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Stacy Strange v. Officer Avery Freeman

March 6, 2012


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


Stacy Strange claims that when she tried to retrieve two of her family members from a donnybrook brewing outside of her home, she was repeatedly assaulted by police officers. Strange was transported to the Chester Police Station, where she was booked and detained on charges that were later dismissed. As of result of this incident, she filed a Complaint that alleges her civil rights were violated by Defendant police officers and the City of Chester. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


At one o'clock in the morning on August 31, 2009, Strange was awoken by her daughter and niece, who told her that a fight was about to take place in the driveway behind her home. (Compl. ¶ 11.) When Strange left her home to get her daughter and niece, Chester Police Officers Avery Freeman, William Swanson and Luis Rodriguez tackled her, pushed her head into the ground, handcuffed her, and tasered her while she was lying handcuffed on the ground. (Id. ¶ 12.) Officer Swanson also exclaimed, "All you niggers act like a bunch of animals." (Id.)

As Officer Swanson placed Strange into his police vehicle, he punched her in the face and said, "Don't ever disrespect me, you don't know who I am." (Id. ¶ 13.) He also kicked her and choked her once she was in the car while he shouted at her, "Bitch, I'll kill you." (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) While Strange was being transported to the Chester Police Department, she felt sick to her stomach and asked Officer Swanson if he would pull over so that she could vomit. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.) Officer Swanson refused, saying, "You can die on the seat for all I care" and "you make sure you swallow your vomit." (Id. ¶ 18.) He also refused to transport her to the hospital and told her that she would never see her baby again if she did not "shut-up." (Id. ¶ 19.) Strange was booked on a number of charges, including terroristic threats, assault, recklessly endangering children, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. (Id. ¶ 20.) She was placed in a holding cell for several hours and later transferred to the Delaware County Prison, where she remained for seven days. (Id.) On January 4, 2010, all of the criminal charges against Strange were dropped.


In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers & Allied Craftsman Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs., 237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A court need not, however, credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" when deciding a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

"Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. Although the federal rules impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). "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. Simply reciting the elements will not suffice. Id. (concluding that pleading that offers labels and conclusions without further factual enhancement will not survive motion to dismiss); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has directed district courts to conduct a two-part analysis when faced with a 12(b)(6) motion. First, the legal elements and factual allegations of the claim should be separated, with the well-pleaded facts accepted as true but the legal conclusions disregarded. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court must make a common-sense determination of whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 211. If the court can only infer the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint must be dismissed because it has alleged-but has failed to show-that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id.


A. Statute of Limitations

Strange filed her Complaint on December 30, 2011. She included seven counts: violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be secure in her person; false arrest and imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; "deprivation of federally-protected rights;" a Monell claim against the City of Chester; assault and battery; malicious prosecution; and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

When calculating the statute of limitations for claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, federal courts look to the state's personal injury law to determine the appropriate statute of limitations. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007). Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations governs Strange's federal and state claims. See Kach v. Hose, 589 F.3d 626, 634 (3d Cir. 2009) ("The statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim arising in Pennsylvania is two years.") (citing 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(2)). The accrual date of a § 1983 cause of action is a question of federal law. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388. Under federal law, the statute of limitations commences when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury that is the basis of the § 1983 claim. Montgomery v. De Simone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir. 1998).

Count I of Strange's Complaint alleges that Defendants' actions violated her "constitutionally protected right to be secure in her person as provided by the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution." (Compl. ΒΆ 23.) Plaintiff is not explicit about which rights she seeks to vindicate in Count I of her Complaint, though she is clear that Count I is predicated on an alleged violation of her Fourth Amendment ...

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