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Grossnickle v. McGee

April 19, 2010

JERRY GROSSNICKLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER MCGEE, OFFICER HILL, AND OFFICER BERNARD, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. BACKGROUND

On November 3, 2009, plaintiff Jerry Grossnickle instituted this civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against three members of the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP"): Trooper McGee, then Captain and now Major Kenneth Hill, and Sergeant Bernard. (Rec. Doc. No. 1). In his complaint, Grossnickle alleges that defendants violated (1) his Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches, (2) his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws and the "substantive due process right to be free of unlawful interference in his familial relationships resulting from arbitrary and capricious state action,"*fn1 and (3) his First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.*fn2 See id. at 2-3. Grossnickle alleges that McGee unlawfully searched his background and that McGee attempted to interfere, and conspired with Hill and Bernard to interfere, with Grossnickle's marriage in violation of Grossnickle's Fourteenth Amendment rights. In addition, Grossnickle alleges that his First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances was violated by Hill and Bernard. See id. at 5.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 5, 2010, defendant McGee filed a motion to dismiss. (Rec. Doc. No. 4). On January 21, 2010, this court issued an order deeming McGee's motion to dismiss to be withdrawn, as he had failed to file a supporting brief within fourteen days after the filing of his motion in conformity with Middle District Local Rule 7.5. (Rec. Doc. No. 12). On January 22, 2010, McGee filed a motion for reconsideration of this court's order from the previous day. (Rec. Doc. No. 13). Attached to McGee's motion for reconsideration, in addition to a certificate of concurrence/nonconcurrence*fn3 and a proposed order, was what the defendant claimed would have been his brief in support of his motion to dismiss. Id. On January 28, 2010, McGee filed his brief in support of his motion for reconsideration of this court's order dated January 21, 2010, as well as a supplemental certificate of non-concurrence by plaintiff. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 14 and 15). Plaintiff did not file a brief opposing defendant McGee's motion.

This court, by an order dated February 24, 2010, granted defendant McGee's motion for reconsideration. (Rec. Doc. No. 16). Also as part of our February 24, 2010 Order, this court deemed the defendant's motion for reconsideration as properly filed and directed the plaintiff to file a brief in opposition to the defendant's motion to dismiss within fourteen days. Id. After granting plaintiff's motion for an extension of time in which to respond to the defendant's motion to dismiss (Rec. Doc. No. 18), the plaintiff filed a brief in opposition on March 19, 2010 (Rec. Doc. No. 19). Defendant McGee has not filed a reply brief.

The instant matter is now ripe for disposition. Therefore, and in light of the following, we will grant defendant McGee's motion to dismiss. (Rec. Doc. No. 4).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). "The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1960 (2007). "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." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we must be mindful that federal courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Hellmann v. Kercher, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54882, 4 (W.D. Pa. 2008). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 ""requires only 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 on which it rests,'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must do more than recite the elements of a cause of action, and then make a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief under it. Hellmann, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS at 4-5. Instead, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of his entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. "[W]here 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 'shown' - - that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)). The failure-to-state-a-claim standard of Rule 12(b)(6) "streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a "dispositive issue of law." Id. at 326. If it is beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations, then a claim must be dismissed "without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one." Id. at 327.

IV. ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT

Taking as true all of the allegations in the complaint, the facts are as follows. In the summer of 2007, Jerry Grossnickle was engaged to a woman named Heather, his future wife. During this summer, defendant McGee contacted Heather to inquire as to whose car was parked in her driveway; Heather responded that it was her fiance's vehicle. In September of 2007, Jerry and Heather were married. At some point thereafter, Heather received a call from McGee, and he informed her that "he had run a background check on Jerry Grossnickle." (Rec. Doc. No. 1 at 3). Heather did not tell Jerry.

Although Heather told McGee that she did not want him to contact her, on or around June of 2008 McGee began emailing and text messaging her, as well as driving by the now-married couple's home in Hughesville, Pennsylvania. On June 8, 2008, Heather told Jerry that McGee had been "harassing her" and that she had learned from him that "he had searched law enforcement data bases for information about Jerry." Id. According to the complaint, McGee referred to this search as "a 'background' check." Id. At Jerry Grossnickle's request, Attorney William J. Meile sent a letter to defendant Hill on June 30, 2008, in which he sought the cessation of "these harassments." Id. at 4.

Jerry Grossnickle also had complained to the PSP. Reportedly, defendant Hill told Grossnickle that the latter "was 'blowing everything out of proportion.'" Id. Grossnickle alleges that he corrected defendant Hill and requested that an investigation be conducted. Defendant Bernard later contacted Grossnickle, but defendant Bernard refused to provide any copies of emails relating to Grossnickle. Allegedly on behalf of defendant McGee, defendants Hill and Bernard "rebuffed and ignored" efforts by Grossnickle to learn more about what had occurred. Grossnickle contends that, on November 13, 2008, he received a letter*fn4 from defendant ...


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