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K.S.S v. Montgomery County Board of Commissioners

May 14, 2012


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


Currently pending before the Court is the Motion of Defendants Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth, and County of Montgomery (collectively hereinafter "the County Defendants" or "Defendants")*fn1 to Dismiss Counts V through VIII of Plaintiff K.S.S.'s Complaint.*fn2 For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


This action stems from an unfortunate series of events related to the sexual abuse of a minor, Plaintiff K.S.S.*fn3 In the summer of 2002, the County Defendants placed K.S.S., then a thirteen-year-old minor, in the foster care of Defendant Diamond, an adult male. (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 10.) According to Plaintiff, the County Defendants never disclosed to Plaintiff or his biological grandparents that Diamond was a pedophile. (Id. ¶ 12.) For several years thereafter, Diamond sexually abused, molested, and indecently assaulted K.S.S. (Id. ¶ 13.) Diamond engaged in the sexual assault of K.S.S. both individually and in concert with others. (Id.) According to the facts set forth in the Complaint, Diamond invited strange adult men that he met on the Internet to his residence for the purpose of "gang raping" K.S.S. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 33(m).) During these encounters, Diamond forced K.S.S. to engage in lewd sexual acts with the adult men, thereby exposing him to severe physical and mental harm. (Id. ¶ 33(a--n).) Diamond's live-in companion, "Alonzo," also participated in the sexual assault of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 14.)

In June of 2005, Alonzo reported the victimization of K.S.S. to the Upper Merion Police Department. (Id. ¶ 15.) Diamond was arrested and criminally charged with various crimes related to the sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, and corruption of minor K.S.S.. (Id. ¶ 16.) On August 7, 2006, Diamond pleaded guilty to several of the criminal charges before the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, and was sentenced to five to ten years of incarceration. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 18.) Diamond remains an inmate at the State Correctional Institute in Waymart, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff initiated the instant civil action by filing his Complaint on February 15, 2012, asserting four counts against the County Defendants: (1) violations of Plaintiff's civil rights secured by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Montgomery County Board of Commissioners (Count V); (2) violations of Plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment civil rights pursuant to § 1983 against Defendant Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth Services (Count VI); (3) violations of Plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment civil rights pursuant to § 1983 against Defendant County of Montgomery (Count VII); and (4) a violation of Plaintiff's civil rights related to the County's "special relationship" with Plaintiff, the County's creation of a "state created danger," and the County's municipal liability according to the Supreme Court's decision in Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978) (Count VIII). Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for these claims. On March 16, 2012, the County Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts V through VIII. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition on April 9, 2012. The Court will now consider the merits of the County Defendants' Motion.


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, 556 U.S. 662 (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 678. 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 678--79. Second, the Supreme Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679. "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).


The County Defendants move to dismiss Counts V through VIII of Plaintiff's Complaint for several reasons, including that: (1) Defendant Montgomery County Office of Children and Youth ("MCOCY") is not a legal entity subject to suit; (2) Plaintiff's claims against the Board of County Commissioners ("the Board of Commissioners") are duplicative of the claims against the County of Montgomery ("the County"); (3) Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts to state a plausible § 1983 action against the County Defendants; and (4) punitive damages are impermissible in § 1983 litigation. The Court considers each reason separately below.

A. MCOCY (Count VI)

Defendants assert that all claims asserted against MCOCY individually should be dismissed from suit because, as a mere department of the County as a whole, it is not a separate legal entity that is independently subject to suit. It is well established that arms of local municipalities-such as county departments and agencies like MCOCY-do not maintain an existence independent from the municipality. See Burton v. City of Phila., 121 F. Supp. 2d 810, 812 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (internal citations omitted); Irwin v. Borough of Darby, 937 F. Supp. 446, 450 (E.D. Pa. 1996). In his Response in Opposition, Plaintiff concedes this point. As such, Defendant MCOCY is dismissed as an independent defendant in the instant litigation, and Count VI is dismissed from the suit.

B. The Board of Commissioners (Count V)

Similarly, Defendants assert that Defendant the Board of Commissioners should likewise be dismissed from suit because the claims asserted against it are duplicative of those made against Defendant County of Montgomery. Specifically, Defendants allege that "when a Board of County Commissioners is sued but the County [itself] is not, courts rightfully treat the claim as one asserted, in substance, against the County." (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 10.)

When asserting claims against a government official pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the official may be sued in his official or individual capacity. "[O]fficial-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985); Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Suits against government officers in their official capacity therefore should be treated as suits against the government entity itself. Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25 (citing Graham, 473 U.S. at 166). On the other hand, individual capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon the individual officer named as a defendant in the legal action. Id. at 25.

Here, Plaintiff does not assert claims against or name any individual members of the Board of Commissioners in his Complaint and Response in Opposition. Rather, in Count V, Plaintiff generally alleges that the Board, and any of its affiliated "agents," "servants," "employees," or "independent contractors" violated his civil rights when they "failed to properly screen, monitor, investigate, supervise, and[ ] oversee" the foster care program that placed K.S.S. in Diamond's supposed "care." (Compl. ¶¶ 45, 49.) As such, it appears that Plaintiff is suing the Commissioners in their official capacity. The law is clear, however, that when claims are asserted against government officers in their official capacity, "[s]uch claims effectively merge with claims against, the real party in interest, [the] County[.]" Brown v. Montgomery Cnty., No. Civ.A.08-4259, 2010 WL 742818, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 24, 2010); see also Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471(1985) ("[A] judgment against a ...

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