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Winston v. Bauer

September 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District J.


Plaintiff Michael Winston has filed this civil rights action against Laura Bauer, a Magisterial District Judge for Magisterial District Court 37-3-01 located in Warren County, Pennsylvania ("Bauer"), Michael Lindsey, a Pennsylvania State Trooper ("Lindsey"), John Parroccini, the Warren County Public Defender ("Parroccini"), Ross McKeirnan, the Warren County District Attorney ("McKeirnan"), and Larry Kopko, the Warren County Sheriff ("Kopko") for alleged violations of his federal civil rights. Presently pending before this Court are the Defendants' respective motions to dismiss the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the claims against Defendants Bauer, Parroccini and McKeirnan will be dismissed in their entirety. The claims against Defendants Lindsey will be dismissed in part. The claims against Defendant Kopko will be dismissed in their entirety, with the caveat that Plaintiff will be granted leave to replead one of his putative claims.


When reviewing a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the complaint must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all its well-pleaded allegations must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). Moreover, where, as here, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the complaint "is 'to be liberally construed,' . and 'however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Id. (internal citation omitted).

Nevertheless, a complaint, even one that is pro se, must be dismissed if it does not allege "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Thakar v. Tan, 372 Fed. Appx 325, 328 (3d Cir. Mar. 25, 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). See also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Id. (quoting Iqbal). Our circuit court of appeals has expounded on this standard as follows:

[A]fter [Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009)], when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. [Iqbal, 219 S.Ct. at 1949]. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 1950. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts. See Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008)]. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[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 'show[n]' -- 'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This "plausibility" determination will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 200) (citations omitted).


In this lawsuit, Plaintiff claims that his federal civil rights were violated in connection with an assault allegedly perpetrated upon him by Defendant Lindsey while in the "offices" of Defendant Bauer. Although only scant factual information (and no date) is pled, the claim appears to be premised on events that occurred on April 21, 2009, when Plaintiff was arrested by Lindsey and informally arraigned by Bauer on a DUI charge and related vehicle code violations. See Commonwealth v. Michael Dean Winston, Docket No.: CP-62-CR-214-2009 (Warren County). Plaintiff appears to contend that his rights under numerous federal laws and constitutional amendments*fn1 were violated in connection with these events, and he demands punitive damages in the amount of $5,000,000.00, as well as "other relief this court deems just." (Complaint par. 15.) We will address seriatim the complaint's allegations, and the viability of its claims, as they relate to each of the named Defendants.

A. Defendant Lindsey

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Lindsey "falsly [sic] arrested" him, holding him "against his will for 6 hours." (Complaint [2] at ¶ 9.) He further claims that Lindsey "assaulted" him in Magistrate Judge Bauer's office and engaged in "exsesive [sic] force," that Lindsey "refused Plaintiff medical treatment," that he "created false police reports (perjury)," and that he "refuses to cooperate with Plaintiff." (Id.)

Construing these allegations liberally and in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, it appears Plaintiff is attempting to state a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of his federal civil rights. Section 1983 affords a private right of action to [e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws... 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn2

To state a viable § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish both (1) that the alleged wrongful conduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and (2) that the conduct deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir.2000). There is no dispute for present purposes that Lindsey is a "person acting under color of state law" within the meaning of § 1983.*fn3

The more relevant question is whether Plaintiff has alleged sufficient factual content to state a plausible violation of any right secured to him by federal law. To the extent he has provided factual allegations in his complaint, Plaintiff appears to be asserting four distinct claims: (i) a false arrest and/or imprisonment claim; (ii) a malicious prosecution claim premised on falsified police reports and/or perjury; (iii) an excessive force claim; and (iv) a denial of adequate medical care claim. We will consider each theory in turn.

1. False Arrest/ False Imprisonment

Plaintiff asserts in his complaint that Lindsey "falsly [sic] arrested" him and "held him against his will for six hours." (Complaint ¶ 9.) Giving the Plaintiff the benefit of every liberal construction, the Court assumes he is attempting to plead an alleged violation of his Fourth Amendment rights based on false arrest or imprisonment relative to the charges for which he was arrested on April 21, 2009. Courts within this circuit have recognized a federal cause of action based upon this kind of theory. To state such a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that: (1) a Fourth Amendment seizure occurred, and (2) the seizure was made without probable cause. See Gavlock v. Deniker, 2005 WL 1273582 at *9 (M.D. Pa. May 27, 2005) (citing Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir.1988)).

However, a lack of probable cause cannot be established where the plaintiff was convicted on the charge which served as the basis for his arrest. See Shelly v. Wilson, 339 Fed. Appx. 136, 139 (3d Cir. Aug. 3, 2009) ("The jury's finding that [the plaintiff] committed each element of these offenses beyond a reasonable doubt defeats his assertion that there was no probable cause to arrest him."); Lynn v. Schertzberg, 169 Fed. Appx. 666, 670 (3d Cir. Jan. 31, 2006) (noting that, it seemed "apparent" that the plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment claims "must fail" where the plaintiff was convicted of the charge against him, but leaving that issue to be addressed on remand to the district court); McClam v. Barry, 697 F.2d 366, 370 (D.C. Cir.1983), overruled on other grounds, Brown v. U.S., 742 F.2d 1498 (D.C. Cir.1984) (stating that as to common law and constitutional law false arrest claims, "subsequent conviction establishes as a matter of law that the arrest was justified.").

Here, the official state court docket*fn4 shows that Plaintiff was arrested for, and subsequently convicted of, driving under the influence of alcohol in violation of 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 3802. Accordingly, Plaintiff cannot state a legally viable claim that his arrest for DUI or ensuing detention by Lindsey violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

2. False Police Reports/ Malicious Prosecution

In conclusory fashion the complaint alleges that Defendant Lindsey "created false police reports (perjury)." (Complaint ¶ 9.) No factual elaboration whatsoever is provided as to this claim. However, "the filing of a false police report is not itself a constitutional violation." Ellis v. Vergara, 2009 WL 4891762 at *5 (D.N.J. Dec. 15, 2009) (quoting Jarrett v. Township of Bensalem, 312 Fed. Appx. 505, 507 (3d Cir.2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)). See also Landrigan v. Warwick, 628 F.2d 736, 744 (1st Cir.1980) (the existence of a false police report does not deprive a person of a Constitutional right). Accord Shelley v. Wilson, 152 Fed. Appx. 126, 128 (3d Cir. Oct. 14, 2005) (a plaintiff cannot state a claim for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against a police officer for allegedly giving perjured testimony at his criminal trial) (citing Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 326 (1983)). Therefore, this allegation, even if true, cannot serve as the basis of a § 1983 claim against Lindsey.

Even assuming, moreover, that the Plaintiff is attempting to plead a Fourth Amendment violation premised upon a theory of malicious prosecution, such a claim is not viable. A claim of malicious prosecution under § 1983 "alleges the abuse of the judicial process by government agents." Ellis, supra, at *5 (citing Gallo v. City of Philadelphia, 161 F.3d 217, 225 (3d Cir.1998)). "To prove malicious prosecution under section 1983 when the claim is under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that:

(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the criminal proceeding ended in his favor; (3) the defendant initiated the proceeding without probable cause; (4) the defendant acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding." Id. (citing Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 81-82 (3d Cir.2007)). See also Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250 (2006). Here, the official docket sheet shows that Plaintiff was convicted on all charges in his Warren County criminal proceedings. See Commonwealth v. Michael Dean Winston, Docket No.: CP-62-CR-214-2009 (Warren County). Accordingly, Plaintiff cannot allege, and has not alleged, that the underlying criminal proceedings ended in his favor. See Ingram v. Lupas, 353 Fed. Appx. 674, 678 (3d Cir. 2009) (success in the underlying criminal proceeding is a necessary element of a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983) (citing Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 81 (3d Cir. 2007)).

Furthermore, where a § 1983 claim seeks damages for an allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for "other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid," Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994), the plaintiff must prove "that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus." Id. at 487. Where the underlying conviction or sentence has not been invalidated, the § 1983 claim is not cognizable. Id. To the extent the complaint provides any factual content at all, it appears to be asserting that Plaintiff was wrongly arrested and prosecuted on the basis of falsified evidence. Because such a claim implies the invalidity of Plaintiff's DUI ...

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