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Cramer v. Pruey

October 22, 2010

JOY L. CRAMER, WILMER H. SCOTT, PLAINTIFFS
v.
DONNA B. PRUEY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Plaintiffs Joy L. Cramer and Wilmer H. Scott brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of equal protection and due process. Presently before the court are three motions filed by the parties: (1) plaintiffs' motion for default judgment against defendants Jesse L. Dumm, Steven C. Peterson, Kevin Reese, and Robert M. Beck (collectively the "Commonwealth Defendants")(doc. 17); the Commonwealth Defendant's motion to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)(doc. 16); and (3) defendants Donna B. Pruey, Allen E. Pruey, Sherry Bell (Pruey) Soccio, Donald E. Russler, Jr., and Connie C. Russler's (hereinafter the "Pruey and Russler Defendants") motion to dismiss contending that the Pruey and Russler Defendants are not state actors under the Fourteenth Amendment or section 1983 (doc 33). For the reasons that follow, we will deny plaintiffs' motion for default judgment, grant the Commonwealth Defendants' motion to dismiss, dismiss the Pruey and Russler Defendants' motion to dismiss, and grant plaintiffs twenty-one days to indicate why the amended complaint should not be dismissed.

II. Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). While a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim,"

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, (2007), a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, - - - U.S. -- - -, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Hence, "'threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.'" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949).

III. Background

In their amended complaint, plaintiffs allege that their neighbors have engaged in a course of conduct that has violated their constitutional rights and that Pennsylvania law enforcement officers failed to enforce state laws against these neighbors, allowing the alleged conduct to continue, in violation of due process and equal protection.

The Pruey and Russler Defendants own several dogs that share one fenced yard. (Doc. 15, ¶¶ 16-17). These dogs bark at all hours of the day and night. (Id. at ¶ 14). Because plaintiffs considered the barking dogs a nuisance, they repeatedly asked defendant Beck, the Huntingdon County Dog Warden, to "do something" about it. (Id. at ¶23). Beck made two visits to the Pruey and Russler Defendants' residences. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-27). On the first visit, Beck spoke with the Pruey's young daughter who told him that she was the only one home at the time. (Id.). Beck did not issue a citation or take any further action at that time. (Id.) Subsequently on a second visit, after finding the Russlers at home in their trailer beside the Pruey's home, he spoke with them and issued a citation for "no medical records and dogs not contained." (Id. at ¶ 27). Based on these events, plaintiffs allege in Count I that the barking dogs deprived them of equal protection of the law. Furthermore, plaintiffs allege that Beck's failure to enforce the dog laws by not issuing a citation during his first visit violated plaintiffs' equal protection and due process rights.

In a separate incident, plaintiffs allege that shots were fired from the Russler family's trailer while the plaintiffs were sitting on their porch. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). The next morning, Pennsylvania State Trooper Kevin Reese investigated the incident, and was informed by plaintiffs that the shots came from the Russler's trailer. (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34). After conducting an investigation, however, Trooper Reese decided not to issue a citation or make an arrest. Thus, based on Trooper Reese's failure to issue a citation or make an arrest, plaintiffs allege in Count II that he violated their equal protection and due process rights. (Id. at ¶ 38).

In a third incident, plaintiffs were sitting on their porch when one of the Russler's dogs, being chased by Mr. Russler, ran onto plaintiffs' property. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41). Seeing this, plaintiff Scott went into his home, grabbed a shotgun, and gave chase. (Id. at ¶ 42). While Russler was chasing the dog, Scott fired three shots into the ground, causing both Russler and the dog to leave the plaintiffs' property. (Id. at ¶¶ 45-46). Sometime later that day, Pennsylvania State Troopers Jesse Dumm and Steven Peterson, along with other state and local officers, arrived at the scene and investigated the incident. (Id. at ¶¶ 49-58). The officers did not make any arrests or issue any citations that day, but Trooper Dumm returned on the following day to Scott's residence and issued a citation for disorderly conduct based upon his actions on the previous day. (Id. at ¶ 60). Scott eventually pled guilty to this charge. (Id. at ¶ 61). Based on these events, plaintiffs in Count III request judgment against the Pruey and Russler Defendants, Trooper Dunn, and Trooper Peterson, but they fail to provide a legal theory or justification why judgment should be entered against the defendants.

In yet another series of events, plaintiffs complain that the Pruey and Russler families regularly speed on the dirt road in front of plaintiffs' residence, causing dust to coat the plaintiffs' school bus, front porch, and laundry. (Id. at ¶¶ 65-71, 91).

In an attempt to stop this conduct, plaintiff Scott first left a message for Trooper Reese regarding the situation. (Id. at ¶¶ 73-74). Scott also placed a speed limit sign on a tree at the bottom of the road. (Id. at ¶ 76). After someone removed that sign, Scott placed another on the road. (Id. at ¶¶ 78-79). In a third attempt to stop the speeding, he dug a series of trenches along the road. (Id. at ¶¶ 79, 92).

Despite these actions, plaintiffs allege that the Pruey and Russler Defendants continued to speed on the dirt road. As a result, in Count IV, plaintiffs allege that the Pruey and Russler Defendants violated plaintiffs' constitutional rights, specifically equal protection. (Id. at ΒΆ 94). In addition, plaintiffs claim that the failure of Trooper ...


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