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Sam Hargrove, et al v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

May 16, 2012


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


May ____, 2012

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint by Defendant, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 3.) Upon careful consideration of Defendant's submissions, and for the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion will be granted.


Pro se Plaintiffs Sam Hargrove, Frank Campbell, Annette Carter, and Tanya Bates initially filed this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County naming as Defendants the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ("Defendant Commonwealth" or "the Commonwealth"), the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, and Pennsylvania State Police Troopers Jamal Pratt, Juan Andrews, and Corporal Gant (collectively, the "Defendant Troopers"). (Doc. 1 at 8.) To date, only the Commonwealth has been served with the Complaint. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their constitutional rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, by subjecting them to a warrantless search, false arrest, and false detention. Plaintiffs also allege libel, slander, and infliction of emotional distress under Pennsylvania state law. (Doc. 1.) On December 21, 2011, the Commonwealth removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. (Doc. 1 at 6.) The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has original jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343, over these claims. In lieu of an Answer to Plaintiffs' Complaint, Defendant Commonwealth filed the present motion, seeking to dismiss the Complaint as against them, asserting that Plaintiff had not adequately supported its claims. (Doc. 3.) Although Defendant Commonwealth filed its Motion on December 23, 2011, to date, Plaintiffs have failed to respond to the Motion. Therefore, the Court treats Defendant's Motion as unopposed.


The facts, construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, are as follows. On June 30, 2008, Pennsylvania State Troopers Jamal Pratt and Juan Andrews entered the premises of Rockland Auto Sales and requested hundreds of files pursuant to an investigation they were conducting on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. (Doc. 1 at 12.) The following morning, at approximately 9:30 AM on July 1, 2008, Troopers Pratt and Andrews returned to Rockland Auto Sales with Corporal Gant demanding that Plaintiffs produce certain business records. (Doc. 1 at 13.) Plaintiffs complied with all the officers' document requests. (Doc. 1 at 13.)

According to Plaintiff Hargrove, Defendant Gant asked Plaintiff Hargrove to explain how Rockland Auto Sales was able to sell such a large quantity of vehicle tags. (Doc. 1 at 13.) Plaintiff Hargrove informed Defendant Gant that, in addition to selling cars, Rockland Auto Sales is also a vehicle tag agency. (Doc. 1 at 13.) Defendant Pratt allegedly took all of the dealerships' tags and "made" Plaintiffs Hargrove and Campbell sign a paper relinquishing their rights to those tags. (Doc. 1 at 13.) Defendant Corporal Gant next ordered Defendants Pratt and Andrews to place the female employees under arrest. (Doc. 1 at 13.) When Plaintiff Hargrove inquired why only the female employees were being arrested, Defendant Corporal Gant allegedly ordered Defendants Pratt and Andrews to arrest the men for "criminal conspiracy." (Doc. 1 at 13.)

At approximately 10:30 AM that morning, the Defendant Troopers transported Plaintiffs from Rockland Auto Sales to the Pennsylvania State Police, where Plaintiffs were allegedly handcuffed to a wooden bench until approximately 6:00 PM. (Doc. 1 at 13.) Plaintiff Hargrove claims that during that time he was not permitted to contact his attorney or make a phone call. (Doc. 1 at 13.) At approximately 6:00 PM, the Defendant Troopers transferred Plaintiffs to the Philadelphia Police Department ("PPD"). (Doc. 1 at 14.) As Plaintiffs were escorted out of the building, television reporters and news crew were assembled to question Plaintiffs about their arrest. (Doc. 1 at 13.)

Plaintiffs spent the night of July 1, 2008 in the custody of the PPD. (Doc. 1 at 14.) On July 2, 2008, Plaintiffs learned they were individually being charged with 610 counts each for forgery, tampering with public records, criminal conspiracy, "id-writing," issuing fraudulent title registration insurance, misapplying entrusted government property, and submitting false documents to authorities. (Doc. 1 at 14.) As a result, each Plaintiff was charged with approximately 4200 counts, with the exception of Annette Carter who was charged an additional 610 counts for not being a certified notary public. (Doc. 1 at 14.) At the bail hearing on July 2, 2008, the presiding judge released Plaintiffs on their own recognizance. (Doc. 1 at 14.)

As a result of this incident, Plaintiffs complain to have suffered emotional distress as a result of their fear of going to jail for committing alleged frauds on the public. (Doc. 1 at 14.) Plaintiffs also claim that Defendants caused them to suffer embarrassment by arranging to have a television news conference during their transfer from the Pennsylvania State Police to the Philadelphia Police Department. (Doc. 1 at 14.) Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants subjected them to libel and slander by arresting them, without probable cause, for the sole purpose of injuring Plaintiffs' business and "good name." (Doc. 1 at 14.) Finally, Plaintiffs claim to have suffered more than twenty-four hours of false imprisonment as a result of "malicious prosecution," which they substantiate by pointing out that the judge found insufficient evidence to proceed to trial. (Doc. 1 at 14.) For these alleged injuries, Plaintiffs ask this Court to rule in their favor and award them appropriate monetary damages. (Doc. 1 at 14.)


On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will ultimately prevail. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer 468 U.S. 183 (1984); Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000).

While a court will accept well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of a motion to dismiss, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The United States Supreme Court has 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 a cause of action's elements will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Such allegations are "not entitled to the assumption of truth" and must be disregarded for purposes of resolving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). In Twombly the Court made clear 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 ...

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