The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD B. SURRICK, District Judge
Presently before the Court is the Motion Of Defendants Honey Brook
Township, Honey Brook Township Police Department, William Baxter and
Michael Sasso To Dismiss Portions Of Plaintiffs Amended Complaint
Pursuant To Federal Rule Of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 16.) For
the following reasons, Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and
denied in part.
I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed the Complaint on June 26, 2003. (Doc. No. 1.) On July
22, 2003, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint. (Doc. Nos. 5, 6.)
Defendants' motions were denied without prejudice and Plaintiff was granted leave to amend
the Complaint. (Doc. No. 14.) Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint on
December 10, 2003. (Doc. No. 15.) On December 22, 2003, several of the
Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 16.) The
remaining Defendants answered the Amended Complaint on February 20, 2004.
(Doc. No. 18.)
In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he is the father of
decedent, Keith Bryant Bornstad ("Decedent"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.)
Defendants are Honey Brook Township, Honey Brook Township Police
Department, West Brandywine Township, West Brandywine Township Police
Department, William Baxter, Michael Sasso, Sgt. John Coldren, Denise Noke
and Daniel Shappell. (Id. ¶¶ 3-11.) Baxter and Sasso are
police officers with the Honey Brook Township Police Department.
(Id. ¶¶ 3-4.) Coldren, Noke, and Shappell are police officers
with the West Brandywine Township Police Department. (Id. ¶¶
7-9.) The moving Defendants (hereinafter, "Defendants") are Honey Brook
Township, Honey Brook Township Police Department, Baxter, and Sasso.
Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant police officers arrested Decedent
at his home on June 6, 2002. (Id. ¶ 17.) During the course
of that arrest, the Defendant police officers, while acting within the
course and scope of their employment, assaulted and battered Decedent,
and used unreasonable, unnecessary, and excessive force and restraint on
Decedent. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) Specifically, the Defendant police
officers used a chemical spray, namely pepper spray, OC spray, and/or
mace, in an excessive and improper manner on Decedent; used mechanical
restraints, namely handcuffs and leg ties, in an excessive and improper
manner; ignored Decedent's complaints of restricted and impeded ability
to breathe; ignored and/or failed to recognize Decedent's grunting and
flailing attempts to breathe; failed to properly call for timely and adequate backup; did not properly attempt to render proper medical
care to Decedent; and employed restraint techniques and holds that
caused Decedent to have difficulty breathing, which when coupled with
the excessive application of pepper spray, caused compression asphyxia
leading to Decedent's death. (Id. ¶¶ 21-27.) Plaintiff
alleges that the Defendant police officers' conduct was unjustified,
outrageous, callous, and exhibited a deliberate indifference to
Decedent's rights and well-being. (Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff
also alleges that Decedent was of mixed racial origin, and had a dark
complexion similar to persons of Hispanic background. (Id.
¶ 14.) According to Plaintiff, the Defendant police officers'
conduct was willful and/or intentional, and motivated by race or other
class-based discriminatory animus. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.)
Plaintiff's federal claims arise under the Fourth, Eighth, and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and
42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1985 and 1988. Plaintiff also asserts state claims for
wrongful death and survival under 42 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 8301 and 8302,
20 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 3371 and 3373, and PA. R. CIV. P. 2202 and 213.
Plaintiff seeks damages on behalf of Decedent and himself, as well as his
attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).
A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim will be granted if it
appears to a certainty that no relief could be granted under any set of
facts which could be proved. Hishon v. King & Spalding,
467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). When considering a motion to dismiss, we must "accept
as true the facts alleged in the complaint and all reasonable inferences
that can be drawn from them," Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co.,
906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990), but we need not assume the truth of
legal conclusions, Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).
The defendant bears the burden of persuading the Court that no claim
has been stated. Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States,
220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).
A. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Federal Claims Against Honey
Brook Township Police Department
Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's federal claims against Honey
Brook Township Police Department on the grounds that police departments
cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities. It is well established
that in § 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued alongside
municipalities. This is because the police department is merely an
administrative arm of the local municipality, and not a separate legal
entity. See, e.g., DeBellis v. Kulp, 166 F. Supp.2d 255, 264
(E.D. Pa. 2001) (collecting cases); see also Bonenberger v. Plymouth
Township, 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) ("[A] municipality and
its police department [are] a single entity for purposes of section 1983
liability.") (citing Colburn v. Upper Darby Township,
838 F.2d 663, 671 n.7(3d Cir. 1988)).
Plaintiff does not dispute this general principal, but argues that he
is entitled to brief discovery to determine whether Honey Brook Township
Police Department is merely an administrative arm of Honey Brook
Township, or a separate legal entity. Plaintiff argues that while courts
usually dismiss § 1983 claims against police departments when they
are sued in conjunction with municipalities, they generally do so in
response to motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff agrees that if
discovery reveals that the Defendant police departments are merely the administrative arms of the Defendant townships, he will
dismiss his claims against the police departments.
There is no allegation in the Amended Complaint that the Defendant
townships and police departments are separate legal entities. Absent such
an allegation, we will not permit Plaintiff to maintain claims against
both entities. In § 1983 cases, when there is no allegation that the
defendant police department and township are separate legal entities, our
courts dismiss the claims against the police departments. See, e.g.,
Mitros v. Cooke, 170 F. Supp.2d 504, 507 (E.D. Pa. 2001);
Setchko v. Township of Lower Southampton, No. 00-3659, 2001 WL
229625, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 8, 2001); Smith v. City of Phila.,
No. 98-cv-3338, 1998 WL 966025, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 10, 1998).
Accordingly, Plaintiff's federal claims against the Defendant police
departments are dismissed.*fn2 We will, however, grant Plaintiff leave
to amend the Complaint if Plaintiff deems it ...