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Graham v. County of Clarion

June 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Donetta W. Ambrose Judge, United States District Court



In this civil action, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, claims that Defendants violated his constitutional rights, RICO, and state law, when they kidnapped or abducted his child under the guise of lawful child custody proceedings. He names as Defendants Clarion County, the Clarion County Court of Common Pleas, several individuals, including various County employees, officials, and the child's stepfather, a law firm, two County judges, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania state police, the Middlesex and Rimersburg police departments, and Governor Rendell.

Before the Court are four Motions to Dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim: one filed by Defendant Rendell, the Commonwealth, and the state police (the "State Defendants"); a second by Judges Arner and McCune, along with the Court of Common Pleas (the "Court Defendants"); a third by the County, along with Defendant County Commissioners Cyphert, Hartle, and Oberlander (the "County Defendants"); and a fourth by the Middlesex Police Department. Also pending is Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to file an Amended Complaint, to add factual matter that was inadvertently omitted from his original Complaint. Plaintiff was given extensions to respond to the Motions; no response has been filed. Although Plaintiff has failed to file any responses, because of his pro se status, I will not grant the Motions summarily.*fn1 Because the Motions deal with overlapping matter -- i.e., Defendants contend that the Complaint lacks sufficient factual allegations, or cannot otherwise state a claim, and Plaintiff seeks to add factual allegations -- I deal with them together in a single Opinion, in order to guide Plaintiff should he choose to refile his Complaint.

For the following reasons, the Motions to Dismiss will be granted, in part without prejudice, and Plaintiff will be afforded an opportunity to amend his complaint.



A. Applicable Standards

In deciding a motion to dismiss, all factual allegations, and all reasonable inferences therefrom, must be accepted as true and viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F. 2d 66, 666 (3d Cir. 1988). In ruling on a motion for failure to state a claim, I must look to "whether sufficient facts are pleaded to determine that the complaint is not frivolous, and to provide the defendants with adequate notice to frame an answer." Id. at 666. Complaints "need not plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory." Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F. 3d 420, 429 (3d Cir. 2001).

A plaintiff, however, must "nudge [his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible" in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007). A complaint must contain "enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" the elements of the claims asserted. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). Thus, although detailed factual allegations are not required, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65. In turn, Fed. R. Civ. P. 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 upon which it rests.'" Id. at 1964. Conclusory allegations are insufficient to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Egnotovich v. Greenfield Twp. Sewer Auth., 304 Fed. Appx. 94, 98 (3d Cir. 2008).

Finally, pro se pleadings are given liberal construction. City of Newark v. Lawson, 346 Fed. Appx. 761, 763 (3d Cir. 2009). Pro se litigants, however, are not excused from complying with basic pleading requirements. See Jones v. Omni Bank, No. 98-2223, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17194, at *14 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 29, 1998). A court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a civil rights complaint that is merely deficient. Long v. Holtry, 673 F. Supp. 2d 341, 346 (M.D. Pa. 2009).


First, I address the Motion to Dismiss filed by Middlesex Police Department. Middlesex asserts, inter alia, that Plaintiff's claim fails under applicable statutes of limitations. Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Middlesex took steps to remove Plaintiff's child from his custody, in December, 2004, or perhaps in 2005. Plaintiff's constitutional claims brought under Sections 1983, 1985, and 1986 must have been brought within two years. See LeBar v. Bahl, 245 Fed. Appx. 219, 221 (3d Cir. 2007). Plaintiff also purports to bring state law claims such as trespass, fraud, and conspiracy, which must be brought within two years.*fn2 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 5524(1), (4), (7). A four-year statute of limitations applies to Civil RICO. Agency Holding Corp. v. Malley-Duff & Assocs., Inc., 483 U.S. 143, 156, 107 S.Ct. 2759, 97 L.Ed. 2d 121 (1987). According to the facts pleaded in the Complaint, Middlesex's allegedly wrongful acts occurred in 2004. This action was filed in 2009, outside of the time frames in question.*fn3 Absent facts that would bring Plaintiff's action within required time limitations, the claim against Middlesex Police Department cannot stand.

Middlesex also contends that the claim against it is the same as a claim against the Middlesex municipality, and thus requires compliance with Monell. Indeed, a municipal police department is not deemed separate from the municipality.*fn4 Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 Fed. Appx. 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004). Therefore, the police department may only be held liable if its policy or custom was the moving force behind the alleged violation. Holtry, 673 F. Supp. 2d at 343. ...

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