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Donnelly J. Leblanc v. Craig Stedman

July 21, 2011

DONNELLY J. LEBLANC
v.
CRAIG STEDMAN, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Background

In this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff Donnelly LeBlanc makes claims for false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution stemming from his arrest on January 8, 2008. LeBlanc has named seven defendants: Craig Stedman, Brian Chudzic, and Dean Morgan of the Lancaster County District Attorney's Office; Thomas Zell, Chief of the Akron Borough Police Department; George Pappas, a detective in the Penn Township Police Department; John Doe, Chief of Penn Township Police Department; and Lancaster County. The complaint has been dismissed as to Morgan, Stedman, Chudzic and Lancaster County and summary judgment has been granted to Zell.

As alleged in the complaint,*fn1 LeBlanc was arrested on January 8, 2008 and charged with insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. He claims that the arrest warrant was issued in reliance on false information knowingly provided by Pappas and approved by Zell and Doe. Morgan instructed Pappas to seek an arrest warrant without verifying the accuracy of Pappas and Zell's assertions. Chudzic and Stedman approved and obtained the warrant despite having documentation proving that LeBlanc had never filed an insurance claim. LeBlanc claims this conduct is consistent with Lancaster County's policy of prosecuting individuals without verifying information contained in the charging documents. Construed liberally, the complaint alleges a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from seizure without probable cause arising out of false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

Pappas has moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that the statute of limitations has run on LeBlanc's claims. Doe argues that LeBlanc has failed to state a claim for supervisory liability. Both defendants argue LeBlanc has failed to state a claim for § 1983 conspiracy.

Standard of Review

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., 575 F.3d 329, 334 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). A complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), giving the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although this standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

A complaint is subject to dismissal if the plaintiff fails to plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plaintiff must allege facts that indicate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Pleading only "facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability" is insufficient and cannot survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Additionally, the plaintiff's pro se pleadings must be considered deferentially, affording him the benefit of the doubt where one exists. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002)). With these standards in mind, we shall accept as true the facts as they appear in the plaintiff's complaint and draw all possible inferences from these facts in his favor.

Discussion

LeBlanc alleges that the warrant for his arrest was issued in reliance on an affidavit falsified by Pappas and approved by Zell and Doe. He essentially contends that the defendants knew he did not make the fraudulent insurance claim that formed the basis for the criminal charges.

Statute of Limitations

State personal injury tort law provides the appropriate statute of limitations for claims brought under § 1983. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007). Thus, the statute of limitations for § 1983 claims in Pennsylvania is two years. Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009).

A claim accrues when "the plaintiff has 'a complete and present cause of action.'" Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388 (quoting Bay Area Laundry and Dry Cleaning Pension Trust Fund v. Ferbar Corp. of Cal., 522 U.S. 192, 201 (1997)). Here, the triggering date for the statute of limitations is at issue.

Fourth Amendment false imprisonment claims are similar to those for false arrest as both are "grounded in the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable seizures." Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995). "False arrest and false imprisonment overlap; the former is a species of the latter." Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388. An arrest lacking probable cause provides a plaintiff a claim under § 1983 for false imprisonment "based on a detention pursuant to that arrest." Groman, 47 F.3d at 636. Taking false arrest and false imprisonment together as we must, Wallace, 549 U.S. at 387, "'[l]imitations begin to run against an action for false imprisonment when the alleged false imprisonment ends.'" Id. (quoting 2 H. WOOD LIMITATIONS OF ACTIONS § 187d(4), p. 878 (rev. 4th ed. 1916)). Because "[t]he sort of unlawful detention remediable by the tort of false imprisonment is detention without legal process . . . a false imprisonment ends once the victim becomes held pursuant to such process - when, for example, he is bound over by a magistrate or arraigned on charges." Id. at 389; see also Hunt v. ...


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