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Howie v. Allegheny County

May 11, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge


Presently before the Court is the MOTION TO DISMISS, with brief in support, filed by Defendants, and the RESPONSE AND MEMORANDUM OF LAW IN OPPOSITION, filed by Plaintiff. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff, Nowell V. Howie, has brought this civil rights action against defendants Allegheny County; Dan Onorato, County Executive of Allegheny County; the Allegheny County Jail ("ACJ"), where plaintiff was previously housed; and Ramon C. Rustin, warden of the ACJ. According to the Complaint, on or about May 24, 2006, a bench warrant was issued for Plaintiff's arrest by the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which arose out of actions for child support pending in the Family Division of Allegheny County. On June 12, 2006, Plaintiff voluntarily turned himself in and was incarcerated at ACJ pending a hearing on the bench warrant.

Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.13-1(d)(5) requires that a detailed individual must receive a hearing before the court within seventy-two hours of the detention or the bench warrant will expire by operation of law. See Pa. R.C.P. 1910.13-1(d)(7). Plaintiff contends that he received no such hearing and as a result he was unlawfully incarcerated until October 6, 2006, four months after the bench warrant expired. As a result of this alleged unlawful detention, Plaintiff claims that his rights under the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution have been violated. Plaintiff also has brought claims under Pennsylvania common law for false imprisonment, negligence and gross negligence.

Defendants have filed the instant motion to dismiss. The matter has been fully briefed and is ready for ruling.

Standard of Review

The United States Supreme Court has recently held that a complaint is properly dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) where it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (rejecting the long-adhered to 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint, the Court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The Court, however, need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Public Employees' Retirement System v. Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The question is not whether the plaintiff will prevail in the end but, rather, is whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of his or her claims. See Oatway v. American International Group, Inc., 325 F.3d 184, 187 (3d Cir. 2003).


A. Federal Claims Against the Allegheny County Jail

Section 1983 provides in relevant part, as follows: Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .

Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250, 1255-56 (3d Cir. 1994).

Here, the claims asserted against the ACJ are subject to dismissal because jail facilities are not "persons" for the purpose of ยง 1983 liability. See Mitchell v. Chester County Farms Prison, 426 F. Supp. 271 (E.D. Pa. 1976). ...

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