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Strickland v. Mahoning Township

July 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss the instant complaint. (Doc. 7). Having been fully briefed, the matter is ripe for disposition.


This case arises out of an encounter between the plaintiff, his brother and a cousin and police on November 18, 2006. (Complaint (hereinafter "Complt.") (Doc. 1) at ¶ 20). On that date, plaintiff was working on the floor of a nightclub in Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Id.). The owner of that nightclub, Jimi Rose, asked plaintiff to help him return three puppies he had purchased the previous evening from Defendants Ralph and Jessica Fahringer. (Id.). Rose needed plaintiff to help him lift the puppies into and out of Rose's truck. (Id.). Plaintiff agreed. (Id. at ¶ 21). Plaintiff's brother Samuel Strickland, who was depending on plaintiff for his ride home, accompanied the two men on their trip to return the puppies. (Id. at ¶ 22). All three men are black. (Id.).

The Fahringer's home is in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 24). Rose drove to their home and pulled into the driveway. (Id.). When they arrived, plaintiff got out of the truck to remove the puppies. (Id. at ¶ 25). As he did so, Ralph Fahringer opened the door about six inches. (Id.). Plaintiff told Fahringer he was there to return the puppies. (Id. at ¶ 26). When he turned to begin removing them, Fahringer pointed a rifle out of the doorway, told plaintiff to leave the puppies on the driveway and ordered him off the property. (Id.). Rose got out of the truck, told Fahringer he was bringing the dogs back and demanded a refund. (Id. at ¶ 27). Fahringer cocked his rifle and aimed it at Rose. (Id.).

At that point, plaintiff got back inside of the truck and told Rose to join him. (Id. at ¶ 28). Rose did so, and began backing out of the driveway. (Id.). Rose called 911 to report the incident. (Id. at ¶ 29). The 911 dispatcher told him to return to the area near the Fahringers' home and wait for police to arrive. (Id.). He did so, parking in the street in front of the home next door. (Id.).

Defendant Mertz, a Mahoning Township police officer, arrived at the scene approximately twenty seconds later. (Id. at ¶ 30). Officers from three other departments arrived shortly thereafter. (Id.). Mertz told the other officers to search the plaintiff, Rose, Samuel Strickland, and Rose's truck. (Id. at ¶ 31). Mertz went into Fahringer's home and spoke with both Fahringers. (Id.). Meanwhile, another officer ordered the three men out of the truck. (Id. at ¶ 32). They searched the men and the truck, and found no weapons. (Id.). Despite the cold weather, police forced the three men to wait outside in the cold for Mertz to return from his conversation with the Fahringers. (Id. at ¶ 33). Plaintiff needed to use the bathroom, and asked an officer if he could do so. (Id. at ¶ 34). The officer refused him permission, and plaintiff was forced to urinate and defecate on himself. (Id.).

When Mertz returned, he informed the other officers that plaintiff would receive a citation, but that the other two men would be arrested. (Id. at ¶ 35). Police took the three men to the Mahoning Township Police Department, where they questioned Rose and Samuel Strickland. (Id. at ¶ 36). Plaintiff was finally able to use the bathroom at the police station. (Id. at ¶ 37). When he reemerged, officers made jokes at his expense. (Id. at ¶ 38). Police issued plaintiff a citation for criminal trespass and making terroristic threats and then released him. (Id. at ¶ 39). They called plaintiff a cab, making jokes about the cost of a cab from Mahoning Township to Allentown. (Id. at ¶ 40). Instead, plaintiff used his cellphone to call his wife. (Id. at ¶ 41). She came to get him, and plaintiff cancelled the cab. (Id.). Plaintiff pled guilty to criminal trespass on February 1, 2007. (Id. at ¶ 41).

Plaintiff filed the instant complaint on September 29, 2008. The complaint consists of three counts. Count I, brought pursuant to 42 U.S. §§ 1981, 1982 and 1983 against Defendants Mertz and Mahoning, alleges that the defendants violated plaintiff's constitutional rights in a number of ways. The count contends that plaintiff was the victim of an unlawful arrest, suffered from an unreasonable search and seizure, suffered cruel and unusual punishment, faced excessive bail, had his free speech rights unlawfully restricted, was denied his liberty without due process of law, suffered from the use of unreasonable force, faced racial discrimination and racial profiling, and had his right to travel unlawfully restricted. Count II, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, alleges a conspiracy to violate plaintiff's constitutional rights between Defendants Mertz, Mahoning Township, and Ralph & Jessica Fahringer. Count III alleges supervisory liability pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1986 against Defendants Mahoning Township, Zenko, Keiper, Eidem, Blocker, Snyder, Stawnyczy, Green, Smith and Kocher.

Plaintiff also filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2). As a result, the court gave the complaint an initial screening to determine whether process should issue. The court concluded that plaintiff's claims for false arrest were frivolous and should be dismissed. (See Doc. 5). That decision also led to the dismissal of the complaint against Bruce Keiper, Patricia Snyder, George Stawnyczyj, Mark Zenko, Dawn Blocker and Charles Eidem. The court authorized service of the complaint on the remaining defendants and the remaining claims. Once served with the complaint, defendants Mahoning Township, Mahoning Township Police Department and Audie Mertz filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 7). The parties then briefed the issue, bringing the case to its present posture.


Because plaintiff brings his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) ("In any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article II of the United States Constitution.").

Legal Standard

Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When a defendant files such a motion, all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed as true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to determine whether "under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Colburn v. Upper Darby Township, 838 F.2d 663, 665-666 (3d Cir. 1988) (citing Estate of Bailey by Oare v. County of York, 768 F.3d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985), (quoting Helstoski v. Goldstein, 552 F.2d 564, 565 (3d Cir. 1977) (per curiam)). The court may also consider "matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The court does not have to accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). The complaint is properly dismissed "if it appears beyond doubt that ...

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