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Robert Leone v. Towanda Borough

July 3, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 15) filed by Commonwealth Defendants.*fn1 Robert Leone alleges he was severely battered and assaulted when he was arrested and subsequently detained on the evening of March 8, 2010 and the morning of March 9, 2010 by various Pennsylvania State Police employees and Towanda Borough Patrolmen. Commonwealth Defendants have moved to dismiss Mr. Leone's due process claims (Counts V-VII) and his state law claims for assault, battery, and concerted tortious conduct (Counts IX-XII). Commonwealth Defendants argue that Mr. Leone's due process claims must be dismissed because they duplicate his Fourth Amendment claims. Moreover, Commonwealth Defendants assert that they are entitled to sovereign immunity for the state law tort claims. Because Mr. Leone sufficiently alleges that his seizure ended and pre-trial detention began while in the custody of the Pennsylvania State Police on March 9, 2010, Commonwealth Defendants' motion to dismiss the Fourteenth Amendment claims will be denied. And, because Mr. Leone adequately alleges that Commonwealth Defendants attacked him without intending to perform the business of their employer, Commonwealth Defendants' motion to dismiss the state law claims based on sovereign immunity will also be denied.

I. Background

The facts as alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows: On March 8, 2010, Mr. Leone decided to go for a scenic drive through the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. (Compl., ¶ 23.) Unbeknownst to Mr. Leone, his vehicle matched the description of a vehicle involved in a minor traffic accident. (Id. at ¶ 25.) As he had no reason to believe his vehicle was suspected of being involved in a traffic accident, Mr. Leone failed to stop his vehicle even after a Pennsylvania State Police car pulled behind him with its lights and sirens activated. (Id. at ¶ 25.) Shortly thereafter, two additional Pennsylvania State Police cars joined the low speed pursuit. (Id. at ¶ 27.) At the same time, Corporal Stipcak and Trooper Knock placed stop sticks in the road to disable Mr. Leone's vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 28.) After Mr. Leone ran over the stop sticks, Corporal Stipcak joined the low speed pursuit. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.) Ultimately, at approximately 9:00 p.m., Colonel Stipcak intentionally rammed Mr. Leone's vehicle off the road, which resulted in the two vehicles being wedged together preventing Mr. Leone from exiting his vehicle through the driver's side door. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-34.)

Mr. Leone's stopped vehicle was quickly surrounded by the Troopers. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Corporal Stipcak then climbed the hood of Mr. Leone's vehicle and began shouting at Mr. Leone to exit the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 37.) Corporal Stipcak, however, did not direct Mr. Leone how to exit the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 38.) Although Mr. Leone remained calmly seated with his hands in clear view of the Troopers, Colonel Stipcak shot him multiple times with a Taser device through the vehicle's open T-top. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40.) Mr. Leone was then forcibly removed from the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 41.) Once outside of the vehicle, Mr. Leone was repeatedly struck in the head, and he was kicked and punched even though he was face down on the ground. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43.) Colonel Stipcak also jumped from the hood of Mr. Leone's vehicle directly onto his back, driving his boots into Mr. Leone's body. (Id. at ¶ 44.) Mr. Leone's beating was so brutal that Trooper Renfer fractured his own hand when punching Mr. Leone in the face. (Id. at ¶ 47.)

Mr. Leone was then escorted to the rear of the Pennsylvania State Police vehicles so the attack would not be captured on the police vehicles' dashboard cameras. (Id. at ¶ 50.) Once off camera, Mr. Leone was further beaten, abused, hog-tied, and placed in the rear of a Pennsylvania State Police vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 53.)

A short time later, an ambulance arrived at the scene of the accident to treat Trooper Renfer's fractured hand. (Id. at ¶ 57.) The paramedics, however, were not permitted to treat Mr. Leone. (Id. at ¶ 58.) Instead, he was driven to Memorial Hospital in a Pennsylvania State Police vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 59.) Mr. Leone arrived at the hospital at approximately 10:20 p.m. (Id. at ¶ 61.) While Mr. Leone was at the hospital, Defendants continued to use the Taser on him and beat him while he was lying on a hospital bed. (Id. at ¶¶ 64-66.)

At approximately 12:45 a.m., Mr. Leone was released from the hospital and he was transferred to the Pennsylvania State Police facility in Towanda, Pennsylvania ("Towanda Station"). (Id. at ¶ 69.) While at Towanda Station, the Commanding Officer observed one or more individuals use unlawful force against Mr. Leone, as he was further beaten and abused. (Id. at ¶¶ 70-72.) In addition, another Trooper threatened to kill or permanently injure Mr. Leone. (Id. at ¶ 73.)

Thereafter, Corporal Stipcak and other Troopers arranged for Mr. Leone to be arraigned via videoconference in order to conceal his extensive injuries. (Id. at ¶ 74.) For some unknown reason, however, the videoconference equipment experienced a technical failure. (Id.) After this technical failure, Mr. Leone was again shot with Tasers and beaten. (Id. at ¶ 75.)

Due to the technical problems with the videoconference equipment, Commonwealth Defendants decided to transport Mr. Leone to the Bradford County Correctional Facility where he could be arraigned via videoconference. (Id. at ¶ 76.)

As Mr. Leone was escorted out of the Towanda Station, he attempted to flee from custody. (Id. at ¶ 77.) However, as Mr. Leone's legs were shackled, his attempted escape was quickly thwarted by Trooper Burian, who tackled Mr. Leone and sprayed him in the face, eyes, and mouth with pepper spray. (Id. at ¶¶ 78-79.) And, while he was on the ground, Mr. Leone was hit multiple times with a collapsible metal baton. (Id. at ¶ 80.)

At approximately 5:30 a.m., Mr. Leone was taken to Memorial Hospital for the second time in a span of seven hours. (Id. at ¶¶ 84-85.) Mr. Leone had a laceration on his right eyelid and multiple bruises on his back and the rear of his extremities. (Id. at ¶ 87.) Mr. Leone also possessed signs indicative of a closed head injury. ( ¶ 88.) Although hospital personnel noted that Mr. Leone was shaking and disoriented, Corporal Stipcak, Trooper Burian, and others removed him from the hospital at 6:15 a.m. (Id. at ¶¶ 90-91.) Mr. Leone was then transported to the Bradford County Correctional Facility. (Id. at ¶ 95.)

On March 7, 2012, Mr. Leone commenced this action against Commonwealth Defendants, Towanda Borough, and two Towanda Borough Patrolman, John Werner and David Lantz. (Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 7-19.) Commonwealth Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss on May 23, 2012. The ...

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