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Bergdoll v. City of York

January 5, 2008

CHARLOTTE BERGDOLL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint filed by Defendants County of York and Stanley Rebert, (Doc. 9), and Defendants City of York, the Honorable John S. Brenner, Mark L. Whitman, and Wesley Kahley, (Doc. 13). For the reasons detailed below, Defendants' motions will be granted.

The Court has jurisdiction in this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff states in her Complaint that she is the owner, operator, and manager of Cherry Lane Realty, Inc., a business operating in the city of York, Pennsylvania. (Compl., Doc. 1 ¶ 4.) She alleges that on October 12, 2006, she was called to a property managed by Cherry Lane Realty located at 745 West Poplar Street in York. (Id. ¶ 13.) At the time she was called, Plaintiff avers that Officer A. Baez, a police officer for the City of York, was at the property performing an inspection of the house that was not authorized by either the tenant or the Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) The Plaintiff claims that upon her arrival at the property officer Baez unreasonably approached, seized and physically attacked and forced the Plaintiff face down on the porch. (Id. ¶ 17.) While she was lying face down on the porch, the Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant officer restrained Plaintiff by putting his knee in her back and abusively placed her in handcuffs even though she did not resist the officer or exhibit any signs of violence. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 19.) Plaintiff alleges that she was subsequently transported to the City of York Police Department where she was detained. (Id. ¶ 20.) She also claims that Officer Baez had no warrant for her arrest, no probable cause for her arrest, and no other legal basis, cause or excuse to seize, strike or detain the Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 23.) On October, 12, 2006, the day of the incident, Plaintiff alleges that she filed a complaint with the Department of Public Safety for the City of York, and alleges that this complaint was not addressed or investigated and was ultimately used by the Defendants in an attempt to prosecute Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 26.) On October 13, 2008 the Plaintiff was charged with disorderly conduct pursuant to 18 Pa. C.S. § 5503. (Id. ¶ 27.) On May 2, 2007 a summary trial was held before Magisterial District Judge Daniel B. Garber who dismissed the disorderly conduct charges against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 29.)

Plaintiff states that due to Defendants' actions she has suffered a violation of her rights guaranteed by the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (Id. ¶ 30a.) She also states that she suffered a loss of liberty, physical pain and suffering, and financial loss. (Id. ¶ 30b-d.) Based on these averments, the Plaintiff filed a her Complaint (Doc. 1) in the current case on October 10, 2008. The Complaint brings six counts against Defendants, including two counts brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violations off Plaintiff's constitutional rights by Officer Baez, the City of York, Mayor John S. Brenner, Police Commissioner Mark Whitman, Police Captain Wesley Kahley, the County of York, and District Attorney H. Stanley Rebert. (Id. ¶¶ 32-35, 41-48.) The Complaint also includes individual counts of Assault and Battery against Officer Baez (Id. ¶¶ 36-38), False Arrest and Illegal Detention against Officer Baez (Id. ¶¶ 39, 40), Malicious Prosecution against all Defendants (Id. ¶¶ 49-53), and claims pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution brought against all Defendants (Id. ¶¶ 54-57). Plaintiff asks this Court to grant a jury trial and judgment against the Defendants that includes compensatory and punitive damages, Plaintiff's costs of litigation, reasonable attorney's fees, and injunctive relief. (Id. ¶¶ 57a - 57f.)

Defendants County of York and District Attorney H. Stanley Rebert filed their motion to dismiss (Doc. 9) along with an accompanying brief in support (Doc. 10) on October 20, 2008. Defendants The City of York, Mayor John S. Brenner, Police Commissioner Mark Whitman, and Police Captain Wesley Kahley filed their motion to dismiss (Doc. 13) on October 29, 2008 and a corresponding brief in support (Doc. 17) on November 6, 2008. Plaintiff filed briefs in opposition (Docs. 19, 20) to these motions on November 19, 2008 and November 24, 2008. Defendants did not file briefs in reply. Accordingly, Defendants' motions have been thoroughly briefed and are currently 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 as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, Plaintiff has not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1960, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), meaning, enough factual allegations "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, --- U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

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), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1042 (1994). 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 Merion 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. 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

In her Complaint, Plaintiff brings three counts against the City of York, Mayor John S. Brenner, Police Commissioner Mark Whitman, Captain of Operations Wesley Kahley, the County of York, and District Attorney H. Stanley Rebert. The first of these counts (Count IV) is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges that the Defendants (1) developed and maintained policies and customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons in the City and County of York, (2) had an administrative policy or custom to inadequately investigate citizen complaints against police misconduct, (3) failed to require or provide in-service training of officers known to have engaged in police misconduct, (4) failed to instruct, supervise, or control police officers to refrain from unlawfully harassing citizens, and (5) had reason to know, because of these alleged polices and customs, that Officer Baez would engage in conduct in violation of Plaintiff's rights. Plaintiff's second count against these Defendants (Count V) alleges that they, along with Officer Baez, maliciously filed and prosecuted charges against Plaintiff to gain an advantage over the Plaintiff in civil suits that were likely to arise from the incident occurring on October 12, 2006. The third and final count (Count VI) that Plaintiff brings against the Defendants with motions currently before the Court, alleges that these Defendants violated Plaintiff's rights under the Pennsylvania constitution.

I. Defendants H. Stanley Rebert and the County of York

A. Count IV of Plaintiff's Complaint

Count IV of Plaintiff's Complaint brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of York ("the County"), and District Attorney H. Stanley Rebert based on allegations that these Defendants developed or acquiesced to policies and customs depriving persons in York County of the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

"In light of [§ 1983's] imposition of liability on one who 'subjects a person, or causes that person to be subjected,' to a deprivation of federal rights, [the Supreme Court has] concluded that [§ 1983] 'cannot be easily read to impose liability vicariously on governing bodies solely on the basis of the existence of an employer-employee relationship with a tortfeasor.'" Board of the County Commissioners of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997) (quoting Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978)). The Supreme Court has "consistently refused to hold municipalities liable under a theory of respondeat superior." Id. (citing Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 818 (1985) (plurality opinion); id. at 828 (opinion of Brennan, J.); Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 478-479 (1986); St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 122 (1988) (plurality opinion); id., at 137 (opinion of Brennan, J.); Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 392 (1989)). Rather, "in Monell and subsequent cases [the Supreme Court has] required a plaintiff seeking to impose liability on a municipality under § 1983 to identify a municipal 'policy' or 'custom' that caused the plaintiff's injury." Id. (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694; Pembaur, 475 U.S. at 480-481; Canton, 489 U.S. at 389). However, it is not enough for a § 1983 plaintiff merely to identify conduct properly attributable to the municipality. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the "moving force" behind the injury alleged. That is, a plaintiff must show that the municipal action was taken with the requisite degree of culpability and must demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights.

Id. at 404 (emphasis in original). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has articulated a similar standard for individual defendants in § 1983 actions:

An individual government defendant. . . must have personal involvement in the alleged wrong doing; liability cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior. Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence.

Evancho v. Fischer, 423 F.3d 347, 353 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)).

In the brief supporting their motion to dismiss, the County of York and Rebert argue that Count IV of Plaintiff's Complaint, brought pursuant to § 1983, fails to state a claim against either the County or Rebert because the Plaintiff has not and cannot establish the nexus between the violation of rights and the Defendants required for § 1983 liability. (Defs.' County & Rebert Br. in Supp., Doc. 10, at 3.) The Defendants further argue that neither Rebert nor the County ever acted as an employer of Baez. Only the [York City Police Department] and the city are responsible for the training and discipline of individual [York City Police Department] police officers. Only the [York City Police Department] and the city are responsible for the creation of policies that relate to the conduct and discipline of the [York City Police Department] officers. (Id.) Plaintiff responds by noting that her Complaint contains statements that the County and Rebert, along with all other defendants, (1) engaged in a systematic policy and custom of advising the York City Police Department how to investigate allegations of police misconduct and (2) developed or maintained policies and customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to constitutional rights of persons in York County. Plaintiff argues that these allegations are sufficient to satisfy the liberal notice pleading standard established by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), which the Supreme Court stated to be the correct standard for § 1983 pleading requirements in its decision in Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence and Coordination Unit. 507 U.S. 163 (1993).

However, this Court "is not required to credit a 'bald assertion' when deciding a motion to dismiss under this notice pleading standard, and the plaintiff cannot use allegation of civil right violations that amount to nothing more than 'conclusory, boilerplate language' to show that [she] may be entitled to relief under § 1983." Young v. New Sewickley Township, 160 Fed. Appx. 263, 266 (3d Cir. 2005) (unpublished) (quoting Evancho v. Fischer, 423 F.3d 347, 354-355 (3d Cir. 2005)). Count IV of Plaintiff's Complaint makes numerous broad allegations against all Defendants, including Rebert and the County, and the Court finds that these allegations are the sort of conclusory statements that are insufficient to support a claim under § 1983. Without offering any further facts or support, Plaintiff states that "the Defendants jointly and/or severally developed and maintained policies and customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons in the City of York or York County, which caused the violation of Plaintiff's rights." (Compl. ¶ 42) Similarly Plaintiff avers that "[i]t was the administrative policy and/or custom of the Defendants to jointly and/or severally to inadequately and improperly investigate citizen complaints of police misconduct, and acts of misconduct were instead jointly and/or severally tolerated by the Defendants." (Id. ¶ 43.) Both of these statements are broad conclusions that Rebert and the County violated Plaintiff's rights and the Court is unable to find the appropriate factual development needed to render these claims ...


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