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Stolarik v. City of Wilkes-Barre

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 30, 2013

CITY OF WILKES-BARRE, et al., Defendants.


ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by the City of Wilkes-Barre and three of its police officers in this civil rights case. The Court will dismiss the entire Complaint without prejudice to amend and to reallege the various Counts, for the reasons and with the qualifications discussed below.

II. Factual Allegations

Paul Stolarik filed aComplaint (Doc. 1) before this Court on June 29, 2012. He alleged eleven separate causes of action, some of which are actually multiple claims compounded into one. However, the essence of his Complaint is as follows.

On July 2, 2010, Paul's father, John Stolarik, filed atemporary Protection from Abuse (PFA) order against Paul. (Compl., Doc. 1, at ¶ 15.) Paul was unaware of this, as the order had not been served on him, and so, that same day, he attempted to enter the residence in Wilkes-Barre where he lived with his father. ( Id. ) John, being "under the mistaken assumption that [the order] which, if properly served, would have precluded and evicted the son... from being at" their residence, refused to let Paul in and called the police. ( Id. )

When the police officers-named defendants Ed Casella and Kenneth Jones- arrived on the scene, Paul informed them "that he was not aware of a PFA was issued [ sic ] and made it clear to responding officers that no PFA was served upon him." ( Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.) The officers did not independently verify Paul's statements, but rather "immediately seized" and arrested him, and turned him over to the custody of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department. ( Id. at ¶¶ 18, 20.) At the police department, Stolarik was under the custody of defendant Paul Crawford, who "continued to seize and detain Stolarik... despite having no lawful authority to do so and despite continued pleadings by Stolarik that he was not aware of any temporary PFA Order." ( Id. at ¶ 21.)

While Stolarik was held at the police station, Casella and Jones "proceed[ed] to file [an] Indirect Criminal Contempt of Court Order charge against him." ( Id. at ¶ 18.) He was arraigned the next day on both the PFA violation and contempt counts. ( Id. at ¶ 23.) Unable to post bail, he was sent to the Luzerne County Prison. ( Id. )

It was not until July 8-six days after Stolarik's arrest-that the PFA order was finally served on him. ( Id. at ¶ 30.) This was the date of the hearing concerning Stolarik's PFA violation, and Stolarik was not served with the order until he arrived at the courthouse to attend the hearing itself. ( Id. ) Accordingly, "[d]ue to lack of prior service, " the hearing was continued until July 13. ( Id. at ¶ 31.) It appears that Stolarik was sent back to jail to await this next hearing. ( See id. ¶ 32.) Finally, on July 13, both the PFA and the indirect criminal contempt charges were dismissed by the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas and Stolarik was ordered to be released. ( Id. )

As aresult of all of the foregoing, Stolarik alleges that he suffered, inter alia, physical injury and emotional distress, as well as lost employment. ( Id. at ¶¶ 39-40.) He therefore filed this Complaint, which names the City of Wilkes-Barre; Officers Casella, Jones, and Crawford; and Police Chief Gerard Dessoye, in his supervisory capacity, as defendants. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8-12.) On September 14, 2012, the Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4), seeking dismissal on all counts. The Court shall now turn to the merits of that motion.

III. Standard of Review

A complaint must be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The plaintiff must aver "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

"Though acomplaint does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" DelRio-Mocci v. Connolly Prop. Inc., 672 F.3d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In other words, "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise aright to relief above the speculative level." Covington v. Int'l Ass'n of Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). A court "take[s] as true all the factual allegations in the Complaint and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from those facts, but... disregard[s] legal conclusions and threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Ethypharm S.A. France v. Abbott Laboratories, 707 F.3d 223, 231. n.14 (3d Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

Twombly and Iqbal require [a district court] to take 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).

"[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]-that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). This "plausibility" determination will be a"context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

However, even "if a complaint is subject to Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment unless such an amendment would be inequitable or futile." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 245 (3d Cir. 2008).

[E]ven when plaintiff does not seek leave to amend his complaint after a defendant moves to dismiss it, unless the district court finds that amendment would be inequitable or futile, the court must inform the plaintiff that he or she ...

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