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Daniel Labar, Individually and As v. Officer James T. Alercia

February 28, 2011

DANIEL LABAR, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS
ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF
JOLENE LABAR
PLAINTIFFS
v.
OFFICER JAMES T. ALERCIA, ET AL.
DEFENDANTS



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Daniel LaBar's wife's car was struck by a felon who was being chased by police. Palmer Township's and Wilson Borough's partial motions to dismiss were granted.*fn1

Palmer Township has filed this motion for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion.

I. Background

Daniel LaBar's wife's car was struck by a felon who was being chased by police.

Ms. LaBar died as a result of her injuries.*fn2 Mr. LaBar alleges Palmer Township had a policy or practice of "Emergency Response Driving -- High Speed Motor Vehicle Pursuit." This policy or practice addressed officers' engagements in high speed pursuits. Mr. LaBar maintains the Palmer Township police officers were not adequately trained with respect to high speed pursuits.*fn3

II. Standard for a Rule 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), "[a]fter the pleadings are closed--but early enough not to delay trial--a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings a court must "view the facts presented in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the nonmoving party." Inst. for Scientific Info., Inc. v. Gordon and Breach, Sci. Publishers, Inc., 931 F.2d 1002, 1004 (3d Cir. 1991) (citing Soc'y Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1980)).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). "[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

III. Discussion

A. Monell Claim Mr. LaBar maintains Palmer Township had a "policy of failing to reprimand officers' misconduct"; failed "to require in-service training or re-training of officers who were known to have engaged in unsafe acts, police misconduct, or who were known to encourage or tolerate the same"; and "failed to require that their police officers were adequately trained in the Township's own high speed pursuit policy."

1. Policy or Custom "[W]hen execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts and acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury . . . the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Carter v. City of Phila., 181 F.3d 339, 356-57 (3d Cir. 1999). "Policy is made when a 'decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action' issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict." Berg v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 219 F.3d 261, 275 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1212 (3d Cir. 1996)). "Customs are 'practices of state officials . . . so permanent and well settled' as to virtually constitute law." Id. (quoting Kneipp, 95 F.3d at 1212). If a policy or custom is identified, the plaintiff "must 'demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the municipality was the moving force behind the injury alleged.'" Berg, 219 F.3d at 276 (quoting Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997)). The municipality must take the action "with 'deliberate indifference' as to its known or obvious consequences. A showing of simple or even heightened negligence will not suffice." Id. (quoting Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty., 520 U.S. at 407).

Mr. LaBar does not allege the policy of failing to reprimand officers' misconduct was "an official proclamation, policy, or edict," and the complaint does not sufficiently allege that any policy of "failing to reprimand officers" was permanent and well-settled such that it constituted law.

2. Failure to Train

If "the policy in question concerns a failure to train or supervise municipal employees, liability under section 1983 requires a showing that the failure amounts to 'deliberate indifference' to the rights of persons with whom those employees will come into contact." Carter, 181 F.3d at 357 (quoting City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). The "failure to train may amount to deliberate indifference where the need for more or ...


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