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Decker v. Borough of Hughestown

November 25, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 10) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Amend. Compl., Doc. 9) by Defendants the Borough of Hughestown, Paul Hindmarsh, and Robert Leombruni. For the reasons discussed below, the Defendants' motion will be granted in part, dismissing a portion of the Plaintiff's complaint. The case is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Jurisdiction exists under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("federal question").


The facts as alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows.

Plaintiff Joseph Decker ("Decker") placed a sign on his truck which read, "If your [sic] in America and can't speak English, get the fuck out!" (Amend. Compl. ¶ 12.) Decker's truck was driven on the public roads and throughways of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Id..) Patrolman Robert Leombruni ("Leombruni") issued a non-traffic citation for disorderly conduct under 18 P.S. § 5503(a)(3) to Decker because of the sign. (Id.) This charge was ultimately dropped. (Id. ¶ 13.) "The citation also fueled a number of retaliatory acts by the public against Mr. Decker and caused him and his family great cost and distress." (Id. ¶ 15.) Retaliatory acts included damages to Decker's vehicle, harassment by phone, and an attempted knife attack by a woman. (Id. ¶ 16-17.)

Patrolman Leombruni was at all relevant times an officer of the Hughestown Police Department. (Amend. Compl. ¶ 6.) Defendant Paul Hindmarsh ("Hindmarsh") was at all relevant times the mayor of Hughestown, and was responsible for creating, implementing, and enforcing regulations and policies for the Hughestown police regarding First Amendment situations. (Id. ¶ 7.) "Defendants failed to train officers to implement Disorderly Conduct charges within the bounds of the First Amendment, thereby creating a policy that is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague in its implementation." (Id. ¶ 23.) In the alternative, the Defendants used the citation as a viewpoint based restriction against the Plaintiff's message. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Decker filed this action on July 29, 2009. (Doc. 1.) Decker filed an amended complaint on August 31, 2009. (Doc. 9.) On September 14, 2009, the Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 10.) This motion has been briefed by both sides and is now ripe for disposition.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. PRO. 12(b)(6). Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).


Decker's Amended Complaint contains three counts: (1) Count I, alleging violations of his First Amendment rights by Defendants Hindmarsh and the Borough of Hughestown; (2) Count II, alleging violations of his First Amendment rights by all Defendants; (3) Count III, alleging violations of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights by all Defendants. As to Counts I and II, the Defendants' motion argues that there may be no liability for Defendants Hindmarsh and Hughestown based upon a respondeat superior theory of liability. The Defendants' motion also argues that Count III should be dismissed for failure to state a claim and that any ...

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