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Lynn v. Tobin

July 7, 2009

BOBBY LEE LYNN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLIAM TOBIN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On May 29, 2007, Plaintiff Bobby Lee Lynn ("Plaintiff") commenced this action by filing a Complaint against Police Officers William Tobin and Wayne Witlock (collectively "Defendants"), both of the Upper Darby Township Police Department. The gist of Plaintiff's Complaint is that, in the course of arresting him, Defendants seized a briefcase from Plaintiff without cause and without a search warrant. (Pl. Compl. at 3.) Plaintiff brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his Fourth Amendment right not to undergo unreasonable searches and seizures.*fn1 (Pl. Compl. at 3, 15.) Plaintiff is acting pro se in this action.*fn2

On December 12, 2008, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendants offer several arguments in support of their Motion to Dismiss. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Complaint does not allege that Defendants Tobin and Witlock were acting under color of law at the time of the alleged violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. They argue this omission prevents Plaintiff from stating a claim under § 1983.*fn3 (Mem. of Law in Sup. Def. Mot. to Dismiss at 5.) Alternatively, Defendants argue they are entitled to the defense of qualified immunity because Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege that Defendants violated a clearly established constitutional right. (Mem. of Law in Sup. Def. Mot. to Dismiss at 7--10.) Defendants note that Plaintiff fails to plead how his arrest was illegal. Finally, Defendants opine that should the Court read Plaintiff's Complaint to include the claim against Defendants Tobin and Witlock in their official capacity,*fn4 such claim must be dismissed under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. (Mem. of Law in Sup. Def. Mot. to Dismiss at 10--11.)

Plaintiff did not respond to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, despite the Court ordering Plaintiff to do so in an order dated February 18, 2009.

Because the Court concludes that Plaintiff has not pleaded sufficient facts in his Complaint to state a claim against Defendants, Defendants's motion to dismiss will be granted.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The relevant facts set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint are sparse. It is undisputed, however, that Defendants arrested Plaintiff behind the Upper Darby Police Station on the morning of March 15, 2007, at approximately 3:04 AM.*fn5 (Pl. Compl. at 3; Mem. of Law in Sup. Def. Mot. to Dismiss at 5.) Plaintiff alleges that in the course of arresting him, Defendants confiscated his briefcase that contained business papers with a cumulative value in excess of $500,000.*fn6 (Pl. Compl. at 7.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants confiscated his briefcase without cause and without a search warrant, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. (Pl. Compl. at 15.)

III. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under a reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (reasoning that this statement of Rule 12(b)(6) standard remains acceptable following U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) (internal quotations omitted)).

To withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. When a complaint contains well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, No. 07-1015, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 3472 at *31 (U.S. 2009) (reaffirming rationale set forth in Twombley). However, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. at 29. "[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id.

IV. DISCUSSION

The Third Circuit has adopted a specific pleading standard for civil rights claims. See, e.g., Kaufmann v. Moss, 420 F.2d 1270, 1275 (3d Cir. 1970) ("This court has adopted the rule that complaints in civil rights case[s] must be specifically pleaded in order to avoid a motion to dismiss."); Negrich v. Hohn, 379 F.2d 213, 215 (3d Cir. 1967) (dismissing complaint of a state prisoner for making only "broad and conclusory" allegations without facts in support of his conclusions); Pugliano v. Staziak, 231 F. Supp. 347, 349 (W.D.Pa. 1964) ("In an action for damages under the Civil Rights Act, the plaintiff must allege highly specific facts. It is not enough to state bare conclusory allegations without support in facts alleged.") (internal citations omitted); Schweiker v. Gordon, 442 F. Supp. 1134, 1139 (E.D.Pa. 1977) ("[I]n pleading a civil rights claim, the 'short and plain statement of the claim that the pleader is entitled to relief' must contain specific factual allegations in support of the plaintiff's right to recovery.") (citations omitted). The reason for a specific pleading requirement in civil rights cases was explained in Kaufmann v. Moss:

In recent years there has been an increasingly large volume of cases brought under the Civil Rights Acts. A substantial number of these cases are frivolous or should be litigated in the State courts; they all cause defendants--public officials, policemen, and citizens ...


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