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Jeff Lavalliere v. the City of Philadelphia

June 29, 2012

JEFF LAVALLIERE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Jeff Lavalliere asserts a wide-ranging conspiracy against him to deprive him of his Second Amendment right to carry a firearm. His Complaint focuses on three incidents between March 2009 and May 2011, in which numerous Philadelphia police officers illegally stopped, searched, assaulted, and filed false charges against him. The City of Philadelphia (the "City") also has a policy, according to Lavalliere, to deprive him, and others like him, from possessing firearms, though he has a valid Florida firearms license. He brings a plethora of federal and state law claims against numerous Defendants. Defendants have filed a partial motion to dismiss, which the Court grants for the reasons that follow.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Lavalliere lives in Philadelphia and, as a result of his work as security guard, carries a firearm. (Compl. ¶¶ 6, 24.) On March 26, 2009, Lavalliere was certified as an agent pursuant to the Lethal Weapons Training Act, also known as Act 235. (Id. ¶ 23.) On November 29, 2010, Lavalliere was re-issued a license to carry a concealed weapon by the State of Florida. (Id. ¶ 21.) According to Plaintiff, in 2001, Pennsylvania began recognizing Florida firearm licenses. (Id. ¶ 20.) He also claims that the City "has a long and unsuccessful history of attempting to regulate lawful gun ownership" contrary to Pennsylvania law, which prevents municipalities from regulating the lawful ownership and possession of firearms when carried for purposes not prohibited by Pennsylvania law. (Id. ¶ 25.)

Lavalliere claims that Defendants Philadelphia Police Department and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey maintain a documented custom, policy, and practice of unlawfully seizing firearms from licensed individuals such as Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 31-34.) Lavalliere points to three incidents that demonstrate Defendants desire to trample the Second Amendment rights of individuals in Philadelphia who possess firearms legally licensed in other states. The first incident, which occurred on March 25, 2009, involved Lavalliere being unconstitutionally stopped, seized, and searched by Defendant Police Officers Velez and Cartagena while Plaintiff was on his way to work. (Id. ¶ 40.) On that date, Officers Velez and Cartagena beat Lavalliere, searched his car without a warrant, and ripped apart the interior of his car. (Id. ¶¶ 43-45.) They also unlawfully seized a handgun from Lavalliere that he was lawfully carrying. (Id. ¶ 47.) To cover up their actions, Officers Velez and Cartagena filed false and malicious criminal charges against Plaintiff, costing him thousands of dollars in legal fees and his freedom. (Id. ¶¶ 48-51.) Though Lavalliere ultimately defended himself against the charges filed against him, Officers Velez and Cartagena "maliciously and recklessly caused information to be entered into the Commonwealth's firearm licensing registry making it appear that Mr. Lavalliere's firearm license had been revoked," thus preventing Plaintiff from buying a new gun. (Id. ¶¶ 52-53.) Though Plaintiff has demanded his gun back, he still is awaiting the results of an investigation as to whether it should be returned to him. (Id. ¶¶ 57-58.)

The second incident occurred on November 13, 2010, again as Lavalliere was on his way to work. (Id. ¶ 62.) The stop of Lavalliere was pretextual and part of a policy to unlawfully stop African-American men in Philadelphia. (Id. ¶¶ 62, 66.) During the stop, Defendant Police Officer Johnson*fn1 told Plaintiff that his license to carry a firearm had been revoked, though Plaintiff possessed both a valid gun license and a valid Act 235 permit. (Id. ¶¶ 66-67.) Lavalliere was forced to surrender his firearm, his Florida gun license, and his Act 235 permit. (Id. ¶ 68.) He was arrested and driven to the 15th District Precinct, where he was forced to "walk through a gauntlet of police officers who hurled verbal insults and profanity at Mr. Lavalliere and made Mr. Lavalliere fear for his life." (Id. ¶¶ 67-71.) Officer Johnson also illegally searched Plaintiff's wallet and removed his concealed weapon firearm license issued by the Florida. (Id. ¶¶ 72-73.) Lavalliere was released after more than five hours. (Id. ¶ 75.) Plaintiff has demanded the return of his items and filed a detailed complaint with the Philadelphia Police Department. (Id. ¶¶ 78-83.) To date, his property has not been returned, and his complaint was denied. (Id. ¶¶ 78, 87.) Defendant Detective Vincent Guarna also engaged in unlawful activities during this second incident. (Id. ¶¶ 74, 76, 77, 81.)

The third incident occurred on May 21, 2011, while Lavalliere was working as a security agent. (Id. ¶ 92.) On that day, Defendant Officers Monahan and Rivera falsely and maliciously arrested Plaintiff and wrongfully and maliciously accused him of crimes. (Id. ¶ 92.) Although Officers Monahan and Rivera knew that Lavalliere had a valid Act 235 permit and a valid Florida gun permit, they approached Plaintiff with their guns drawn and threatened his life. (Id. ¶¶ 96-97.) Lavalliere was placed in handcuffs and put into the back of a police car. (Id. ¶ 98.) Plaintiff was charged with three felonies and incarcerated for several days. (Id. ¶ 100.) Officers Monahan and Rivera also "wrongfully and maliciously took Mr. Lavalliere's firearm, ammunition, concealed weapons license and Act 235 Permit." (Id. ¶ 101.) He was eventually found not guilty of the charges brought against him, but he lost his job and remains unemployed to this day. (Id. ¶¶ 102-03.) He also has not had his gun, ammunition, concealed weapons license, or permit returned to him. (Id. ¶ 104.)

The Complaint, filed on March 15, 2012, asserts a litany of causes of action, including violations of Lavalliere's civil rights, including his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and his due process rights. He also claims Defendants conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights and accuses certain Defendants of failure to supervise and intervene, assault and battery, retaliation, invasion of privacy, false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers & Allied Craftsman Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs., 237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A court need not, however, credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" when deciding a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. Although the federal rules impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Simply reciting the elements will not suffice. Id. (concluding that pleading that offers labels and conclusions without further factual enhancement will not survive motion to dismiss); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has directed district courts to conduct a two-part analysis when faced with a 12(b)(6) motion. First, the legal elements and factual allegations of the claim should be separated, with the well-pleaded facts accepted as true but the legal conclusions disregarded. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court must make a commonsense determination of whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 211. If the court can only infer the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint must be dismissed because it has alleged-but has failed to show-that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id.

If the allegations in the complaint establish that the claims were brought outside the statute of limitations, the claims are subject to dismissal for failure to state a claim. White v. The Hon Co., Civ. A. No. 11-4919, 2012 WL 1286404, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 13, 2012); Stratton v. Nieves, Civ. A. No. 11-7410, 2012 WL 1156113, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 6, 2012) ("Generally, a statute of limitations defense must be raised in an answer, not under a Rule 12(b) motion. However, under the law of the Third Circuit, defendants may raise a limitations defense under Rule 12(b)(6) if 'the time alleged in the statement of a ...


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