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Brown v. McElwee

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 6, 2013

MARCIA BROWN and JAMES WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs,
v.
OFFICER LIAM MCELWEE, OFFICER BRIAN EVANS, OFFICER J. KEITH, OFFICER CUDDHY, OFFICER STEVEN ZIVIELLO, UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS, ALDAN BOROUGH, and DARBY BOROUGH, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

DuBois, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a civil-rights case arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in which plaintiffs, Marcia Brown and James Williams, claim that defendants both violated their constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and committed torts under Pennsylvania law. Two motions are presently before the Court. The first is a motion to dismiss filed by Aldan Borough and one of its police officers, Steven Ziviello;[1] the second is a motion for partial dismissal and to strike filed by Darby Borough and four of its police officers, Liam McElwee, Brian Evans, J. Keith, and Cuddhy.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background [2]

Plaintiffs, James Williams and Marcia Brown, who are husband and wife, live at 205 North Front Street, Darby, Pennsylvania. 2d Am. Compl. ¶ 9. At 5:45 a.m. on June 24, 2010, Officers Ziviello, McElwee, Evans, Keith, and Cuddhy, along with other unnamed officers, arrived at plaintiffs’ residence. Id. As Williams exited the residence, “defendant officers pointed their weapons at him, ordered him to get on the ground, handcuffed him, ” and told him that “if he didn’t get his son Malik to turn himself in, ” the officers were going to keep coming to his home “till [they] g[ot] him.” Id. ¶¶ 10, 16.

With Williams still handcuffed and without a search warrant, officers and police dogs entered plaintiffs’ home and began “searching their entire house.” Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Upon reaching Brown’s bedroom, the officers yelled “open the fucking door” and pushed the door open. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. The officers then pointed their guns at Brown, who was lying on the bed, and demanded that she “get out of her fucking bed.” Id. Ignoring Brown’s pleas that she recently had surgery on her knee, the officers “threw her onto the ground, ” handcuffed her, and dragged her down the home’s stairwell. Id. ¶¶ 14-15. Because of defendants’ actions, Brown sustained physical injury, including further damage to her knee. Id.

B. Procedural Background

On June 22, 2012, plaintiffs filed a Complaint in this Court, naming as defendants (1) Darby Borough; (2) the Darby Borough Police Department; (3) Darby Police Officers Brian Pitts, Julius Quartapella, and Michael Miller; and (4) other “Unknown Police Officers.” On July 17, 2012, all defendants, represented by the same counsel, moved for partial dismissal of the Complaint. By order dated August 14, 2012, the Court denied as moot defendants’ Motion for Partial Dismissal in light of the fact that plaintiffs had filed an Amended Complaint on August 13, 2012. Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint named the same defendants as did their initial Complaint, with the exception of the Darby Borough Police Department, which was not named in the Amended Complaint.

On June 10, 2013, counsel for plaintiffs and counsel for defendants Pitts, Quartapella, Miller, and Darby Borough filed a stipulation, stating “that the Plaintiffs w[ould] be permitted to file within thirty (30) days . . . an Amended Complaint in [the] civil action, adding as parties Defendants Officer Liam McElwee, Officer Brian Evans, Officer J. Keith, Officer Cuddhy, Officer Steven Ziviello and Aldan Borough.” June 10, 2013 Stipulation. The parties further stipulated “that Officer Brian Pitts, Julius Quartapell and Michael Miller [would] be dismissed from th[e] matter, and . . . that all parties added as Defendants . . . [would] have the right to raise all available defenses including the statute of limitations.” Id.

On June 11, 2013, plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint pursuant to the June 10, 2013 stipulation. The Second Amended Complaint contains five counts. Count I asserts a claim against McElwee, Evans, Keith, Cuddhy, and Ziviello for violations of plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights to be secure in their persons. Counts II and III assert claims against McElwee, Evans, Keith, Cuddhy, and Ziviello under 18 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection of the laws and to the Fourth Amendment protections against excessive force, false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Count IV asserts a claim against Darby Borough and Aldan Borough for failing to discipline, train, or otherwise sanction police officers who violate citizens’ constitutional rights. Finally, Count V alleges state-law claims against McElwee, Evans, Keith, Cuddhy, and Ziviello for assault, battery, false detention, false arrest, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Presently before the Court are two motions: (1) Defendants, Officer Steven Ziviello and Aldan Borough’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint; and (2) Motion for Partial Dismissal Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and Motion to Strike Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) of Defendants, Liam McElwee, Brian Evans, J. Keith, Officer Cuddhy and Darby Borough.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in response to a pleading, a defense of “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” may be raised by motion to dismiss. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff’s allegations must show that defendant’s liability is more than “a sheer possibility.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In Twombly, the Supreme Court used a “two-pronged approach, ” which it later formalized in Iqbal. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Under this approach, a district court identifies those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than “legal conclusions” or “naked assertions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are “not entitled to the assumption of truth” and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The court then assesses “the ‘nub’ of the plaintiffs’ complaint—the well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]”—to determine whether it states a plausible claim for relief. Id.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs’ Claims Against McElwee, Evans, Keith, and Cuddhy

When construed liberally, plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint raises ten claims against McElwee, Evans, Keith, and Cuddhy: (1) violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against the use of excessive force; (2) violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against false arrest; (3) violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against false imprisonment; (4) violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against malicious prosecution; (5) equal-protection violations; (6) assault; (7) battery; (8) false detention; (9) false arrest; and (10) intentional infliction of emotional distress.

McElwee, Evans, Keith, and Cuddhy seek dismissal of plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claims in Count I, § 1983 malicious-prosecution claim included in Count II, equal-protection claim included in Count III, and state-law constitutional claims in Count V. They also include in their Motion to Dismiss a Motion to Strike all allegations in Count III other than the equal-protection claim.

a. Claims Brought Under the U.S. Constitution (Count I)

In Count I of the Second Amended Complaint, plaintiffs purport to bring a direct cause of action under the U.S. Constitution. There is no authority for any such claims because § 1983 provides an adequate, alternative remedial scheme for plaintiffs’ alleged constitutional violations. Capogrosso v. Supreme Court of N.J., 588 F.3d 180, 185 (3d Cir. 2009) (noting that when available, a remedy under § 1983 is the exclusive remedy for alleged constitutional violations); Smith v. Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia, 112 ...


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