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Good v. Trish

September 13, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)


Pro se plaintiff Sandra L. Good ("Good") brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. Presently before the court are: (1) the motion to dismiss (Doc. 12), filed by defendants Jeffrey T. Haste, Dominic DiFrancesco, II, and George P. Harwick, III (collectively "County Commissioner defendants"), and (2) the motion to dismiss (Doc. 14), filed by defendants John Trish, Sylvia Stoner, Thomas F. Acri, Michael G. Musser, II, Michael J. Kovach, Stephen J. Shaver, MaryJo Szada, Jeffrey L. Wright, Michael K. Albert, Lisa M. Wiedeman-Krosnar, and Dennis C. Heefner (collectively "Borough defendants"). For the reasons that follow, the motions to dismiss will be granted with the exception of that portion of the Borough defendants' motion regarding the equal protection claim against defendant John Trish in his individual capacity. Good will be granted leave to file a second amended complaint.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

Good owns a residence located in Steelton Borough, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 6 ¶ 1.) The dispute in this case centers around the efforts of the Steelton Borough Code Enforcement Office to bring Good's property into compliance with local ordinances. Such efforts began on July 11, 2006, when defendant John Trish ("Trish"), a property maintenance officer for Steelton Borough, sent Good a letter informing her that her sidewalk was in "disrepair" and violated "the provisions of the 2003 International Property Maintenance Code and/or Borough of Steelton's Codified Ordinances." (Id. ¶ 3; Doc. 6, Ex. A.) The letter stated that Good must repair her sidewalk by August 12, 2006 or face a citation. (Doc. 6, Ex. A.) The letter further informed Good of her right to request a hearing regarding the alleged violation by filing a written petition within ten days of the letter's receipt.*fn2 (Id.)

Noting no visible deficiencies in her sidewalk, Good contacted Trish and asked to view the standards governing sidewalk maintenance. (Doc. 6 ¶ 3.) In response, Trish informed Good that her brick sidewalk would need to be replaced with concrete to comply with the ordinance. (Id. ¶ 4.) Recognizing that a complete replacement of the sidewalk was necessary, Trish granted Good an extension of time in which to complete the project until September 12, 2006.*fn3 (Doc. 6, Ex. B.) Good then commenced the sidewalk project. (Doc. 6 ¶ 5.)

While Good's sidewalk project was in progress, defendant Dennis C. Heefner ("Heefner"), a member of the Steelton Borough Council, contacted Good by telephone regarding the potential safety hazard posed by the construction project and suggested that she place caution tape around the work site. (Id. ¶ 5.) Good immediately complied. (Id. ¶ 6.) Shortly thereafter, defendant Sylvia Stoner ("Stoner"), a code officer for Steelton Borough, contacted Good by telephone at the request of defendant Michael G. Musser, II ("Musser"), the Steelton Borough Secretary/Treasurer. Stoner advised Good to remove the caution tape because it was creating a safety hazard for schoolchildren who were forced to walk in the street to pass her home. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Good gradually became aware that no other sidewalk replacement projects were being conducted on properties in Steelton Borough.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 8.) She alleges that at least nine properties in her immediate neighborhood, and perhaps 100 more in the entire borough, have brick sidewalks that are in a state of "disrepair." (Id.) Yet, none of these property owners were directed to comply with a September deadline for sidewalk replacement. (Id.) Having noted these differences in treatment, Good twice contacted the County Commissioner defendants to complain about the code enforcement actions taken by Steelton Borough officials. Good received no response.*fn5 (Id. ¶ 9.)

At some point, Good abandoned work on the sidewalk project. Good now alleges that she is "burdened with a work site that cannot be safely maintained, stacks of debris in her yard, and a mandatory project which cannot be timely completed, and which must ultimately result in fines, citations and homeowners insurance problems." (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Good asks the court to order defendants to clean up the work site and construct a sidewalk that meets borough standards at their own expense. (Id. ¶ 12.)

On September 5, 2006, Good initiated the instant action, alleging that defendants violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights by: (1) depriving her of property without due process, and (2) holding her to different standards of "adherence to statutes and ordinances" than her neighbors. (Doc. 1; Doc. 6.) On November 20, 2006, defendants filed the instant motions to dismiss, alleging that Good's complaint fails to state cognizable Fourteenth Amendment claims against them. (Docs. 12, 14.) The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

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).

III. Discussion

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law committed 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 for vindicating violations of other federal laws. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); 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 ...

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