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Chalmers A. Simpson v. City of Coatesville

February 14, 2011

CHALMERS A. SIMPSON
v.
CITY OF COATESVILLE, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM

Pro se Plaintiff Chalmers Simpson brings this civil rights action in forma pauperis against members of the Coatesville Police Department. Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint.*fn1 Since our July 28, 2010 Order granted Plaintiff leave to file an Amended Complaint, he did not need to file a Motion to Amend Complaint. The document titled "Motion to Amended Complaint" contains the proposed Amended Complaint (beginning at paragraph 5 of the Motion) and we will, henceforth, refer to it as the Amended Complaint. We have conducted the screening required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and, for the following reasons, the Amended Complaint is dismissed in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is presently incarcerated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the State Correctional Institution at Pine Grove in Indiana, Pennsylvania. We dismissed his initial Complaint and denied his Petition to Amend Complaint in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Plaintiff's Petition sought leave to assert claims against 50 defendants arising from various allegedly illegal arrests and prosecutions of the Plaintiff by officials and employees of Coatesville and Chester County, Pennsylvania between 2003 and 2009. We dismissed the majority of those claims with prejudice, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.*fn2 (7/28/10 Order at 1-2.) However, we did give Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint alleging three categories of claims: (1) claims against Sergeant Pinto and Police Officer "John Doe White Male" for false arrest and malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment in connection with Plaintiff's May 1, 2008 arrest for trespass; (2) claims against Sergeant Pinto and Police Chief Mathews for malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment in connection with Plaintiff's September 7, 2007 arrest; and (3) claims against Police Officers "John Doe Black Bald Heavy Male" and "John Doe Italian Stocky Male" for false arrest and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment in connection with Plaintiff's May 1, 2008 arrest. (Id. at 3-4.) We cautioned Plaintiff that his amended complaint "may not add any additional claims or assert claims against any other Defendant." (Id. at 4.)

The Amended Complaint alleges the following facts. On May 1, 2008, Plaintiff was twice arrested for trespass at 203 Victoria Drive, Coatesville, Pennsylvania, his residence of almost six years. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 9-11.) Plaintiff was arrested the first time at 9:00 a.m., by Coatesville Police Sergeant James Pinto. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 21.) Later that day, he went to the Coatesville Police Department with verification that he resided at 203 Victoria Drive. (Id. ¶ 36.) Between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., while Plaintiff was trying to get his work clothes from his residence, he was again arrested for trespass, this time by Police Officer Larry Cooper and another police officer. (Id. ¶ 11.) Police Officer Cooper and the other officer grabbed and assaulted Plaintiff during the arrest, then detained him for ten to twelve hours at the Coatesville Police Department. (Id.) Plaintiff was then released by Police Officer Cooper, who told Plaintiff that "he had made a mistake." (Id. ¶ 12.) The police did not have a warrant for either of Plaintiff's arrests on May 1, 2008. (Id. ¶ 22.) On August 12, 2008, Plaintiff was found not guilty by Judge Thomas G. Gavin following a non-jury trial. (Id. ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff suffered the following losses as a result of his arrest and prosecution. His furniture valued at $1300 was stolen, along with a dining room set valued at $11,000 and a vehicle valued at $4,000. (Id. ¶¶ 26(a).) Plaintiff lost wages in the amount of $800-1200/week because he was homeless and had to sleep in his motor vehicle for almost three months. (Id. ¶ 26(b).) He had to drop out of school where he was studying criminal justice and he now owes student loans in the amount of $2600. (Id. ¶ 26(c).) He lost personal property in the amount of $4200. (Id. ¶ 26(d).) He also experienced emotion problems as a result of his arrest and prosecution that required him to undergo therapy at Community Mental Health Services and he still takes medications for psychiatric symptoms, depression, chronic pain, poor sleep and a sleep disorder. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.)

The Amended Complaint asserts six claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) a claim against Sergeant Pinto and Police Officer Cooper*fn3 for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment arising from Plaintiff's May 1, 2008 arrests (id. ¶¶ 10, 26, 30-33, 40); (2) a claim for malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Sergeant Pinto and Police Officer Cooper arising from Plaintiff's prosecution for trespass (id. ¶¶ 26, 40); (3) a claim against Sergeant Pinto, Police Officer Cooper, and the Coatesville Police Department for violation of Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution arising from Plaintiff's May 1, 2008 arrests (id. ¶¶ 10, 19-22); (4) a claim against the Coatesville Police Department for false arrest and unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment arising from Plaintiff's May 1, 2008 arrests (id. ¶ 37); (5) a claim against the Coatesville Police Department for denying Plaintiff's right to file private criminal complaints against any and all of the Police Officers involved in his arrests (id. ¶ 27); and (6) a claim against Police Chief William Mathews for maintaining a practice of handcuffing and arresting suspects before asking them any investigative questions (id. ¶ 39).*fn4 Plaintiff seeks damages in the amount of $10,000,000 from the City of Coatesville and the Coatesville Police Department; $5,000,000 from Police Chief Mathews; $5,000,000 from Sergeant James Pinto; and $1,000,000 from Police Officer Larry Cooper. (Pet. to Req. Award J. ¶ 3.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Plaintiff is a prisoner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and seeks redress from employees of governmental entities. We are thus required to review his Amended Complaint, "as soon as practicable after docketing . . . ." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). "On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -- (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). A claim is frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or its "factual contentions are clearly baseless." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989)). We review the sufficiency of the pleadings under § 1915A using the standard applicable to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Walker v. Hensley, Civ. A. No. 08-685, 2009 WL 5064357, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2009) ("The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to . . . Section 1915A is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F. 3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000), and Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999))).

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (citation omitted) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 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." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004)).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff has brought his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which 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 . . . . 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "Section 1983 provides remedies for deprivations of rights established in the Constitution or federal laws. It does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (footnote omitted) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979)); see also City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985) (stating that § 1983 "creates no substantive rights; it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere" (citing Baker, 443 U.S. at 140, 144 n.3)). Consequently, in order to state a claim for relief pursuant to § 1983, "a plaintiff must demonstrate the ...


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