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Deangelo v. North Strabane Township

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 29, 2013



TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a MOTION TO DISMISS COUNT I OF THE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6) OF THE RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE (ECF No. 6) with brief in support (ECF No. 7) filed by Defendant Dan Strimel, in his individual and official capacity as Chief of Police of North Strabane Township, and Defendant North Strabane Township. Plaintiff Dale DeAngelo filed a response to the motion (ECF No. 10) with a brief in opposition (ECF No. 11). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

The following background is drawn from the Complaint, and the factual allegations therein are accepted as true for the purpose of this Memorandum Opinion. As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

The actions leadings up to this Complaint began sometime around July 2012 when Plaintiff sought to engage in target practice with his firearms on a tract of industrial property he privately owns in North Strabane Township. The 185 foot by 82 foot tract is located approximately five-hundred yards from Interstate 79 North Exit #45, commonly referred to as the "Cannonsburg Exit." One side of the land faces I-79, but lies roughly eighty feet below the highway with a sixty-foot tall hillside separating the two areas. The land is accessible only by foot and does not contain any roads, paths, or lanes that allow for ingress or egress. According to Plaintiff, if he were to discharge a firearm projectile toward the direction of the sixty-foot tall hillside, there would be no danger of a ricochet or fragmentation striking any motorist, person, or property.

Sometime before July 2012, Plaintiff apparently "made arrangements and took all necessary and reasonable precautions to ensure that discharging firearms and engaging in target practice on the land would be done in a safe and reasonable manner." (ECF No. 1 at 4). Among his preparations, Plaintiff examined "all relevant Commonwealth statutes, [ ] local ordinances, and relevant regulations" that govern his intended activities. From his reading, Plaintiff concluded that he was legally permitted to discharge firearms on his land.

Plaintiff likewise attempted to contact law enforcement officials from North Strabane Township and the neighboring Borough of Canonsburg to alert them of his intent to "lawfully discharge firearms" on his property. Plaintiff first attempted to contact Defendant Strimel in July 2012 to place North Strabane police officers on notice regarding his target shooting should they receive reports of gunshots in the area. Strimel was unavailable at that time, and Plaintiff left a message requesting a return call. Plaintiff also reached out to Canonsburg Police Department Chief R.T. Bell to make him similarly aware of his intended target shooting given the close proximity between the industrial land and the Borough. During their discussion, Bell stated that he would pass along the information to Strimel who would likely call Plaintiff in the near future.

On August 6, 2012, Strimel contacted Plaintiff by telephone to discuss his intended target shooting. During this call, Strimel allegedly acknowledged that he was unaware if any local ordinances or state laws prohibited the Plaintiff from target shooting. Strimel nonetheless informed Plaintiff that he would promptly be placed under arrest if he discharged a firearm on his land. Plaintiff attempted to explain that other persons or property would not be placed in any danger due to the precautions in place and the landscape of the property, but apparently to no avail. Strimel instead advised that he would charge Plaintiff with a crime, possibly "Recklessly Endangering Another Person, " irrespective of whether the target shooting was done in a safe and lawful manner. Plaintiff made one final attempt to persuade Strimel that no persons would be endangered; however, Strimel again instructed that he would file charges and retorted that "we will let the courts decide." (ECF No. 1 at 6).

Plaintiff thereafter consulted with his counsel of record to evaluate his legal options. Plaintiff's attorney contacted the Solicitor for North Strabane ( i.e., opposing counsel of record) in December 2012 who reiterated Strimel's position that Plaintiff would be criminally charged if he discharged a firearm on the property. This lawsuit followed.

Plaintiff commenced this action on March 19, 2013 by filing a one-count Complaint in this Court, alleging violations of his Second Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights secured by the United States Constitution and made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment and violations of the corresponding provisions set forth in Article I, ยงยง 8 and 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Aside from money damages, Plaintiff's requested relief includes a judgment prohibiting Defendants "from prosecuting and/or harassing and/or punishing" Plaintiff for discharging a firearm on his property. Defendants filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in which they seek dismissal of the entire Complaint-a request Plaintiff opposes.

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint, which may be dismissed for the "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Upon review of a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1861 (2012) (citing In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010)). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, such "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007).

The Supreme Court later refined this approach in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, emphasizing the requirement that a complaint must state a plausible claim for relief in order to survive a motion to dismiss. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "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." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Nevertheless, "the plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, '" but requires a plaintiff to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must take a three step approach when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010) (noting that although Iqbal describes the process as a "two-pronged approach, " it views the case as outlining three steps) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). First, "the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675) (alteration in original). Second, the court "should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). ...

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