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Doneker v. County of Bucks

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 26, 2013

SAMANTHA DONEKER and PHILIP ROMANEK
v.
COUNTY OF BUCKS, et al.

MEMORANDUM

JOHN R. PADOVA, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Samantha Doneker and Philip Romanek bring this action alleging violations of their civil rights arising out of their July 26, 2011 arrests and imprisonment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the County of Bucks ("Bucks County"); the Bucks County Board of Commissioners (the "Board of Commissioners"); the Bucks County Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff's Office"); Sheriff Edward J. Donnelly; Sergeant Gary K. Browndorf; and Deputies James McAndrew, William J. Klein, Daniel J. Boyle, and David Prudish. Presently before the Court are: (1) a Motion to Dismiss filed by Bucks County and the Board of Commissioners; and (2) a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Sheriff's Office and Edward J. Donnelly. For the following reasons, we grant both Motions to Dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

The First Amended Complaint ("FAC") alleges the following facts. On July 26, 2011, Defendants Sergeant Browndorf and Deputies McAndrew, Klein, Boyle, and Prudish (collectively the "Officers") arrived at Plaintiffs' home in Levittown, Pennsylvania, to arrest Plaintiff Philip Romanek. (FAC ¶ 15.) Romanek was discovered in the attic. (Id. ¶ 16.) Several of the Officers handcuffed Romanek behind his back and lowered him down from the attic. (Id.) Romanek was compliant, respectful, and did not resist arrest. (Id. ¶ 17.) While Romanek was being lowered from the attic, Sergeant Browndorf punched him in the chest without provocation. (Id. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff Samantha Doneker witnessed the punch, rushed towards Romanek, and made incidental contact with Sergeant Browndorf as she brushed past him. (Id. ¶ 19.) Sergeant Browndorf then grabbed Doneker, shoved her into a bathroom door, pulled her into his chest, and told her that she was under arrest for assaulting a sheriff. (Id. ¶ 20.) Sergeant Browndorf then handcuffed Doneker and removed her from the house. (Id. ¶ 21.)

At the Bristol Township Police Department, Sergeant Browndorf lied to a Bristol Township detective by claiming that Romanek kicked him and that Doneker had assaulted him. (Id. ¶ 26.) Sergeant Browndorf and Deputy Boyle prepared criminal complaints against Doneker and Romanek, which falsely charged them with felony assault and other offenses. (Id. ¶ 25.) Doneker was fingerprinted and photographed at the Police Department, and was then transported to court for a preliminary arraignment. (Id. ¶ 27.) Doneker's bail was set at $100, 000.00, but she was unable to post bail and had to spend four nights in prison. (Id. ¶ 28.)

Plaintiffs' preliminary hearing was scheduled for August 23, 2011. (Id. ¶ 29.) Prior to that hearing, the Assistant District Attorney asked Sergeant Browndorf for incident reports relating to Plaintiffs' July 26, 2011 arrests, but none had been prepared. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Deputies McAndrew, Klein, Boyle, and Prudish knew about the preliminary hearing, and knew that Plaintiffs did not assault Sergeant Browndorf, but did not prepare incident reports or attend the hearing. (Id. ¶ 31.) At the preliminary hearing, Sergeant Browndorf gave perjured testimony about the July 26, 2011 incident by testifying that Romanek kicked him in the chest and that he did not strike Romanek. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.) He also gave perjured testimony that Doneker attacked him from behind, pushed him, and punched him in the back once or twice. (Id. ¶ 35.)

A grand jury was convened to investigate Sergeant Browndorf. (Id. ¶ 36.) Deputy McAndrew truthfully testified before the grand jury that Doneker did not attack or assault Sergeant Browndorf. (Id.) An investigation conducted by a Bucks County detective revealed the truth behind the false charges against Doneker and Romanek, and Sergeant Browndorf was criminally charged with, among other crimes, perjury and assault. (Id. ¶ 37.) Sergeant Browndorf was convicted of perjury and simple assault, and sentenced to six to twelve months' imprisonment and two years of probation. (Id. ¶ 38.)

In the FAC, Plaintiffs assert § 1983 claims against the Officers for excessive force and false arrest and, in Count Three, assert claims against Bucks County, the Board of Commissioners, the Sheriff's Office, and Edward J. Donnelly for municipal and supervisory liability under § 1983.[1] Bucks County, the Board of Commissioners, the Sheriff's Office, and Edward J. Donnelly have moved to dismiss the claims against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick , 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. DelRio-Mocci v. Connolly Props., Inc. , 672 F.3d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc. , 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible, ' thus enabling the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for [the] misconduct alleged.'" Warren Gen. Hosp. , 643 F.3d at 84 (quoting Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009)). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat'l Bank , 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs have brought their claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to ...

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