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Ernesto Galarza v. Mark Szalczyk

March 30, 2012

ERNESTO GALARZA PLAINTIFF
v.
MARK SZALCZYK, GREG MARINO, AND CHRISTIE CORREA, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, AND CITY OF ALLENTOWN, AND LEHIGH COUNTY, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the court on four motions which seek to dismiss plaintiff's Amended Complaint:

(1) Defendant Mark Szalczyk's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, which motion was filed May 20, 2011 (Document 55);

(2) Defendant Gregory Marino's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, which motion was filed June 17, 2011 (Document 62);

(3) Defendants, City of Allentown and Christie Correa's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), which motion was filed April 25, 2011 (Document 51); and

(4) Defendant Lehigh County's Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint Under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), which motion was filed April 25, 2011 (Document 50).

Plaintiff filed a separate memorandum in opposition to each motion to dismiss. Defendant Szalczyk filed a reply brief in support of his motion. The motions having been fully briefed and oral argument having been held before me on December 15, 2011, the matter is ripe for disposition. Hence this Opinion.

INTRODUCTION

Paragraph 1 of the Amended Complaint filed April 6, 2011 provides the following "Preliminary Statement" of the case:

Plaintiff Ernesto Galarza is a United States Citizen who was born in New Jersey. Local and federal officials nonetheless collaborated to imprison him at the Lehigh County Prison for three days based on the groundless belief that he might be an undocumented and deportable "alien." Plaintiff brings this action under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the authority of Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics , 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Indeed, Attorney Jonathan H. Feinberg, the first of three counsel for plaintiff to address the court during oral argument on these motions to dismiss, sounded a note similar to the Preliminary Statement when he said:

I think there is a substantial risk in this case where we have a lot of defendants and a lot of discrete legal issues, of losing the forest for the trees. And the fact is, this case is quite straightforward.

Ernesto Galarza is a United States citizen. As a result of the actions of these defendants, he was held on an immigration detainer.

That is wrong. It violated his constitutional rights. And that's the reason we're here. And we can get lost in these legal issues, and I would suggest to the Court, though, the issue is really quite simple. *fn1 Defendants do not dispute that Mr. Galarza is a United States citizen or that a jury subsequently acquitted him of the charge on which he was arrested November 20, 2008, *fn2 which arrest set the events in motion which led to this federal civil rights action. It is not difficult to contemplate why Mr. Galarza feels aggrieved by the events of November 20 through 24, 2008, or how his subsequent acquittal would have magnified those feelings.

However, the question presently before the court is not whether Mr. Galarza's feelings are reasonable or unreasonable, or whether it is "wrong", in a guttural sense, that a United States citizen was held in a county prison on an immigration detainer after he had posted bail and was otherwise entitled to be released.

The question presently before the court is whether or not plaintiff has plead sufficient facts in his Amended Complaint to establish a plausible entitlement to relief from the claims which he asserts.

SUMMARY OF DECISION

For the following reasons, I grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Mark Szalczyk. Specifically, I grant defendant Szalczyk's motion and dismiss the procedural due process claim against him based upon qualified immunity. However, I deny defendant Szalzcyk's motion to dismiss plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and equal protection claims because plaintiff has sufficiently pled those claims and defendant Szalczyk is not entitled to qualified immunity on those claims based upon the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint.

I grant, in its entirety, the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Greg Marino and dismiss all claims against defendant Marino because he is entitled to qualified immunity based upon the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint.

I grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Christie Correa and defendant City of Allentown. I grant the motion and dismiss all claims against the City because plaintiff has not sufficiently stated a claim based upon an unconstitutional policy or custom, or a failure to train its police officers.

I grant the motion to dismiss to the extent it seeks to dismiss the procedural due process claim against defendant Correa because plaintiff does not oppose dismissal of the due process claim against defendant Correa. I deny the motion to the extent it seeks to dismiss plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and equal protection claims against defendant Christie Correa because plaintiff has sufficiently pled those claims and defendant Correa is not entitled to qualified immunity on those claims based upon the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint.

Finally, I grant, in its entirety, the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Lehigh County and dismiss all claims against Lehigh County because the policy for which plaintiff seeks to hold Lehigh County liable is nondiscriminatory, as well as mandated by federal regulations.

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction in this case is based upon federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

VENUE

Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) because the events giving rise to plaintiff's claims allegedly occurred in the Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, which is within this judicial district.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff initiated this civil rights action by filing a Complaint (Document 1) on November 19, 2010. Plaintiff's initial Complaint named Mark Szalczyk, Stephanie Fritzges, "ICE Does 1-5", "Allentown Does 6-10", and "Lehigh County Does 11-15", the City of Allentown, and Lehigh County as defendants.

On January 26, 2011 plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to Conduct Limited Expedited Doe Discovery (Document 19).

Upon motion by the plaintiff which was granted by my Order dated March 14, 2011 and filed March 15, 2011 (Document 32), Stephanie Fritzges was dismissed as a defendant in this action.

Plaintiff's motion for leave to conduct limited expedited discovery was granted by Order and accompanying Memorandum of United States Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin dated March 21, 2011 (Documents 39 and 38, respectively).

On March 21, 2011 plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint to Add Parties and Allegations Resulting from Doe Discovery (Document 35).

By Order dated April 5 and filed April 6, 2011 (Document 45), I granted as unopposed plaintiff's motion for leave to file an amended complaint and gave plaintiff until April 25, 2011 to do so.

Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint on April 6, 2011 (Document 46)("Amended Complaint"). The Amended Complaint named Mark Szalczyk, Greg Marino, and Christie Correa, in their individual capacities, and the City of Allentown, and Lehigh County as defendants. Plaintiff did not name any Doe defendants in his Amended Complaint. Each of the named defendants now seek to dismiss plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

Oral argument was held before me on December 15, 2011 on each of the four defense motions to dismiss. At the conclusion of oral argument I took the matter under advisement. Hence this Opinion.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claim may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) (abrogated in other respects by Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

Generally, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record, including other judicial proceedings. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2008).

Except as provided in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9, a complaint is sufficient if it complies with Rule 8(a)(2), which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) "[does] not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d at 949. *fn3

In determining whether a plaintiff's complaint is sufficient, the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).

Although "conclusory or 'bare-bones' allegations will [not] survive a motion to dismiss," Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210, "a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231. Nonetheless, to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must provide "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940) (internal quotation omitted).

The court is required to conduct a two-part analysis when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the factual matters averred in the complaint, and any attached exhibits, should be separated from legal conclusions asserted therein. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Any facts pled must be taken as true, and any legal conclusions asserted may be disregarded. Id. at 210-211.

Second, the court must determine whether those factual matters averred are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at __, 129 S.Ct. at 1950, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884).

Ultimately, this two-part analysis is "context-specific" and requires the court to draw on "its judicial experience and common sense" to determine if the facts pled in the complaint have "nudged [plaintiff's] claims" over the line from "[merely] conceivable [or possible] to plausible." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at __, 129 S.Ct. at 1950-1951, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884-885 (internal quotations omitted).

A well-pleaded complaint may not be dismissed simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940-941.

FACTS

Based upon the averments in plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which I must accept as true under the foregoing standard of review, the pertinent facts are as follows.

Parties

Plaintiff Ernesto Galarza is a 36-year-old male who resides in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and resided here at all times relevant to this action. He was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Mr. Galarza is Hispanic, specifically of Puerto Rican heritage. He speaks English and Spanish. *fn4

At the time of these events, defendant Mark Szalcyzk ("Officer Szalczyk") was a Deportation Officer employed by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Department of Homeland Security ("ICE"). *fn5 Defendant Greg Marino ("Officer Marino") was employed by ICE in its Allentown, Pennsylvania office. *fn6 In this lawsuit, Officers Szalczyk and Marino are both being sued in their individual capacities. *fn7 At all relevant times, Officers Szalczyk and Marino were acting within the scope of their employment with ICE, a federal executive agency. *fn8

Defendant City of Allentown ("City" or "Allentown") is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and operates the Allentown Police Department ("APD"). *fn9 Defendant Christie Correa ("Detective Correa") was at all relevant times a narcotics investigator with APD. She is also being sued in her individual capacity. *fn10 At all relevant times, Detective Correa was acting in the scope of her employment with the APD. *fn11

Defendant Lehigh County is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Lehigh County operates the Lehigh County Prison.

Collaborative Efforts of ICE and the APD The APD and ICE cooperate to identify and imprison persons suspected of being "aliens" subject to deportation. *fn12 As part of this cooperation, APD officers actively work with ICE to identify aliens who have committed criminal offenses within the City and take appropriate steps for deportation where warranted. *fn13

As part of this collaboration, the APD conducts "periodic operations", which the police also term "round ups", to apprehend undocumented immigrants who have committed crimes. These operations resulted in the apprehension of 120 people in 2006. *fn14 Detective Correa, and Officers Szalczyk and Marino participated in the collaborative efforts between APD and ICE. *fn15

Until March 2007, ICE maintained an office within the APD where an ICE special agent reviewed APD arrest reports and sought to identify arrestees subject to deportation. *fn16

In November 2008, when plaintiff was arrested and detained, ICE no longer had an agent posted within the APD. However, ICE and APD employees continued to collaborate from their separate offices in Allentown. *fn17 APD personnel regularly communicate with ICE personnel regarding arrestees suspected of being aliens subject to deportation. *fn18

The City has never provided training to APD officers or arranged for them to receive training regarding (1) how to investigate a person's immigration status; (2) when to provide arrestees' information to ICE; or (3) what arrestee information should be provided to ICE. *fn19 The City knowingly allowed APD officers to make reports to ICE on the basis of an arrestee's ethnicity. *fn20

Many individuals arrested by the APD are jailed at the Lehigh County Prison in Allentown. ICE officials have issued, and then cancelled, "many" immigration detainers against inmates housed at the Lehigh County Prison and at other nearby county prisons and jails. *fn21

On November 6, 2008 James T. Hayes, then-Director of Detention and Removal Operations for ICE, issued a memorandum to ICE Field Office Directors cautioning that ICE officers must have probable cause to believe that a person is an alien subject to removal from the United States before making an arrest of the suspected removable alien. *fn22

Arrest and Detention of Mr. Galarza

On Thursday, November 20, 2008, Mr. Galarza was working construction on a house near 6th and Monroe Streets in Allentown. The contractor directing the work, Juan Santilme, was also selling cocaine from the job site. On that date Mr. Santilme sold cocaine to defendant, ...


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