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Stephens v. Philadelphia Parking Authority

October 15, 2010

ROBERT L. STEPHENS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PHILADELPHIA PARKING AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Robert Stephens filed an Amended Complaint against the following Defendants: the Philadelphia Parking Authority; the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication; the Philadelphia Traffic Court; the City of Philadelphia; and the City of Philadelphia Department of Finance. According to Stephens, a "Live Stop" of his vehicle set in motion of chain of events that led to numerous civil rights violations. The Amended Complaint terms Stephens's treatment "Class Warfare" in violation of the United States Constitution. Presently before the Court are four motions to dismiss: one filed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; one filed by the Philadelphia Traffic Court; one filed by the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication; and one filed by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. For the reasons provided below, the Court grants all four motions and dismisses the claims against those Defendants.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 8, 2009, Stephens's vehicle, which was being driven by his son at the time, was pulled over at 52nd Street and Larchwood Avenue in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Because the car lacked valid registration, the officers performed a "Live Stop" impoundment of the car. (Compl. at 5.) In violation of proper procedure, the officers restrained his son for "well over an hour" and eventually left him in a "hostile area" over thirty-five miles from home and without access to public transportation. (Id.) Because his son was held for over an hour and the officer "took a $22,000.00 vehicle for a $150.00 fine," the officers purportedly violated Stephens's right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 5-6.)

The stop occurred on a Saturday, and Stephens was forced to wait until Monday, August 10, 2009 to retrieve his vehicle from Traffic Court. He proceeded to the Philadelphia Traffic Court, where he "was sent to several windows and eventually went before a judge." (Id. at 6.) Thereafter, he submitted his registration to the court and "was required to post bail on the tickets . . . [and] then went to another window and paid the bail. At this time [his] car was cleared of having any other violation." (Id.) Stephens claims that also on August 10, 2009, he was sent to another window to pay for the tow so he could retrieve his car; he was also required to pay a storage tax in addition to the towing cost. (Id. at 8.) Stephens contends that this storage tax exceeded the maximum amount that the Commonwealth established may be charged to tow a vehicle. He further claims the storage tax is illegal because it places a greater burden on individuals who lack the financial means to pay it -- "[u]nfortuantely, the victims are mainly young Black and Hispanic males." (Id.) He next complains that he was given a list of tickets, some as old as twenty-one years, totaling over $700. (Id.) A number of the citations did not belong to Stephens and none of them "were connected to the vehicle or license plate." (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff alleges that the statute of limitations has expired on the tickets and that "the car had to be involved in an illegal act to be held." (Id.) He believes that once he produced his registration and paid the bail, his car should have been released. (Id.) He claims that retaining his vehicle was an "illegal means to raise revenue" and "an act of extortion." (Id. at 10.)

Next, Stephens was forced to go to the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication ("the BAA") to get his car returned. (Id.) He was told that if he spoke or tried to escape responsibility for the tickets, he would not receive his car because it would be sold. (Id. at 11.) The BAA forced Stephens to sign an agreement to pay for the tickets by threatening him that if he did not sign the agreement, his car would not be returned to him. (Id.) According to Stephens, the BAA's actions constituted fraud and violated his due process rights and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 11-12.) Stephens asserts that the BAA commonly employs these tactics of "blackmail, extortion, fraud and . . . kidnapping of . . . vehicle[s] . . . against the less fortunate . . . and less educated in Pennsylvania." (Id. at 12.) He tried to appeal the decision against him but was repeatedly told that the tickets were too old to contest. (Id. at 13.) He then went to the Court of Common Pleas but was told that he needed paperwork from the BAA that confirmed that the case was heard and that the verdict was against him. (Id.) The BAA refused to provide the paperwork and the Court of Common Pleas then advised him that he would need to get a lawyer and sue the BAA and that this was the BAA's common practice. (Id.)

Stephens complains that the process is "degrading and dehumanizing." (Id. at 15.) Specifically, people are told to show up early for Traffic Court but there is a long line to enter the building and that upon entering the building, "you must go through a search as if you were a criminal." (Id.) One must then go "from window to window" to learn the proper procedure. (Id.) He also complains that there are no public restrooms at the BAA and that individuals are directed to the Greyhound Bus Terminal. (Id. at 16.) Stephens also notes that the staff at the BAA are extremely rude "unless you are fortunate to have a lawyer." (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that this degrading behavior is aimed at the less fortunate and denies them their constitutional right of equal treatment under the law. (Id. at 15.)

Stephens seeks compensatory damages for humiliation, pain and suffering, emotional distress and mental anguish, and lost wages. He also seeks punitive damages, requests that all of his tickets be expunged or that he be permitted to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, and asks this Court to direct that the Philadelphia Parking Authority ("the PPA"), Philadelphia Traffic Court and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania follow their laws and guidelines and cease to have different laws based on economic status. Finally, he wants the City of Philadelphia to end the storage tax and he wants the BAA to install public restrooms.

On June 27, 2010, Stephens amended his Complaint to add the City of Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia Department of Finance as parties. His Amended Complaint seeks damages for "the deprivation of his constitutional rights caused by Class Warfare profiling and treatment" by the following parties: (1) the Philadelphia Traffic Court; (2) the Philadelphia Parking Authority; (3) the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; (4) the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication; (5) the City of Philadelphia; and (6) the City of Philadelphia Department of Finance. (Id. at 2.) A number of Defendants have filed motions to dismiss raising jurisdictional arguments and claiming that Plaintiff failed to state a claim.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

A claim that a lawsuit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment is properly addressed in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion. See Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 694 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996) ("[T]he Eleventh Amendment is a jurisdictional bar which deprives federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction" (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-100 (1984))). The Third Circuit has "cautioned against treating a Rule 12(b)(1) motion as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and reaching the merits of the claims" because "the standard for surviving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is lower than that for a 12(b)(6) motion." Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

There are two types of Rule 12(b)(1) motions. With regard to the first type, a facial attack on the court's subject matter jurisdiction, the court is required to assume that the plaintiff's allegations are true. See Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). When confronted with the second type, a factual attack, the court is "free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case" because there is "no presumptive truthfulness attache[d] to plaintiff's allegations." Id.

The assertion of Eleventh Amendment immunity as a defense is properly treated as a facial challenge. M & M Stone Co. v. Pa., Dep't of Envtl. Protection, Civ. A. No. 07-4784, 2008 WL 4467176, at *13 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 29, 2008) (citing Urella v. Pa. State Troopers Ass'n, Civ. A. No. 07-3089, 2008 WL 1944069, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 2, 2008)). Therefore, for the purpose of resolving Defendants' motion to dismiss, the allegations of Plaintiff's complaint are accepted as true. See Gould Elecs., 220 F.3d at 176. The party ...


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