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Marlyn Trout and Jordin Trout v. William Wentz

January 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Plaintiffs Marlyn and Jordin Trout ("the Trouts") bring the above-captioned case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of their rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Presently before the court are two motions to dismiss all claims. Defendant Karen Comery ("Comery"), an Assistant District Attorney for York County, filed the first motion to dismiss (Doc. 12). The second motion to dismiss (Doc. 21) was filed by officers William Wentz, Kim Hivner, and Kyle Hower (collectively, "the York City defendants").*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted.

I. Factual Background*fn2 and Procedural History

This case arises out of an incident that occurred in York County, Pennsylvania, in the late evening of October 20, 2007. The complaint alleges that, on the evening in question, the Trouts purchased a meal from a Long John Silver's restaurant and then went to a nearby shopping center parking lot to eat. (Doc. 1 ¶ 15). Although only one of the shopping center's stores, an adult video store, was open at the time, (id.), more than 200 people were gathered in the parking lot, (see id. ¶¶ 12, 17). The Trouts acknowledge that these gatherings occurred regularly, "on Friday and Saturday nights," and that "[a]ccording to police . . . automobiles would unlawfully race[,]" but the Trouts deny having any knowledge or playing any role in "organized racing" or in "any organizing of these purported gatherings." (Id. ¶ 12). According to the Trouts, the crowd was gathered to look at cars. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13).

The York City Police entered the parking lot at 11:03 p.m. (Id. ¶ 16). They ordered "over 200 people" to exit their vehicles and walk to group sites. (Id. ¶ 17). The police separated adults and minors, (id.); hence, Jordin Trout ("Jordin"), who was sixteen (16) years old at the time, was separated from Marlyn Trout ("Marlyn").

(Id. ¶ 18). Jordin and Marlyn, "along with hundreds like them," (id. at 1) were handcuffed, searched, transported in police vehicles to a "booking station" or a "holding center," and issued pre-prepared citations, which charged them with defiant trespass. (Id. at 1, 4-6, ¶¶ 19, 21-23).

The Trouts aver that the events described above were planned in advance by defendant Wentz, a York City Police Officer, and defendant Comery, an Assistant District Attorney for York County. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 20). They claim that the parking lot was "set up by placing signs in the lot[,]" which "would be used as an excuse to charge spectators with defiant trespass where 'notice against trespassing is given by signs posted[.]'" (Id. at ¶ 14).

The Trouts filed the instant case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and they allege that defendants violated their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, the Trouts complain that they were "unlawfully arrested, seized, and searched," (id. at 1; see also id. ¶¶ 26, 31, 35-36, 39-40, 43-44), maliciously prosecuted,*fn3 (id. ¶ 26, 40, 44), and that their rights to free association and due process of law were infringed, (id. ¶¶ 7-8, 34, 37). Presently before the court are two motions to dismiss, one filed by Comery, (Doc. 12), and the other filed jointly by the York City defendants, (Doc. 21). The motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court 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." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts contained in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint in the face of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., No. 10-1294, --- F.3d ---, 2010 WL 5071779 at *4 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1947 (2009)) Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id.; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the well-pleaded factual allegations have been isolated, the court must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). 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, --- U.S. at ---, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. When the complaint fails to present a prima facie case of liability, however, courts should generally grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

The Trouts bring the pending lawsuit pursuant to § 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code, which offers private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every 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, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . . Id. Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but merely a method to vindicate violations of federal law committed by state actors. Brown v. Pa. Dep't of Health Emergency Med. Servs. Training Inst., 318 F.3d 473, 477 (3d Cir. 2003). To establish a claim under this section, the plaintiff must show a deprivation of a "right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States . . . by a person acting under color of state law."*fn4 Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Defendant Comery has moved to dismiss all claims against her on the basis of prosecutorial immunity, or in the alternative, on the basis that they are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Similarly, the York City defendants argue that the Trouts' claims are time-barred, that the Trouts fail to state claims upon which relief can be granted, and that the defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. The York City defendants also seek to ...

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