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Strothers v. Nassan

April 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer U.S. District Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Christopher Strothers ("Strothers") brought this action against Defendant Samuel Nassan ("Nassan"), alleging that he had been unreasonably seized and battered in violation of both the United States Constitution and Pennsylvania law. Currently pending before the Court is a partial motion to dismiss filed by Nassan pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docket No. 14). For the reasons that follow, that motion is denied.

II. Factual Background

Since this matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss, the allegations contained in Strothers' amended complaint are assumed to be true. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). According to the amended complaint, Strothers is a black male who resides in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 13, ¶¶ 1, 3). At the time of the events at issue, he was twenty-seven years old. (Id., ¶ 3). Nassan is a white male employed by the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") as a police officer. (Id., ¶¶ 2, 7).

During the early morning hours of July 6, 2008, Strothers was on the premises of Rumshaker's Bar ("Rumshaker's"), which is located on East Carson Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Id., ¶ 3). After exiting Rumshaker's, Strothers began to speak with his friend, Jermaine Anderson ("Anderson"), who is a black female, on a nearby sidewalk. (Id., ¶ 4). Anderson became engaged in a verbal argument with some of her friends, all of whom were black females. (Id., ¶ 5). This argument attracted the attention of police officers employed by the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police ("CPBP"). (Id.). Members of the CPBP arrived at the scene of the argument and requested that the individuals disperse. (Id.). The individuals complied with this request, and no arrests were made by members of the CPBP. (Id., ¶ 6).

As the individuals began to disperse, Nassan arrived at the scene. (Id., ¶ 7). He demanded to know what the problem had been. (Id.). Nassan violently apprehended one of Anderson's black female friends and placed her in handcuffs. (Id., ¶ 8). When the female spoke, Nassan told her that he would take her "black ass" to the corner and beat her "ass" if she did not "shut the fuck up." (Id.). He apprehended a second black female friend of Anderson, pushing her against the outside of Rumshaker's. (Id., ¶ 9). Nassan then seized Strothers and threw him to the ground. (Id., ¶ 10). Warning Strothers to "shut up," Nassan exclaimed, "I am going to take your little black ass to the corner and beat your ass." (Id.). Nassan threw Strothers against a car, handcuffed him, and placed him in the back of a police car. (Id., ¶ 11).

With Strothers in the police car, Nassan drove away from Rumshaker's. (Id., ¶ 12). After driving to a side street off of East Carson Street, Nassan ordered Strothers out of the police car, uncuffed him, and prepared citations against him for disorderly conduct*fn1 and public drunkenness.*fn2

(Id.). At that point, Strothers was free to go. (Id.). He had not consumed any alcoholic beverages that evening. (Id.). During his altercation with Nassan, Strothers suffered injuries to his back, left ankle and left wrist. (Id., ¶¶ 10, 13). His left ankle was severely fractured, and the muscles, ligaments, tendons, tissues and nerves in the affected areas of his body were damaged. (Id.).

III. Procedural History

On November 12, 2008, Strothers commenced this action against Nassan and the PSP in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, alleging violations of the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the tort law of Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 1-3, ¶¶ 16-31). His federal constitutional claims were brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His state-law claims were brought as common-law battery claims. Nassan was sued in both his official and individual capacities. (Id., ¶ 3). On November 26, 2008, the Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. (Docket No. 1). The Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss on January 9, 2009, seeking the dismissal of the battery claims, the Eighth*fn3 and Fourteenth*fn4 Amendment claims, all official-capacity claims against Nassan, and all claims against the PSP.*fn5 (Docket No. 5). While the motion to dismiss was still pending, Strothers sought leave to file an amended complaint.*fn6 (Docket No. 11). The Court granted this request on February 19, 2009, and Strothers filed his amended complaint later that day. (Docket Nos. 12 and 13).

The amended complaint does not name the PSP as a defendant, and it names Nassan only in his individual capacity. (Docket No. 13, ¶ 2). Although Strothers has withdrawn all claims based on the Eighth Amendment, he now alleges that Nassan's actions were violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id., ¶ 22). He also continues to assert state-law battery claims against Nassan. (Id., ¶¶ 14-19). Consequently, this case now involves claims arising under the Fourth Amendment,*fn7 the Equal Protection Clause, and Pennsylvania law.

The Court has jurisdiction over the federal constitutional claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). Nassan filed a partial motion to dismiss, along with a supporting brief, on February 24, 2009, seeking the dismissal of Strothers' Equal Protection Clause and battery claims. (Docket No. 14). On March 16, 2009, Strothers filed his response to Nassan's motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 17). As the motion is fully briefed, it is ripe for disposition.

IV. Standard of Review

In light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), a complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). This standard requires more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must allege a sufficient number of facts "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. This requirement is designed to facilitate the notice-pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which requires "a short and plain statement of [a] claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)(emphasis added). In considering a motion to dismiss, a court accepts all of the plaintiff's allegations as true and construes all inferences drawn from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Buck v. Hampton Township School District, 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Nonetheless, a court need not credit bald assertions, unwarranted inferences, or legal conclusions cast in the form of factual averments. Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906, n. 8 (3d Cir. 1997). The primary question in deciding a motion to dismiss is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but rather whether he or she is entitled to offer evidence to establish the facts alleged in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000). The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to "streamline[] litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). In addition to the allegations contained in the complaint, a court may consider matters of public record, exhibits attached to the complaint, and other items appearing in the record of the case. Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384, n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994).

V. Discussion

Nassan seeks the dismissal of Strothers' Equal Protection Clause and battery claims. (Docket No. 14). He does not challenge the sufficiency of the amended complaint with respect to the Fourth Amendment claims. Nassan contends that the allegations contained in the amended complaint are insufficient to establish a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, ...

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