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Reiff v. Marks

July 15, 2009

JEFFREY DUNBAR REIFF, PLAINTIFF
v.
CHAD T. MARKS, BOROUGH OF WEST READING, EDWARD FABRIZIANI, AND WEST READING BOROUGH POLICE DEPARTMENT DEFENDANTS



MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 13). This is a civil rights action that arises out of a January 5, 2007 encounter between Plaintiff Jeffrey Dunbar Reiff ("Reiff") and Defendant Officer Chad T. Marks of the West Reading Borough Police Department ("Marks"). For the following reasons, the Motion is denied in part and granted in part.

Background

On January 5, 2007, Reiff was operating his motor vehicle in the Borough of West Reading. When he reached the common parking area of his residence, he parked his vehicle, exited from it, and began walking through the common area towards his residence. Shortly thereafter, Marks, a uniformed police officer, drove his patrol car into the common parking area, parked it, thereby blocking Reiff's entrance to/exit from the common area, and exited his patrol car. Based on Marks' belief that Reiff failed to stop his vehicle at a red traffic light prior to arriving and parking in the common area, in violation of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, Marks ordered Reiff to stop walking. Reiff did not comply.

In the face of Reiff's noncompliance, Marks fired his taser gun at Reiff. Upon being shot, Reiff seized in place, momentarily paralyzed, and fell to the ground. Then, Marks fired his taser gun at Reiff three more times. Reiff suffered severe bodily injuries, including, but not limited to, a concussion, neurological damage, contusions, abrasions, and scarring. After shooting Reiff with his taser gun, Marks arrested Reiff for driving under the influence, a misdemeanor offense, and for his failure to obey a traffic control device, a summary offense. Reiff was acquitted of both charges. Defendant Chief Edward Fabriziani ("Fabriziani") is the Chief of the West Reading Borough Police Department ("WRBPD"). He did not have any contact with Reiff on the night of the arrest.

Reiff filed the instant, ten-count Complaint (Doc. No. 1). At counts one and four, Reiff alleges that Marks assaulted and falsely imprisoned him. At counts two and three, Reiff also alleges that Marks was deliberately indifferent to his right to bodily integrity under the Fourteenth Amendment and violated his Fourth Amendment*fn1 right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, which includes a prohibition against the use of excessive force during an arrest. Both constitutional injuries are actionable here through Section 1983. As to Defendant Borough of West Reading (the "Borough"), Reiff alleges, at count five, that it is liable for the acts of Marks under the doctrine of respondeat superior because Marks was acting as an agent or employee of the Borough. At count six, Reiff alleges that the Borough is liable for its own failure to educate, train, or otherwise instruct its police officers on the proper use of taser guns-a constitutional injury actionable here through Section 1983. As to Fabriziani, Reiff alleges that, like the Borough, he is liable for the acts of Marks under the doctrine of respondeat superior, at count seven, and liable for his failure as Chief of the WRBPD to educate, train, or otherwise instruct police officers under his control on the proper use of taser guns, at count eight. As to "WRBPD", Reiff alleges that, like the Borough and Fabriziani, it is liable for the acts of Marks under the doctrine of respondeat superior, at count nine, and that it is liable in its own right for its failure to educate, train, or otherwise instruct its police officers on the proper use of taser guns, at count ten. Reiff is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from all Defendants. He names Marks and Fabriziani in their official and individual capacities in counts one through four, seven, and eight.

Defendants move that the Court dismiss various counts against them for various reasons. Additionally, Defendants Marks and Fabriziani move that the Court strike references to their home addresses that are set forth in Reiff's Complaint at paragraphs two and four. Reiff does not object to the redaction of Marks and Fabriziani's home addresses. (Plf. Br. 12.) Further, the Court sees no reason why the addresses need to be listed. Thus, the Court will direct the Clerk to redact the home addresses of Defendants Marks and Fabriziani, which appear in paragraphs two and four of the Complaint, without any further analysis.

Standard

"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, 1951 (2009) (citations and quotations omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id."The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id.

Analysis

A. Official Capacity Claims

Defendants Marks and Fabriziani move that the Court dismiss all the counts as to them in their official capacities. (Defs. Mot. ¶¶ 1-2.) It is well-settled that "official-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55 (1978); and see Hall v. Raech, No. 08-5020, 2009 WL 811503, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 25, 2009) (dismissing claims as to township officers in their official capacities in a civil rights action). Reiff admits that the official capacity claims should be dismissed as to Defendants Marks and Fabriziani. (Plf. Resp. ¶¶ 1-2.) As a result, the Court will grant the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss with respect to the claims against Marks and Fabriziani in their official capacities without any further analysis. Therefore, moving forward, all claims against Marks and Fabriziani are construed as claims against them in their individual capacities.

B. Count Two - As to Marks for a Violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment through Section 1983

Defendant Marks moves that the Court dismiss Reiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim as to him, at count two. Specifically, Marks argues that Reiff is seeking relief in count two for conduct that is based on a violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable search and seizures not the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive due process jurisprudence. In other words, Marks contends that count two should be dismissed because count three already pleads a violation of the Fourth Amendment, rendering count two duplicative. The Court agrees.

In his Complaint, Reiff alleges that "Plaintiff has a liberty interest under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to his bodily integrity" and that "Marks' acts, conduct, and/or omissions in the use of the taser gun on [Reiff] was in deliberate indifference to [Reiff's] right to bodily integrity." (Compl. ΒΆΒΆ 38-39.) However, Reiff cites no caselaw in his opposition brief to the instant Motion to support the proposition ...


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