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Joshua Benjamin, A Minor, By Thomas Benjamin and Janet v. James B. Fassnacht

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


August 1, 2012

JOSHUA BENJAMIN, A MINOR, BY THOMAS BENJAMIN AND JANET BENJAMIN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JAMES B. FASSNACHT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Joshua Benjamin, a minor, and his parents, Thomas and Janet Benjamin, allege that Defendants violated Joshua's due process rights when they subjected him to an unreasonable search and seizure, an unlawful detention, and an unlawful strip search. Plaintiffs seek money damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a state-law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Two of the Defendants, Pennsylvania State Police Officers James B. Fassnacht and Brian Bray, have moved to dismiss the claims asserted against them. *fn1 The motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The Complaint alleges the following facts. On July 2, 2009, Defendant Fassnacht responded to a call about an alleged incident between Joshua, who was then 12 years old, and his neighbors. *fn2 The next day, Fassnacht told Joshua's parents that charges would be filed at a later date. *fn3 On July 24, 2009, Fassnacht called Mr. Benjamin to advise him that a warrant had been issued for Joshua's arrest and threatened to arrest Mr. Benjamin if he did not cooperate. *fn4 That day, Mr. Benjamin brought Joshua to a Pennsylvania State Police Barracks, where Joshua was taken into custody by Defendants Fassnacht and Corporal Brian Bray. *fn5 Joshua was transported by Defendant Bray to the Lancaster County Juvenile Intervention Center. *fn6

While in the Intervention Center, Joshua was ordered by Defendants John and Jane Doe to remove all his clothes and was subjected to a strip search. *fn7 Joshua was held at the Intervention Center from Friday evening, July 24, 2009, until Monday morning, July 27, 2009. *fn8 After a hearing, Joshua was released to his parents without any restrictions. *fn9

Plaintiffs assert claims against Fassnacht and Bray in two counts of the Complaint. Count I alleges that Defendants Fassnacht and Bray violated Joshua's constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting and detaining him. *fn10 Count V alleges a state-law claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress by Janet and Thomas Benjamin against all Defendants. *fn11 Moving Defendants argue that the statute of limitations, the Eleventh Amendment, and the Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Statute bar the claims asserted against them.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Motions Filed Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)

Where a party asserts that the Eleventh Amendment of the United States of Constitution deprives a federal court of subject matter jurisdiction, "the motion may properly be considered a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)." *fn12 "At issue in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is the court's 'very power to hear the case.'" *fn13 Where a defendant does not challenge the truthfulness of the facts material to a jurisdictional analysis, a court evaluates the motion as a facial attack, accepting the factual allegations as true to determine whether the facts as alleged provide a basis for the court's subject matter jurisdiction. *fn14

B. Motions Filed Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is appropriate where a plaintiff's "plain statement" lacks enough substance to show that he is entitled to relief. *fn15 In determining whether a motion to dismiss should be granted, the court must consider only those facts alleged in the complaint, accepting the allegations as true and drawing all logical inferences in favor of the non-moving party. *fn16 Courts are not, however, bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. *fn17 Something more than a mere possibility of a claim must be alleged; rather plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." *fn18 The complaint must set forth "direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." *fn19 The court has no duty to "conjure up unpleaded facts that might turn a frivolous . . . action into a substantial one." *fn20

III. DISCUSSION

A. Statute of Limitations

Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations for personal-injury claims applies both to the § 1983 claims *fn21 and to the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. *fn22

Pennsylvania's tolling rules also apply. *fn23 Because all of the events at issue happened between July 2, 2009 and July 27, 2009, and the Complaint was not filed until February 3, 2012, the two-year limitations period bars the claims unless the running of the statute of limitations is tolled.

Under Pennsylvania law, a minor's claims are tolled until he or she turns eighteen, after which the applicable statute of limitation begins. *fn24 This suit was filed while Joshua is still a minor, so his claims are timely. The claims of the parents are tolled only if they are derivative of Joshua's claims. *fn25 If they are separate claims that may, or may not, succeed on their own merits, then they cannot benefit from tolling. *fn26 Thomas and Janet Benjamin have not alleged any violation of § 1983 on their own behalf, so as to assert a derivative claim, and as the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress may be brought separately of any claim of Joshua's, it is not derivative. *fn27 Because the Complaint is not clear as to whether Thomas and Janet Benjamin are attempting to assert a derivative claim, leave to amend will be granted.

B. The Eleventh Amendment Bars § 1983 Claims Against the Pennsylvania State Police Defendants in Their Official Capacities, but not in Their Individual Capacities Because Plaintiffs seek only money damages, and not injunctive relief, the Eleventh

Amendment bars a § 1983 claim against Defendant Trooper James B. Fassnacht and Defendant Corporal Brian Bray in their official capacities. *fn28 Eleventh Amendment immunity does not extend to claims brought against Defendants in their individual capacities. *fn29 Because it is not clear whether the suit has been brought against Defendants Fassnacht and Bray in their official or individual capacities, the Court will dismiss the § 1983 claims and grant Plaintiffs leave to amend, if appropriate, to allege a claim against these Defendants in their individual capacities. *fn30

C. Plaintiffs' State Law Claims of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress are Barred by Pennsylvania's Sovereign Immunity Clause Even if the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress were not time-barred, the

claim must be dismissed as to Fassnacht and Bray pursuant to Pennsylvania's Sovereign Immunity doctrine, which protects employees and agents of the state from damage claims if they were acting within the scope of their duties and the claim does not meet one of the statutorily enumerated exceptions. *fn31 This immunity applies to both negligent and intentional torts, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, and applies to claims asserted against officials in their individual capacities. *fn32 Thus, as the Complaint alleges that Fassnacht and Bray were employees of the state acting within the scope of their duties, and as there is no argument that one of the statutory exceptions applies, Count V must be dismissed as to these Defendants. *fn33

IV. CONCLUSION

The claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendants Fassnacht and Bray will be dismissed with prejudice. All other claims against these Defendants will be dismissed without prejudice, and Plaintiffs are granted leave to file an amended complaint. An order will be entered.


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