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Amos Kauffman v. the Pennsylvania Society For

February 16, 2011


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



Plaintiff Amos Kauffman ("Kauffman") sues The Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("PSPCA") and two of its employees, Ashley Mutch ("Mutch") and Kristen Sullivan ("Sullivan"), alleging civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a common law claim for conversion. This suit arises out of Mutch's investigation of Kauffman's farm on November 23, 2009, Mutch and Sullivan's seizure a day later of animals from the farm pursuant to a search warrant, and defendants' refusal to return these animals to Kauffman after the dismissal of state animal cruelty charges against him.

Kauffman contends that all three defendants violated § 1983 by unconstitutionally seizing his property, searching his farm, and failing properly to train Mutch and Sullivan. Kauffman also asserts that all three defendants committed the tort of conversion by depriving him of his property, and that he is entitled to a declaratory judgment that defendants unconstitutionally searched and seized his property.

The defendants urge us to dismiss Kauffman's § 1983 claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because (1) when Mutch and Sullivan seized Kauffman's property, they acted pursuant to a valid search warrant; (2) Mutch and Sullivan are entitled to qualified immunity; and (3) Kauffman has not successfully asserted a Monell claim against the PSPCA for failure to train or supervise. As will be seen, defendants' second contention takes us into largely uncharted waters. In the end we grant defendants' motion to dismiss in part and deny it in part. We also will order Kauffman to explain how the investigation of his farm violated the Fourth Amendment and how he has availed himself of the processes Pennsylvania affords him to retrieve his property.

I. Factual Background

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), we must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be fairly drawn therefrom." Ordonez v. Yost, 289 Fed. Appx. 553, 554 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F. 3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993)). In deciding such motions, courts may "consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim," Brown v. Daniels, 128 Fed. Appx. 910, 913 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 222 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted), where a document forms the basis of a claim if it is "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint." Id. (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)) (emphasis omitted). We will thus rehearse the facts Kauffman alleges in his complaint as well as other relevant facts drawn from exhibits attached to that complaint and found in the public record.

Kauffman is a farmer in Chester County, Pennsylvania, Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 8. Kauffman and his family have long operated a dairy farm and greenhouse there. Id. ¶ 15. Throughout Kauffman's lifetime as a farmer, he and his family have kept pet dogs and cats on their property. Id. ¶ 16. While Kauffman has occasionally sold puppies to members of his community, he has never operated a kennel or applied for a kennel license because the number of dogs on his property has never exceeded twenty-five. Id. ¶ 17.

The PSPCA is a non-profit corporation organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Id. ¶ 9. It enforces Pennsylvania's laws dealing with criminal cruelty to animals through its humane society police officers.*fn1 Id. At all times relevant to this action, the PSPCA employed Mutch and Sullivan as humane society police officers, with Sullivan in a supervisory capacity. Id. ¶¶ 11-12.

In November of 2009, the Kauffman family had several dogs and one cat on their farm, including an adult male and adult female Chihuahua and a female German shepherd. "[T]wo of the Kauffman family dogs, the Chihuahua and Shepherd had a litter of puppies," and the Kauffmans sold "a couple puppies" to others in their community. Id. ¶ 19.

According to Kauffman, on November 11, 2009, Mutch "purportedly received a complaint about 'sick puppies' being sold by Amos Kauffman," and on November 23, 2009 Mutch "purportedly went 'undercover' to the Kauffman farm and observed five puppies living in a pen that, incredibly, smelled of urine and feces."*fn2

Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Another individual, whom Kauffman identifies only as Mutch's "sidekick," accompanied Mutch to Kauffman's farm. Id.

¶ 22. Both Mutch and this "sidekick" "lied to Mr. Kauffman about the true intent of their visit," and during the twenty minutes they spent at the farm neither voiced any complaints about the conditions of the animals they observed. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.

Mutch bought four puppies from Kauffman on November 23, 2009 and took them to the PSPCA headquarters, and later that same day veterinarian Kim Russell of the PSPCA examined the puppies --again, "purportedly" -- and found them to be anemic and to have parasites, with one puppy suffering from ringworm. Id. ¶¶ 21,

24. On November 24, 2009, after securing the approval of Assistant District Attorney Lauren Dentone, Mutch obtained a warrant from a magistrate judge to search the Kauffman property and seize "all animals . . . and any/all proof of ownership of animals and/or medical records/supplies for animals and/or residence." Ex. 3 to Pl.'s Compl at 1. The magistrate judge issued the warrant based on Mutch's affidavit of probable cause, which reviewed Mutch's training, qualifications, and employment with the PSPCA, described the phone call Mutch had received reporting "sick puppies" at the Kauffman property, recounted Mutch's visit to Kauffman's farm and her observation of "puppies living in a pen that had fecal matter and smelled of feces and urine," and explained the results of Russell's veterinary examination of the purchased puppies. Id. at 2. On November 24, 2009, Mutch and Sullivan arrived at Kauffman's farm armed with weapons and dressed in uniform. They identified themselves as humane society police officers. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 26. They then seized "all the family pets along with the file folders for the dogs, rabies records, dog food receipts, and a notebook." Id. ¶

Mutch charged Kauffman with ten counts of animal cruelty, alleging that Kauffman's animals had overgrown nails and fleas and that Kauffman kept unclean pens. Id. ¶ 28. On March 25, 2010, "[a]ll of the charges brought by Mutch were dismissed at the district justice level." Id. ¶ 34. Though the charges have been dismissed, the defendants have refused to return the seized animals to the Kauffmans, instead threatening them with fines unless they leave the animals with the PSPCA. Id. ¶ 35.

II. Analysis

As already noted, Kauffman asserts five counts, with each count directed at all three defendants: (1) a declaratory judgment that defendants unconstitutionally searched and seized Kauffman's property; (2) unconstitutional seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment and § 1983; (3) unconstitutional search in violation of the Fourth Amendment and § 1983; (4) inadequate training and supervision in violation of § 1983; and (5) state common law conversion. Defendants move under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of Kauffman's complaint.

As a prefatory matter, we note that while Fed. R. Civ.

P. 8(a)(3) provides that "[a] pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief," "the pleader need only make one demand for relief regardless of the number of claims that are asserted." 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1255 (3d ed. 2008). The relief a plaintiff seeks, and the claims he asserts, are thus conceptually distinct components of a complaint, and there is no need for a plaintiff to devote a separate count of a complaint to a request for a certain type of relief, as Kauffman does in seeking a declaratory judgment under Count I. Such belt-and-suspenders pleading is particularly inapt when the plaintiff includes an application for the claimed relief in his concluding prayer for relief, as Kauffman does here.

Pl.'s Compl. at 13 ("[P]laintiff prays that [t]his honorable court declare that the actions of defendants to be [sic] in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.") We will thus dismiss Count I of the complaint as redundant and not in conformity with Rule 8(a)(3).

As to Rule 12(b)(6), "[t]he test in reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is whether, under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, [the] plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Kundratic v. Thomas, 2011 WL 208636, at *1 (3d Cir. 2011) (brackets in original) (quoting Holder v. City of Allentown, 987 F.2d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 1993)), and "the defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented." Hedges v. U.S., ...

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