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RUIZ v. LEBANON COUNTY

December 7, 2005.

SAMUEL J. RUIZ, and CARMEN LYDIA FRET APONTE, Plaintiffs
v.
LEBANON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SYLVIA RAMBO, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is a motion to dismiss brought by Defendants Lebanon County, Lebanon County Drug Task Force, Lebanon County Prison, (hereinafter "Lebanon County Defendants") and Richard A. Radwanski. (Doc. 20.) The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated below, the court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion.*fn1

I. Background

  Plaintiffs Samuel J. Ruiz and Carmen L. Fret Aponte filed the instant complaint on October 27, 2004. In their complaint Plaintiffs named as Defendants, among others, the Lebanon County Defendants and Richard Radwanski.*fn2 Plaintiffs assert claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Additionally, Plaintiffs invoke the court's supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), and assert pendent state law claims of assault and battery, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation of character, and false imprisonment against Defendants.

  Plaintiffs' allegations arise out of the execution of an arrest warrant by the Lebanon, Pennsylvania Police Department. On October 11, 2002, pursuant to numerous controlled drug purchases, an arrest warrant was issued for the arrest of a Samuel Ruiz, who resided at 197 Lebanon Village, Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs allege that the arrest warrant was intentionally and erroneously executed on Plaintiff Ruiz at 63 North 12th Street, Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

  Plaintiffs allege that on October 28, 2002 at 6:00 a.m., Lebanon County police officers knocked on the door of their home at 63 North 12th Street, Lebanon, Pennsylvania. According to Plaintiffs, when Plaintiff Ruiz opened the door, he was thrown to the floor and handcuffed. Plaintiffs also allege that Plaintiff Fret Aponte, who was pregnant at the time, was subjected to a strip search and body cavity probe. Nothing illegal was found at Plaintiffs' residence.

  Plaintiff Ruiz was arrested and taken to the Lebanon County Prison where he was charged with delivery of cocaine and criminal use of a communication facility. He was held in the Lebanon County jail until approximately 5:30 p.m., October 28, 2005, when he was advised that the arresting officers had made a mistake. Plaintiff Ruiz was subsequently released from custody. That same day, the Lebanon County District Attorney's office advised the District Justice that it was withdrawing the charges filed against Plaintiff Ruiz.

  II. Legal Standard: Motion to Dismiss

  In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the face of the complaint. Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient facts if it adequately put[s] the defendant[s] on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). The court will not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Port Auth. of New York & New Jersey v. Arcadian Corp., 189 F.3d 305, 311 (3d Cir. 1999).

  "To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). Additionally, the court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Id. Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

  Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir. 2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 336 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

  III. Discussion

  Defendants' motion to dismiss raises the following six arguments: (1) civil rights claims against Lebanon County Prison should be dismissed because the prison is not a "person" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Plaintiffs' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should be dismissed as against the Lebanon County Defendants because Plaintiffs have not claimed that the deprivation of Plaintiffs' civil rights was caused by the municipality's official policy or custom; (3) Plaintiffs' state law tort claims are barred by the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act; (4) Plaintiffs' claims against Defendant Richard Radwanski are barred by qualified immunity; (5) Plaintiffs' complaint lacks the required specificity for a civil rights complaint; and (6) Plaintiffs cannot make a claim for punitive damages against the Lebanon County Defendants. The court will discuss each of these arguments in turn. A. Lebanon County Prison as a "Person" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

  Defendants contend that the Lebanon County Prison is not a "person" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To support their argument, Defendants cite two cases. The first, Mitchell v. Chester County Farms Prison, 426 F. Supp. 271 (E.D. Pa. 1976), predates the Supreme Court decision in Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978), which established that municipal entities may be considered "persons" under § 1983.*fn3 The court will not consider Mitchell. The second, Muhammed v. Hilbert, 906 F. Supp. 267 (E.D. Pa. 1995), said in a footnote that claims against a county prison had been previously dismissed because the prison does not constitute a "person" under § 1983. Id. at 269 n. 2. The court in Muhammed gives no reasoning behind this statement, as the issue had been handled by the court during a previous motion to dismiss. Id. That court's previous holding may have been based on Monell, which held that municipalities may not be sued on a theory of respondeat superior. 436 U.S. at 694. However, the court simply cannot glean from the Muhammed footnote that the law recognizes that county prisons, by their very nature, are ...


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