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Davis v. County of Susquehanna

March 15, 2010

RAYMOND DAVIS, ESQUIRE, PLAINTIFF
v.
THE COUNTY OF SUSQUEHANNA; MARYANN WARREN; LEON ALLEN; MICHAEL GIANGRIECO, ESQUIRE; AND MICHAEL GATHANY, ESQUIRE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's civil rights complaint. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff Raymond Davis, Esquire is an attorney with a principal place of business in Montrose, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, Complaint at ¶ 3). The defendants are: MaryAnn Warren, Leon Allen and Michael Giangrieco, who were, at the times relevant to the complaint, Susquehanna County Commissioners; Michael Gathany, Esquire, Solicitor for the Commissioners; and Susquehanna County, (hereinafter collectively "defendants"). (Id. at ¶¶ 4-8). Defendants filed a Petition for Injunctive Relief (hereinafter "petition") in the Court of Common Pleas of Susquehanna County on July 24, 2008. (Id. at ¶ 10). Plaintiff alleges that the petition "contained numerous false allegations concerning conduct allegedly engaged in by" plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 11). False allegations include that plaintiff had a "hostile, angry and volatile" confrontation with Defendant MaryAnn Warren in the Susquehanna County Commissioner's Office. (Id. at ¶ 13). The petition further alleged that plaintiff engaged in another such confrontation with Elizabeth VanWinkle in the Susquehanna County Assessment Office. (Id. at ¶ 14). Plaintiff asserts that the defendants knew that the petition was false as to the allegations made against him. (Id. at ¶ 15).

According to the plaintiff, the defendants presented the petition to the Susquehanna County Court of Common Please ex parte because they knew the petition was false. Additionally, it was presented ex parte despite the fact that the defendants knew that plaintiff's office was located near the Susquehanna County Courthouse. (Id. at ¶ 16). Defendants did nothing to inform plaintiff that they planned on filing the petition for injunctive relief. (Id. at ¶ 17). The court granted injunctive relief to the extent that it "requested" that plaintiff refrain from entering the County Commissioners' Office or the Tax Assessment Office until a hearing could be held. (Doc. 1-4, Complaint, Ex. C, Order of Court dated July 255, 2008).

Plaintiff argues that the defendants presented the petition in retaliation for actions he took to disqualify Defendant Michael Giangrieco as a member of the Susquehanna County Board of Assessment Appeals and for filing a legal malpractice complaint against Defendant Giangrieco in 2004. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 21, 23).

Plaintiff engaged legal counsel and began preparation for his defense to the petition. (Id. at ¶ 28). Defendants, however, acknowledged the wrongfulness of their conduct and discontinued the action for injunctive relief on July 30, 2008, approximately six (6) days from when they filed the petition. (Id. at ¶ 29). Based upon these facts, plaintiff instituted the instant four count complaint, which asserts the following causes of action: Count I, a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of plaintiff's First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the United States Constitution; Count II, a Pennsylvania state tort claim for wrongful use of civil proceedings; Count III, a claim for abuse of process; and Count IV, a claim for civil conspiracy. (Id. at ¶¶ 31- 44). In response to the complaint, defendants filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), which brings the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to section 1983 for civil rights violations, we have jurisdiction under 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 supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Standard of Review

When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations are tested. Granting the motion is appropriate if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," or put another way, "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Third Circuit interprets Twombly to require the plaintiff to describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element of the claims alleged in the complaints. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35.

In relation to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the complaint need only provide "'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,'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [cannot be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citation omitted). "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id. The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). However, "we are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009) (internal quotations omitted).

To decide a motion to dismiss, a court generally should consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997); Pension Benefit ...


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