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Estep v. MacKey

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 13, 2013

MARY ESTEP, in her own right and as guardian of CRAIG BA UM, an incompetent person, Plaintiff,
v.
POLICE OFFICER MACKEY, BOROUGH OF CRESSON, BOROUGH OF PORTAGE, and POLICE OFFICER DONALD WYAR, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT

KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. SYNOPSIS

Pending before the Court is Defendants Borough of Portage and Police Officer Donald Wyar's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 61) Plaintiff's amended complaint (ECF No. 57). Defendants Portage and Wyar contend that Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. ( See ECF No. 62). Plaintiff opposes the motion. ( See ECF No. 63). For the reasons explained below, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because a substantial portion of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

III. BACKGROUND

This case arises from a traumatic brain injury sustained by Craig Baum after police shot him with a Taser, causing him to fall and strike his head during a traffic stop. ( See generally ECF No. 57, Am. Compl.). Plaintiff filed this action on behalf of her son, Craig Baum, an incompetent person.[1] Plaintiff makes the following allegations in her amended complaint, which the Court accepts as true for the purpose of deciding the pending motion.

On September 20, 2009, Officer Wyar, an officer with the Portage Borough Police Department, conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle after observing the vehicle swerve. (ECF No. 57, Am. Compl. ¶ 10). Baum was riding as a passenger in the vehicle, which was stopped in close proximity to the Portage Borough Police Department building. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10). Officer Wyar had been looking for this vehicle, believing that Baum was riding in the vehicle and was carrying drugs. ( Id. ¶¶ 11-12). Prior to the stop, Officer Mackey, a police officer employed by the Borough of Cresson, had advised Officer Wyar that he had seen Baum in a green vehicle being driven by a female. ( Id. ¶ 11).

After stopping the vehicle, Officer Wyar contacted the Cambria County police dispatch and requested that Officer Mackey and a female officer provide assistance. ( Id. ¶ 12). Officer Mackey responded to Officer Wyar's request and arrived at the scene of the traffic stop to provide assistance. ( Id. ¶ 13).

At Officer Wyar's request, Baum consented to a search and agreed to walk to the police station, a short distance away. ( Id. ¶¶ 14-16). Officer Wyar directed Officer Mackey to escort Baum, who was unrestrained, to the police station. ( Id. ¶ 16). Officer Mackey was armed with an Electronic Control Weapon ("Taser"), and had the Taser in hand and ready to fire while accompanying Baum to the police station. ( Id. ¶ 17).

As Baum approached the police station, he apparently changed his mind about consenting to the search and attempted to run back across the street. ( Id. ¶ 18). Officer Mackey then fired his Taser, striking Baum in the back, and deployed an electric current. ( Id. ¶¶ 18-19). As a result, Baum "pitched forward and struck his head on the street and/or curb, " causing serious brain injuries that have left him "totally and permanently incapacitated." ( Id. ¶¶ 20-21).

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint (ECF No. 1) on September 13, 2011.[2] On November 14, 2011, Defendants Borough of Cresson and Officer Mackey filed an answer (ECF No. 22) with affirmative defenses to the complaint. Defendants Borough of Portage and Officer Wyar, on the other hand, filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs complaint (ECF No. 19) along with a brief in support (ECF No. 20) on November 14, 2011. Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 26), and Defendants Portage and Wyar filed a reply (ECF No. 30) to Plaintiffs brief. On July 19, 2012, the Court granted Defendants Portage and Wyar's motion to dismiss the complaint. ( See ECF No. 47).

Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration and motion for leave to amend her complaint (ECF No. 48), along with a brief in support (ECF No. 49), to which Defendants Portage and Wyar filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 54). On March 25, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend her complaint and denied as moot Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. ( See ECF No. 55)

Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (ECF No. 57) on April 1, 2013. Plaintiff's amended complaint raises claims against the four remaining Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and contains three counts: Count One is an excessive force claim against Officers Mackey and Wyar (ECF No. 57, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-32); Count Two is a municipal liability claim for failure to train against the Boroughs of Cresson and Portage ( id. ¶¶ 33-40); and Count Three is a municipal liability claim for failure to supervise against the Boroughs of Cresson and Portage ( id. ¶¶ 36-41).[3]

On April 9, 2013, Defendants Borough of Cresson and Officer Mackey again filed an answer (ECF No. 58) with affirmative defenses to the complaint. And on April 18, 2013, Defendants Borough of Portage and Officer Wyar filed the currently-pending motion to dismiss (ECF No. 61) Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Defendants Portage and Wyar filed a brief in support (ECF No. 62) of their motion on April 18, 2013, and Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition (ECF No. 63) on May 13, 2013. On November 20, 2013, Defendants Portage and Wyar filed a supplemental brief (ECF No. 68) in support of their motion to dismiss. The parties having fully briefed the Court, this matter is now ripe for adjudication.

IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Defendants Borough of Portage and Officer Wyar move to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) allows a party to seek dismissal of a complaint or any portion of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Although the federal pleading standard has been "in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years, " the standard of review for a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge is now well established. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209 (3d Cir. 2009).

In determining the sufficiency of a complaint, a district court must conduct a twopart analysis. First, the court must separate the factual matters averred from the legal conclusions asserted. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Second, the court must determine whether the factual matters averred are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). The complaint need not include "detailed factual allegations." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

Moreover, the court must construe the alleged facts, and draw all inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See id. at 228 (citing Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003)). However, "legal conclusions" and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action... do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rather, the complaint must present sufficient "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 263 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

Ultimately, whether a plaintiff has shown a "plausible claim for relief' is a "context specific" inquiry that requires the district court to "draw on its judicial experience and common sense." lqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The relevant record under consideration includes the complaint and any "document integral or explicitly relied on in the complaint." U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). If a complaint is vulnerable to dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the district court must permit a curative amendment, irrespective of whether a plaintiff ...


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