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Black v. City of Harrisburg

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 12, 2013

ANTOINE M. BLACK, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, by the HARRISBURG CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, and DETECTIVE DONALD HEFFNER including UNKNOWN POLICE OFFICERS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Antoine M. Black ("Black") filed the above-captioned action for civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss (Doc. 15), filed by defendants City of Harrisburg, on behalf of the Harrisburg City Police Department, and Detective Donald Heffner. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motion.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The instant motion to dismiss comes before the court pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Accordingly, the court will "accept all well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable" to the plaintiff. Carino v. Stefan , 376 F.3d 156, 159 (3d Cir. 2004).

Black is an adult male who, at all times relevant to the complaint, resided in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1 ¶ 5). Defendant Donald Heffner is a detective with the Harrisburg City Police Department ("Police Department"). ( Id. ¶ 7). Black alleges that, on August 17, 2010, Detective Heffner and other unknown police officers of the Police Department conducted an illegal search and seizure at Black's residence. ( Id. ¶¶ 6, 8).

On August 3, 2010, Probation Officer Jenkins reported a stolen 0.45-caliber Sigsaur handgun. ( Id. ¶ 9). On August 16, 2010, Detective Heffner interviewed Brittany Harris, who claimed to be aware of the stolen handgun from media reports. ( Id. ¶¶ 10-11). Ms. Harris allegedly informed Detective Heffner that she overheard Black attempting to sell a gun that matched the description of the missing handgun. ( Id. ¶ 13). Ms. Harris also allegedly possessed personal knowledge about Black, including Black's birth date and the birth date of his son, his address, and his living arrangements. ( Id. ¶ 12).

Relying in substantial part upon the information he received from Ms. Harris, Detective Heffner submitted an application for a search warrant, including an Affidavit of Probable Cause, to a neutral magistrate. ( Id. ¶ 7). The Affidavit of Probable Cause states that the Police Department expected a search of Black's residence to produce evidence of stolen government-issued equipment. ( Id. ¶ 15). On August 17, 2010, members of the Police Department executed the search warrant at Black's residence. ( Id. ¶ 14). The search produced no evidence of the stolen materials; however, the police officers seized currency in the amount of $13, 940 from a purse within the home, and $29, 000 found in a Tastycake box on the third floor of the residence. ( Id. ¶¶ 16-17). Black was not arrested and no charges were filed against him related to the search. ( Id. ¶ 18). Defendants placed the seized currency, totaling $42, 940, into evidence. ( Id. ¶ 19). On March 10, 2011, Black received $28, 980 of the seized currency when he objected to a forfeiture proceeding initiated by the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office. ( Id. ¶ 20). According to the complaint, a state court replevin action over the balance of the seized funds is pending. ( Id. ¶ 25).

On October 17, 2011, Black filed the complaint (Doc. 1) against defendants City of Harrisburg (the "City"), by and through the Police Department, and Detective Heffner for civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. ( Id. ¶ 22). Specifically, Black alleged that, while acting under color of state law, defendants executed a search warrant without probable cause and illegally seized a large amount of currency. (Id.) Thus, defendants violated Black's rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Sections 8 and 9 of Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution. ( Id. ¶¶ 22, 30). On December 13, 2012, defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss (Doc. 15) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Black subsequently waived his claims regarding violations of the First, Fifth, and Thirteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Sections 8 and 9 of Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution. (Doc. 36 at 2). Thus, the court must resolve whether Black sufficiently alleges claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for: (1) municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York , 436 U.S. 658 (1978), (2) unlawful search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and (3) deprivation of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.[1]

II. Jurisdiction and Legal Standard

The court has jurisdiction over the instant matter because the complaint presents a question of federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Black alleges that defendants deprived him of his constitutional rights under color of state law. See 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3).

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. , 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Kanter v. Barella , 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher , 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)).

Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips , 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court must conduct a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp. , 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id . (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id .; see also Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the well-pleaded factual allegations, it must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). A claim "has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. When the complaint fails to present a prima facie case of liability, courts should generally grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp. , 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver , 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code provides a cause of action to redress violations of federal law committed by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but merely a method for vindicating those rights otherwise protected by federal law. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe , 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder , 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To establish a claim under section 1983, the plaintiff must show a deprivation of a "right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States... by a person acting under color of state law." Kneipp , 95 F.3d at 1204 (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro , 51 F.3d 1137, ...


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