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Craig Langweiler v. the Borough of Newtown

December 28, 2010


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


This action arises out of a former Borough of Newtown police officer's alleged false arrest and subsequent alleged harassment of Plaintiff Craig Langweiler ("Langweiler"). Langweiler brings various claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Borough of Newtown (the "Borough"), its Police Chief Anthony Wojciechowski ("Wojciechowski"), and the offending officer, Lee Matthews ("Matthews") (collectively referred to herein as "Defendants"). Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Partially Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 7) and Langweiler's Cross-Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint (ECF No.12).

Defendants seek to dismiss Langweiler's request for punitive damages, all claims asserted against the Borough and Wojciechowski,*fn1 and two of the claims against Matthews: violation of Langweiler's liberty interest in his reputation and conspiring to unlawfully seize Langweiler.*fn2

For the following reasons, the Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and Langweiler's Cross-Motion will be denied. Langweiler will be granted leave to amend his Complaint to address the deficiencies identified below.

I. Factual and Procedural History

According to the Complaint, the underlying facts are as follows. On or about July 1, 2008, Matthews pulled over Langweiler and arrested him for driving under the influence and assaulting a police officer. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Matthews "parad[ed Langweiler] down the street in handcuffs for the purpose of taking him to a county jail." (Compl. ¶ 10.) The arrest was reported on the front page of a local paper the next day. (Compl. ¶ 11.) As a consequence of the arrest and charges, Langweiler was terminated from his job as a stock broker and could not find employment for six months. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Both New Jersey and Florida also suspended his stock broker's licenses, and they remain suspended. (Compl. ¶ 17.)

Langweiler also alleges that on the night of his arrest, Matthews impounded his car and intentionally rolled down the windows to allow in rain, destroying 150 harmonicas. (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 18.) Although the charges were ultimately dismissed, Langweiler remained in jail for three days after his arrest and "expended tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees" to fight the charges. (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 19-20.) He also claims that Matthews pulled him over on at least four other occasions to harass him (Compl. ¶ 14), and persuaded a police officer in another township to pull him over for allegedly carrying contraband (Compl. ¶ 15). The unidentified officer pulled over Langweiler outside the officer's jurisdiction (Compl. ¶ 16.)

With regard to the Borough and Wojciechowski, Langweiler alleges that they "made no attempt at a background check" of Matthews when they initially hired him, which would have disclosed that he had been terminated from another township for "misconduct." (Compl. ¶¶ 22-23.) Further, Langweiler contends the Borough and Wojciechowski failed to properly supervise, train, and control Matthews. (Compl. ¶21.)

On July 1, 2010, Langweiler filed this civil action against Defendants. (ECF No. 1.) On September 2, 2010, Defendants filed the pending Motion to Partially Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 7.) After having been granted extensions of time, Langweiler timely responded and filed a Cross-Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 12.)

II. Jurisdiction and Legal Standards

A. Jurisdiction

The Court has jurisdiction over Langweiler's § 1983 claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

B. Legal Standards

In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and must construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008).

The Third Circuit has addressed the effect of the Supreme Court's most recent pleading-standard decisions, Twombly v. Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). See Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233-34. Twombly established a two-pronged approach for all civil actions: first, the court asks whether the complaint sets forth factual allegations or conclusory statements; second, if the complaint sets forth factual allegations, the court must assume their veracity and draw reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, but then must determine whether the factual allegations plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id.; see Iqbal 129 S. Ct. at 1950, 1953; see also Santiago v. Warminster Twp., No. 10-1294, ___ F.3d ___, 2010 WL 5071779, at *4 & n.7 (3d Cir. Dec. 14, 2010) (suggesting the precursor to these two steps requires the court to identify the legal elements of the claim). At Phillips's first step, the court should separate the factual and legal elements of the claims, accepting the well-pleaded facts as true and disregarding any legal conclusions. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009).

To state a claim, a plaintiff must allege circumstances with enough factual matter to suggest the required claim exists. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements of the claims. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949; Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. Pleading standards are not the same as standards of proof. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 213-14.

Whether a claim is plausible depends on the context, i.e. the nature of the claim asserted. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009).

III. Discussion

Langweiler brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Congress enacted § 1983 as a federal cause of action against the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748, 755 (2005). To state a § 1983 claim, the claimant must demonstrate that the defendants, acting under color of state law, deprived plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. Chainey v. Street, 523 F.3d 200, 219 (3d Cir. 2008).

Defendants seek dismissal of Langweiler's request for punitive damages, his claims for violation of his liberty interest in his reputation and civil conspiracy against Matthews, and all claims against the Borough and Wojciechowski. Each claim will be addressed in turn.

A. Punitive Damages

In his prayer for relief, Langweiler asks the Court to award punitive damages for his claims. Defendants seek dismissal of this request to the extent it requests punitive damages against a municipality and officers acting in their official capacity. Wojciechowski and Matthews further argue that Langweiler's allegations do not state a claim for punitive ...

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