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Smith v. City of Hazleton

August 6, 2008

ERIC DELVONNE SMITH, PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF HAZLETON, AND KEITH MCALARNEY, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is defendants' partial motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 11). Having been fully briefed and argued, the matter is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff is a resident of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. (Complaint (Doc. 1) (hereinafter "Complt") at ¶ 4). The city is a defendant in this case, as is Keith McAlarney, who is employed as a police officer by the Defendant City. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6). The events giving rise to the instant lawsuit arise from the arrest of the plaintiff by Defendant McAlarney on January 11, 2006. (Id. at ¶ 8). On that date, plaintiff called police, requesting that they act as witnesses while he picked up his children from their mother's residence. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff and his children's mother were engaged in a custody dispute. (Id.). When Defendant McAlarney arrived on the scene, he informed plaintiff that he could not assist him in the custody matter. (Id. at ¶ 10). At the same time, McAlarney ran plaintiff's identifying information through a federal database. (Id. at ¶ 11). He took plaintiff into custody based on a warrant issued in King County, Washington. (Id.). That warrant sought Edgar Michael Smith on a robbery charge. (Id.).

The man named in the warrant and plaintiff share the same birthday. (Id. at ¶ 12). The plaintiff provided Defendant McAlarney with a driver's license that showed his name was Eric Delvonne Smith, not Edgar Michael Smith. (Id. at ¶ 13). He also recited his social security number, which was different from the one used by Edgar Michael Smith. (Id.). Plaintiff also described tattoos on his body; these likewise showed that he failed to match the description of Edgar Michael Smith. (Id.). Defendant McAlarney did not examine these tattoos. (Id.). Plaintiff denied several times that he was the person sought in the warrant. (Id. at ¶ 14).

Plaintiff's continued to insist that he was not Edgar Michael Smith. He submitted fingerprints in an attempt to establish his identity. (Id. at ¶ 15). Defendant McAlarney falsely told plaintiff that his fingerprints had been established as a positive match to those of Edgar Michael Smith. (Id. at ¶ 16). The FBI assigned a different identification number to plaintiff's fingerprints than to those of Edgar Michael Smith. (Id. at ¶ 17). Plaintiff, who was taller and weighed less than Edgar Michael Smith, did not match the physical description provided in the warrant. (Id. at ¶ 18). Defendant McAlarney nevertheless insisted that plaintiff was the person named in the warrant and caused him to be incarcerated in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility. (Id. at ¶ 19).

Plaintiff remained incarcerated from January 11, 2006 until April 11, 2006, spending ninety-one days in jail. (Id. at ¶ 20). During his incarceration plaintiff made numerous complaints to prison officials and law enforcement agencies about his mistaken identity. (Id. at ¶ 21). Eventually, the Pennsylvania State Police used the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) to confirm that plaintiff was not Edgar Michael Smith, the person named in the warrant. (Id. at ¶ 22). The Hazleton police department uses the AFIS system as well. (Id. at ¶ 23). Despite plaintiff's protests, however, neither the City nor Defendant McAlarney made use of the AFIS system to confirm plaintiff's identity. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26). After the State Police made this discovery, the Luzerne County District Attorney's Office informed the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas of this mistake, and the county immediately released the plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 24).

On December 20, 2007, plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit, alleging that the defendants' conduct violated his constitutional rights. Count One of his complaint alleges that Defendant McAlarney violated his right to be free of illegal seizure, false arrest and imprisonment under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Id. at ¶ 37). Plaintiff also contends that his arrest and incarceration violated his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process rights. (Id. at ¶ 38). Plaintiff sought damages for these actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count Two of the complaint alleges, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that the Defendant City of Hazleton violated plaintiff's constitutional rights by following policies and customs established by the City. Count Three raises a state-law false arrest/imprisonment claim against Defendant McAlarney. Count Four alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendant McAlarney. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest and attorneys fees on these claims. Plaintiff also filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2), alleging that he lacked sufficient means to pay the required filing fee for this action.

The court granted plaintiff's in forma pauperis motion on January 14, 2008 (Doc. 5) and allowed service of the complaint. After being served, defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss. (Doc. 11). The parties briefed the motion and the court entertained oral argument, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

Because plaintiff brings his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Legal Standard

When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations are tested. The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in ...


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