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Melvin E. Harris v. City of Pittsburgh

November 18, 2011

MELVIN E. HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH, NATHAN HARPER, WILLIAM CHURILLA, MAYOR LUKE RAVENSTAHL, DAVID A. LINCOLN, CAROLYN HAMM, AND PAUL PAKOWSKI, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Presently before the Court is DEFENDANTS JOINT MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF‟S COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO FED.R.CIV.P. 12(b)(6), with brief in support, filed by DEFENDANTS CITY OF PITTSBURGH, CITY OF PITTSBURGH POLICE OFFICERS WILLIAM CHURILLA and DAVID LINCOLN, PITTSBURGH POLICE CHIEF NATHAN HARPER, and CITY OF PITTSBURGH MAYOR LUKE RAVENSTAHL (Document Nos. 10 and 11), and the BRIEF IN OPPOSITION filed by Plaintiff, Melvin E. Harris (Document No. 12).

The Motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

BACKGROUND

As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party. This lawsuit is brought pursuant to a complaint filed by pro se plaintiff, Melvin E. Harris. The factual allegations made in the Complaint are vague, rambling and difficult to understand. Plaintiff is apparently attempting to plead a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, however, it is not clear what constitutional rights he alleges to have been violated.

To complicate matters, Plaintiff filed his Complaint using a pre-printed Prisoner Civil Rights Form, although the allegations in the Complaint do not appear to concern prison officials or prison conditions. Further, Plaintiff lists his address on the Complaint as "1 Kelly Drive, Coal Township, PA," which is the address for SCI Coal Township, a state correctional institution. Plaintiff also completed and signed an Authorization to allow funds to be taken from his prison account to pay for the filing fee. Plaintiff signed the Complaint and Authorization on January 2, 2011, and thus it appears that at the time he signed his Complaint, Plaintiff was a prisoner in state custody.

The Complaint was received in the Clerk‟s office via Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested, on January 13, 2011 and filed that same date. The return address on the envelope lists Plaintiff‟s address as 1025 Faust St., Pittsburgh, PA 15204, which appears to be a private residence. The envelope is postmarked January 11, 2011 from Pittsburgh, PA. Also, a Check / Money Order in the amount of $350.00 in full payment of the filing fee was included with the Complaint. Accordingly, it appears that at the time the Complaint was filed, January 13, 2011, Plaintiff was no longer a prisoner in state custody.

Turning to the allegations of the Complaint, Plaintiff‟s first allegation stems from an incident in September 2006. Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle subjected to a traffic stop by Defendant Officer Lincoln, who then was a police officer for the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh. According to the Complaint, Officer Lincoln, along with other unnamed Housing Authority officers, assaulted Plaintiff and charged him with driving violations, tampering with evidence, and aggravated assault against the officers. As a result of these charges, Plaintiff was taken to prison for a parole violation and was kept there for thirteen (13) months before the charges were dismissed in October 2007.

Plaintiff next alleges that after his release from prison, he attempted to pursue a lawsuit against Officer Lincoln (now with the City of Pittsburgh Police Department); however, because of threats made against him by Officer Lincoln, Plaintiff was not able to pursue the lawsuit. Plaintiff alleges that "two week (sic) after my release Det. Lincoln held me at gun point and stated that, "I didn‟t mean for "you‟ to go to prison for "that‟ long. I was after Terrell Childs aka "Nino"! However, I can make your life hell again if you pursue legal action against me." Complaint at 3.

The Complaint next states that after multiple run-ins with Officer Lincoln, Plaintiff filed a "complaint" against him at the "City-County building." The Complaint filed in this Court does not state the date of the filing of the complaint, whether the complaint was written or oral, or whether the complaint was filed with the police department or in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Basically, the Complaint is devoid of any factual information about this "complaint." Plaintiff alleges that "the threats he used toward me end up expiring my 2 year window to file a civil suits against Officer Lincoln of Housing Authority. Once Det. Lincoln began to call me, text message me I knew something has to be done. While waiting to be contacted for the complaint I filed which I was told takes 10 days! I was arrested on the 7th day waiting by Det. William Churilla with more physical injuries and threats." Complaint at 3. The Complaint gives no information as to the date of Plaintiff‟s arrest or the reason for his arrest. It appears from a reading of the Complaint though that the complaint and subsequent arrest occurred sometime in 2007.

Plaintiff‟s final allegation involves an alleged traffic stop which occurred in February 2009, after Plaintiff had "recently filed a harassment complaint against Det. Churilla and Det. Lincoln." Complaint at 4. On that date, Officer William Churilla allegedly pulled Plaintiff pulled him from his vehicle and Plaintiff was then assaulted by numerous officers, handcuffed, and stripped naked in the middle of Bedford Avenue. The Complaint further states that "once they dressed me and brushed the gravel from my face Det. Churilla stated "that‟s for filing a complaint against "Linc‟ and "I.‟ I pled my case of injustice to a sgt. on the scene who said, "you know what this for!" Complaint at 4, Paragraph IV (c).

Paragraph III of the Complaint states that the Defendants have violated the following federal laws: "racial profiling, retaliation, cruel and unusual punishment, violations of 5th, 6th and 8th amendment, negligence." Complaint at Paragraph III. Defendants argue that "even though Plaintiff lists a number of Constitutional Amendments in his Complaint, the claims against [these Defendants] appear to allege only a claim of excessive force." Br. at 6.

At first blush, it does appear that Plaintiff is attempting only to state a claim for excessive force within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. However, upon a closer reading of the Complaint, it appears to the Court that Plaintiff also may be attempting to state a claim for First Amendment retaliation.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of the complaint. The United States Supreme Court has held that "[a] plaintiff‟s obligation to provide the "grounds‟ of his "entitle[ment] to relief‟ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (207) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)) (alterations in original).

The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. However, as the Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, the "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The Supreme Court has subsequently broadened the scope of this requirement, stating that only a complaint that states a plausibleclaim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (emphasis added).

Thus, after Iqbal, a district court must conduct a two-part analysis when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim. Id. Although the Court "must accept all of the complaint‟s well-pleaded facts as true, [it] may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-211. Second, the Court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief.‟ In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff‟s entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show‟ such an entitlement with its facts." Id. at 211 (citing Iqbal 129 S. Ct. at 1949). The determination for "plausibility" will be ""a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.‟" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal 129 S. Ct. at 1950).

As a result, "pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss." Id. at 211. That is, "all civil complaints must now set out "sufficient factual matter‟ to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.‟" Id. at 210 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1948).

However, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal changed the other pleading standards for a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 must still be met. See Phillips v. Co. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal citations omitted). Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 requires a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief, and "contemplates the statement of circumstances, occurrences, and events in support of the claim presented and does not authorize a pleader‟s bare averment that he wants relief and is entitled to it." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Additionally, the Supreme Court did not abolish the Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) requirement that "the facts must be taken as true and a ...


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