The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge
Plaintiff is Timothy M. Thomas, a trooper with the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP). He filed this civil-rights action arising from civil proceedings his wife initiated against him for protection from abuse (PFA) and a state-police internal-affairs investigation initiated against him based on the PFA charges. We are considering three motions to dismiss filed on behalf of (1) defendant, Diana Thomas, Plaintiff's wife; (2) defendant, David M. Dougherty, Diana Thomas's lawyer in the PFA proceedings; and (3) defendants, Daniel Diehl and Kathy Jo Winterbottom, Pennsylvania State troopers.
In considering a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6), "[w]e 'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoted case omitted).
A complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Nonetheless, a complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955 at 1974. "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, and a court "'is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).
With this standard in mind, we set forth the background to this litigation, as Plaintiff alleges it.
Plaintiff alleges as follows. On December 21, 2009, Diana Thomas demanded that Plaintiff leave the marital home. (Compl. ¶ 7). Plaintiff complied and his wife then contacted defendant Diehl who was on duty at the state police barracks at the time. (Id. ¶ 9). Diehl and Diana Thomas knew each other. (Id.). "With absolutely no reason to do so, but intending to harm and injure Timothy Thomas for whom he possessed considerable subjective animus, Cpl. Daniel Diehl agreed with Diana that he would tell Diana Thomas to flee the residence and go to another location (namely her parents' home)." (Id. ¶ 11).
After Plaintiff left the residence, Diehl, "vindictive[ly] and "intending to harm the plaintiff in his personal familial relationships, called the Upper Uwchlan Township Police Department and told them that plaintiff was separated from his wife, that his wife had kicked him out," and that Plaintiff "was a 'loose cannon,' and a 'prime candidate for murder/suicide.'" (Id. ¶ 12). "As [a] consequence, the Upper Uwchlan Police Department stationed officers around the residence of Diana Thomas's parents serving Diehl's intentional effort to create an incident and further humiliate and embarrass Timothy." (Id. ¶ 14).
"Diehl engaged in a policy designed to divide the Thomas[e]s and destroy the relationship that held the family together." (Id. ¶ 17). Apparently in pursuit of this policy, he "intentionally created an inaccurate and pernicious group of communications and accusations that were intended to create a matrix of domestic relations impediments to communication and any possible resolution of the differences between the Thomas[es]." (Id. ¶ 18).
Diana Thomas and her lawyer, defendant Dougherty, used these communications and accusations ("Diehl's unlawfully engendered words and actions"), "even after they were totally debunked by" the State Police, to file false PFA petitions in the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, Pennsylvania, "forcing [Plaintiff] to hearings and depriving him of his children." (Id. ¶¶ 19, 29 and 31).
The PFA proceedings apparently triggered an investigation by the state police's internal affairs division (IAD). (Id. ¶ 24). State police officers attended his domestic-relations hearings, gathering information on him. (Id.). In February 2009, Plaintiff was approached by an IAD officer. (Id. ¶ 21). Plaintiff pleaded with the officer to help him, that he could not see his child because of what, as Plaintiff said, "you guys are doing. It's being used against me in court." (Id. ¶ 23). The officer "took this information back to his IAD superiors." (Id.).
Through a subordinate officer, defendant Winterbottom told Plaintiff "that if [he] 'keeps asking questions,' it can be construed as 'interference with an investigation,' and this included instructions that he was not allowed to ask questions in putting information together for purposes of seeing his kids and for use in defending himself in his domestic court conflicts." (Id. ¶ 25).
"Winterbottom followed an intentional strategy of delaying and extending IAD investigations into the plaintiff." (Id. ¶ 29). Diana Thomas knew this and "in turn based her domestic relations attacks on the plaintiff in Chester County upon the false and misleading PSP reports and information generated by Diehl and others in the Pennsylvania State police." (Id.). In turn, Winterbottom waited, anticipating decisions in the state court damaging to Plaintiff which could be used in "administrative actions against Thomas seeking to damage and destroy his career." (Id.).
"Only the legal thoroughness and integrity of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas protected the plaintiff from the abuses of the Pennsylvania State police and Diana Thomas. The Chester County courts after appropriate evaluation dismissed the false and misleading PFA's and other false charges against Trooper Thomas." (Id. ¶ 31). The court "totally and completely vindicated [him] regarding the dishonest and misleading PFA's . . . ." (Id. ¶ 32). Nonetheless, "defendants Thomas and Dougherty . . . continu[e] to use the false and scurrilous accusations that Diehl put in his reports to the local police even though both of these defendants know that Diehl's representations were totally and completely false." (Id. ¶ 31). And "[h]e [has] still not been able to see his children on a fair basis." (Id. ¶ 32). "He has not seen his son Ethan since September 29, 2010 because of adverse court orders based upon misinformation provided by the defendants Diana Thomas and David Dougherty." (Id.).
"Diana Thomas had her children electronically eavesdrop and record conversations with their father Trooper Thomas in violation of both state and federal wiretapping laws. Diana Thomas has intentionally destroyed, with the help of the Pennsylvania State police, the familial relationship between Trooper Thomas and his children." (Id. ¶ 30).
In Count I, Plaintiff sues defendant Diehl for a violation of his substantive due process rights. Plaintiff alleges that "Diehl intentionally created documents, initiated communications, and encouraged hostile actions in third persons such as other police officers for the sole purpose of destroying the plaintiff's private familial relationships, including his marriage, and depriving him of the company and society of his children." (Id. ¶ 37). "Diehl knew and intended that his dishonest and damaging actions and words would cause a profusion of consequences damaging to Thomas and his federally guaranteed familial rights." (Id. ¶ 39).
In Count II, Plaintiff sues defendant Winterbottom for a violation of his right of access to the courts, his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and his procedural and substantive due process rights because her actions "prevented Thomas from properly working on his legal rights to see his children." (Id. ¶ 41).
In Count III, Plaintiff sues Diana Thompson and Dougherty for abuse of process under the Fourteenth Amendment, for a violation of Plaintiff's right of access to the courts, for a violation of his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and for unlawful use of civil proceedings. These claims are based on their alleged knowing use of Diehl's allegedly false statements "in various court proceedings" against Plaintiff, including his statement to the Upper Uwchlan Township Police Department that Plaintiff was a loose cannon and a prime candidate for murder/suicide. (Id. ¶ 43). These defendants continue to use these statements in court ...