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Mann v. Brenner

March 14, 2007

EMMETT J. MANN, PLAINTIFF
v.
JOHN S. BRENNER, DAVE REDSHAW, DON HOYT, ROBERT A. KINSLEY, MATT JACKSON, CITY OF YORK, YORK COLLEGE, REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF YORK, STEVEN R. BUFFINGTON, OFFICER WENTZ, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court are three motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and/or for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) filed by Defendants Brenner, Redshaw, Hoyt, Jackson, City of York ("City"), Buffington, and Wentz (Doc. No. 14), Defendant York Redevelopment Authority ("RDA") (Doc. No. 16), and Defendants Kinsley and York College (Doc. No. 18). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are assumed to be true for the purposes of the motions to dismiss. Plaintiff Emmett Mann owns certain unidentified real property in York, Pennsylvania. During 2004 and 2005, Plaintiff and York College discussed the possibility of York College purchasing the property; however, they were unable to agree on a sales price, and the negotiations fell through. At some point either during or after these sale discussions, Defendants, led by Defendants Brenner and Hoyt, decided to "use their badges of state authority to acquire [his] property in an unlawful manner thereby reducing the cost to private parties for political reasons."

One such private party was York College, which "sought to profit from the abuse of government authority through its political connections."

Apparently the City, the RDA, York College, and various named individuals*fn1 engaged in "policy and practice of harassment and intimidation" in their efforts to acquire Plaintiff's property at a reduced price. Defendants manipulated building codes and ordinance violations, brought improper (but otherwise unspecified) criminal charges against Plaintiff, attempted to devalue his property in untold ways, and retaliated against Plaintiff for "us[ing] legal process." For example, Defendants Redshaw and Jackson allegedly threatened, harassed, and intimidated Plaintiff by improperly applying building code and other ordinance violations. Defendants Buffington and Wentz allegedly brought "false and baseless criminal and code violation charges" against Plaintiff, and Defendant Wentz "unlawfully entered and searched the plaintiff's home and then carried away personal property items belonging to Plaintiff." Additionally, the City, through its incompetence, damaged Plaintiff's real property.

At some point, Plaintiff's property was declared by the City to be blighted, and the RDA commenced eminent domain proceedings to take the property. Apparently, Defendant Kinsley, a trustee of York College who, incidentally, does construction and demolition work, testified against the Plaintiff in the proceeding, which Plaintiff suggests was improper because Defendant Kinsley potentially had an interest in the outcome of the proceeding. Plaintiff vigorously opposed the taking of his property, but his preliminary objections to the taking were denied by the Court of Common Pleas of York County. (Dorney Opinion, Doc. No. 19, Exhibit A.)

From these allegations, Plaintiff appears to pursue five § 1983 claims and four state law claims. His constitutional claims are that Defendants: (1) maliciously prosecuted him in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) unlawfully searched his property and seized items of personal property in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (3) retaliated against him when he used "legal process" in violation of the First Amendment; (4) violated his right to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment; and (5) violated his right to substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The state-law claims Plaintiff asserts are: (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (2) fraud; (3) civil conspiracy; and (4) malicious prosecution.

II. STANDARD

A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint, Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993), and is properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to show that no claim has been stated. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980). Thus, the moving party must show that Plaintiff has failed to "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost, 1 F.3d at 183 (citations omitted). A court, however, "need not credit a complaint's 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906, 908 (3d Cir. 1997). Rather, a court must only determine "whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Pennsylvania Psychiatric Soc. v. Green Spring Health Servs., Inc., 280 F.3d 278, 283 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Fourth Amendment Claims

1. Malicious Prosecution

Plaintiff contends that Defendant Buffington, "a City of York official, . . . used his powers to harass and intimidate the plaintiff through bringing false and baseless criminal and code violation charges." (Compl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Officer Wentz participated in the malicious prosecution efforts. (Id. ¶¶ 15, 30.) Plaintiff also claims that Defendants generally engaged in "unlawful manipulation of city codes and ordinances, and abuse of the criminal justice system. . ." and states that he "successfully defended himself against baseless criminal accusations . . . ." (Id. ¶¶ 1, 11.) At no point does Plaintiff identify the forum of these criminal proceedings or what charges were involved.

As a matter of law, these allegations fall short of what is required to state a viable ยง 1983 claim for malicious prosecution brought under the Fourth Amendment. As the Third Circuit has recently explained, a Plaintiff bringing a Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution claim must show that: "(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in his favor; (3) the defendant initiated the proceeding without probable cause; (4) the defendant acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding." Johnson v. Knorr, Nos. 05-5029 & 05-5139, --- F.3d ---, 2007 WL 465704, at *5 (3d Cir. Feb. 14, 2007); see also Backof v. New Jersey State Police, 92 F. App'x 852, 657-58 (3d. Cir. 2004) (setting forth the minimal essential elements of a malicious prosecution claim and upholding dismissal of claim where, inter alia, no deprivation of liberty was alleged). At no time in ...


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