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Bittner v. Snyder County

January 26, 2009

MARCI J. BITTNER PLAINTIFF,
v.
SNYDER COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA, AND MICHAEL SHOLLEY, DEFENDANTS



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

MEMORANDUM

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS

Pending before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint (the "Motion") filed by Defendants Snyder County, Pennsylvania ("Snyder County") and District Attorney of Snyder County, Michael Sholley ("Sholley") (collectively, "Defendants") on June 12, 2008. (Rec. Doc. 9). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Marci J. Bittner ("Plaintiff" or "Bittner") commenced the instant action by lodging a civil rights Complaint against Defendants on April 16, 2008. (Rec. Doc. 1). On June 12, 2008, the Defendants filed the instant Motion and a brief in support thereof, requesting dismissal of the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).*fn1 (Rec. Docs. 9, 11). The Plaintiff submitted her brief in opposition to the Motion on June 28, 2008, (Rec. Doc. 13), and the Defendant responded with a reply brief on July 10, 2008, (Rec. Doc. 17). Since the Motion has been fully briefed, it is now ripe for disposition.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), a court must distinguish between facial and factual challenges to its subject matter jurisdiction. See Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). A facial attack challenges whether the plaintiff has properly pled jurisdiction. Id. "In reviewing a facial attack, the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891). A factual attack, in contrast, challenges jurisdiction based on facts apart from the pleadings. Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. "When a defendant attacks subject matter jurisdiction 'in fact,' . . . the Court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself whether it has power to hear the case. In such a situation, 'no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.'" Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Importers Ass'n, 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891).

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a). Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, "in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 1965. A plaintiff must make "a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief", and "without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provided not only 'fair notice,' but also the 'grounds' on which the claim rests." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citing Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 n. 3). "[A] complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct, and the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1969 n.8. Therefore, "stating a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 n. 3).

On the other hand, "a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Id. at 231(citing Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1964-65, 1969 n.8). Rule 8 "does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element."Id. at 234.

STATEMENT OF MATERIAL FACTS*fn2

On March 9, 2006 a criminal complaint was filed by the District Attorney of Snyder County, Michael Sholley, against Plaintiff's ex-husband alleging that he committed crimes upon the person of Plaintiff's now-18-year-old son. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 9). In June of 2006, Plaintiff was contacted by Sholley's office and informed that her testimony would be needed at the trial of her ex-husband. (Id. ¶ 10). At that time, she informed someone in the District Attorney's Office that she required transportation to Snyder County since she had no license and could not drive due to a medical condition. (Id. ¶ 11). Sholley requested a subpoena to Attend and Testify for Plaintiff, which was issued by Snyder County officials on April 24, 2007. (Id. ¶ 13). Upon receiving service of the subpoena, effectuated by Patrolman Chad Thomas ("Thomas") of the Middleburg Police Department, Plaintiff informed Thomas that she required both transportation to the Snyder County Courthouse and custodial care/supervision for her two additional children, ages 6 and 7 at the time. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 15).

The trial of Plaintiff's ex-husband was scheduled for May 29-31, 2007. (Id. ¶ 12). Around May 21, 2007, Plaintiff phoned the District Attorney's Office ("D.A.'s Office") to remind them that she needed transportation from her residence in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania to Snyder County, a distance spanning approximately 175 miles round trip, and that she needed custodial care for her two younger children. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 20). At that time, Plaintiff was assured by someone in the D.A.'s Office that transportation would be provided to her and care would be provided to her children. (Id. ¶¶ 19, 21). After her communication with the D.A.'s Office, Plaintiff was under the assumption that transportation and custodial care for her children were conditions of the subpoena and were being provided in exchange for her testimony. (See id. ¶ 24).

Transportation was never provided to Plaintiff on the day she was supposed to testify and thus, Plaintiff failed to appear at the Snyder County Courthouse. (See id. ¶ 34). In response to Plaintiff's failure to appear in court, Sholley applied for a bench warrant to arrest Plaintiff, which was granted on May 29, 2007. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 25). On May 30, 2007, Plaintiff was arrested at her home by Patrolman Thomas, who was allegedly acting as an agent of the D.A.'s Office. (Id. ¶ 26). Thomas handcuffed Plaintiff pursuant to police "procedures," even though she avers that she posed no threat to him, placed her in the back of a police cruiser, and transported her 87 miles to the Snyder County Courthouse. (Id. ¶ 29). On that day, Plaintiff avers that it was 87 degrees Farenheit, yet Thomas never rolled down the back windows of the cruiser, even though the glass partition between the front and back seats prevented air conditioned air from reaching her. (Id. ¶ 29, 30).

Upon arrival at the courthouse, Plaintiff was unhandcuffed and interviewed by Sholley. (Id. ¶ 33, 34). It was at this time that Plaintiff informed Sholley that someone in his office told her that transportation to the courthouse would be provided to her. (Id. ¶ 34). Plaintiff further avered that her failure to appear resulted from his office not providing said transportation. (Id.). Soon after his conversation with Plaintiff, Sholley withdrew the bench warrant. (Id. ¶ 35). Plaintiff assured Sholley that she would appear for court proceedings in the future.*fn3 (Id. ¶ 36). Plaintiff was later informed that she would not be returned to her home in Spring Grove, but that she was going to be "dropped off" at a relative's house 20 miles from the Snyder County Courthouse, (id. ¶ 40), and 67 miles away from her home, (id. ¶¶ 41, 42). Plaintiff's husband was forced that drive that distance in order to take his wife home. (Id. ¶ 43).

These events precipitated the filing of the instant action, in which Plaintiff lodges claims against both Snyder County and D.A. Sholley. The Complaint, inter alia, asserts that Snyder County, through the actions of Sholley, deprived Plaintiff of her Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn4 A fair reading of the Complaint leads us to the conclusion that Plaintiff also asserts the constitutional claims of invasion of privacy, defamation, and deprivation of Plaintiff's right to freedom of association. (See id. ¶ 69, 70). The Complaint also appears to contain various Pennsylvania state law claims. We will address these claims seriatum.

DISCUSSION

Initially, we note that Plaintiff appears to have abandoned her state claims. Despite alleging violations of the Pennsylvania law in her Complaint, Plaintiff states in her opposition brief that "the Complaint does not allege state claims." (Rec. Doc. 13 p. 15). We consider this to constitute a voluntary dismissal of these claims.*fn5 We will therefore grant the instant Motion to the extent the Complaint contains claims based ...


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