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Andrew S. Mitchell v. Mark Patrick Flaherty

January 30, 2012

ANDREW S. MITCHELL,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARK PATRICK FLAHERTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

ECF No. 10

OPINION

LENIHAN, M.J.

Currently pending before the Court in this civil rights action is a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants Mark Patrick Flaherty, Terry Matuszak, and Allegheny County (ECF No. 10). Plaintiff instituted this lawsuit on May 10, 2011, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also asserts a Monell claim against Allegheny County. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343. Venue lies in this district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff alleges the following facts in his Complaint, which the Court accepts as true for purposes of the motions to dismiss. On or about June 9, 2010, a vacancy existed in the office of constable in the Third Ward, Sewickley Borough, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶7, ECF No. 1.) Upon learning of the vacancy, Plaintiff initiated the process for appointment to the vacant constable position, pursuant to the applicable state law, 44 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §7121. (Id. at ¶8.) Plaintiff contends that on June 9, 2010, he presented a petition to appoint him to serve as constable for the unexpired term of the Sewickley vacancy, signed by the requisite number of qualified electors residing in Sewickley Borough, to Defendant Terry Matuszak, an employee of the Allegheny County Controller. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-10.)

Plaintiff further alleges that the Allegheny County Controller was responsible for processing such petitions through the Administrative Judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. at ¶11.) Plaintiff contends that Defendant Matuszak refused to process the petition to appoint him to the Sewickley vacancy, and consequently, Plaintiff was misled to believe that he needed the approval of a Sewickley magisterial district judge as a prerequisite to processing his petition, when no such requirement existed as a matter of law or fact. (Id. at ¶13.)

Thereafter, Plaintiff obtained the approval of the Sewickley magisterial district judge, and subsequently learned that such approval was not necessary to the process of his appointment to the Sewickley vacancy. Upon learning this, Plaintiff informed Defendant Matuszak, but Matuszak still refused to process Plaintiff's petition. (Id. at ¶14.)

Plaintiff then contacted the office of the President Judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, and it is alleged that an individual with that office instructed him to retrieve his petition from the Controller's Office and process it himself, and immediately thereafter, on September 1, 2010, Plaintiff retrieved his petition. (Id. at ¶15.) Subsequently, Plaintiff avers that Defendant Matuszak continued to impede his appointment to the Sewickley vacancy by "concocting some sort of residency impediment" which was eventually resolved in his favor. (Id. at ¶16.)

On December 2, 2010, the Administrative Judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas issued an Order Nisi appointing Plaintiff to serve as constable for the Third Ward, Sewickley Borough. (Id. at ¶17.) The only remaining requirement in order for Plaintiff to commence his service as constable was for him to take an oath and be sworn in as constable. (Id. at ¶18.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Matuszak, as part of his responsibilities as an employee of the Controller's office, was required to notify Plaintiff that he was scheduled to be sworn in as constable on January 20, 2011; however, Matuszak allegedly refused to provide Plaintiff with such notice. (Id. at ¶19.) Consequently, Plaintiff contacted the office of the President Judge and he was sworn in as constable on February 18, 2011. (Id. at ¶20.)

Thereafter, on May 10, 2011, Plaintiff instituted the present lawsuit under 28 U.S.C. §1983, claiming that the acts of Defendants were undertaken with the purpose and intent of depriving Plaintiff of his rights under the United States Constitution and of the right not to be deprived of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 26.) As a result of Defendants acts and omissions, he claims to have suffered damages, which include: "indignity, loss of property and his right to serve as constable, loss of income, and . . . ridicule before his peers, and . . . depriv[ation] of his constitutional rights to be free and clear of the above deprivations . . .." (Id. at ¶21.) Plaintiff further claims that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his rights and claims and those of the citizens of Allegheny County, in that Allegheny County, through the Controller, Defendant Mark Patrick Flaherty, knew or should have known that Matuszak was not properly supervised/trained, and that these failures were due to a custom or policy of indifference to the necessity for adequate supervision and training. (Id. at ¶¶22-24.) Plaintiff has sued Defendants Matuszak and Flaherty in the individual and official capacities. Plaintiff seeks to hold Defendant Allegheny County liable under Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

In response to Plaintiff's complaint, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 10) on August 19, 2011. Plaintiff filed a response and brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss. Thus, this motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). A complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct.1937, 1949 (May 18, 2009) (citing Twombly, supra). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads 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 Supreme Court further explained: The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'"

Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57).

The court of appeals has expounded on this standard in light of its decision in Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir. 2008) (construing Twombly in a civil rights context), and the Supreme Court's recent decision in Iqbal:

After Iqbal, it is clear that conclusory or "bare-bones" allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss: "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. To prevent dismissal, 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 1948. The Supreme Court's ruling in Iqbal emphasizes that a plaintiff must show that the allegations of his or her complaints are plausible. See Id. at 1949-50; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, ¶ n. 3.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). In light of Iqbal, the Fowler court then set forth a two-prong test to be applied by the district courts in deciding motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, the district court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and discard any legal conclusions contained in the complaint. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). Next, the court must consider whether the facts alleged in the Complaint sufficiently demonstrate that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must show an entitlement to relief through its facts. Id. (citing Phillips at 234-35). In applying this plausibility standard, the reviewing court makes a context-specific inquiry, drawing on its judicial experience and common sense. Id. (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).

Thus, the legal standard remains the same in the following respect-when considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), district courts must accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and its attachments, and must draw all reasonable inferences construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). In so doing, a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings; however, "'a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.'" Id. (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., ...


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