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Howell v. Penn Township

March 15, 2010

ADAM HOWELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENN TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION, CHIEF MICHAEL MASTROIANNA AN INDIVIDUAL, OFFICER LEWIS J. LOCK AN INDIVIDUAL, PENN TRAFFORD SCHOOL DISTRICT, KATHY KELLY-GARRIS AN INDIVIDUAL, SCOTT INGLESE AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Pending before the court is the motion to dismiss (Docket No. 5) filed on August 17, 2009, by defendants Penn Trafford School District (the "school district" or "defendant"), Kathy Kelly-Garris ("Kelly-Garris"), and Scott Inglese ("Inglese"). Plaintiff Adam Howell ("Howell" or "plaintiff") filed a complaint (the "Complaint") (Docket No.1) against multiple parties. The fifth and final claims raised in the Complaint were brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") against the school district, Kelly-Garris and Inglese asserting infringement of plaintiff's liberty interest in his bodily integrity protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States under the state-created danger doctrine. (Compl. 11.) The school district, Kelly-Garris and Inglese sought to dismiss with prejudice all claims set forth against them in the Complaint.

On August 18, 2009, the parties stipulated for the dismissal without prejudice of Kelly-Garris and Inglese. (Docket No. 4.) On September 23, 2009, plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 17.) On January 20, 2010, during the oral hearing on the motion to dismiss, the court provided plaintiff the opportunity to file, within twenty days of the date of the hearing, a supplemental brief with respect to the issue of foreseeability, which is an element implicated in the state-created danger theory. Plaintiff did not file the supplemental brief. After considering the parties' submissions, and for the reasons set forth on the record and below, the court will grant the motion to dismiss without prejudice.

II. Background

On September 19, 2007, plaintiff, a student at Penn Trafford High School (the "school"), gave the keys to his car to his girlfriend before school to hold for him until the end of the school day. (Comp. ¶ 14.) Later, at approximately 1:15 p.m., plaintiff's girlfriend, also a student at the school, was taken to the office of assistant principal Kelly-Garris, due to her having threatened to commit suicide. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Kelly-Garris telephoned the girlfriend's mother to advise her about the suicide threat. (Id. ¶ 18.) Because the mother did not answer her cell phone, Kelly-Garris left a message with respect to the serious situation concerning her daughter, and notified the mother that she should immediately call Kelly-Garris. (Id. ¶ 19.) Principal Inglese contacted the school district's school psychologist who recommended that the girlfriend be taken by ambulance to the emergency room to be evaluated. (Id. ¶¶ 20-22.) When the girlfriend's mother returned Kelly-Garris's telephone call, Kelly-Garris advised her that an ambulance was being called to take her daughter to the hospital. (Id. ¶ 23.) The mother refused to permit her daughter to be taken to the hospital and indicated that she would come to the school and take her daughter to her family physician. (Id. ¶ 24.)

After school, at approximately 2:45 p.m., plaintiff went to his truck to wait for his girlfriend. (Id. ¶ 25.) When plaintiff's girlfriend did not arrive at his car, he telephoned her cell phone. (Id. ¶ 27.) Kelly-Garris answered the girlfriend's cell phone and advised plaintiff that if he wanted his car keys, he would have to return to the school office, because his girlfriend had to remain at school. (Id. ¶¶ 28-29.) Kelly-Garris allegedly told plaintiff, "[y]ou need to get your keys and come calm her down." (Id. ¶ 29.) Kelly-Garris did not tell plaintiff at the time why his girlfriend had to remain at school. (Id.) When plaintiff returned to the school office, Kelly-Garris allegedly asked plaintiff to assist in calming down the girlfriend, who was "out of control" and insistent that she be permitted to leave. (Id. ¶ 32.)

Plaintiff was placed in a room with the girlfriend, but was not told why the girlfriend could not leave, or that his girlfriend threatened to commit suicide. (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff's girlfriend refused to give him the keys to his car, and repeatedly demanded that he take her with him out of the school. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff asked to be allowed to take his girlfriend home. (Id. ¶ 35.) Kelly-Garris advised plaintiff that he could leave, but that the girlfriend must remain. (Id. ¶ 37.) When plaintiff's girlfriend was advised that she could not leave with plaintiff, she became combative. (Id. ¶ 38.)

Principal Inglese called the police and indicated that he needed an officer to deal with a suicidal student. (Id. ¶ 39.) Defendant Officer Lewis J. Lock ("Lock") responded to the call.

Allegedly, Lock had no idea about the nature of the situation in which he was being called to intervene. (Id. ¶ 41.) Plaintiff and his girlfriend left the school office and were confronted by Lock in a corridor. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) The girlfriend continued to be combative and Lock restrained her while attempting to handcuff her. (Id. ¶¶ 44-46.) Plaintiff told Lock to let the girlfriend get up. (Id. ¶ 47.) When Lock declined to do so, plaintiff grabbed Lock by the back of his shirt and attempted to pull Lock off of his girlfriend. (Id. ¶¶ 48-49.) Lock tased plaintiff in his chest without warning after which plaintiff fell to the ground. (Id. ¶¶ 50-52.) While plaintiff was lying on the ground Lock tased him again. (Id. ¶52.)

III. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits. Rather, when considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule 12(b)(6)") motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, and sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Id. "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. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

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.. . . 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.'"

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 at 556) (internal citations omitted).

Two working principles underlie Twombly. Id. First, with respect to mere conclusory statements, a court need not accept as true all the allegations contained in a complaint. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.) Second, to survive a motion to dismiss, a claim must state a plausible claim for relief. Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. (citing 490 F.3d at 157-58). "But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not 'show[n]- that the pleader is entitled to relief."' Id. (quoting Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2)). A court considering a motion to dismiss may begin by identifying allegations that are not entitled to the assumption of truth because they are mere conclusions.

While legal conclusions can provide the framework of the complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id.

IV. Discussion

A. The Parties' ...


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