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Lonergan v. Rite Aid Corp.

March 15, 2010

MELINDA LONERGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RITE AID CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goldberg, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case stems from an incident occurring at Rite Aid, wherein Plaintiff was accused of shoplifting and subsequently arrested. The issue before the Court is whether the Defendant retail store and its independently employed security personnel were acting under the color of state law, and thus subject to liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, when they detained, and then caused to be arrested, the alleged shoplifter.

Currently pending are Defendant Rite Aid's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) & 12(b)(6) and Plaintiff's two Motions For Leave of Court to Amend the Complaint to add defendants. Because we find that the Complaint fails to establish that Defendants acted under color of state law, as required under § 1983, and neither Motion For Leave of Court to Amend the Complaint would remedy the defect, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff has brought this civil rights action seeking monetary damages against Defendants Rite Aid of Pennsylvania, Inc. ("Rite Aid");*fn1 Marc Thomas,*fn2 a security guard working at Rite Aid; John Doe (1); John Doe (2); and Jane Doe.*fn3 Plaintiff alleges that Defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for depriving her of her "freedom of speech, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable arrest, false arrest, search and seizure, freedom from warantless arrest, freedom from arrest without probable cause, freedom from the use of unreasonable force by a police officer, freedom from malicious prosecution, and due process of the law" as protected under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution and by 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. Plaintiff also raises various claims under Pennsylvania law. (Compl., ¶¶ 10, 34-35.) While Plaintiff alleges "use of unreasonable force by a police officer," no police officers are named as Defendants.

The allegations at issue arise from an incident occurring on July 27, 2007 at a Rite Aid store located at 4390 Richmond Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Viewing the Complaint in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, she alleges that while shopping at Rite Aid she opened an item called Dentemp, valued at $4.50, because her tooth was hurting. Plaintiff was then approached by security personnel, including Defendant Marc Thomas, who inquired whether she intended to purchase the product. Plaintiff claims that although she indicated that she intended to purchase the Dentemp, security personnel assaulted and handcuffed her, and took her to a back room. (Compl., ¶¶ 13-17.)

Defendants then contacted the Philadelphia Police Department and upon their arrival filed a complaint claiming that Plaintiff had committed retail theft. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants "prepared false police reports and/or gave false statements." Plaintiff was arrested by the Philadelphia police, taken into custody and spent two days in jail. All charges against Plaintiff were eventually dropped. (Compl., ¶ 19, 22, 24-25.)

Defendant Rite Aid's Motion to Dismiss primarily asserts that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because Plaintiff has failed to establish state action as required under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Mot. to Dismiss, ¶¶ 11-17.)*fn4 Plaintiff has also filed two Motions for Leave of Court to Amend the Complaint. The first seeks to substitute Honor Guard Security, employer of Marc Thomas, for one of the John Doe Defendants. The second seeks to substitute Rite Aid manager Kimberly Rosa for the Jane Doe Defendant.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Motion to Dismiss

As set forth above, Defendant Rite Aid asserts that this case should be dismissed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The Third Circuit has held that "where the motion to dismiss is based on the lack of state action, dismissal is proper only pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and not under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of jurisdiction." Boyle v. Governor's Veterans Outreach & Assistance Center, 925 F.2d 71, 74 (3d Cir. 1991). Therefore, we will analyze the sufficiency of the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a court must grant a motion to dismiss if plaintiff fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requires a pleading to contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The pleading standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)). The Iqbal Court recently summarized the pleading standard established in Twombly:

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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. 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 ...


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