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Credico v. West Goshen Police

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 18, 2013

JUSTIN MICHAEL CREDICO
v.
WEST GOSHEN POLICE, et al.

MEMORANDUM

Juan R. Sánchez, J.

Pro se Plaintiff Justin Michael Credico brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania law against the West Goshen Police and Detective David Maurer for retaliation and malicious prosecution. He also asserts § 1983 claims against an unknown Chester County Sheriff Department official (Unknown Sheriff) for interfering with his access to the courts and Deputy Reeves of the Chester County Sheriff Department for excessive force. Lastly, he brings a § 1983 claim against Chester County for failure to train.

These Defendants filed two separate motions asking this Court to dismiss the Complaint against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pleaded “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The court “must accept all of the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.” Id. at 210-11.

In addition, because this Court granted Credico leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the Court can dismiss his Complaint if, among other things, it is frivolous or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915 is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Scott v. Del. Dep’t of Family Servs., No. 13-1898, 2013 WL 3657988, at *1 (3d Cir. July 16, 2013).

For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants’ motions will be granted. When dismissing a civil rights complaint for failure to state a claim, a district court must grant the plaintiff leave to amend—even when the plaintiff does not request leave—unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007). Because it is clear that amendment would be futile in this case, Credico’s claims will be dismissed with prejudice.

I. CLAIMS AGAINST WEST GOSHEN POLICE AND DETECTIVE MAURER

On June 28th, 2012, Credico approached Detective Maurer in a cemetery using profanities and obscene hand gestures, and Detective Maurer issued him a summary citation for disorderly conduct. The charge was later upgraded to harassment, and Credico was convicted by order of Magistrate District Judge William D. Kraut. Credico appealed this conviction to the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. At trial, Credico was acquitted of the charge of harassment by Judge Ann Marie Wheatcraft based on a technical error in changing the citation from disorderly conduct to harassment without issuing a separate citation and the fact Credico did not engage in a “course of conduct” as required to establish a claim for harassment. Judge Wheatcraft did, however, note that Credico approached Detective Maurer in a threatening manner. Credico brings claims for retaliatory prosecution, malicious prosecution, and First Amendment retaliation against the West Goshen Police Department and Detective Maurer in his official and individual capacity pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Pennsylvania law.

a. Claims Against West Goshen Police

The claims against the West Goshen Police pursuant to § 1983 will be dismissed with prejudice because local police departments are not “persons” who can be sued under that statute. A police department is considered a subunit of the city government and not distinct from the government at large because the department is “merely a vehicle through which the city fulfills its policing functions.” Johnson v. City of Erie, Pa., 834 F.Supp. 873, 878-79 (W.D. Pa. 1993); see also Talley v. Trautman, No. 96-5190, 1997 WL 135705, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 13, 1997) (holding that a municipal police department, without an identity separate from the municipality of which it is a part, does not constitute a natural or artificial person for purposes of a § 1983 action); Irvin v. Borough of Darby, 937 F.Supp. 446, 450 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (dismissing § 1983 claims against the Darby Police because “the police department is merely an arm of the local municipality”). Credico may only assert this claim as a municipal liability claim against the West Goshen Township.

The Complaint fails to state a claim against the Township, however, for municipal liability. A municipality may be held liable under § 1983 for its employee’s violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights, although not on a respondeat superior theory of liability. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-92 (1978). “Rather, a municipality may be held liable for the conduct of an individual employee or officer only when that conduct implements an official policy or practice.” Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 245 (3d Cir. 2006). There are three circumstances under which a municipality may be liable: “(1) the individual acted pursuant to a formal government policy or a standard operating procedure long accepted within the government entity, (2) the individual himself has final policy-making authority such that his conduct represents official policy, or (3) a final policy-maker renders the individual’s conduct official for liability purposes by having delegated to him authority to act or speak for the government, or by ratifying the conduct or speech after it has occurred.” Id.

Credico does not set forth any facts relating to wrongdoing by the West Goshen Township. Although he claims an event similar to the one at issue in this case occurred in 2008 with another officer, he does not provide details about that incident or explain how the two events implicate either the West Goshen Police Department or the Township. In effect, Credico merely asserts the Township should be liable because Detective Maurer is its employee, which is an impermissible respondeat superior theory of liability. Because amendment would be futile since this type of respondeat superior claim is never allowed to be asserted pursuant to § 1983, this claim will be dismissed with prejudice.

Credico also asserts a claim under Pennsylvania law against the Township for malicious prosecution, but this claim is barred by the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (PSTCA), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 8541–8542. The PSTCA grants local agencies immunity from liability for damages caused by agency employees, subject to eight specifically enumerated statutory exceptions. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8541.[1] Because malicious prosecution does not fall within one of the exceptions, the Township is immune from this claim, and the claim will be dismissed with prejudice.

b. Claims against Detective Maurer

Credico’s claims against Detective Maurer in his official capacity pursuant to § 1983 will also be dismissed with prejudice because these claims are viewed as claims against the Township. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (“[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity . . . . It is not a suit against the official personally, for the real party in interest is the entity.” (internal citations omitted)); Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 n.55 (“[O]fficial-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an ...


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