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Dale A. Thomas v. Chief of Police Stanley J. Coopersmith

August 20, 2012

DALE A. THOMAS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHIEF OF POLICE STANLEY J. COOPERSMITH, BUSHKILL TOWNSHIP, AND BUSHKILL TOWNSHIP POLICE OFFICERS JOHN DOE NOS. 1-5, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises from a longstanding dispute between plaintiff Dale Thomas and his neighbor, Alvera Flyte. Plaintiff filed the present lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated when police officers exhibited favoritism toward Flyte in responding to the dispute. He also alleges that the Bushkill Township noise ordinance is unconstitutionally vague.

Presently before the Court are three motions: (1) Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(2), (5) & (6) and Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike the "Damages" Section of the Complaint ("the first motion to dismiss"), (2) the Motion of Defendants Chief of Police Stanley J. Coopersmith and Bushkill Township to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike Portions of the "Damages" Section of the Complaint ("the second motion to dismiss"), and (3) plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief.

By Order of June 27, 2012, the Court denied the part of the first motion to dismiss that argued that service of process on the Chief of Police was insufficient. The Court deferred ruling on the motion in all other respects. For the reasons that follow, the first and second motions to dismiss are granted in part and denied in part.*fn1 Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief is denied.

II. BACKGROUND*fn2

A. Factual Background

Since 1999, plaintiff has resided at 267 East Moorestown Road in Bushkill Township, Pennsylvania. (Compl. Background Section.) Upon moving to that address, plaintiff "immediately had problems with [his] next door neighbor," Flyte. (Id.) Plaintiff and Flyte have made repeated complaints about each other to the Bushkill Township police. The complaints have arisen from a variety of disputes, including plaintiff's allegation that Flyte left debris in his yard, (id. ¶ 3), and Flyte's allegation that plaintiff stole her property markers, (id. ¶¶ 4-6). However, most frequently, Flyte has accused plaintiff of violating the local noise ordinance. (Id. ¶¶ 7-14, 19-20.) Plaintiff, in turn, has complained that Flyte is harassing him with false complaints. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 17.)

According to plaintiff, despite their knowledge that Flyte harasses plaintiff by filing false complaints, Bushkill Township police officers have taken "no action" against Flyte. (Id. ¶ 14.) On the other hand, they "pounce upon plaintiff like a 'rabid dog'" whenever Flyte reports "any slightest alleged infraction." (Id. ¶ 33.) Upon receipt of Flyte's noise complaints, "police . . . threaten [plaintiff] with citations for disturbing the peace, without ascertaining whether the complaint was legitimate." (Id. ¶ 8.)

Plaintiff contends that the police are biased against him because Flyte is personally acquainted with defendant Coopersmith, the Chief of Police. (Id. Background Section.) Coopersmith is allegedly "directing the police officers to allow Ms. Flyte to get away with these crimes, because he knows Ms. Flyte personally." (Id. ¶ 35.) Flyte has bragged to plaintiff that she "can get away with anything she wants" because of her relationship with Coopersmith. (Id. Background Section.)

In addition to his equal protection claims, plaintiff challenges Bushkill Township Ordinance No. 2009-01, under which he is currently facing charges. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 31, 33.) The Bushkill Township Board of Supervisors and Chief of Police Coopersmith enacted the noise ordinance in 2009. (Id. ¶ 21.) In relevant part, the ordinance provides that "[i]t shall be unlawful for any person to make or cause to be made a noise disturbance within the jurisdictional boundaries of the Township of Bushkill, except as otherwise permitted in this ordinance." (Mem. Law Opp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. B.)*fn3 The ordinance defines a "noise disturbance" as

Any sound which:

1. Endangers, would endanger or is likely to endanger, or injures[,] would injure or is likely to injure, the safety or health of humans or animals;

2. Annoys, would annoy or is likely to annoy, or disturb a reasonable person of normal sensitivities;

3. Endangers, would endanger or is likely to injure, personal or real property;

4. Disturbs, or is likely to disturb, the peace; or

5. Creates, would create or is likely to create a nuisance.

(Id.) It also specifies that an unlawful noise disturbance occurs when a person "[o]wn[s], keep[s], possess[es], harbor[s], or control[s] any animal which howls, barks, or makes other sounds continuously and/or incessantly for a period of 10 minutes . . . to the disturbance of any person . . . ; provided, however, that at the time the animal is making such noise, no person or animal is trespassing or threatening to trespass upon private property in or upon which the animal is situated." (Id.)

B. Procedural History

Defendants filed the first motion to dismiss on March 20, 2012, asserting that plaintiff had failed to state a claim for relief and that plaintiff had not properly served process on defendants. By Order of June 27, 2012, the Court ruled that plaintiff had made adequate service of process on Coopersmith but not on Bushkill Township.*fn4 The Court directed plaintiff to "serve copies of the summons and complaint on Bushkill Township and file proof of service with the Court within 30 days of the entry of [the] Order."

Plaintiff did not provide the Court with proof of service on Bushkill Township until August 2, 2012, more than thirty days after issuance of the June 27, 2012, Order. However, defendants state that plaintiff served process on Bushkill Township on July 13, 2012. Since plaintiff has now properly served Coopersmith and Bushkill Township, the Court will address the merits of plaintiff's claims.

Because resolution of the motions to dismiss disposes of some aspects of plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction, the Court addresses the motions to dismiss first.

III. MOTIONS TO DISMISS

A. Legal Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in response to a pleading, a defense of "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" may be raised by motion to dismiss. To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that "'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff's allegations must show that defendant's liability is more than "a sheer possibility." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

In Twombly, the Supreme Court used a "two-pronged approach," which it later formalized in Iqbal. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Under this approach, a district court first identifies those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than "legal conclusions" or "naked assertions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are "not entitled to the assumption of truth" and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The court then assesses "the 'nub' of the plaintiff['s] complaint-the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]"-to determine whether it states a plausible claim for relief. Id.

B. Analysis

Plaintiff asserts claims against Coopersmith and unnamed Bushkill Township police officers under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He also asserts an equal protection claim against Bushkill Township under Monell v. New York Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). Finally, he contends that the Bushkill Township noise ordinance must be struck down as unconstitutionally vague.

In their motions to dismiss, defendants argue that all of plaintiff's claims against the individual defendants and Bushkill Township must be dismissed on the merits. They also contend that plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Coopersmith because (1) Coopersmith was not involved in the alleged constitutional violations and (2) Coopersmith is entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, they ...


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