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Gebhart v. Steffen

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 16, 2013

GLORIA GEBHART, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID STEFFEN and TIMOTHY J. BARKER, Defendants

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Gloria Gebhart, filed this civil-rights action against defendants, David Steffen, a Northern York County Regional Police officer, and Timothy J. Barker, a York County assistant district attorney, making claims for malicious prosecution and abuse of process.

We are considering two motions challenging the second amended complaint: (1) a motion to dismiss by defendant Steffen; and (2) a motion to strike by defendant Barker.

II. Procedural History

On January 15, 2013, we granted defendant Barker's motion to dismiss the original complaint. We concluded that Plaintiff had failed to state a claim against Barker for the following reasons. On the malicious prosecution claim, Plaintiff had failed to make any allegations of "a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure, " an essential element of the claim. Gebhart v. Steffen, 2013 WL 160218, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 2013). On the abuse-of-process claim, Plaintiff had failed to allege that Barker had abused legal process in any way after the initiation of legal proceedings, an essential element of that claim. Id. We granted Plaintiff leave to amend.

Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding allegations relevant to her malicious prosecution claim: she was arrested, bail was set at $100, 000, and she was required to attend pretrial court proceedings. On April 15, 2013, we granted defendant Barker's motion to dismiss. On the malicious prosecution claim, we concluded that the added allegations did not amount to a seizure, so that claim still failed. Gebhart v. Steffen, 2013 WL 1624194, at *2 (M.D. Pa. April 15, 2013). On the abuse-of-process claim, Plaintiff had not altered the allegations of her original complaint, so that claim was dismissed again. Id. at *3. Concluding that it would be futile, we refused to allow further amendment of either claim as against Barker. Id.

In the meantime, defendant Steffen had filed an answer to the amended complaint. He then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the claims failed as against him for the same reasons they failed as against Barker. Agreeing with Steffen, on June 27, 2013, we granted his motion. Gebhart v. Steffen, 2013 WL 3279276, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Jun. 27, 2013). We granted Plaintiff leave to amend the malicious prosecution claim as against Steffen but denied leave to amend as to the abuse-of-process claim. Id. at *4.

Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint, reasserting her claims for malicious prosecution and abuse of process against both Defendants, and adding yet more allegations relevant to the deprivation-of-liberty element on the malicious prosecution claim. Defendant Steffen filed a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the second amended complaint, and defendant Barker filed a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) to strike the second amended complaint.

III. Standard of Review on a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "[w]e accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Byers v. Intuit, Inc., 600 F.3d 286, 291 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoted case omitted).

A complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), and detailed factual allegations are not required. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Nonetheless, a complaint has to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974. "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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). "[L]abels and conclusions" are not enough, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65, and a court "is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couch as a factual allegation.'" Id., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (quoted case omitted).

The Third Circuit has described the Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry as a three-step process:

First, a 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 ...

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