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Juniata Lewis v. David Heckler

May 10, 2012


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


In this civil rights action, Plaintiff Juanita Lewis has sued Defendant David Heckler, the Bucks County District Attorney. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend the Complaint. For the following reasons, we grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend.


When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n. 7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "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." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 Charles Allen Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004)).

"'Rule 15(a) declares that leave to amend shall be freely given when justice so requires.'" Bivings v. Wakefield, 316 F.App'x 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). "Leave to amend must generally be granted unless equitable considerations render it otherwise unjust." Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Foman, 371 U.S. at 182). "Among the factors that may justify denial of leave to amend are undue delay, bad faith, and futility." Id. (citing Lorenz v. CSX Corp., 1 F.3d 1406, 1414 (3d Cir. 1993)). However, prejudice to the non-movant is the "'touchstone for the denial of an amendment.'" Id. (quoting Lorenz, 1 F.3d at 1414). The decision to grant or deny an opportunity to amend is ultimately within the discretion of the Court. Bivings, 316 F.App'x at 180 (quoting Foman, 371 U.S. at 182). In the context of a motion to amend a complaint, "'[f]utility means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.'" Travelers Indem. Co. v. Dammann & Co., 594 F.3d 238, 243 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997)).


Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that on or about September 23, 2008, her son and daughter-inlaw were arrested by the Bensalem Police Department. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff secured a total of $10,000 in cash from friends and family to post ten percent of the their total bond and proceeded to Magisterial Court in Bensalem. When Plaintiff attempted to post the bond, Magistrate District Justice Leonard J. Brown ("MDJ Brown"), who was not robed or in his courtroom, approached Plaintiff and advised her the cash would be subjected to a dog sniff and, if the dog alerted, Plaintiff would be arrested. MDJ Brown allegedly asked Lewis about the source of her cash. (Compl. ¶ 8.)

Plaintiff left the police station with her cash and proceeded to a bank to exchange her small bills for large bills. MDJ Brown allegedly alerted Bensalem Police, who followed Plaintiff to the bank. After leaving the bank, police stopped her vehicle and seized the cash and her purse. Plaintiff returned to the police station to retrieve her property, learned that her purse had been searched without her consent, and that the $10,000 was seized for investigation and as evidence. Plaintiff was never charged or arrested. She received a property receipt for the cash, but the cash was never returned to her. (Compl. ¶ 9.)

Plaintiff filed an earlier civil action, Lewis v. Bensalem Township Police Department, Civ. A. No. 10-4966 (E.D. Pa.), seeking damages from the Township of Bensalem, the Bensalem Police Department and the individual officers involved in the seizure. Plaintiff alleges that on February 4, 2011, during the course of that lawsuit, she learned that her funds had been turned over to Defendant Heckler on October 9, 2008, and remained in the Defendant's forfeiture account. (Compl. ¶ 10.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has not filed a forfeiture action and that the two-year statute of limitations for such an action, see 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524(5), has now lapsed. (Compl. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff sent a letter on August 16, 2011, and sent an email on August 25, 2011, demanding Defendant return her property. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

The Complaint asserts causes of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 based upon a due process/unreasonable search and seizure theory (Count I), and a failure to train and supervise theory (Count II), and also asserts pendent state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion, invasion of privacy and violation of the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions' due process guarantees (Count III). In his Motion to Dismiss, Defendant argues that because (1) the Complaint is barred by the statute of limitations; (2) the Complaint is barred by the terms of a March 4, 2011 Release and Settlement Agreement that Plaintiff executed in the Bensalem action; (3) he is entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) Plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts to support the claims asserted, Plaintiff has failed to state claims upon which relief may be granted. In addition to responding to the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff has filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint. The proposed amendment would add two additional defendants, Assistant District Attorney Daniel B. Sweeney and the Buck County District Attorney's Office.


A. Due ...

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