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Peter B. Yeremian, Administrator of the Estate of Peter J. Yeremian v. Southeastern Pennsylvania

February 7, 2012

PETER B. YEREMIAN, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF PETER J. YEREMIAN, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA
TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is the Motion of Defendant Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA") to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This action stems from an incident that occurred aboard one of Defendant SEPTA's trains which resulted in the death of Peter J. Yeremian ("the Decedent"), a resident of Broomall, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 2.) According to the facts set forth in the Complaint, at approximately 20:00 hours on January 29, 2010, Decedent boarded SEPTA's Route 100 train at the 69th Street Terminal station. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12--13.) The Decedent was staggering and appeared intoxicated when boarding the train. (Id. ¶ 14.) When the train arrived at the Norristown Transportation Center approximately forty minutes later, Defendant's train operator, Benjamin Huleatt ("Huleatt"), noticed that the Decedent was slouched in his seat. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 16.) Huleatt attempted to arouse the Decedent, but was unable to do so. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 17.) Huleatt thereafter contacted a SEPTA dispatcher requesting further instructions on how to handle the situation. (Id. ¶ 17.) The dispatcher instructed Huleatt to complete his regular train route and then return to the 69th Street Terminal, at which point SEPTA Transit Police would handle the matter. (Id.) Upon returning to the Terminal at approximately 21:20 hours, it was determined that Decedent died aboard the train. (Id. ¶ 18.)

As Decedent's father and executor of his estate, Plaintiff Peter B. Yeremian ("Plaintiff" or "Yeremian") commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 1, 2011, alleging that Decedent's death and extreme pain and anguish were caused by SEPTA's misconduct, through the actions of its agents and employees.*fn1 Defendant filed this Motion to Dismiss on December 13, 2011. Plaintiff filed an Answer on January 17, 2012. The Court will now consider the merits of Defendant's Motion.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see also Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the United States Supreme Court recognized 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." Id. at 555. It emphasized that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In the subsequent case of Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009), the Supreme Court enunciated two fundamental principles applicable to a court's review of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, it noted that "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949. Thus, although "[Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era . . . it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 1950. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal has altered some of the fundamental underpinnings of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review. Arner v. PGT Trucking, Inc., No. Civ.A.09-0565, 2010 WL 1052953, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2010); Spence v. Brownsville Area Sch. Dist., No. Civ.A.08-0626, 2008 WL 2779079, at *2 (W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief and need not contain detailed factual allegations. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8; Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Further, the court must "accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Finally, the court must "determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Pinkerton v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Section 1983

Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, alleging that SEPTA and its agents, employees, officials, and policymakers were acting under color of law and pursuant to the authority granted to them by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ("the Commonwealth" or "Pennsylvania"). Section 1983 provides, in relevant part, that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress[.] 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. The statute itself does not independently create substantive rights, but rather merely "provides a remedy for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal laws." Kopec v. Tate, 361 F.3d 772, 775--76 (3d Cir. 2004) (internal citation omitted); see also Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284--85 (2002); Bush v. Lancaster City Bureau of Police, No. Civ.A.07-3172, 2008 WL 3930290, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2008). Federal law requires a plaintiff to satisfy two steps in order to properly establish a § 1983 claim: (1) the deprivation of a constitutional right or other federal law, and (2) that a "person acting under the color of state law" is responsible for the alleged deprivation. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992).

In the seminal case of Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), the Supreme Court held that § 1983 applies to municipalities and other local government units. Id. at 690. To establish § 1983 liability on such a governing body, the plaintiff must identify either a "policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers," or "constitutional deprivations visited pursuant to governmental 'custom' even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the[ body's] official decision-making channels." Id. at 659. However, "it is not enough for a §1983 plaintiff merely to identify conduct properly attributable to the municipality." Bd. of the Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997). Rather, the plaintiff must demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights. Id.; see also Bielevicz v. Dubinon, 915 ...


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