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Whitney v. Marut

February 25, 2008


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

(Judge Conner)


Plaintiff Glen Whitney ("Glen") brings this civil rights case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by defendants Joseph Marut and Robert Stoud. Plaintiff Christina Whitney ("Christina") joins the action and asserts state-law claims for assault and battery against defendant John Hagerty ("Hagerty"). Hagerty advances counterclaims for the same torts against her husband, plaintiff Glen. Presently before the court is the Whitneys' motion to dismiss Hagerty's counterclaims against Glen. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

During January 2005, Glen and Christina attended a private party also visited by Hagerty. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 11-12.) Glen left the party after several hours, leaving Christina, who had been consuming alcohol,*fn2 to socialize with the other guests. (Id. ¶ 12.) Christina and Hagerty soon engaged in coquetry, as they had clandestinely done on various past occasions. (Doc. 9 ¶¶ 9, 36-37.) The pair eventually left the party for Hagerty's home. Once there they engaged in sexual activity. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34, 36.)

Clifford Grosvenor ("Grosvenor"),*fn3 a guest at the party and friend of Glen's, noticed the couple leave together and called Glen to inform him of the developing affair. (Doc. 1 ¶ 13.) After receiving the news, Glen met Grosvenor, and both proceeded to Hagerty's residence. (Id.; Doc. 9 ¶ 35.) They kicked open the door to Hagerty's home and assailed Hagerty, kicking, slapping, and punching him. (Doc. 9 ¶ 35.) They also threw various items at Hagerty, and one of them struck him with his computer keyboard. (Id. ¶ 38.) Hagerty remained conscious throughout the attack. (Id. ¶ 44.) When Glen and Grosvenor finished pummeling Hagerty, an argument ensued between Christina and Glen. (Id. ¶ 39.) The evening ended with Christina, Glen, and Grosvenor leaving the maligned Hagerty alone at his residence. (Id. ¶ 40.) Glen was thereafter seized and criminally prosecuted for his actions. (Doc. 1 ¶ 21.) A jury acquitted him. (Id. ¶ 22.)

Christina and Glen instituted the present action on January 16, 2007. The complaint alleges various deprivations of their constitutional rights by defendants Joseph Marut and Robert Stoud, both of whom are officers of the Pennsylvania State Police. The claims against Marut and Stoud arise from Glen's seizure and prosecution and are not affected by the pending motion.*fn4 The complaint also asserts state-law assault and battery claims against Hagerty, alleging that he enticed Christina against her will. Hagerty answer's avers that Christina acted voluntarily and advances two counterclaims. First, he maintains a claim for assault and battery against Glen. Second, he requests sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the ground that the claims against him are frivolous and in bad faith.*fn5 Plaintiffs have moved to dismiss both counterclaims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The parties have fully briefed these issues, which are now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts in 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 require the complaint to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sershen v. Cholish, No. 3:07-CV-1011, 2007 WL 3146357, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. 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"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ---U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Montville Twp. v. Woodmont Builders LLC, No. 05-4888, 2007 WL 2261567, at *2 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, --- U.S. at ---, 127 S.Ct. at 1969). Under this liberal pleading standard, 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

Hagerty's answer asserts counterclaims for assault, battery, and sanction for bringing allegedly frivolous claims. Plaintiffs' motion seeks dismissal of all Hagerty's counterclaims. The court will address these issues seriatim.

A. Assault and Battery Claims

The tort of assault requires that the defendant act with intent to place the plaintiff in apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive bodily contact and that the plaintiff actually experienced such apprehension. See Heverly v. Simcox, No. 4:05-1370, 2006 WL 2927262, at *9 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 11, 2006); D'Errico v. DeFazio, 763 A.2d 424, 431 n.2 (Pa. Super Ct. 2000). Battery requires proof that the defendant acted with the intent to cause harmful or offensive bodily contact with the person of the plaintiff and that such contact actually followed. See ...

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