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Odom v. Borough of Taylor

February 21, 2006

PHILLIP E. ODOM AND JENNIFER ODOM, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOROUGH OF TAYLOR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants, Borough of Taylor, Borough of Taylor Police Department, Officer John Harrison, Officer Cord Mickavicz and Officer Stephen Derenick's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. 10).For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion in part and deny it in part. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

BACKGROUND

According to the facts as alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint, this case arises out of injuries sustained by Phillip Odom on February 22, 2003, when he was physically assaulted, beaten, verbally abused, subjected to the use of chemical spray, and falsely imprisoned by the Defendants. (Doc. 1 ¶ 23.) Specifically, Mr. Odom asserts that he was lawfully on the premises of the Taylor Police Department while waiting for his nephew to provide a statement to the police in connection with an unrelated matter. (Doc. 1 ¶ 22.) Without cause or justification, officers allegedly wrestled, grabbed, pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and tripped Mr. Odom; and then placed him into a prison detention cell. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 55, 60.) Plaintiffs contend that Defendants' actions were racially motivated and racially discriminatory towards Mr. Odom, an African American. (Doc. 1 ¶ 25.) Plaintiffs then filed a Complaint on February 17, 2005. (Doc. 1.) On or about February 23, 2003, the Borough of Taylor, the Borough of Taylor Police Department, Officer Cord Mickavicz and Officer John Harrison filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Odom in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, charging Mr. Odom with simple assault, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. (Doc. 1 ¶ 132.) The underlying criminal procedures terminated in Mr. Odom's favor. (Doc. 1 ¶ 135.) On April 25, 2005, Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 10.) The motion is briefed and ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true and "drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, no relief could be granted under any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents where the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached a copy of the document to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume that the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 (3d Cir. 1998), nor credit a complaint's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Morse v. Lower Marion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of the claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred. See Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). The defendant bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

1. Taylor Borough Police Department

Defendants argue that Taylor Borough Police Department is not a proper party to this action, because it is an agency of Taylor Borough. I agree. Police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities, as the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local municipality and is not a separate judicial entity. See, e.g., Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 Fed. Appx. 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004). Therefore, Defendant Taylor Borough Police Department will be dismissed from suit and Defendants' motion will be granted in this respect.

2. Official Capacity Claims

Plaintiffs' allege claims against Officer John Harrison, Officer Cord Mickavicz, Chief Stephen Derenick in their individual and official capacities as police officers for the Borough of Taylor Police Department. Defendants seek dismissal of the official capacity claims as redundant with Plaintiffs' claims against Taylor Borough pursuant to Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). See id. at 690-91. Actions against Defendants in their official capacities are "in all other respects other than name" a suit against the government entity. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). As such, I will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss with respect to these claims.

3. Section 1983

Defendants assert that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs assert that they have stated claims for violations of their rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Section 1983 provides that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other persons 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 . . . .

Two elements must be present in order to state a Section 1983 claim: (1) the conduct complained of must have deprived Plaintiffs of rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) the conduct must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law. See Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 923 (1982); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 184 (3d. Cir. 1993).

a. Fourth Amendment - Excessive Force

"To state a claim for excessive force as an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that a 'seizure' occurred and that it was unreasonable." Estate of Smith, 318 F.3d 497, 515 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 288 (3d Cir. 1999)).

The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is whether under the totality of the circumstances, "the officers' actions are 'objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivations." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). Factors to consider in making a determination of reasonableness include the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he actively is resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. A court in making a reasonableness assessment also may consider the possibility that the persons subject to the police action are violent or dangerous, the duration of the action, whether the action takes place in the context of effecting an arrest, the possibility that the suspect may be armed, and the number of persons with whom the police officers must contend at one time. See Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, ...


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