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Ortiz v. Saul

December 16, 2008

CAROLINE ORTIZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER ADAM SAUL, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND CHIEF WILLIAM HARVEY, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AS THE LEBANON CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF OF POLICE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

JUDGE SYLVIA H. RAMBO

Plaintiff's complaint arises out of an incident involving Lebanon City Police Department officers following a "midget's football game" at Lebanon Middle School. She has brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, as well as several state law tort claims. Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion will be denied.

I. Background

A. Facts*fn1

On Saturday October 14, 2006, Plaintiff, a United States citizen of Puerto Rican descent, attended a midget football game at the Lebanon Middle School stadium to watch her eight-year old son play. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 5, 9, 13.) During the game, Plaintiff sat with her husband and her two-year old daughter in the spectator stands. (Id. ¶ 12.) At the end of the game, Plaintiff gathered the family's belongings and began walking out of the stadium with her two children toward the family car. (Id. ¶ 16.) As Plaintiff exited the stadium, she walked past Defendant Saul, an officer of the Lebanon City Police Department, who asked her "Ma'am, where is your boyfriend Wilson?" (Id. ¶ 18.) After Plaintiff responded, Defendant Saul further inquired regarding the whereabouts of Plaintiff's husband. (Id. ¶¶ 20--21.) Plaintiff responded that she did not know and began to walk away. (Id. ¶ 21.) As she walked away, Defendant Saul grabbed her and pulled her by her shoulder and told her that she could not leave until she spoke to him. (Id. ¶ 22.)

At this point, Plaintiff informed Defendant Saul that she had done nothing wrong, but Defendant Saul stated that "Wilson" had committed a felony and accused her of refusing to talk because she was involved in that felony. (Id. ¶¶ 22--23.) Defendant Saul did not allow her to leave and asked her for her name and address. (Id. ¶ 25.) She complied with this request, and Defendant Saul threatened her that "she would be in trouble if he discovered that she knew Wilson or knew where he was." (Id. ¶¶ 25--26.) About this time Plaintiff's husband Mr. Orta approached and began speaking to Plaintiff in Spanish. (Id. ¶ 27.) Defendant Saul told Mr. Orta that he was speaking with Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 27.) Mr. Orta explained that Plaintiff was his wife. (Id. ¶ 27.) In response, Defendant Saul became "more aggressive," pushed Mr. Orta in the chest, and pulled out his pepper spray, which he held up to Mr. Orta's face while threatening to use the spray on him. (Id. ¶ 28.) Defendant Saul, then, grabbed Plaintiff by the wrist and placed her under arrest. (Id. ¶ 29.) She began pleading, "Please don't do this, and please not in front of my children." (Id. ¶ 30.) Defendant Saul said he "didn't give a shit about the kids" and handcuffed Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 31--32.) She began crying, and Defendant Saul repeated that he "didn't give a shit about the kids" as he moved her to an area in plain view of other spectators who had come to watch the midget football game. (Id. ¶¶ 35--36.)

As spectators looked on at the scene, Officer Henderson arrived, approached Plaintiff, and removed her handcuffs, yet Defendant Saul continued to yell at Plaintiff that "if she didn't talk she was going to jail." (Id. ¶¶ 38--40.) Officer Henderson, after removing the handcuffs from Plaintiff, allowed her to leave. (Id. ¶ 41.) The following day Plaintiff attended another of her son's games and overheard many other parents talking about her during the game. (Id. ¶ 42.) One parent told Plaintiff that she had seen Plaintiff in handcuffs the night before. (Id.)

B. Procedural History

Following these events, Plaintiff filed a complaint on August 1, 2008, alleging violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as several state law tort claims. (Doc. 1.) On October 24, 2008, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 5.) Defendants filed a brief in support of the motion on October 30, 2008. (Doc. 9.) Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition on November 11, 2008. (Doc. 11.) Defendants opted not to file a reply brief. Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, - U.S. -, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice" in Rule 8(a)(2) "depends on the type of case-some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (quotation omitted). "[A] situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id. A plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief. Twombly, 127 S.Ct.at 1965; accord Phillips, 515 F.3d at 238--39; Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (The court is not "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.") (quotations and citations omitted); Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351(3d Cir. 2005).

A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, - U.S. -, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face," a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1974; Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Caroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007). This requirement "calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be ...


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