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Kline v. City of Sunbury

October 29, 2007

JAMES E. KLINE, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF SUNBURY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John E. Jones III

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff James Kline commenced this action against the Defendant City of Sunbury with the filing of a complaint on May 23, 2007.*fn1 Kline alleges that the City's designation of his rental property as a "nuisance" violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Kline also asserts state-law causes of action for defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. Kline seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Currently before the Court is the City's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 3.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court shall grant the City's motion.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The court should "not inquire whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, only whether they are entitled to offer evidence to support their claims." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion should be granted "if it appears to a certainty that no relief could be granted under any set of facts which could be proved...[b]ut a court need not credit a complaint's bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse, 132 F.3d at 906.

II. BACKGROUND

The following facts are derived from Kline's complaint, the allegations of which are accepted as true for purposes of the current motion. Id. The City has also submitted several exhibits in support of its motion. (Doc. 5, Def.'s Appendix of Exhibits.) Although a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) "shall be treated as a motion for summary judgment" if the Court considers "matters outside the pleading," any "matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, and items appearing in the record of the case" may properly be considered by the Court without converting the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). The Court may also consider an "undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document" since "[o]therwise, a plaintiff with a legally deficient claim could survive a motion to dismiss simply by failing to attach a dispositive document on which it relied." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Therefore, the Court will consider those of the City's exhibits referenced below, which are public records or which are integral to and form the basis of Kline's claims.

On August 9, 2004, the City entered a resolution adopting a policy of designating a property as a "nuisance property" if the property was the subject of more than three founded complaints to the police or Code Administration Office within a twelve-month period. (Compl. ¶ 14; Resolution of August 9, 2004, Def.'s Ex. 2.) The resolution did not define the terms "nuisance" or "founded" and did not provide for proceedings to allow a property owner to challenge or defend a designation of a "nuisance property." (Compl. ¶ 16.)

Kline owned real estate located at 1027 Keller Street in the City of Sunbury, which he operated as a rental unit. (Compl. ¶¶ 5-6.) On May 27, 2005, an employee of the City's Code Administration Office sent Kline a letter advising that the next time the office observed or investigated a complaint involving Kline's property, it would be forced to declare the property a nuisance property pursuant to the resolution. (Compl. ¶ 17.) On August 8, 2005, the City Council declared Kline's property a nuisance property. (Compl. ¶ 18; City Council Minutes, Def.'s Ex. 1.) The designation of Kline's property as a nuisance property was published in the Sunbury Daily Item and on WNEP Channel 16 television. (Compl. ¶ 18.) Kline maintains that, prior to August 8, 2005, he did not violate the City's property maintenance code or any other code or ordinance. (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 24.)

On November 14, 2005 and November 28, 2005 Kline was issued citations for violations of the City's property maintenance code. (Def.'s Ex. 3.) Kline pleaded not guilty, and a hearing on both citations was scheduled before the Magisterial District Court for Northumberland County. (See Def.'s Ex. 4 at 14-15, 20-21.) Kline states that he is in fact a good landlord who properly maintained his property. (Compl. ¶ 20.)

Kline alleges that the City's designation of his property as a nuisance property violated the due process guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Compl., Count I.) Kline also alleges that the City's actions constitute defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. (Compl., Count II.) The City has moved to dismiss Kline's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn2

III. DISCUSSION

A. Due Process

As an initial matter, to the extent that Kline intends to state a cause of action for violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, his claim fails because "[t]he limitations of the fifth amendment restrict only federal governmental action," and the complaint alleges no federal action. Nguyen v. U.S. Catholic Conference, 719 F.2d 52, 54 (3d Cir. 1983). A ยง 1983 plaintiff may, however, allege that a municipality violated his due process rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment. The due ...


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