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John Morozin v. Mark L. Johnson

November 17, 2011

JOHN MOROZIN, PLAINTIFF/ COUNTERCLAIM DEFENDANT,
v.
MARK L. JOHNSON, DEFENDANT/ COUNTERCLAIM PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF BUCKINGHAM TOWNSHIP, COUNTERCLAIM DEFENDANT.



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

Memorandum

Plaintiff, John Morozin, a police officer with the Buckingham Township Police Department, brought this action for negligence and willful misconduct against defendant Mark L. Johnson as a result of incidents surrounding his arrest of Johnson. Johnson answered the complaint and asserted counterclaims against Morozin and counterclaim defendant, the Board of Supervisors of Buckingham Township (the "Supervisors"),*fn1 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania law. For his section 1983 claims, Johnson alleges that Morozin is liable for his use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and that the Supervisors are liable for their failure to adequately train Morozin. Johnson also asserts a state-law claim of battery against Morozin. Currently before the court is the motion filed by Morozin and the Supervisors (collectively, the "counterclaim defendants") to dismiss Johnson's counterclaims for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the counterclaim defendants' motion.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History

Johnson asserts the following factual allegations in support of his counterclaims, which I must accept as true for the purposes of this motion to dismiss.*fn2 Morozin was employed as a uniformed police officer by the Buckingham Township Police Department at all relevant times. (Compl. ¶ 3; Answer ¶ 3.) On July 8, 2010, Morozin, who was on duty, in full uniform and operating a marked patrol car, pulled over a 2004 Ford Escape driven by Johnson. (Compl. ¶ 5; Answer ¶ 5; Countercl. ¶¶ 9-10.) After a brief investigation, Morozin informed Johnson that he was being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. (Countercl. ¶ 11.) Morozin arrested and handcuffed Johnson and transported him to Doylsestown Hospital. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-6; Answer ¶¶ 4-6; Countercl. ¶ 12.)

Once they arrived at the hospital, Morozin handcuffed Johnson's left arm to a pole. (Countercl. ¶ 13.) Johnson admits that a physical altercation occurred between Morozin and him at the hospital. (Answer ¶ 7.) Although the parties dispute what actually occurred during the altercation, I will accept Johnson's version of the facts as true for the purposes of this motion to dismiss. According to Johnson, Morozin refused to explain why he had been transported to the hospital or what procedures he was going to undergo while at the hospital, and falsely insisted that he had already explained the purpose of the hospital visit to Johnson. (Countercl. ¶¶ 14-15.) Morozin then announced that Johnson had refused to permit his blood to be drawn. (Id. ¶ 16.) Morozin allegedly released Johnson's handcuffed arm, grabbed the front of his shirt, dragged him by his shirt out of the chair in which he was seated, and then twisted his right arm behind his back, forcing Johnson to the floor. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) In grabbing and twisting his arm, Morozin allegedly cut Johnson's arm, leaving a 3/4-inch-long laceration that was 1/4-inch deep. (Id. ¶ 19.) Despite the fact that the wound was bleeding profusely, Morozin removed Johnson from the hospital without treatment and transported him to the Buckingham Township Police Department in handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Johnson was charged with aggravated and simple assault, resisting arrest, and driving under the influence of alcohol. (Id. ¶ 20.) Johnson ultimately pleaded guilty to resisting arrest, simple assault, and driving under the influence ("DUI"). (Countercl. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Ex. D at 6.)

As a result of this physical altercation, Morozin filed a complaint against Johnson in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County on March 30, 2011, asserting one count of negligence and one count of willful misconduct. Morozin seeks compensatory damages, delay damages, interest, and costs. Johnson filed a timely notice of removal on April 19, 2011. Morozin filed a motion to remand on April 27, 2011, which I denied in an order dated May 16, 2011.

Johnson answered the complaint and asserted counterclaims against Morozin and the Supervisors on June 9, 2011. Johnson asserts count I of the counterclaim against Morozin under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Count II is asserted against the Supervisors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for failure to properly train the Buckingham Township Police and deliberate indifference to a pattern of excessive force used by Morozin. Johnson brings count III against Morozin for battery. Johnson seeks compensatory damages, attorney fees, and costs against the Supervisors, and compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, and costs against Morozin.

Morozin and the Supervisors filed a joint motion to dismiss all three counts contained in Johnson's counterclaim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on July 11, 2011.

II. Standard of Review

"Courts use the same standard in ruling on a motion to dismiss a counterclaim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) as they do for a complaint." PPG Indus., Inc. v. Generon IGS, Inc., 760 F. Supp. 2d 520, 524 (W.D. Pa. 2011) (citing United States v. Union Gas Co., 743 F. Supp. 1144, 1150 (E.D. Pa. 1990)). "To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a [counterclaim] must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the [counterclaim] plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the [counterclaim] defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (2009).

In evaluating a motion to dismiss, a court should separate the "the factual and legal elements of a claim." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The court "must accept all of the [counterclaim's] well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-11. The assumption of truth does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Rather, the counterclaim must contain "'enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal citations omitted).

III. Discussion

Counterclaim defendants seek dismissal of all counts asserted against them. They urge dismissal of count I, the section 1983 excessive-force claim, on the theory that it is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), or that Morozin should be granted qualified immunity.*fn3 As to count II, the failure-to-train section 1983 claim, they contend that Johnson fails to state a claim under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Counterclaim defendants seek dismissal of count III on the grounds that Morozin's actions were privileged, or alternatively, that Johnson failed to plead a cause of action for battery. Finally, they ask me to dismiss Johnson's request for punitive damages. In light of the record before me, I will deny counterclaim defendants' motion.

A. Judicial Notice and the Record Before the Court

As a preliminary matter, I must decide whether to take judicial notice of the various exhibits the counterclaim defendants have attached to their motion to dismiss. The exhibits that the counterclaim defendants would have me consider include: (1) Exhibit C, which includes a police criminal complaint, an affidavit of probable cause sworn by Morozin, and a police incident investigation report; (2) Exhibit D, an unsworn handwritten statement by a witness to the altercation; and (3) Exhibit E, which includes a transcript of Johnson's guilty plea colloquy, a copy of the docket in the state-court criminal case against Johnson, a copy of an untitled court document waiving the right to a preliminary hearing, a Bucks County DUI Court Sheet, and a handwritten letter from Johnson to Morozin.

"When deciding a motion to dismiss, it is the usual practice for a court to consider only the allegations contained in the [pleading setting out the claims or counterclaims subject to dismissal], exhibits attached to [that pleading], and matters of public record." City of Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 259 (3d Cir. 1998). "Courts have defined a public record, for purposes of what properly may be considered on a motion to dismiss, to include criminal case dispositions such as convictions or mistrials, letter decisions of government agencies, and published reports of administrative bodies." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 998 F.2d at 1197 (internal citations omitted). However, "examin[ing] a transcript of a prior proceeding to find facts converts a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment." S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Wah Kwong Shipping Grp., Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426-27 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Kauffman v. Moss, 420 F.2d 1270, 1274-75 (3d Cir. 1970)). In addition to the public ...


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