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O'Hara v. Hanley

July 8, 2009

DAVID O'HARA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOREL HANLEY, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, CRAIG MILLER, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, YVONNE SUPPOK, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, MICHAEL SCHLESINGER, AS AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff David O'Hara ("Plaintiff") commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Jorel Hanley ("Hanley"), Craig Miller ("Miller"), Yvonne Suppok ("Suppok"), and Michael Schlesinger ("Schlesinger")*fn1 seeking redress for claims of unlawful seizure and arrest (Count I) and malicious prosecution (Count II) under the Fourth Amendment; unlawful search and seizure, due process and equal protection violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Count III); abuse of process (Count IV); wrongful use of civil process (Count V); and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Pennsylvania law (Count VI). (Docket No. 16). Currently pending before the Court is Defendants Suppok and Schlesinger's (collectively the "CYS Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 18). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS, in part, and DENIES, in part the CYS Defendants' Motion.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is currently a resident of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 4). Defendant Hanley, an employee of the Cumberland Township police, was serving as a patrolman during the actions complained of by Plaintiff while Defendant Miller, also an employee of the Cumberland Township police, was serving as a sergeant. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 6). Defendant Suppok is a caseworker for Greene County Children and Youth Services (hereinafter "CYS"). (Id. at ¶ 7). Defendant Schlesinger is a supervisor for Greene County CYS and serves as the direct supervisor of Defendant Suppok. (Id. at ¶ 8). Plaintiff contends that at all time relevant to his claims, Schlesinger had the duty to supervise Suppok and knew or should have known that Suppok was engaged in improper activities. (Id. at ¶ 29).

On September 8, 2006, Sara Brown, a minor child, and her paternal grandmother, Bobbi Brown, made allegations to CYS claiming that Sara and another minor*fn2 were sexually assaulted by Plaintiff on several occasions. (Id. at ¶ 9). On September 29, 2006, Sara and Bobbi Brown made similar claims against Sara's natural mother, Chrystal Jacobs. (Id. at ¶ 10). On October 2, 2006, Sara and Bobbi Brown made further allegations that Plaintiff sexually assaulted the other minor child on a second occasion. (Id. at ¶ 11). Upon receipt of this information, Defendants Suppok and Schlesinger initiated civil proceedings against Plaintiff in the nature of a CYS investigation.(Id. at ¶ 12). Plaintiff claims that this investigation was undertaken without probable cause as these Defendants knew the sexual misconduct claims were false. (Id.).

Thereafter, on October 13, 2006, Sara Brown informed Defendants Hanley and Miller of the claims made against Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 13). That same day, Defendants Hanley and Miller met with Plaintiff. (Id.). Defendant Miller indicated that he would be the officer in charge on the case and would be supervising Officer Hanley. (Id. at ¶ 13). During this meeting, Plaintiff was questioned regarding the allegations made by Sara and Bobbi Brown. (Id. at ¶ 13). Defendant Suppok was present during this questioning. (Id.). Plaintiff claims that he provided the following information during this questioning: (1) Ms. Brown had brought unfounded allegations of sexual assault on numerous prior occasions against various individuals, none of which were found to be credible; (2) Ms. Brown's grandmother, Bobbi, had a clear motive to implicate Plaintiff and others in claims of sexual assault in order to further her goal of obtaining full legal custody of Sara; (3) the allegations made by Sara Brown were physically impossible; (4) the other child was prepared to (and later did) deny the claims made against Plaintiff by Sara Brown, including the claims of sexual assault on Sara and the other child; and (5) other facts, which Plaintiff claims cast doubt on the credibility of Sara and Bobbi Brown's claims against Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 13).

While the criminal and civil investigations were ongoing in October of 2006, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Suppok apologized to him and admitted that she knew that the accusations against Plaintiff were false. (Id. at ¶ 27). Thereafter, on October 16, 2006, Plaintiff claims that he was informed by Greene County CYS that the first set of allegations of sexual abuse as to the other minor child were unfounded. (Id. at ¶ 14). On November 3, 2006, Plaintiff received notification from Defendant Suppok on behalf of Greene County CYS that the result of her investigation was that Plaintiff's status was "Indicated Sexual Perpetrator." (Id. at ¶ 15). That same day, Plaintiff received notification from Greene County CYS that the status of that investigation was also "pending criminal action." (Id. at ¶ 15). This action, Plaintiff avers, was taken despite the fact that Suppok knew or should have known that Plaintiff was not guilty of the Browns' accusations. (Id.).

On November 6, 2006, Plaintiff was informed by Greene County CYS that the second set of allegations of sexual abuse made against him relating to the other minor child were unfounded. (Id. at ¶ 16). On November 20, 2006, Sara's mother Chrystal Jacobs was informed by Greene County CYS that the allegations of sexual abuse that were made against her were also unfounded. (Id. at ¶ 17). Plaintiff claims that Suppok was aware of these facts. (Id.). Thereafter, on December 28, 2006, Defendant Suppok and a Cumberland Township police officer entered into the home of Plaintiff and took custody of two unidentified minor children who were living in Plaintiff's home. (Id. at ¶ 18).

Plaintiff voluntarily turned himself into Cumberland Township police and was arrested by Defendant Hanley on January 4, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 19). He was charged with two counts of rape, one count of aggravated indecent assault, two counts of sexual assault, two counts of statutory sexual misconduct, four counts of indecent assault, three counts of indecent exposure and four counts of corruption of minors. (Id. at ¶ 19). Plaintiff avers that the Defendant police officers arrested and charged him without probable cause because they "were in possession of knowledge regarding previous false claims of alleged victims, together with other facts which made it unreasonable for these Defendants to believe" that Plaintiff has assaulted a child. (Id. at ¶ 20). Plaintiff claims that Defendants acted maliciously and for purposes other than bringing Plaintiff to justice. (Id. at ¶ 21).

As a result of his arrest, Plaintiff was incarcerated, posted a $25,000 bond and was given travel restrictions during the pendency of the criminal proceedings. (Id. at ¶ 22). Plaintiff attended a preliminary bond hearing, preliminary hearing, two arraignments, an omnibus pretrial hearing, pretrial conference, three plea hearings and two jury selections. (Id. at ¶ 23). At various times through the criminal proceeding, Plaintiff contends that Defendants gave false testimony related to the charges against him. (Id.). At various times throughout this criminal case, he asserts that Sara and Bobbi Brown made false accusations of sexual abuse against seven individuals "involving eleven different alleged incidents." (Id. at ¶ 24 ).

On January 22, 2008, a jury trial was held in the Greene County Court of Common Pleas on the criminal charges contained in an 18-count criminal information against Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 25). At the beginning of the criminal trial, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Hanley apologized to him and said that he knew that the criminal charges against Plaintiff were false and baseless. (Id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff also maintains that Defendant Suppok apologized to him in October of 2006 "admitting she believed that the accusations against the Plaintiff were false." (Id. at ¶ 27). However, Suppok still took action to assist in the criminal prosecution of Plaintiff. (Id.). The state court judge directed a verdict in favor of Plaintiff on 14 of the 18 criminal counts. (Id. at ¶ 25). The jury acquitted the Plaintiff on the remaining four counts. (Id. at ¶ 25). Thereafter, a CYS administrative child abuse expunction hearing was held on May 23, 2008.*fn3 (Id. at ¶¶ 22, 28).

The gravamen of Plaintiff's claims is that Defendants acted in concert with each other to bring criminal charges against Plaintiff notwithstanding the fact that they knew or should have known that the accusations of sexual abuse against him were false. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-28).

III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On October 3, 2008, Plaintiff filed his Complaint against Defendants Hanley, Miller, Cumberland Township, Suppok, Marjorie Fox, Linda Chambers, Schlesinger, and Greene County. (Docket No. 1). Defendants Hanley, Miller, and Cumberland Township moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint on December 26, 2008. (Docket Nos. 5 and 6). Defendants Greene County, Suppok, Marjorie Fox, Linda Chambers, and Schlesinger similarly moved to dismiss the Complaint on January 12, 2009. (Docket Nos. 8 and 9). Plaintiff filed his Responses in opposition on March 9, 2009*fn4 and simultaneously filed his Amended Complaint. (Docket Nos. 14, 15, and 16, respectively). Accordingly, the Court terminated Defendants' motions to dismiss as moot on March 10, 2009. (Text Entry Order Mar. 10, 2009).

In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff withdrew his procedural due process and substantive due process claims under the Fourteenth Amendment, claims against Cumberland Township, claims against the police officers in their official capacities, invasion of privacy claims, all claims against Greene County, and all claims against Defendants Fox and Chambers, the prosecutors in his underlying state court criminal case. (Docket No. 16). Defendants Hanley and Miller filed their Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on March 23, 2009. (Docket No. 17). That same day, Defendants Suppok and Schlesinger filed their Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and Brief in Support. (Docket Nos. 18 and 19). Plaintiff filed his Brief in Opposition on May 18, 2009.*fn5 (Docket No. 28). As the motion is fully briefed, it is now ripe for disposition.

IV. LEGAL STANDARD

A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)(citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2008)).

The Supreme Court in Iqbal clarified that the decision in Twombly "expounded the pleading standard for 'all civil actions.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1953. The court further explained that although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, the pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Id. at 1949, 1953. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008); and Wilkerson v. New Media Tech. Charter Sch., Inc., 522 F.3d 315 (3d Cir. 2008). The determination of whether a complaint contains a plausible claim for relief "is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

V. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Docket No. 16) alleges various claims against the CYS Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, including claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and claims under the Pennsylvania Constitution. He has also brought claims against all Defendants for abuse of process, wrongful use of civil process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Pennsylvania law. The Court will address the CYS Defendants' Motion (Docket No. 18) as to each challenged claim, in turn.

A. Section 1983 Claims

Section 1983 provides a remedy for any person who, under color of law, is deprived of constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must show "(1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Robb v. City of Philadelphia, 733 F.2d 286, 290-91 (3d Cir. ...


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