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Retzler v. Bristol Borough Police

March 6, 2009

WESTLEY RETZLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRISTOL BOROUGH POLICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Westley Retzler, recently has filed six Complaints in this District. In each case, Retzler is proceeding pro se and has been granted in forma pauperis (IFP) status. Retzler's handwritten Complaints in sum name over twenty-five different individuals and entities as Defendants. The Complaints are best described as a hodgepodge of alleged wrongs perpetrated against him (and his sometimes co-Plaintiff Laura Warden) by private citizens, public officials, and the government of Bucks County.

The above-captioned case centers around the harassment and assault Retzler suffered in Bristol Township and the failure of local law enforcement officials to bring the perpetrator to justice. This lawsuit names nine different individuals and entities as Defendants. Two motions are currently before this Court. In one motion, Defendants Bristol Borough Police Department, Bristol Borough Police Chief Arnold Porter, Sergeant William Lutz, and Officer James Ellis seek to dismiss the claims against them. In the other motion, Defendants Bucks County, Bucks County Detectives, Detective Robert Gorman, and Detective Terry Lachman seek to dismiss the claims against them. For the reasons below, the motions are granted.

I. BACKGROUND

In early July, 2006, Defendant Michael Pacheco "physically man handled and assaulted" Retzler at the Bristol Commerce Center. (Compl. at 1-2.) According to the Complaint, Pacheco tried to ram Retzler's vehicle. When Retzler parked his vehicle and tried to get out to summon police, Pacheco grabbed him and ripped his shirt. (Compl. at 6.) Bristol Township Police took twenty-five minutes to respond and in the interim, Pacheco fled to his home. (Id.) Retzler alleges that his altercation with Pacheco relates to a prior incident in which the Bristol Township Chief of Police, James McAndrew, assaulted Retzler.*fn1 (Id.) According to the Complaint, Pacheco referenced this assault during their altercation and said to Retzler that "you get up and blab your mouth at Township Meeting on Television and you think you got the chief [McAndrew] but guess what [expletive omitted] the chief got you for wiretapping." (Id. at 6-7.) Despite a purported investigation by Detectives Robert Gorman and Terry Lachman, no charges have been filed against Pacheco and Defendants Gorman and Lachman did not respond to Retzler's requests for information. (Id. at 7.)

On July 10, 2006, Retzler and Laura Warden arrived at the Defendant Bristol Borough Police Department for a pre-arranged meeting with Defendant Chief Arnie Porter to discuss why no charges had been filed against Pacheco. (Id. at 2.) They were informed that Chief Porter had left for the day but Defendant Sergeant William Lutzspoke with Reztler and Warden and assured them that he would inquire as to why Defendant Officer James Ellis had not filed charges and get back to them. (Id.) Retzler scheduled another meeting with Chief Porter for July 19, 2006, but again, Chief Porter failed to show. (Id.) Sergeant Lutz told Retzler to "file charges of your own," but when Retzler went to a District Justice to do just that, he was told that the most he could do was file a private criminal complaint that would be examined by the Bucks County District Attorney, who would then decide whether charges were warranted. (Id. at 2-3.) Retzler filed a private criminal complaint on July 28, 2006, but has yet to receive a response. (Id. at 3.)

Retzler's Complaint details two additional assaults against him. The first is a May, 2004 road rage incident in which the police let the assailant go because he worked closely with the New Jersey State Police. (Id. at 4.) The second incident occurred on March 22 (the Complaint omits the year) and led to Retzler's hospitalization. (Id. at 5.) Police officers investigating the incident failed to file charges because, according to the Complaint, the police believed Reztler was a troublemaker and was probably at fault for the incident. (Id.)

Retlzer filed a motion for IFP status on July 10, 2008 and that motion was granted on July 21, 2008.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsman Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs., Inc., 237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A court should read the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and determine whether a reasonable reading indicates that relief may be warranted. Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Servs., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A court need not credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" when deciding a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Because Reztler is acting pro se, this Court must construe his Complaint liberally and apply the applicable law, even if Reztler failed to mention it by name. See Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004); Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003). "Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974. Although the federal rules impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a cause of action. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Simply reciting the elements will not suffice. Id. at 231.

Because Retzler is proceeding in forma pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915 applies. Under that statute, a court shall dismiss an action if it is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (2008). The frivolousness prong of the statute permits judges to examine the factual allegations of the complaint and dismiss claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless. Guarrasi v. Gibbons, Civ. A. No. 07-5475, 2008 WL 4601903, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 15, 2008) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Claims against Bristol Borough Police Department

The Bristol Borough Police Department is not a proper party to this lawsuit. A local police department may not be sued along with its municipality because the police department is not a separate legal entity. See Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 F. App'x 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004) ("In Section 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities, because the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local municipality, and is not a separate judicial entity."); see also Bonenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997); Toth v. Bristol Twp., 215 F. Supp. 2d 595, 599 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (dismissing Bristol Township Police Department because it cannot be sued alongside Bristol Township). Plaintiffs' response fails to address the legal status of this Defendant and instead just repeats their contentions that they have suffered harassment and various indignities at the hands of the police and ...


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