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PEPITON v. CITY OF FARRELL

October 17, 2005.

CHADWICK D. PEPITON Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF FARRELL, PENNSYLVANIA, SOUTHWEST MERCER COUNTY REGIONAL POLICE DEPARTMENT, JOHN ROCOCCI, as an Individual and in his Official Capacity with the Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department, MERCER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, LOWELL WILLIAMS, as an Individual and in his Official Capacity as the Public Defender for Mercer County, and JAMES P. EPSTEIN, as an Individual and in his Official Capacity as the District Attorney for Mercer County, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SCHWAB, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

Defendants City of Farrell, Pennsylvania, Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department ["Police Department"], Police Officer John Rococci of that Police Department, Mercer County, Lowell Williams, and James P. Epstein bring motions to dismiss Chadwick D. Pepiton's civil rights complaint (documents nos. 7, 11, 13). After careful consideration of defendants' motions and plaintiff's stipulation of dismissal as to most of his claims, this Court will dismiss Counts III, IV, V, and VI in their entirety and Counts I, II, and VII in part.*fn1 II. Statement of Facts

  The following facts appear in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff:

  Plaintiff alleges that on May 3, 2003, he was pulled over for driving a motor vehicle with an expired inspection sticker. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Rococci pointed his weapon at Plaintiff and unlawfully arrested him. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Rococci used excessive force in the carrying out the arrest, and claims that he suffered a fractured right wrist, a fractured left arm which required immediate surgery, and numerous contusions and abrasions as a result.

  At the ensuing pretrial hearing, defendant Williams, the Public Defender for Mercer County, was appointed as plaintiff's defense attorney, while defendant Epstein was prosecuting the case for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, acting in his official capacity as District Attorney for Mercer County. Plaintiff claims that prior to his preliminary hearing, defendants Rococci, Epstein, and Williams held a meeting at the local magistrate judge's office and conspired to bring false charges against plaintiff so that he would not file suit against defendant Rococci and the Police Department. Plaintiff claims defendant Williams instructed Plaintiff to plead guilty to the charges which, he claims, Williams knew were false. Plaintiff claims he was unaware of the alleged back-room conversation and followed his attorney's advice and pleaded guilty. Following the preliminary hearing, plaintiff was convicted and placed on one year probation. III. Standards

  In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepts the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true, and draws all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Armstrong Surgical Center, Inc. v. Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, 185 F.3d 154, 155 (3d Cir. 1999). A claim should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations which would entitle it to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Marshall-Silver Construction Co. v. Mendel, 894 F.2d 593, 595 (3d Cir. 1990).

  In making this determination, the court must construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Budinsky v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Resources, 819 F.2d 418, 421 (3d Cir. 1987). Further, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require notice pleading, not fact pleading, so to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the plaintiff "need only make out a claim upon which relief can be granted. If more facts are necessary to resolve or clarify the disputed issues, the parties may avail themselves of the civil discovery mechanisms under the Federal Rules." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 233 n. 6 (3d Cir. 2004), quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002) ("This simplified notice pleading standard relies on liberal discovery rules . . . to define facts and issues and to dispose of unmeritorious claims.").

  IV. Discussion

  Viewed in the light of the forgoing liberal pleading standards, this Court simply cannot say, at this early stage of the proceedings, that plaintiff will be able to state no set of facts in support of his Fourth Amendment claim for excessive force against defendant Rococci at Count I, his Fourth Amendment claim against defendants Rococci, the Police Department and City of Farrell at Count II, and his Pennsylvania common law battery claim against defendant Rococci at Count VII. This Court will dismiss Counts III, IV, V, VI in their entirety and Counts I, II, and VII in part, with prejudice.

  Count I: Constitutional Claims Relating to the Lawfulness of Plaintiff's Criminal Conviction Fail as a Matter Of Law

  Plaintiff alleges deprivation of constitutional rights, privileges, and immunities guaranteed by the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and brings his civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. No cause of action exists under section 1983, however, for claims that call into question the lawfulness of a plaintiff's conviction. The Supreme Court has held that section 1983 claims which expressly or implicitly challenge the lawfulness of a plaintiff's conviction must be dismissed pursuant to Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). The only constitutional claim alleged in Claim I which does not imply the invalidity of plaintiff's conviction is the Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Rococci relating to the use of excessive force.

  Accordingly, the Court will dismiss plaintiff's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment claims against defendant Rococci, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The only claim in Count I to survive is the Fourth Amendment claim against defendant Rococci related to the use of excessive force. Count II: Constitutional Claims Relating to the Lawfulness of Plaintiff's Criminal Conviction Fail as a Matter Of Law

  Plaintiff alleges a conspiracy and violation of constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under a theory of respondeat superior liability. Complaint ¶ 69. However, a section 1983 claim against a governmental entity under a theory of respondeat superior, will not lie. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). A municipality cannot be held liable solely as an employer, because there is no respondeat superior theory of municipal liability in section 1983 actions. Id. Plaintiff's claims under respondeat superior therefore fail against defendants Police Department and City of Farrell. Plaintiff agrees to the dismissal of these claims pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Therefore, the Court will dismiss plaintiff's claims under respondeat superior liability against these defendants pursuant to ...


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