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Gary A. Adams, Denise Adams, Shaquel Adams Riley v. Karen Springmeyer

May 22, 2012

GARY A. ADAMS, DENISE ADAMS, SHAQUEL ADAMS RILEY, TAILON ADAMS, GARY A. ADAMS, ON BEHALF OF BRYA ADAMS, A MINOR, AND SHAQUEL ADAMS RILEY ON BEHALF OF HER MINOR CHILDREN, SAVON RILEY, SHANE ADAMS, SURRON ADAMS, STEFON ADAMS, TERREL JACKSON AND SERENITY WEST
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
KAREN SPRINGMEYER, JOHN DOE 1-11,
DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, Plaintiffs Gary A. Adams, individually and on behalf of Brya Adams, a minor, Denise Adams, and Shaquel Adams Riley, individually and on behalf of her minor children Savon Riley, Shane Adams, Surron Adams, Stefon Adams, Terrel Jackson, and Serenity West (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring section 1983*fn1 and Bivens*fn2 claims against Defendants Karen Springmeyer ("Defendant Springmeyer" or "Springmeyer") and John Does 1-11.*fn3

(Docket No. 18). Plaintiffs' claims arise out of their Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable searches, seizures, and excessive force.*fn4 (See id.). As members of a "federal, state, or local task force," Defendants entered Plaintiffs' home in the early morning of March 3, 2011 to execute an arrest warrant on an individual who had not resided there for almost two years. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 24). Defendants broke down the doors of Plaintiffs' home, forced Plaintiffs outside by shouting profanities and pointing assault weapons at them, and refused to answer any of their questions until they had assembled on the sidewalk. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 11-21). Plaintiffs seek to recover monetary damages, including compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an award of costs and attorneys' fees for the alleged violations of their Fourth Amendment rights. (Id. at 8).

Defendant Springmeyer, the only named defendant and purported supervisor of the task force, moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on several grounds: (1) Plaintiffs cannot bring a section 1983 claim against her because she was not acting under color of state law; (2) the doctrine of respondeat superior precludes her from liability under Bivens; (3) the Amended Complaint does not state enough facts to attribute any use of excessive force to her; and (4) she is entitled to qualified immunity. (Docket No. 21 at ¶¶ 1-5; see also Docket Nos. 22, 28). Springmeyer also argues that the Court cannot consider Plaintiffs' argument that she failed to intervene in the John Doe Defendants' use of excessive force because this argument was raised in Plaintiffs' briefing and not their Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 28 at 5). Upon consideration of all the parties' submissions and for the reasons outlined herein, Defendant Springmeyer's Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Statement of Facts*fn5

A drug task force supervised by Defendant Springmeyer forcibly entered Plaintiffs' home to execute an arrest warrant for Sondra Hunter, a suspect who was entirely unrelated to Plaintiffs. (Docket No. 18 at ¶¶ 1, 7). Plaintiffs claim that Defendants knew or had reason to know that Hunter did not reside at the home, as she had moved out of the house several months before the Plaintiffs leased the same residence on June 5, 2010. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 11-12). Living in the home at the time of the incident were Gary A. Adams, his wife Denise Adams, and their minor daughter, Bryna Adams. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-4). Tailon Adams, Shaquel Adams Riley, and Ms. Riley's minor children, Savon Riley, Shane Adams, Surron Adams, Stefon Adams, Terrel Jackson, and Serenity West, also resided in the home at that time. (Id. at ¶¶ 5-6). When the incident occurred, Plaintiffs ranged in ages from three to fifty-eight.*fn6 (Id. at ¶ 1). The Amended Complaint also states that Plaintiffs are "law abiding citizens of the United States, who have no record of criminal activity." (Id.).

At approximately 5:30 a.m. on March 3, 2011, Plaintiff Gary Adams was awakened by screams from the first floor of his home. (Id. at ¶ 13). When he descended the stairs from the second floor to the first floor, he observed a battering ram "violently" knock down the front door, and Defendants "stormed into the house pointing assault rifles at [him] and plaintiff Denise Adams and Shane Adams[,] who were on the first floor" at the time. (Id. at ¶ 14). Defendants then aimed red laser targeting beams at Plaintiff Gary Adams's head, which "plac[ed] [him] in immediate fear that he was about to be shot in the head." (Id. at ¶ 15). Plaintiffs did not know that Defendants were law enforcement officers and instead believed that Defendants were "criminals breaking into their home in a 'home invasion.'" (Id. at ¶ 16).

Plaintiffs claim that approximately eleven individuals, presumably John Does 1-11,*fn7 entered the home through both the front and back doors. (Id. at ¶ 17). Defendants were "dressed in tactical ninja[-]like uniforms"*fn8 and shouted profanities at Plaintiffs, including "get the fuck down on the ground" and "shut the fuck up." (Id.). While Defendants pointed assault rifles at Plaintiffs, Defendants gathered Plaintiffs on the first floor of the house but refused to answer any questions regarding why they had broken into their home. (Id. at ¶ 18). Defendants then escorted Plaintiffs outside to the sidewalk even though Plaintiffs were dressed only in their bedtime clothing or underwear.*fn9 (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20). It was "freezing cold" outside at the time of this incident. (Id. at ¶ 1). In the course of the home invasion, Defendants also searched all of the rooms in Plaintiffs' home. (Id. at ¶ 27).

"At some point [during the raid]," Defendant Springmeyer identified herself as the supervising agent and explained that Defendants had entered Plaintiffs' home to execute an arrest warrant on Hunter. (Id. at ¶ 21). Plaintiffs state that "[a]t all times relevant hereto, [D]efendant Springmeyer participated in[,] directed, approved, and/or with knowledge of its unconstitutionality acquiesced in the conduct and actions, of other law enforcement officials, including ones acting as federal agents and/or ones acting under color of state law." (Id. at ¶ 22).

Plaintiff Gary Adams told Springmeyer that they were not associated with Hunter and that she lived in their home before they rented it. (Id. at ¶ 23). Furthermore, Plaintiffs claim that "[D]efendants knew or had reason to believe that [Plaintiffs] were the actual residents at the address appearing on any arrest warrant and likewise knew or had reason to believe that

[P]laintiffs had no association whatsoever with the alleged suspect [Hunter]." (Id. at ¶ 24). Plaintiffs state that they "openly occupied and resided" in their home, which "was easily verifiable by anyone interested in determining who resided in such property." (Id. at ¶ 25).

As a consequence of this incident, Plaintiffs plan to vacate their home, as "their continued presence therein serves as a constant reminder of the events" that occurred.*fn10 (Id. at ¶ 28).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their initial Complaint on June 15, 2011. (Docket No. 1). Thereafter, Defendant Springmeyer filed a Motion to Dismiss and accompanying Brief in Support. (Docket Nos. 9, 10). The Court construed Defendant Springmeyer's Motion to Dismiss as a motion to amend Plaintiffs' Complaint to state their claims with further specificity. (Docket No. 15). Said motion to amend was granted, and Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on January 30, 2012. (Docket No. 18).

On February 29, 2012, Springmeyer filed a second Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support. (Docket Nos. 21, 22). Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition on March 13, 2012. (Docket No. 24).*fn11 On March 26, 2012, the Court convened a hearing on Defendant Springmeyer's Motion to Dismiss. (Docket No. 26). During this hearing, the Court heard argument, and counsel for Defendant Springmeyer orally moved for the opportunity to file a Reply brief. (Id.). The Court granted said oral motion and ordered Defendant Springmeyer to file a Reply Brief and Plaintiffs to file a Sur-Reply Brief. (Docket No. 27). Defendant Springmeyer filed her Reply on April 13, 2012, and one week later, Plaintiffs filed their Sur-Reply. (Docket Nos. 28, 29). The transcript of the March 26, 2012 hearing has been produced and considered by the Court. (Docket No. 30).

Accordingly, Defendant Springmeyer's Motion to Dismiss is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint. 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. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932 (1986)) (alterations in original).

The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.As the Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, however, the "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. 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." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). This standard requires showing "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). "This 'plausibility' determination will be 'a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949).

After Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that a district court must conduct the following analysis to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:

First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Finally, "where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief."

Santiago v. Warminster Twp.,629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1947, 1950); see also Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 2012 WL 296904 (Apr. 2, ...


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