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Javier Zavala v. Police Officer Noah Robinson

December 12, 2012


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


Javier Zavala sued Police Officers Noah Robinson, Claude Simpkins, and Christopher McCarthy, as well as Sergeant James Audette, the Borough of South Coatesville, and the City of Coatesville after Zavala was arrested for driving under the influence. He claims that he was beaten by officers after he was taken to the police station. Officer Robinson and the Borough of South Coatesville have moved to dismiss Zavala's Complaint as to them. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part. Zavala will be permitted to file an amended complaint.


On April 23, 2011, Zavala was arrested for driving under the influence and was brought to the City of Coatesville Police Department by Officer Robinson. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Zavala's hands were cuffed and placed behind his back and he was placed in the prisoner processing room. (Id. ¶ 11.) While in the prisoner processing room with Officer Robinson and Officer McCarthy, Zavala "exchanged words" with Officer Simpkins. (Id. ¶ 12.) Officer Simpkins instructed Officer McCarthy to remove one of Zavala's handcuffs and when Officer McCarthy complied, Officer Simpkins repeatedly punched Zavala in the head, neck, and torso. (Id. ¶¶ 13-16.) While Officer Simpkins assaulted Zavala, Officers McCarthy and Robinson restrained Zavala, "preventing him from avoiding Defendant Officer Simpkins' punches or otherwise defending himself." (Id. ¶ 18.) Sergeant Audette entered the prisoner processing room and placed Zavala in a controlled choke hold and placed Zavala in handcuffs again. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Zavala was falsely charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and related charges based on false statements provided by Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 21-27.) Plaintiff's Complaint charges violations of the right to be free from excessive force and malicious prosecution, as well as Fifth Amendment and procedural due process claims and a civil conspiracy. He also sued Officers Robinson, Simpkins, McCarthy and Sergeant Audette for intentional infliction of emotion distress, state law malicious prosecution, and invasion of privacy. Finally, he brings Monell claims and negligent hiring and supervision claims against the Borough of South Coatesville and the City of Coatesville.

Officer Robinson and the Borough of South Coatesville (hereinafter, "Moving Defendants") filed a motion to dismiss the claims against them in their entirety.


In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers & Allied Craftsmen Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs., 237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A court need not, however, credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" when deciding a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. Although the federal rules impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Simply reciting the elements will not suffice. Id. (concluding that pleading that offers labels and conclusions without further factual enhancement will not survive motion to dismiss); see also Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has directed district courts to conduct a two-part analysis when faced with a 12(b)(6) motion. First, the legal elements and factual allegations of the claim should be separated, with the well-pleaded facts accepted as true but the legal conclusions disregarded. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Second, the court must make a commonsense determination of whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show a plausible claim for relief. Id. at 211. If the court can infer only the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint must be dismissed because it has alleged-but has failed to show-that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id.


As an initial matter, Zavala accedes to the dismissal of some of his claims against Moving Defendants. Specifically, Zavala admits that as alleged, his federal and malicious prosecution claims fail to state a claim. (Pl.'s Br. in Supp. of His Answer Seeking Denial of Pl.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. [Pl.'s Br.] at 7-8, 15.) He has requested, and the Court will allow, an opportunity to amend his Complaint to state a claim for malicious prosecution under federal and Pennsylvania law. Plaintiff also does not object to the dismissal of his Fifth Amendment, negligent hiring, and invasion of privacy claims. Those claims shall be dismissed with prejudice.

The Court will also dismiss Zavala's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, albeit without prejudice. As constituted, it relies on nothing more than conclusory statements that Zavala was assaulted and falsely accused of crimes. Plaintiff then simply asserts that he suffered great distress as a result. This ...

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