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William Gleason, et al v. East Norriton Township

July 24, 2012

WILLIAM GLEASON, ET AL., P:L A I N T I F F S ,
v.
EAST NORRITON TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before this Court are the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Pasquale, Cafrey, Warner, Ladson and East Norriton Township (Doc. No. 5), the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Potera (Doc. No. 6), and Plaintiffs' Responses in opposition thereto (Doc. Nos. 7 and 9). For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum, the Motions to Dismiss are granted in part and denied in part.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff William Gleason owned and operated Aamco Transmissions (aka Dannicole, LLC). In or around September 2009, Lillian Foreman's minivan was towed to Aamco for transmission repairs at her request. Plaintiff agreed to fix the minivan using parts he had previously purchased and kept in stock at his garage. While fixing the vehicle, Plaintiff stored the vehicle at the garage, charging fifty dollars per day for storage over a period of thirty days. Based on the costs of parts, labor, and storage, Plaintiff acquired a property interest under Pennsylvania law in the form of a repairman's lien and therefore was entitled to hold the vehicle as collateral pending payment by the minivan's owner. The alleged value of the lien was $3,009.33.

On October 5, 2009, Defendants East Norriton Police Officers (Warner, Ladson, Carfrey, and their sergeant, Pasquale) (hereinafter collectively "East Norriton Officers") arrived at the Aamco station and, despite the outstanding debt and without compensation for the work already performed, demanded that Plaintiff relinquish the minivan to Palmer Ringcomp, an individual who was allegedly not the registered owner. Plaintiff protested the officers' demand, explaining his legal right to maintain possession of the vehicle pending payment of the owner's debt. The police officers then called Defendant Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Potere from Plaintiff's garage. ADA Potere advised the officers to arrest Plaintiff, seize the vehicle, and deliver it to Mr. Ringcomp. Plaintiff was charged with unlawful taking and receiving stolen property. He later pled guilty to disorderly conduct to "avoid the time, expense, and embarrassment that would result from a prolonged criminal prosecution." Compl. at ¶ 26.

Plaintiff claims that as a result of the arrest, he suffered intense emotional distress that led him to believe he was having a heart attack. Though Plaintiff does not specify when, at some point, he was transported to the Montgomery Hospital Emergency Room for evaluation and treatment. As a result, he incurred $4,646.90 in medical bills.

Plaintiff has brought this civil action alleging deprivation of his constitutional rights under the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by the East Norriton Township, its officers and ADA Potere. In addition to his various Section 1983 claims, Plaintiff alleges Pennsylvania state law claims for intentional interference with contractual relations and conversion. Both pending Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) address the same complaint and include largely the same legal arguments, and as such we consider them together.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The standard of review for a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss requires that the "courts 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." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). "A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ P. 8(a)(2). Claimants must plead enough facts to demonstrate that their claim is facially plausible; "[t]hreadbare recitals" of the elements of the claim and "mere conclusory statements" will not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This "does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage," but instead "simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of the necessary elements and that a claim to relief is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). "Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Id. at 563.

DISCUSSION

I. Claims under Section 1983 Against Defendants East Norriton Officers and ADA Potere

(A) First Amendment Retaliation

Plaintiff argues that he was arrested and prosecuted in retaliation for "peacefully asserting his right to hold the vehicle." Compl. at ¶¶ 43-45. In order to sustain a claim for First Amendment retaliation under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) that plaintiff engaged in constitutionally protected speech; (2) that the government retaliated in such a way as to cause a person of ordinary firmness to curtail the exercise of his or her First Amendment rights; and (3) that there is a causal connection between the retaliatory behavior of the government and the protected speech. Ashton v. City of Uniontown, 459 Fed. Appx. 185, 187 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Thomas v. Independence Twp., 463 F.3d 285, 296 (3d Cir. 2006).

However, Plaintiff's claim is barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). In Heck, the Supreme Court held that when a judgment in favor of a § 1983 claim would call into question the validity of an outstanding criminal conviction, the claim must be dismissed as not cognizable. Id. at 486-87. Regardless of Plaintiff's reasons for pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, considering his § 1983 claim for First Amendment retaliation would require this Court to determine whether his conduct towards the Defendant officers was constitutionally protected speech. Such a determination would "necessarily impugn the validity of his underlying conviction" for disorderly conduct. See Ashton, 459 Fed. Appx. at 188 (quoting Gilles v. Davis, 427 F.3d 197, 209 (3d Cir. 2005)). If successful, Plaintiff's claim would ...


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