pottsville, Pennsylvania Police Station. Defendants have moved for dismissal of all plaintiff's claims under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff makes the following limited allegations in his complaint, which are essentially undisputed. *fn1" On October 25, 1991, the plaintiff's decedent, John B. Plasko, was arrested by defendants, various unknown Pottsville police officers, and incarcerated in a police department holding cell. Complaint, P 9. Shortly after his arrest, John B. Plasko hung himself with his own pants belt which had been removed, but not secured, by defendant officers. Complaint, P 13. At the time of Plasko's incarceration, the Pottsville Police Department maintained a safety policy requiring that the personal effects of all prisoners be removed prior to their incarceration. Complaint, P 10. The Department, however, did not require that a prisoner's personal effects be secured thereafter. Id.

 In the Complaint and Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, plaintiff contends that defendants were "deliberately indifferent" to the rights, safety and life of John B. Plasko. Complaint, P 18, 36, 54. Furthermore, plaintiff asserts that defendants should not have allowed Plasko to keep his belt as a device which could potentiate hanging or other self-inflicted harm. See Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, at 12, 14.

 Plaintiff's six-count complaint is broad and rambling. In the jurisdictional allegations, plaintiff states that he brings this action "under Title 42 U.S.C. Sections 1983, 1985 and 1986, as well as the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution." Complaint, P 1. The named defendants are the City of Pottsville, Chief of Police Dale Repp, and various unknown officers of the City of Pottsville Police Department. *fn2" Plaintiff also asserts a state law survival action and brings state law claims of wrongful death against above defendants. Complaint, P 27, 31, 45, 49, 63, 67.

 II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

 A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Sturm v. Clark, 835 F.2d 1009, 1011 (3d Cir. 1987). The Rule 12(b)(6) motion does not attack the merits of the case, but merely challenges the pleader's failure to state a claim properly. 5 C. Wright, A. Miller & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1364, at 340 (1990). In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must determine whether plaintiff's complaint sets forth sufficient allegations to establish a claim for relief. The court must accept all allegations in the complaint at "face value" and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S. Ct. 1683, 1686, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90 (1974); Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 759 F.2d 271 (3d Cir. 1985).

  Generally, the complaint must set forth enough information to outline the elements of a claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 89 S. Ct. 1843, 23 L. Ed. 2d 404 (1969); Pennsylvania ex. rel. Zimmerman v. Pepsico, Inc., 836 F.2d 173, 179 (3d Cir. 1988). The court can dismiss plaintiff's complaint "only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 2232, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S. Ct. 99, 101, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 84 (1957)). Conclusory allegations are not acceptable, however, where no facts are alleged to support the conclusion or where the allegations are contradicted by the facts themselves. Id.

 In addition to the above general requirements, courts have set forth heightened specificity requirements for pleadings in Section 1983 claims. The dual policy concerns of protecting state officials from a deluge of frivolous claims and providing state officials with sufficient notice of the claims asserted to enable preparation of responsive pleadings have led courts to impose on Section 1983 claims the additional pleading requirement that the "complaint contain a modicum of factual specificity, identifying the particular conduct of defendants that is alleged to have harmed the plaintiffs." Ross v. Meagan, 638 F.2d 646, 650 (3d Cir. 1981); see also Frazier v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 785 F.2d 65, 67 (3d Cir. 1986); Rotolo v. Charleroi, 532 F.2d 920, 922 (3d Cir. 1976).

 The heightened pleading requirements for Section 1983 claims, however, do not alter the general standard for ruling on motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Bartholomew v. Fischl, 782 F.2d 1148, 1152 (3d Cir. 1986). As the Third Circuit stated in Frazier, "the crucial questions are whether sufficient facts are pleaded to determine that the complaint is not frivolous, and to provide defendants with adequate notice to frame an answer." 785 F.2d at 68; accord District Council 47, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees v. Bradley, 795 F.2d 310, 313 (3d Cir. 1986). The Third Circuit has routinely held that complaints comply with this standard if they allege the specific conduct violating the plaintiff's rights, the time and place of that conduct, and the identity of the responsible officials. See Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 838 F.2d 663, 666 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1065, 109 S. Ct. 1338, 103 L. Ed. 2d 808 (1989) ("Colburn I"). A plaintiff is not required to provide either proof of her claims or "a proffer of all available evidence" because in civil rights cases "much of the evidence can be developed only through discovery" of materials held by defendant officials. Frazier, 785 F.2d at 68, quoted with approval in District Council 47, 795 F.2d at 313.

 III. DISCUSSION

 A. Section 1983 Claims

 1. Individual Defendants.

 The issue presented here is whether the facts surrounding decedent's suicide, as alleged in plaintiff's complaint, give rise to a viable claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court is not without some guidance in making its determination. The Third Circuit has clearly held that, under the appropriate circumstances, a pretrial detainee's suicide can give rise to a Section 1983 violation as an infringement of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. See Simmons v. City of Philadelphia, 947 F.2d 1042, 1067 (3d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, U.S. , 112 S. Ct. 1671, 118 L. Ed. 2d 391 (1992); Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 946 F.2d 1017, 1023 (3d Cir. 1991) ("Colburn II "); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 464 (3d Cir. 1989); Freedman v. City of Allentown, 853 F.2d 1111, 1115 (3d Cir. 1988); Colburn I, 838 F.2d at 667-70.

 The starting point for our analysis is the Supreme Court's holding in Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 106 S. Ct. 662, 88 L. Ed. 2d 662 (1986), explaining that "the Due Process Clause is simply not implicated by a negligent act of an official." Id. at 328, 106 S. Ct. at 663 (emphasis in original). This is so because "Section 1983 should not be construed to create a "'font of tort law to be superimposed upon whatever systems may already be administered by the States."'" State Bank of St. Charles v. Camic, 712 F.2d 1140, 1147 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 995, 104 S. Ct. 491, 78 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1983), quoting Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 544, 101 S. Ct. 1908, 1917, 68 L. Ed. 2d 420 (1981) (overruled on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. at 330, 106 S. Ct. at 664), ...


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