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Logan v. Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown

July 29, 2010


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


Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. Defendants request alternative relief in the way of a Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' ad damnum clause and paragraph fourteen of the First Amended Complaint. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion to Strike is GRANTED.

Factual Background

This action arises out of the events following a contractual dispute between Plaintiffs Walter J. Logan and his company, The Delta Alliance, LLC ("Delta"), and Defendant Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown ("Salem"). In October of 2003, Plaintiff Delta entered into a contract with Defendant Salem in which Delta agreed to act as an at-risk construction manager that would negotiate multiple contracts with subcontractors for both labor and materials to construct two buildings in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. However, due to problems involving the original architect on the job and Defendant Salem's alleged inability to produce plans and specifications to obtain building permits, the project met substantial delays. Because of these delays and other financial problems associated with the project, Defendant Salem was behind in its payments to Plaintiff Delta as of June 2007. In response to Plaintiff Delta's requests for payment, Defendant Salem terminated its contract with Delta.

As a result, Plaintiff Delta filed a claim with the American Arbitration Association ("AAA") in July 2007 seeking damages for nonpayment under the contract and for wrongful termination of the contract. Salem cross-claimed that Delta had misappropriated payments received from Salem. Plaintiffs allege that Salem and its attorneys, in an effort to avoid embarrassment and to avoid resolving their civil dispute in the AAA, used their political connections to enlist the aid of Defendants Anders and Ferman. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Anders, a detective in the Major Crimes Unit of the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, was persuaded by members of Salem's Steering Committee, the church's planning board, to begin a criminal investigation. Plaintiff alleges that after meeting with members of the Steering Committee, Defendant Anders signed an affidavit of probable cause that led to the issuance of a warrant for Plaintiff Logan's arrest. As a result, Plaintiff Logan was charged with theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception, theft by failure to make required disposition, deceptive business practices, misapplication of entrusted property, and securing execution of documents by deception (collectively the "Accused Crimes") in connection with the dissolution of Delta's contract with Salem. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendant Ferman, the Montgomery County District Attorney, was encouraged by members of Salem's Steering Committee to make false statements to the press about Plaintiff Logan while Plaintiff's charges were pending. Defendant Ferman stated that Mr. Logan "was entrusted by the church with overseeing a major construction project. He took money from them; he hired people to do work; and then he ripped off his subcontractors, never paid them, and pocketed the money for himself."

After the AAA found for Plaintiffs in the contractual dispute and all criminal charges against Plaintiff Logan were dropped due to a lack of evidence, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint in this Court in January of 2010, but did not serve Defendants until April 26, 2010. On April 28, 2010, Defendants Anders and Ferman filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs then filed their First Amended Complaint on May 17, 2010. On May 20, 2010, Defendants again filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

In Counts I and II of the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for false arrest and for making false public statements. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege in Count I that Defendant Anders, by relying only upon assertions and documents provided by Salem and its counsel, acted without probable cause in initiating the issuance of an arrest warrant against Plaintiff Logan in violation of Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In Count II, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Ferman made numerous false and defamatory statements regarding Plaintiff Logan's arrest, thereby violating Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment rights. As a result of being charged with the Accused Crimes and Defendant Ferman's public statements, Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Logan has suffered from severe emotional distress and embarrassment, and that his personal and professional reputation, through Delta, is damaged to the point where he can no longer conduct his construction business. Plaintiffs also bring numerous state law claims, including malicious prosecution, malicious abuse of process, civil conspiracy, defamation, false light invasion of privacy, commercial disparagement, negligence, and a violation of the Dragonetti Act.


Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint should be dismissed if the plaintiff has failed to "state a claim on which relief can be granted." In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must take all well-pleaded factual allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, but it is not required to blindly accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 283, 286 (1986). Although a plaintiff is not required to plead detailed factual allegations, the complaint must include enough facts to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).


1. Unlawful Arrest

Plaintiff Logan's § 1983 claim against Defendant Anders for unlawful arrest is sufficient to survive a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Defendant seeks the dismissal of Count I of the Amended Complaint on the grounds that Defendant Anders is entitled to absolute immunity. Indeed, a state prosecuting attorney, acting within the scope of her duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution, is entitled to absolute immunity and is not amenable to suit in her official capacity. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 496 (1976). Although a prosecutor is entitled to absolute immunity when performing the traditional prosecutorial functions as the state's advocate, she is entitled to only qualified immunity when acting as a complaining witness by presenting a judge with an affidavit of probable cause in support of a warrant. Kalina v. Fletcher, 522 U.S. 118 (1997) (citing Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 340-41 (1986)).

Here, Defendant Anders asserts that she is entitled to absolute immunity under the Third Circuit's decision in Hyatt v. County of Passaic, which extended Imbler immunity to a county detective for her investigative assistance in initiating a prosecution. Hyatt v. County of Passaic, 340 F. App'x 833, 837-38 (3d Cir. 2009). The title of Defendant Anders's position as detective, however, is not dispositive of entitlement to Hyatt immunity. Absolute immunity requires a functional analysis that looks to "the nature of the function performed, not the identity of the actor who performed it." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 269 (1993) (citation omitted). While the decision to file charges is central to a prosecutor's role in initiating prosecutions, Defendant Anders seeks the protection of absolute immunity not for making a decision to file charges, but for her conduct as a complaining witness--that is, for her role in affirming what Plaintiffs allege is a false affidavit of probable cause. The Kalina and Malley decisions are quite clear that this type of conduct is not protected by absolute immunity; thus, Defendant Anders is entitled to, at most, qualified immunity.

An officer who caused an allegedly unlawful arrest is accorded qualified immunity based on an objective reasonableness standard. Malley, 475 U.S. at 345. The protection of qualified immunity is lost "[o]nly where the warrant application is so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence unreasonable." Id. at 345 (quoting United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984)). As such, the relevant inquiry for whether an individual is accorded qualified immunity is whether a reasonably trained officer "would have known that his affidavit failed to establish probable cause and that he should not have applied for the warrant." Id. Given that "[t]he fate of an official with qualified immunity depends upon the circumstances and motivations of his actions, as established by the evidence at trial," Imbler, 424 U.S. at 419 (citing Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308, 321 (1975)), Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Logan's § 1983 claim for unlawful arrest cannot be granted solely on the basis of any potential immunity, and must be denied so long as Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a claim for unlawful arrest.

To state a civil rights claim under § 1983, "a plaintiff must allege both a deprivation of a federally protected right and that this deprivation was committed by one acting under the color of state law." Lake v. Arnold, 112 F.3d 682, 689 (3d Cir. 1997). A § 1983 claim for an arrest in which the police lacked probable cause is grounded in the Fourth Amendment's protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Barna v. City of Perth Amboy, 42 F.3d 809, 830 (3d Cir. 1994)). In a situation "where the police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the arrestee has a claim ...

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