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McKeown v. Braslawsce

July 27, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge




Defendants Beaver Borough Police Department ("Police Department"), Chief Anthony Hovanec ("Chief Hovanec"), and Officer Jeffrey Wijnen-Riems ("Officer Wijnen-Riems") (collectively "the Moving Defendants") bring a motion to dismiss (doc. no. 6) Plaintiffs Dennis and Candace McKeown's ("the McKeowns") claims of malicious prosecution, negligence, civil conspiracy, false imprisonment, and violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the deprivation of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.*fn1 After careful consideration of defendants' motion, plaintiffs' response thereto and their respective memoranda of law, this Court will grant in part and deny in part defendants' motion to dismiss.

Statement of Facts

As taken from the Complaint filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County and removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a), (b), the following facts appear in a light most favorable to the Plaintiffs:

Plaintiffs are the sole proprietors of Kitchen Outlet. Complaint ¶ 8. On December 17, 2003 Plaintiffs contracted with Defendants William and Kristina Braslawsce ("Defendants Braslawsces") to remodel their kitchen. Complaint ¶ 21. On April 9, 2004, Kristina Braslawsce spoke with Dennis McKeown about aesthetic problems with the counter tops, cabinet doors, and drawers. Complaint ¶ 26. Plaintiffs conducted several walkthroughs of the Braslawsces' kitchen with the Braslawsces and allegedly gave assurances that the manufacturers would take care of the defects at the completion of the project. Complaint ¶¶ 27-38. Disagreements continued between Plaintiffs and Defendants Braslawsces and finally Plaintiffs removed certain items from the Braslawsces' kitchen while Kristina Braslawsce was at home, including those items that allegedly were yet to be paid for by the Braslawsces. Complaint ¶¶ 53-54.

On May 4, 2004, Plaintiffs allegedly contacted Defendant Chief Hovanec "to advise him of the removal of these items" from the Braslawsces' kitchen and provided "contact information incase [Chief Hovanec] had questions." Complaint ¶ 58. Subsequently, Dennis McKeown met with the Braslawsces and their attorney to discuss issues with the project and with funding. Complaint ¶¶ 60-62. On August 25, 2004, Plaintiffs were arrested at their home by Officer Wijnen-Riems on charges of burglary, criminal solicitation, theft, deceptive business practice, and other related charges, and according to the Complaint, they were "handcuffed and led away in front of their children." Complaint ¶ 67. Plaintiffs claim that the arrests were initiated as a result of material misrepresentations made by Mr. Braslawsce to the police department and "the failure of the police department to adequately investigate the matter." Complaint ¶ 70. All charges against Plaintiffs were withdrawn by the Beaver County District Attorney's Office on December 3, 2004. Complaint ¶ 74. On February 11, 2004, Plaintiffs' records were expunged. Complaint ¶ 75.

Plaintiffs filed their State Court Complaint stating the following claims: against Defendants Braslawsces alleging negligent misrepresentation (Count I), intentional misrepresentation (Count II), breach of contract (Count III), and malicious prosecution (Count IV); against Moving Defendants for violations of Plaintiffs' civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V), malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. §8351 (Count VI), negligence (Count VII), and false imprisonment (Count VIII); and against all Defendants for civil conspiracy (Count VIII).*fn2

Moving Defendants Police Department, Chief Hovanec, and Officer Wijnen-Riems now file this instant motion to dismiss.

Standards of Review

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.") Discussion Punitive Damages are Not Available Against Municipal Defendants, Chief Hovanec, and Officer Wijnen-Riems in their Official Capacities, as a Matter of Law.

Defendants also move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages against the Beaver Borough Police Department, Chief Hovanec and Officer Wijnen-Riems. It is well-established that punitive damages are not available against a municipal defendant in a civil rights action under Section 1983. Stewart v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, 487 F.Supp.2d 584, 592 (E.D.Pa. 2007) (citing City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 266 (1981)). Likewise, "[m]unicipal officials and employees in their capacities as officers of a borough or other municipality" are also ...

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