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Joseph S. Agnello v. Paul Pape

December 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, District Judge


Plaintiff Joseph Agnello ("Agnello") participated in an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition ("ARD") program in connection with a case brought by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania against Agnello in the Court of Common Pleas of Jefferson County. Agnello contends that after he completed the ARD program, his home was searched, without a warrant, based upon a false tip that he was manufacturing methamphetamines. According to Agnello, Defendants Larry J. Stratiff ("Stratiff"), the Jefferson County Chief Probation Officer, and Paul S. Pape ("Pape"), a self-employed constable, conducted the search. Agnello claims that the search violated his Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution. He seeks relief for the violation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Agnello also charges Defendant Kevin Bickle, a Sergeant with the Brookville Police Department, with having violated the 14th Amendment*fn1 under the Constitution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as his rights under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Bickle is the officer who arrested Agnello initially, causing him to be placed into the ARD program. Agnello contends that Bickle erroneously charged him under the Motor Vehicle Code and that the incorrect charge caused him to be erroneously placed into the ARD program in the first place.

The Defendants have filed Motions to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. See Docket Nos. [11] and [14]. *fn2 For the reasons set forth below, Defendant Bickle‟s Motion is granted in its entirety, with prejudice. Defendant Stratiff‟s and Jefferson County‟s Motion is granted in part and denied in part, as set forth below.

Standard of Review

In ruling on a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, I must construe all allegations of the Complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. I must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Worldcom , Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003). However, as the Supreme Court made clear in Bell Atlantic Co. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007):

While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff‟s obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

(internal citations, footnotes and quotation marks omitted). See also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 1008) (a plaintiff‟s factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level).

In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court held, ". a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. 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." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

In Iqbal, the Court specifically highlighted the two principals which formed the basis of the Twombly decision. First, for the purposes of a motion to dismiss, courts must accept as true all factual allegations set forth in the complaint, but courts are not bound to accept as true any legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. See also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, a complaint will only survive a motion to dismiss if it states a plausible claim for relief, which requires a court to engage in a context-specific task, drawing on the court‟s judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 1950. Where well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but has not shown -- the complainant is entitled to relief. Id., citing, F.R.Civ. P. 8(a)(2).


A. Kevin Bickle's Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. [14])

Only Count Two of the Amended Complaint is directed at Bickle. Though not entirely clear, it appears as though Agnello‟s complaint is that Bickle, who filed the criminal complaint against Agnello which resulted in Bickle‟s placement in the ARD program, should have charged him under a different section of the Motor Vehicle Code. See Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 27-36, Docket No. [5]. By charging Agnello with a misdemeanor of the first degree offense rather than a summary offense, Agnello reasons, he was erroneously placed into the ARD program and, as a result, had his home searched without a warrant in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. As ...

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