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Ronnie Suber v. Jon Guinta; Officer Wright; Officer Keuch; Officer Ingemie

September 28, 2012

RONNIE SUBER, BONGAI MHLOYI, AND JEREMIAH MHLOYI, INDIVIDUALLY, AND TOGETHER DOING BUSINESS AS "JB'S WEB", PLAINTIFF
v.
JON GUINTA; OFFICER WRIGHT; OFFICER KEUCH; OFFICER INGEMIE; OFFICER MILLER; OFFICER SIMPKINS; AND THE CITY OF COATESVILLE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner, United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants', Officer James A. Pinto, III, Officer Ryan L. Wright, Officer Robert Keuch, Officer Jeffrey J. Ingemie, Officer Shannon N. Miller, Officer Claude Simpkins, and The City of Coatesville *fn1 Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), which motion to dismiss was filed by Moving Defendants together with their brief in support on October 17, 2011. Plaintiffs' *fn2 Brief in Opposition to Motion of Defendants Pinto, Wright, Keuch, Ingemie, Shannon, Miller, Simpkins, and The City of Coatesville to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint was filed on November 2, 2011.

SUMMARY OF DECISION

For the reasons articulated in this Opinion, I grant in part, and deny in part, Moving Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint.

The within motion to dismiss is granted to the extent it seeks to dismiss the Mhloyi Plaintiffs' claims in Count II of the Second Amended Complaint against defendant Officers Keuch, Ingemie, Miller, Simpkins and defendant The City of Coatesville for alleged violation of plaintiffs' First and Fourth Amendment rights.

In addition, motion is granted to the extent it seeks to dismiss the Mhloyi Plaintiffs' equal protection conspiracy claim against the Moving Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1985.

The motion to dismiss is also granted to the extent that it seeks to dismiss claims in Count II against defendant-Officer Wright. The motion to dismiss is denied in all other respects.

As a result of the foregoing, the only remaining claims in the Second Amended Complaint are (1) all of the claims of plaintiff Ronnie Suber in Count I against defendant Jon Guinta for violation of plaintiff's First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985; and (2) the claims of plaintiffs Bongai Mhloyi and Jeremiah Mhloyi against defendant Officers Keuch, Ingemie, Miller and Simpkins, and defendant The City of Coatesville for violation of plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection of the law, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction in this case is based upon federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(a)(3)-(4).

VENUE

Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because the events giving rise to plaintiffs' claims allegedly occurred in the City of Coatesville, Chester County, Pennsylvania, which is located within this judicial district.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiffs Ronnie Suber, Bongai Mhloyi and Jeremiah Mhloyi initiated this action on June 30, 2010 by filing a two-count Complaint against defendant Officers James A. Pinto, III, Ryan L. Wright, Robert Keuch, Jeffrey J. Ingemie, Shannon N. Miller and Claude Simpkins; defendant The City of Coatesville; and one defendant John Doe.

Defendant Officers Pinto, Wright, Keuch, Ingemie, Miller, Simpkins and The City of Coatesville filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Complaint on August 26, 2010. In response, plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on September 17, 2010, which omitted defendant John Doe and replaced him with defendant Jon Guinta.

Defendant Officers Pinto, Wright, Keuch, Ingemie, Miller, and Simpkins, and The City of Coatesville, filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint or, alternatively, for a more definite statement concerning Count II of the Amended Complaint on September 23, 2010.

By Order dated August 8, 2011 and filed August 9, 2011, I granted the alternative motion for a more definite statement. Plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint on October 3, 2010, and re-filed the same document on October 12, 2011. Offi- cer Pinto was not named as a defendant in the Second Amended Complaint and has, therefore, been terminated from this action. *fn3

On October 17, 2011 defendant Officers Wright, Keuch, Ingemie, Miller, Simpkins, Pinto (despite having been omitted from the Second Amended Complaint), and The City of Coatesville filed the motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint which is now before the court. Plaintiffs filed their response in opposition to that motion on November 2, 2011. Hence this Opinion.

Plaintiffs' Claims

Count I of the Second Amended Complaint asserts several constitutional claims by plaintiff Ronnie Suber against defendant Jon Guinta only. Defendant Guinta answered the Second Amended Complaint on June 13, 2012. Accordingly, Count I is not challenged by Moving Defendants' motion.

Count II of the Second Amended Complaint asserts constitutional claims by the Mhloyi Plaintiffs against defendant Officers and defendant The City of Coatesville pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of their rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Mhloyi Plaintiffs also assert an equal protection conspiracy claim in Count II pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Finally, the Mhloyi Plaintiffs assert an equal protection Monell *fn4 claim against defendant The City of Coatesville.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claim may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) (abrogated in other respects by Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

Generally, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record, including other judicial proceedings. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2008).

Except as provided in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9, a complaint is sufficient if it complies with Rule 8(a)(2), which requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(a)(2) "[does] not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d at 949. *fn5

In determining whether a plaintiff's complaint is sufficient, the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210 (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).

Although "conclusory or bare-bones allegations" will not survive a motion to dismiss, Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210, a complaint may not be dismissed "merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231. Nonetheless, to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must provide "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940) (internal quotation omitted).

The court is required to conduct a two-part analysis when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the factual matters averred in the complaint, and any attached exhibits, should be separated from legal conclusions asserted therein. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Any facts pled must be taken as true, and any legal conclusions asserted may be disregarded. Id. at 210-211.

Second, the court must determine whether those factual matters averred are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884).

Ultimately, this two-part analysis is "context-specific" and requires the court to draw on "its judicial experience and common sense" to determine if the facts pled in the complaint have "nudged [plaintiff's] claims" over the line from "[merely] conceivable [or possible] to plausible."

Iqbal,556 U.S. at 680, 129 S.Ct. at 1950-1951, 178 L.Ed.2d at 884-885 (internal quotations omitted).

A well-pleaded complaint may not be dismissed simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940-941.

FACTS

Based upon the well-pled averments in Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, which I must accept as true under the above standard of review, the pertinent facts are as follows.

Plaintiffs Bongai Mhloyi and Jeremiah Mhloyi ("the Mhloyis") are African-American citizens who own a bar known as JB's Web in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff Ronnie Suber is an African-American citizen who worked at JB's Web at all times material to this action. *fn6

Defendants Officers Ryan Wright, Robert Keuch, Jeffrey Ingemie, Shannon Miller, and Claude Simpkins are each police officers of defendant The City of Coatesville. *fn7

Unlike the other individual defendants, Jon Guinta is a law enforcement officer who works for the Chester County Board of Probation and Parole. *fn8

The Mhloyis' bar, JB's Web, "is a black bar owned, frequented, and run by black persons and is the only such establishment in Coatesville." *fn9 Coatesville has approximately five bars. JB's Web is the only "black bar" in the City of Coatesville. *fn10

From sometime in 2007 through the initiation of this action on June 30, 2010 plaintiffs have been "consistently harassed" by defendant Officers, who have issued numerous noise citations at JB's Web. Between 2008 and the present, the Mhloyis and JB's Web have been issued over two dozen citations by defendant Officers and The City of Coatesville. *fn11

Specifically, defendant Ingemie filed at least seven "incidents and citations" between January 15, 2008 and September 15, 2008. Officer Ingemie also filed some unspecified number of "noise violations" in 2007. *fn12 Officer Ingemie also placed JB's Web on the "nuisance bar list" in 2007 and 2008. *fn13

Defendant Wright filed another "noise violation" on April 9, 2008. *fn14 Officer Pinto filed a citation on June 17, 2008 for another noise ordinance violation. *fn15 On October 8, 2008 Officer Simpkins filed a nuisance bar claim for "loud noise". *fn16

On September 4, 2008 defendant Miller filed a "public drunken-ness/open bottle violation" for an incident that occurred outside and away from JB's Web against a person who was never inside the bar. This citation was also put on the nuisance bar list. *fn17

On November 12, 2008 Officer Keuch filed a citation against the Mhloyis and JB's Web for an incident which did not occur in the bar. This citation was also added to the nuisance bar list. *fn18

To the best of plaintiffs' knowledge, all of these citations were dismissed by the local judiciary. The Mhloyis assert that JB's Web has not been declared a nuisance bar. *fn19

Many of these citations for noise violations were issued despite defendant Officers' knowledge that plaintiffs had taken every possible step to keep the noise from JB's Web down, "including documenting the control of their juke boxes to reduce any sound to an absolute minimum." *fn20

Plaintiffs aver that these citations and noise violations against JB's Web were issued by defendant Officers to carry out the "racist policies of [defendant The City of] Coatesville." *fn21 In support of this assertion, plaintiffs aver that they applied for, and were granted, a building permit for work on JB's Web.

After plaintiffs finished the work, the City of Coatesville demanded $500 from plaintiffs for an appeal to the City of Coatesville Zoning Hearing Board. Plaintiffs paid the fee and have not heard anything from the zoning board since. *fn22

Coatesville's "Polish Club" is across the street from JB's Web. The Coatesville Chief of Police and his assistants drink and socialize at the Polish Club. However, neither the Polish club, nor any other drinking establishment in Coatesville, is "harassed and bullied" by the defendant Officers and the Coatesville Police Department. *fn23

On March 13, 2010 a local law enforcement task force, which plaintiffs believe was operating under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, conducted a raid on JB's Web. Based on the plaintiffs' information and belief, this raid was carried out at the request of the City of Coatesville. The Chester County Board of Probation and Parole was also involved in the raid and "was doing a sweep for warrants." *fn24

During the March 13, 2010 raid, the patrons of JB's Web were searched and treated in a disrespectful fashion. Plaintiffs aver that this was not a search for any particular person or in response to any particular crime, but rather was simply a "generic raid". *fn25

Plaintiff Ronnie Suber was standing in the area of the bar when the raid was executed. Plaintiff Suber did not behave disrespectfully or unlawfully toward any of the law enforcement officers conducting the raid. *fn26 However, while Mr. Suber was standing near the bar, defendant Jon Guinta "brushed past him strongly pushing him" for no reason. Mr. Suber responded in a courteous and polite tone, at a level volume, "Sir[,] you don't have to push me like that". *fn27

Defendant Guinta became immediately confrontational and ordered plaintiff Suber to turn around. Defendant Guinta handcuffed Mr. Suber, and forcibly took him outside the bar. For no reasonable or proper law enforcement purpose, defendant Guinta tightened the handcuffs on Mr. Suber for the purpose of making Mr. Suber suffer pain, which Mr. Suber did. Mr. Suber asked that his handcuffs be loosened, but his request was denied. *fn28

After the raid was over, plaintiff Suber was taken before the leader of "the raiding party." The leader instructed defendant ...


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