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Mantua Community Planners v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 11, 2013

MANTUA COMMUNITY PLANNERS, et al.,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.

MEMORANDUM

THOMAS N. ONEILL, Jr., District Judge.

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.

BACKGROUND

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.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

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.").

DISCUSSION

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 ...


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