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Morrison v. Lambie

March 12, 2009

LYNN MORRISON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHARLES LAMBIE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE ELECTED CONSTABLE OF WHARTON TOWNSHIP, RUTH A. LAMBIE, INDIVIDUALLY, AND LORI PRITTS, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Stewart Cercone United States District Judge

Electronic Filing

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Lynn Morrison ("Morrison") commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking redress for her alleged unlawful arrest. Morrison avers that Defendant Charles A. Lambie, in his capacity as an elected Constable of Wharton Township ("Constable Lambie"), violated her rights under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions by improperly arresting, assaulting and imprisoning her. Complaint at ¶ 10. She seeks to establish violations under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as various related state law claims. Presently before the court are Constable Lambie and Defendant Ruth A. Lambie's ("Ruth Lambie") motions to dismiss. Both defendants contend the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Constable Lambie also invokes qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, the motions will be denied.

It is well settled that in reviewing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) "[t]he applicable standard of review requires the court to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). Under the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007), dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is proper only where the averments of the complaint plausibly fail to raise directly or inferentially the material elements necessary to obtain relief under a viable legal theory of recovery. Id. at 544.

In other words, the allegations of the complaint taken as a whole must be grounded in enough of a factual basis to raise a "'reasonably founded hope that the [discovery] process will reveal relevant evidence' to support the claim." Id. at 563 n. 8 (quoting Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005) & Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 741 (1975)); accord Langford v. City of Atlantic City, 235 F.3d 845, 847 (3d Cir. 2000) (interpreting Conley "appears beyond doubt" standard as consistent with the established rule that a complaint will be deemed to rest on sufficient grounds if it adequately puts the defendant on notice of the essential elements of a cause of action) (citing Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996)).

This is not to be understood as imposing a probability standard at the pleading stage. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008). Instead, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element ... [and provides] enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'" Id.; see also Wilkerson v. New Media Technology Charter School Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) ("The complaint must state 'enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'") (quoting Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235) (citations omitted). "Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.

The defendants are related. Constable Lambie and Defendant Lori Pritts ("Pritts") are brother and sister. Ruth Lambie is married to Constable Lambie and thus is Lori Pritts' sister-inlaw. Complaint at ¶ 18.

For a period in excess of twenty (20) years prior to December 2006, Morrison and Pritts were close friends. Complaint at ¶ 12. In December of 2006, Morrison and Pritts had a "personal falling out." Complaint at ¶ 13. At some time prior to September 13, 2007, a bench warrant was issued for Morrison by the Honorable Judge Steve P. Leskinen of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas. Complaint at ¶ 16.

In 2007, Pritts was employed as a guard with the Fayette County Jail. Complaint at ¶ 15. In the course of her employment she became aware of the bench warrant issued for Morrison. However, on September 13, 2007, the warrant was lifted by Judge Leskinen. Complaint at ¶ 17.

At some point prior to January 4, 2008, Pritts contacted her brother and sister-in-law and advised them about the bench warrant and her intent to locate Morrison so Constable Lambie could arrest her. Complaint at ¶ 18-19. Pritts obtained Morrison's daughter's telephone number by accessing Fayette County Jail records and obtained Morrison's address after speaking with her daughter. Complaint at ¶ 22. Pritts then advised Constable Lambie and Ruth Lambie of Morrison's location. Complaint at ¶¶ 20-22.

Without verifying the existence of the bench warrant, Constable Lambie, Ruth Lambie and Pritts traveled to Morrison's residence at approximately 9:30 p.m. on the evening of Friday, January 4, 2008. Complaint at ¶ ¶ 26, 28, 54. Constable Lambie was in uniform. Complaint at ¶ 30. Ruth Lambie approached Morrison's door while Constable Lambie parked the marked Constable vehicle a few blocks away. Complaint at ¶ 28. Ruth Lambie then knocked on the door. Complaint at ¶ 28. When Morrison answered Constable Lambie appeared around the corner of Morrison's house and told her he had a warrant for her arrest. Complaint at ¶ 29. Constable Lambie displayed a rolled-up piece of paper in his hand, which he identified as the warrant. Complaint at ¶ 32. Constable and Ruth Lambie entered Morrison's residence. Complaint at ¶ 33.

While inside Morrison's residence, Constable Lambie reiterated that he possessed a warrant for her arrest. Complaint at ¶ 37. Morrison requested to see the warrant repeatedly and told Constable and Ruth Lambie that there was no warrant for her arrest. Complaint at ¶¶ 39-40. Constable Lambie arrested Morrison and advised her that he would have to put handcuffs on her. Complaint at ¶ 43. She asked if that was necessary. Complaint at ¶ 43. Constable Lambie stated that it was. Complaint at ¶ 43. Constable Lambie placed Morrison in handcuffs and escorted her down the street to the marked vehicle. Complaint at ¶¶ at 47-49. Constable Lambie and Ruth Lambie drove Morrison to the Fayette County Jail, whereupon an unidentified official at the Jail instructed defendants that a valid warrant for Morrison's arrest did not exist. Complaint at ¶¶ 50-52. Morrison was then released.

Constable Lambie asserts that he is entitled to dismissal because the complaint fails to plead that Morrison was unlawfully seized under the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, he asserts that the allegations cannot support a claim for arrest without probable cause, and he is entitled to qualified immunity in any event. Proceeding pro se, Ruth Lambie contends that dismissal is warranted because the allegations against her are unfounded and thus frivolous. Specifically, she asserts she did not act in concert with the other defendants and accompanied Constable Lambie on January 4, 2008, only for the purpose of having another female present at the scene. In addition, plaintiff has failed to join some unidentified party who is indispensable under Rule 19.

Plaintiff maintains that the elements of a ยง 1983 action have been adequately set forth. In addition, the circumstances surrounding her arrest are sufficient to defeat Constable Lambie's ...


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