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Mantua Community Planners v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 11, 2013




Now before me is a motion for judgment on the pleadings by defendants City of Philadelphia and Jannie Blackwell seeking judgment in favor of defendants on Counts I, II, III, V and VI of plaintiffs’ complaint. For the reasons that follow, I will grant defendants’ motion in part and deny defendants’ motion in part.


Plaintiffs Mantua Community Planners, Inc., Samantha Monroe and Reverend Dr. Andrew Jenkins[1] claim that the City and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell deprived them of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from property seizure and of their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly in violation of 42 USC § 1983. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 44, 57. Additionally, plaintiff Samantha Monroe asserts a negligence claim against Blackwell and an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against Blackwell and the City stemming from an incident in which defendant Blackwell allegedly struck Monroe with her car. Id. at ¶¶ 75-101. Finally, Mantua Community Planners and Monroe assert claims against Blackwell and the City based on the theory of respondeat superior for alleged tortious conduct by defendants’ agents. Id. at ¶¶ 102-105.

Plaintiffs allege that in order to further her political agenda Blackwell caused Mantua Community Planners to be removed from its office space in a City building. Id. at ¶¶ 19-25. Plaintiffs claim that this removal resulted in the destruction of Mantua Community Planners’ and Reverend Jenkins’ personal property. Id. at ¶¶ 22-24. Plaintiffs also assert that Monroe attempted to speak out against the treatment of Mantua Community Planners at a neighborhood meeting where she was “surrounded” and placed “in fear of physical violence to her body.” Id. at ¶ 39. After this meeting, Blackwell allegedly struck Monroe with her car in the parking lot. Id. at ¶¶ 75-95. Finally, plaintiffs claim that in the wake of this neighborhood meeting Blackwell’s agents subjected Monroe to repeated instances of threats, intimidation and harassment at Blackwell’s direction. Id. at ¶¶ 97-101.

Defendants’ motion seeks judgment on the pleadings against plaintiffs on all claims against the City -- except that of negligence -- along with all claims against Blackwell brought pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution. Defendants also “seek[ ] to clarify that Plaintiffs state Section 1983 causes of action for violations of Plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment right to be free of property seizure, Fourth Amendment right to be free of excessive force, and First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.”[2] Dkt. No. 8 at ECF p. 4.

I construe Counts I, II and III of plaintiffs’ complaint, read together, to assert violations of plaintiffs’ civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Count IV to assert negligence stemming from the incident in which Blackwell allegedly struck Monroe with her vehicle and Count V to assert intentional infliction of emotional distress based on allegations of physical threats and harassment. I will address plaintiffs’ Counts VII and VIII, which rely on the theory of respondeat superior, in my analysis of defendants’ alleged liability under § 1983.


I. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

A party may move for judgment on the pleadings “[a]fter the pleadings are closed – but early enough not to delay trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court considers the pleadings and exhibits attached thereto, matters of public record and “undisputedly authentic documents attached to the motion for judgment on the pleadings if plaintiffs’ claims are based on the documents.” Atiyeh v. Nat’l Fire Ins. Co. of Hartford, 742 F.Supp.2d 591, 595 (E.D. Pa. 2010). Rule 12(c) motions are reviewed under the same standard that applies to motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Turbe v. Gov.’t of V. I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). Accordingly, in deciding defendants’ motion, I “must view the facts presented in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2005).

Defendants’ motion will be granted if plaintiffs have not articulated enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). It is not enough for plaintiffs to allege mere “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. Plaintiffs must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). The Court “may disregard any legal conclusions.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”).


I. Alleged Constitutional Violations

Plaintiffs assert claims against Blackwell and the City for violations of their constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. I will address the claims against each defendant in turn.

A. Blackwell

Plaintiffs assert several constitutional violations against Blackwell including a claim of property seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment and infringement of their right to free speech and their right to assemble in violation of the First Amendment. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 44.

1. Property Seizure

Plaintiffs have pled facts alleging an unconstitutional taking of their property. They claim that Blackwell caused the destruction of $400, 000 worth of property and records belonging to Jenkins and $20, 000 worth of property and records belonging to Mantua Community Planners. Pl.’s Compl. at ¶¶ 21-23. Monroe also alleges damage to her clothing, goods, personal items and vehicle. Id. at ¶¶ 71, 92. Plaintiffs assert that because their property was destroyed without notice or opportunity to be heard they are entitled to relief pursuant to § 1983. Id. at ¶¶ 19, 53.

A procedural due process violation “is not complete unless and until the State fails to provide due process. Therefore, to determine whether a constitutional violation has occurred, it is necessary to ask what process the State provided, and whether it was constitutionally adequate.” Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 126 (1990). To demonstrate the requisite absence of due process, plaintiffs must exhaust state remedies to plead intentional deprivation by the State. Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984). Therefore, “in order to state a claim for failure to provide due process, a plaintiff must have taken advantage of the processes that were available to him or her, unless those processes are unavailable or patently inadequate.” Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2000); see also, Jackson v. City of Stone Mountain, 232 F.Supp.2d 1337, 1368 (N.D.Ga. 2002) (“[P]laintiffs must show that they have exhausted whatever post-deprivation state remedies are available, if any such remedies exist.”). These requirements “flow from the Supreme Court’s statement that random, unauthorized deprivations of property by state officials, whether intentional or negligent, do not violate due process if there is an adequate state post-deprivation remedy.” Willard v. Pa. Soc. for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, No. 11-04543, 2012 WL 1392657, at *5 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2012), citing Hudson, 468 U.S. at 533; and Paratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 537-43 (1981).

In Pennsylvania, “a person aggrieved by search and seizure, whether or not executed pursuant to a warrant, may move for return of the property on the ground that he or she is entitled to lawful possession thereof.” Pa. R. Crim. Pro. 588. Though plaintiffs have alleged facts supporting deprivations of property, they have failed to allege the necessary exhaustion of post-deprivation state remedies. Plaintiffs’ complaint makes no reference to any attempt to have their property returned to them. In order to challenge the adequacy of available state remedies, plaintiffs must first assert that they availed themselves of those remedies. Willard, 2012 WL 1392657, at *6.

Pursuant to Rule 15, I will grant plaintiffs leave to amend this claim to the extent that they can assert facts demonstrating that they pursued post-deprivation state remedies to no avail. See Welsch v. Twp. of Upper Darby, No. 07-4578, 2008 WL 3919354, at *5-6 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2008) (finding that Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 588 is an adequate post- deprivation state remedy); Taylor v. Naylor, No. 06-041826, 2006 WL 1134940, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 26, 2006) (same); Marsh v. Ladd, No. ...

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