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Muller v. Bristol Township

September 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gene E.K. Pratter, J.


Martin Muller claims that Bristol Township violated his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and, hence, violated Title 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986.*fn1 The Township filed a motion to dismiss,*fn2 which Mr. Muller opposes. Oral argument was held on September 1, 2009. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the Motion to Dismiss without prejudice to Mr. Muller to file anew should he determine it is feasible for him to do so..


The harrowing scenario described by Mr. Muller is worthy of a television drama. Mr. Muller alleges that on or about March 20, 2007, the Bristol Township Police Department summoned a "SWAT-type team" of officers to surround Mr. Muller's home in Bristol Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, employing automatic weapons, sniper units and armored vehicles. Compl. at ¶¶ 5, 7. Mr. Muller's Complaint states, "[a]llegedly, [Mr. Muller] had either threatened to hurt himself or others at some earlier time." Id. at ¶ 6. Meanwhile, telephone contacts were established at various times between Mr. Muller and the Bristol Township Police Department, during which Mr. Muller denied that he had threatened to hurt himself or others, and denied that he was present at his home. Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.

Nevertheless, Mr. Muller alleges, the officers*fn3 vandalized two motor vehicles and two motorcycles owned by Mr. Muller, by cutting tire stems and wires. Id. at ¶ 10. Then, after more than six hours had passed, the officers fired numerous noxious gas canisters into Mr. Muller's residence, destroying windows, damaging household contents and putting holes into interior walls. Id. at ¶ 11. The release of this gas contaminated the entire household. Id. at ¶ 12. Subsequently, the officers forcibly entered Mr. Muller's home, causing further damage to the home. Id. at ¶ 13. During this time, Mr. Muller's dog escaped the gas-filled residence and was hit and killed by a passing car. Id. at ¶ 14.

After the officers thoroughly searched Mr. Muller's residence, they apparently concluded that Mr. Muller indeed was not present at his house during the "siege." Id. at ¶ 15. Later, Mr. Muller appeared at the Bristol Township Police Department, where he was questioned. Id. at ¶ 16. He was taken to Lower Bucks Hospital for drug testing and a psychological/psychiatric evaluation. Id. at ¶ 16. No drugs were detected, and Mr. Muller's behavior was normal. Id. at ¶ 16. Mr. Muller was released, and Lower Bucks Hospital billed him $2,376 for its services. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18.

On March 21, 2007, criminal charges were filed against Mr. Muller, alleging Terroristic Threats and Harassment. Id. at ¶ 19.*fn4 At all relevant times, according to Mr. Muller, the Police Department was aware that the complaining witness was unreliable and lacked credibility. Id. at ¶ 20. Mr. Muller surrendered to the court system*fn5 and was released on bail, but his probation officer detained him because of the pending charges. Id. at ¶¶ 21-22. Mr. Muller remained detained at the Bucks County Correctional Facility for approximately seven days. Id. at ¶ 23.


A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 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), in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47), the plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citations omitted). Specifically, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Id. at 1965 (citations omitted). To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil complaint must allege "factual content [that] allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (confirming that Twombly applies to all civil cases).*fn6

The Court "must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint and accept all of the allegations as true." ALA, Inc. v. CCAIR, Inc., 29 F.3d 855, 859 (3d Cir. 1994) (citing Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)); see also Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (stating that courts must assume that "all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)"). The Court must also accept as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations, and view those facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Rocks v. Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). The Court, however, "need not accept as true 'unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences,'" Doug Grant, Inc. v. Greate Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing City of Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 n.13 (3d Cir. 1998)), or the plaintiff's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions," Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d. 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

The Court may consider the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record and records of which the Court may take judicial notice. See Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rts., 127 S.Ct. 2499, 2509 (2007); Ieradi v. Mylan Labs., Inc., 230 F.3d 594, 600 n. 3 (3d Cir.2000) ("Under Federal Rule of Evidence 201, we may take judicial notice at any stage of the proceeding of a fact not subject to reasonable dispute that is capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to a source whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned."); Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).


A. Mr. Muller's § 1983 Claim

Municipalities cannot be held vicariously liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because under this statute there is no respondeat superior liability for the actions of municipal agents. Sanford v. Stiles, 456 F.3d 298, 314 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently stated that, "[w]hen a suit against a municipality is based on § 1983, the municipality can only be liable when the alleged constitutional transgression implements or executes a policy, regulation, or decision officially adopted by the governing body or informally adopted by custom." McTernan v. City of York, 564 F.3d 636, 657 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). See Leatherman v. Tarrant County, 507 U.S. 163, 166-67 (1993) (noting that while there is no "heightened pleading standard" for a ยง 1983 claim involving municipal liability, "a [municipality] cannot be held liable unless a municipal policy or custom caused the constitutional injury." ). See also Sanford, 456 F.3d at 314 (upholding district court's grant of summary judgment on municipal liability claim because plaintiff did not present evidence to show that injuries were caused by a policy or custom ...

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