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Williams v. Wiesenbach

United States District Court, Third Circuit

September 20, 2013

JOHN R. WILLIAMS, JR., Plaintiff,
SHAUN WIESENBACH, CHRISTOPHER PRICE, MCKEES ROCKS BOROUGH, ROBERT CIFRULAK, Chief of Police of the Borough of McKees Rocks, in his individual capacity, Defendant(s).

Memorandum Order

ARTHUR J. SCHWAB, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This is a civil rights action. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, acting in their official capacity, and Defendant Cifrulak, acting in his individual capacity, used excessive force, maliciously prosecuted him, and otherwise violated his constitutional rights and retaliated against him under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments while acting under color of state law, in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. In support thereof, Plaintiff avers that following a minor dispute with a neighbor regarding the behavior of his grandchildren, the police were called, he was wrongfully tasered in the presence of his minor grandchildren, improperly seized/arrested, maliciously prosecuted, and his grandchildren were left unattended while he was unlawfully detained at the McKees Rocks Borough police station. According to the Complaint, Plaintiff was charged with disorderly conduct and other charges, but the charges were ultimately dismissed.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6)

In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Federal Courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds on which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

Building upon the landmark United States Supreme Court decisions in Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that a District Court must undertake the following three steps to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

The third step of the sequential evaluation requires this Court to consider the specific nature of the claims presented and to determine whether the facts pled to substantiate the claims are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Covington v. Int'l Ass'n of Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d Cir. 2013). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a Complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664.

This Court may not dismiss a Complaint merely because it appears unlikely or improbable that Plaintiff can prove the facts alleged or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8. Instead, this Court must ask whether the facts alleged raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements. Id. at 556. Generally speaking, a Complaint that provides adequate facts to establish "how, when, and where" will survive a Motion to Dismiss. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 212 (3d Cir. 2009).

In short, a Motion to Dismiss should not be granted if a party alleges facts, which could, if established at trial, entitle him/her to relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8.

III. Discussion

In the Partial Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to properly allege a claim for individual liability against Chief Cifrulak. As both parties agree, there are two avenues to properly plead supervisory liability under Section 1983. First, if a supervisor established and maintained a policy, practice or custom which directly caused a constitutional harm. Second, a supervisor may be held liable if he or she participated in violating Plaintiff's rights, directed others to violate them, or had knowledge ...

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