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Allison A. Mccoy-Jones v. Indiana Borough

May 4, 2012

ALLISON A. MCCOY-JONES,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
INDIANA BOROUGH, INDIANA BOROUGH POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER MICHAEL RHOADES, CHIEF WILLIAM C. SUTTON, OFFICER WESLEY HITE, AND MICHAEL ZINER T/D/B/A IMPORT AUTO WORKS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Presently pending before this Court is Defendants Indiana Borough, Officer Michael Rhoades, Chief William Sutton and Officer Wesley Hite's Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 6) Plaintiff Allison McCoy-Jones' Complaint (Docket No. 1). The Motion has been fully briefed (Docket Nos. 7, 23, 24, 26, 28) and the Court heard Oral Argument on April 26, 2012 (Docket No. 27). During the April 26, 2012 Oral Argument, the Court denied the Motion and now sets forth in further detail its rationale.

I. Factual and Procedural Background*fn1

This is a Section 1983 action for alleged violations of Plaintiff's Fourth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, conspiracy to violate her civil rights, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution and defamation. (Docket No. 1 at 16-24). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Id.

Plaintiff is the owner of a 2003 Nissan Murano automobile. Id. at ¶ 11. The car had a history of various problems and had been serviced by a Nissan dealership and by Defendant Michael Ziner (hereinafter "Ziner"), a mechanic who operates "Import Auto Works". Id. at ¶¶ 11-14. On March 2, 2010, the car suffered a mechanical problem and Plaintiff requested that Ziner pick up the car and diagnose the problem. Id. at ¶¶ 15-16. Ziner determined that the transmission failed and that repair costs would total $7,000.00 to $8,500.00. Id. at ¶ 16. Frustrated with the car's repair history, Plaintiff asked Ziner to call Nissan to determine whether the transmission was covered under a Nissan recall program, as Plaintiff did not want to invest any more money in the car. Id. As Plaintiff's car had been in a 2008 car accident, which may have contributed to the transmission problem, Ziner also advised Plaintiff that he would call the insurance carrier (Penn National Insurance) of the driver who was at fault for the 2008 accident. Id. Over the next several weeks, Plaintiff and Ziner pursued various methods through which the repairs might be covered by either a Nissan warranty or the insurance coverage applicable to the 2008 accident. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18. Neither Nissan nor any auto insurance carrier would agree to pay for the repairs. Id. Accordingly, Plaintiff appealed the insurer's denial to the Pennsylvania Insurance Commission and informed Ziner that he was not to repair the car unless the repair costs were to be covered by a third-party. Id.

On March 26, 2010, Ziner informed Plaintiff that her car had been repaired, stating that he had "found a cheaper way to get it on the road." Id. at ¶ 19. Per Ziner's permission and instruction, Plaintiff retrieved her car from his lot on March 27, 2010, with the mutual understanding that they "would square up the paperwork" on March 29, 2010. Id. However, after Plaintiff retrieved her car, a dispute ensued between her and Ziner regarding his $3,600.00 bill. Id. at ¶¶ 20, 23. In turn, Plaintiff offered to pay Ziner $2,800.00 for the parts he installed, but he rejected her offer. Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiff then invited Ziner to sue her for payment, which he declined. Id. at ¶¶ 24, 30. After August 2010, Plaintiff and Ziner had no further contact. Id. at ¶ 30.

Nearly ten months after Plaintiff retrieved her car from Ziner, on January 24, 2011, Plaintiff received a call from Defendant Officer Rhoades (hereinafter "Rhoades") of the Indiana Borough Police Department. Id. at ¶ 31. Rhoades informed her that Ziner had filed a criminal complaint against her for her alleged failure to pay for the repairs. Id.. Plaintiff advised Rhoades about the history of the car's repairs and the monetary dispute which she had had with Ziner. Id. Rhoades requested that she meet with him to discuss the matter and the next day, January 25, 2011, Plaintiff met with Rhoades. Id. at ¶¶ 31, 32. Rhoades again asked her what happened and she told him about the monetary dispute. Id. She informed Rhoades that Ziner stated that an insurance carrier was going to pay for the repairs and that was why Ziner released the car to her. Id. Rhoades acknowledged that Ziner had released the car to Plaintiff. Id. He then asked if she had ever received payment from an insurance carrier and/or Nissan for any of the work. Id. Plaintiff stated that she had not, but if she had received any remuneration, it would have been given to Ziner. Id. Rhoades advised Plaintiff that Ziner would need to sue Plaintiff and then Plaintiff would have to sue the insurance carrier, resulting in an expensive and time-consuming process. Id. Plaintiff then told him that she had offered to pay Ziner for the cost of the parts, but that Ziner had declined her offer. Id.

Thereafter, on January 31, 2011, Rhoades called Plaintiff and informed her that she had one week to pay Ziner in full or she would be arrested for theft of services. Id. at ¶ 33. He futher told her that she was not permitted to contact Ziner and that no one else could contact Ziner on her behalf, or she would be arrested for harassment. Id. Subsequently, on February 7, 2011, Rhoades called Plaintiff and stated that because she had not paid Ziner, she was going to be arrested. Id. at ¶ 35. Plaintiff agreed to meet Rhoades at Magistrate Habrel's office the next day, February 8, 2011, at which time she was arrested and charged with Theft of Services, 18 Pa.C.S. § 3926*fn2 and Fraudulent Removal of a Vehicle from a Garage, 75 Pa.C.S. § 7116*fn3 , which are both third degree felonies. Id. Plaintiff was charged with unlawfully removing her car from Ziner's lot even though the Affidavit of Probable Cause signed by Rhoades stated that Ziner had released the car to Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 37. Moreover, the Affidavit of Probable Cause stated that Ziner had retained a key to Plaintiff's car, thus implying that she had not been authorized to retrieve her car. Id. Plaintiff asserts that said allegation in the Affidavit of Probable Cause was absolutely false because Ziner placed the keys that Plaintiff had given him under the floor mat of her car so that Plaintiff would have all of her keys when she retrieved her car. Id. Thus, Plaintiff maintains that Rhoades and the Indiana Borough Police Department knew that Ziner had not retained any key. Id. at ¶ 45.

At the time and place set for Plaintiff's Preliminary Hearing, on April 18, 2011, the Magistrate refused to hold the hearing because in his estimation the dispute was a civil matter. Id. at ¶ 42. The Magistrate then directed the parties to settle the matter civilly. Id. Plaintiff agreed to pay $3,000.00 to Ziner and he accepted. Id. The charges against Plaintiff were dismissed in late July 2011 and she obtained expungement of the charges pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 586*fn4 on December 20, 2011. Id. at ¶ 43.

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court on February 8, 2012 (Docket No. 1) and on March 29, 2012, Defendants Indiana Borough, Officer Michael Rhoades, Chief William Sutton and Officer Wesley Hite filed their Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 6). Said Motion has been fully briefed (Docket Nos. 7, 23, 24, 26, 28). The Court heard Oral Argument on April 26, 2012. (Docket No. 27). During the course of the Oral Argument, Plaintiff's counsel conceded that Indiana Borough Police Department should be removed as a defendant. Id. Also, Defense counsel withdrew his argument relating to spoliation, but reserved his right to reassert that argument at a later time. Id. At the conclusion of the Oral Argument, the Court denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 6). Id. The Court now turns to a discussion outlining the reasons for its decision.

II. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of the complaint filed by a plaintiff. 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, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)). 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 plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129

S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

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 ...


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