United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
October 17, 2005.
SAVADORE URRUTIA, JR., Plaintiff,
DIANE QUILL, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHRISTOPHER CONNER, District Judge
Presently before the court is a motion (Doc. 9), filed by
defendants Diane Quill ("Quill"), Keith Wagner ("Wagner"),
Richard Shaffer ("Shaffer"), and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Department of General Services ("DGS"), to dismiss the claims of
plaintiff, Savadore Urrutia, Jr. ("Urrutia"). For the reasons
that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in
I. Statement of Facts*fn1
On August 12, 2004, Urrutia was arrested at his home by
defendants Quill and Wagner, employees of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania Capitol Police Department. Quill and Wagner
mistakenly connected Urrutia to an incident involving an unknown
driver's failure to obey Quill's traffic commands and attempted assault of Wagner. Urrutia was charged with aggravated
assault,*fn2 recklessly endangering another person,*fn3
and failure to obey an officer directing traffic.*fn4 All
charges were dismissed at the preliminary hearing when Quill
misidentified Urrutia's father as the defendant. Following the
dismissal of the charges, Quill and Wagner allegedly made several
false and misleading statements in a state court petition seeking
permission to refile the charges before a different judicial
officer. The petition was ultimately denied. (See Doc. 6).
The instant action was commenced in February 2005. The
complaint sets forth claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights
Act ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), claims under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of Urrutia's Fourth, Fifth, and
Fourteenth Amendment rights, and claims of "official oppression,"
"gross negligence," and "malice."*fn5 The complaint alleges
that Quill and Wagner acted without probable cause and subjected
Urrutia to harassment and to "bogus criminal charges." It avers
that defendants' actions were motivated by Urrutia's race, and
that Shaffer, as Director of Public Safety for the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania, was responsible for and contributed to the
violations by condoning a "pattern, policy, custom and practice"
of racial discrimination. The complaint also names as a defendant DGS which, according to the pleading,
"appropriates funds and establishes the budget" for Shaffer and
the Capitol Police Department. (See Doc. 6 ¶¶ 3-7).
Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss, arguing that
Urrutia has not alleged a violation of Title VII,*fn6 that
DGS is immune from suit, that Quill and Wagner are entitled to
qualified immunity, and that the state law claims of "malice,"
"gross negligence," and "official oppression" and are
inapplicable and, in any event, barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
II. Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the
dismissal of claims that fail to assert a basis upon which relief
can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). In the context of a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must accept as
true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all
reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. Langford v.
City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing
Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)). Although the
court is generally limited in its review to the face of the
complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record,
orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in
the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran &
Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In
re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).
Federal notice pleading rules do not require plaintiffs to
allege affirmatively every aspect of their claims, but only to
present sufficient facts to allow the opposing party to conduct
discovery and prepare a defense. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)
(stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief"); see also Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46
(1957). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure
to state a claim unless "it appears beyond doubt that the
plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which
would entitle him to relief." Id.; see Swierkiewicz v.
Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002). Under this liberal
pleading policy, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave
to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is
merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp.,
293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113,
116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).
A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims
Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers
private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law by
state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in
pertinent part, as follows:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects,
or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United
States or other person within the jurisdiction
thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,
shall be liable to the party injured in an action at
law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for
redress. . . . Id. Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but
merely a method to vindicate violations of federal law committed
by state actors. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir.
1996). To establish a claim under this section, the plaintiff
must show a deprivation of a "right secured by the Constitution
and the laws of the United States . . . by a person acting under
color of state law." Id. (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro,
51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).
Satisfaction of these elements, however, does not guarantee
recovery. Certain officials, including police officers and other
state actors who perform "discretionary functions," are shielded
from suit if their conduct did not violate a "clearly established
statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person
would have known." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200-01
(2001); Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999). This
doctrine, known as "qualified immunity," provides not only a
defense to liability, but "immunity from suit." Hunter v.
Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991); Mitchell v. Forsyth,
472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). To gain the protection of the doctrine, the
defendant must show either (1) that the plaintiff has not
demonstrated "a deprivation of an actual constitutional right" or
(2) that the right at issue was not "clearly established at the
time of the alleged violation." Conn v. Gabbert, 526 U.S. 286,
290 (1999); see Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 775-76 (3d Cir.
In the instant matter, the complaint sets forth claims pursuant
to § 1983 against DGS,*fn7 Quill, Wagner, and Shaffer.*fn8 As to
defendants Quill and Wagner, the complaint alleges that they
arrested Urrutia without probable cause, and that their actions
were motivated by Urrutia's race. These allegations, if proven,
are sufficient for a finding that defendants violated Urrutia's
Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful seizures, and
Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. See United
States v. Ritter, 416 F.3d 256, 261-62 (3d Cir. 2005) (outlining Fourth Amendment right); Gibson v. Superintendent of N.J. Dep't
of Law & Pub. Safety, 411 F.3d 427, 441 (3d Cir. 2005) ("[I]t
has long been a well-settled principle that the state may not
selectively enforce the law against racial minorities."). As
these rights were clearly established at the time of the incident
in question, qualified immunity will not shield defendants from
B. Other Claims
The complaint also sets forth claims for "malice," "gross
negligence," and "official oppression." However, these claims are
not well-pleaded and it is unclear whether they are brought
pursuant to state or federal law. For example, "malice" may be
intended as a claim for malicious prosecution, but the court
cannot discern whether it is offered under Pennsylvania law or
under § 1983.*fn9 "Malice" may also be intended as a state tort or § 1983 claim of false arrest or
false imprisonment.*fn10 Similarly, "gross negligence"
sounds in tort,*fn11 but may be construed as a § 1983
failure to train claim. See City of Canton v. Harris,
489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989); Monnel v. Dep't of Soc. Servs.,
436 U.S. 658, 691-94 (1978). And "official oppression" is a criminal
offense under Pennsylvania law,*fn12 but it may be intended
as a claim for conspiracy to violate Urrutia's civil rights.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1985; see also Lake v. Arnold,
112 F.3d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1997).
Because the court cannot discern under what theories Urrutia
brings his "malice," "gross negligence," and "official
oppression" claims, they will be dismissed without prejudice to
Urrutia's right to file an amended complaint sufficiently
articulating the theories and facts underlying these causes of
action. IV. Conclusion
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Department of General
Services is immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment, and
defendants' motion to dismiss all claims against this defendant
will be granted. Plaintiff concedes that Title VII has no bearing
on the facts of this case. Hence, defendants' motion to dismiss
will also be granted with respect to this claim. Finally, because
the theories and circumstances underlying plaintiff's "malice,"
"gross negligence," and "official oppression" claims are unclear,
these claims will be dismissed with leave to amend. The motion to
dismiss will otherwise be denied.
An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
AND NOW, this 17th day of October, 2005, upon consideration of
defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 9), and for the reasons set
forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED that:
1. The motion to dismiss (Doc. 9) is GRANTED with
respect to all claims against defendant Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania Department of General Services, with
respect to plaintiff's claims under Title VII, with
respect to claims against the individual defendants
in their "official" capacities, and with respect to
plaintiff's claims for "malice," "gross negligence,"
and "official oppression."
2. Plaintiff shall be permitted to file, on or before
November 4, 2005, an amended complaint setting forth
with specificity the legal theories and facts
supporting any claims for "malice," "gross
negligence," or "official oppression," or requests
for injunctive or declaratory relief.
3. The motion to dismiss (Doc. 9) is otherwise
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