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Bingaman v. Bingaman

August 5, 2009

KELLY H. BINGAMAN, PLAINTIFF
v.
ROBERT E. BINGAMAN, JR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge John E. Jones III

MEMORANDUM

This matter is before the Court on the motions of defendants Robert E. Bingaman, Jr. (Doc. 46) and Officer Thomas Dombroski (Doc. 47) seeking to dismiss plaintiff Kelly Bingaman's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 45) pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, both motions will be granted and this action will be dismissed.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), courts "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a). Rule 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, "in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 1965. A plaintiff must make "a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief", and "without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only 'fair notice,' but also the 'grounds' on which the claim rests." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citing Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 n. 3). "[A] complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct, and the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1969 n.8. Therefore, "stating a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 n. 3).

On the other hand, "a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Id. at 231(citing Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1964-65, 1969 n.8). Rule 8 "does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Id. at 234.

II. BACKGROUND

Because the Court writes solely for the parties who are familiar with the procedural and factual history of this case, we set forth only the background relevant to the disposition of the present motions.

Plaintiff Kelly Bingaman's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 11) asserted Fourth Amendment claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution and violation of equal protection against Officer Dombroski and Robert Bingaman arising from her arrest and prosecution for simple assault and harassment on January 27, 2006, and, possibly, state law claims of intentional and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress. By memorandum and order of October 14, 2008 (Doc. 44), the Court granted Officer Dombroski's and Robert Bingaman's motions to dismiss these claims. The Court held that Kelly Bingaman's false arrest claim was barred because her arrest was supported by probable cause as demonstrated by her subsequent conviction for harassment. The Court further held that her malicious prosecution claim failed because her arrest for simple assault was also supported by probable cause and because she did not allege that the underlying criminal proceedings terminated in her favor. The Court also dismissed her equal protection claim because she had not alleged that she was treated differently than similarly situated persons. The Court also dismissed all claims against Robert Bingaman because the amended complaint did not allege concerted action between him and any state actor. Finally, having dismissed all of Kelly Bingaman's federal claims, the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her potentially asserted state law claims. Although expressing skepticism over the liability of her claims, the Court granted Kelly Bingaman the opportunity to file a second amended complaint.

In her Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 45) Kelly Bingaman again recites the same allegations regarding her January 27, 2006 arrest which appeared in her first two complains in this action. She alleges that, on that date, her ex-husband Robert Bingaman "initiated an assault upon her person in a parking lot and physically beat her" and that he "physically restrained [her] and refused to let her enter her car." (Id. at ¶ 7.) Kelly Bingaman further alleges that Officer Dombroski later came to the scene and charged her with simple assault and harassment. (Id. at ¶ 8.) The simple assault charge was later withdrawn by prosecutors, but Kelly Bingaman was found guilty of harassment after a bench trial in the Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas. (Id.)

New to the Second Amended Complaint are allegations regarding another arrest in January 2007. Kelly Bingaman alleges that during that month, while the charges arising out of the January 27, 2006 incident were pending, Officer Dombroski filed additional unspecified misdemeanor and summary charges against her with Robert Bingaman as the complaining witness. (Id. at ¶ 11.) She asserts that the misdemeanor charges were withdrawn and that she went to trial on summary charges of harassment by communication and was found not guilty. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-14.) Kelly Bingaman alleges that these circumstances "indicate a pattern of persecution by the two defendants in violation of her substantive due process rights to be free of arbitrary and capricious government actions lacking any reasonable or proper government goal." (Id. at ¶ 15.) She also asserts a malicious prosecution claim arising out of the charges (id. at ¶ 16) and that the second set of charges violated her First Amendment rights in that they "were brought to harass, intimidate, and deter her from seeking a redress of grievances" (id. at ¶ 17).

Finally, the Second Amendment Complaint contains numerous allegations regarding the Bingaman's domestic relations proceedings and state criminal charges purportedly pending against Robert Bingaman which appear to have no relevance to Kelly Bingaman's claims in this action. (See id. at ¶¶ 18-21.)

III. DISCUSSION

As was the case with the plaintiff's prior two complaints, the haphazard and disjointed nature of Kelly Bingaman's Second Amended Complaint makes it difficult to determine precisely what claims she is asserting against which defendants and the basis for those claims. After three complaints, all of which were drafted in this fashion, it is apparent that this style of pleading is an intentional litigation tactic on the part of plaintiff's counsel. Such confusing and catchall allegations are no substitute for properly pled claims, even under our liberal notice pleading standard. While "a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers," Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), the plaintiff's complaint in this case, drafted by an experienced attorney, is not entitled to such a liberal construction. Addressed below are only those claims which ...


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