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Boyer v. Mohring

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 13, 2014

BRIAN E. BOYER, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBORA MOHRING and BYRON RICE, Defendants.

OPINION

JOEL H. SLOMSKY, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Brian Boyer, proceeding pro se, filed this lawsuit against his sister, Debora Mohring, and his Parole Officer, Byron Rice (collectively “Defendants”). Plaintiff complains that, without his permission, his sister unlawfully searched his home and then illegally seized and searched his cell phone. He also complains that his Parole Officer unlawfully searched his home and illegally seized the same cell phone, because he did not obtain a search warrant before taking custody of the phone. Finally, Plaintiff complains that his Parole Officer illegally searched the phone. Based on retrieved images stored on the phone, Plaintiff was subsequently arrested for possession of child pornography.

Plaintiff initially named two additional Defendants in this case, Sergeant Vega and Detective McQuate, but voluntarily dismissed the charges against them on November 5, 2013. (Doc. Nos. 44, 51.) On July 1, 2013, Plaintiff also voluntarily dismissed one claim against Defendant Rice for deprivation of Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process. (Doc. No. 24 at 8.) Thus, two Defendants remain, Defendant Mohring and Defendant Rice. As noted, Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that both Defendants infringed upon his Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an illegal search and seizure of his property in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Defendants Mohring and Rice have filed separate Motions to Dismiss the Complaint. (Doc. Nos. 20, 41.) Before being dismissed as Defendants, Vega and McQuate filed a joint Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 16.) Defendants Rice and Mohring have adopted by reference the arguments made by former Defendants Vega and McQuate in their Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 20 at 7; Doc. No. 41 at 3.) Plaintiff filed Responses in Opposition to the Defendants Rice, Vega, and McQuate’s Motions to Dismiss (Doc. Nos. 23, 24)[1]. On November 22, 2013, the Court held a hearing on the Motions. For reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants Mohring and Rice’s Motions to Dismiss the remaining claims.

II. BACKGROUND

The following facts are set forth in the Complaint. Only the facts relevant to the claims of the unlawful searches and seizures made against remaining Defendants Mohring and Rice will be discussed.

In September 2010, Plaintiff was a parolee under the supervision of Defendant Rice, his Parole Officer. At that time, Plaintiff’s sister, Defendant Mohring, signed what is known as a “Statement of Residence, ” in which she agreed to provide living quarters for Plaintiff for a minimum of six months when he was released on parole. In the “Statement of Residence, ” she agreed to cooperate with parole supervision staff. The “Statement of Residence” stated:

I agree to take a friendly interest in this person as opportunity affords, and I shall cooperate with parole supervision staff by reporting any irregularities that may come to my attention.

(Doc. No. 8 at Ex. A.) According to the Complaint, Defendant Rice asked Defendant Mohring to report to him any parole violations by Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 8.)

During the first week of March 2011, Defendant Mohring entered Plaintiff’s residence without permission.[2] (Id. at ¶ 29.) She searched the residence and found what she believed to be child pornography. (Id. at ¶ 32.) Defendant Morhing reported the suspected child pornography to Defendant Rice. (Id. at ¶¶ 32, 36.) Defendant Rice then reported this information to his supervisor, who authorized a search of Plaintiff’s property pursuant to 61 Pa.C.S § 6153(d).[3] (Id. at ¶ 36.)

On March 7, 2011, Defendant Rice, along with Defendant Mohring and several law enforcement agents, searched Plaintiff’s residence. Although they did not find child pornography, they took Plaintiff into custody for various other parole violations. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-46.) Between March 8 and March 11, 2011, while Plaintiff was in custody, Defendant Mohring entered Plaintiff’s home and seized his cell phone. (Id. at ¶ 56.)[4] On March 11, 2011, Defendant Mohring contacted Defendant Rice to inform him that she had Plaintiff’s cell phone in her possession, and that she believed it contained images of child pornography. (Id. at ¶ 57.) Defendant Rice then contacted Sergeant Vega, his supervisor, who advised Rice to schedule a meeting with Defendant Mohring so that she could turn over the cell phone to him. (Id. at 58.) On the same day, Rice met with Defendant Mohring and was given custody of Plaintiff’s cell phone. Rice did not obtain a search warrant prior to receiving the phone. He then turned the phone over to Detective Vega. (Id. at ¶ 61-62). Thereafter, Sergeant McQuate applied for a search warrant to search the cell phone. (Id. at ¶ 63.)

On May 19, 2011, a search warrant was issued by a Magisterial District Judge based on a violation of 18 Pa. C.S.A. 6312 (sexual abuse of children), authorizing law enforcement to search the phone for images of child pornography.[5] While searching the phone, the police found images of child pornography. (Doc. No. 16, Ex. B.) On September 26, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested and charged with one count of possession of child pornography. (Doc. No. 8 at ¶ 71.) This charge was withdrawn in April 2012, but seventeen additional counts of possession of child pornography were subsequently filed against Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 16, Ex. B.)

In April 2012, Plaintiff commenced this action by filing an In Forma Pauperis petition, but requested that the action be stayed pending the resolution of the related criminal charges. (Doc. Nos. 1, 4.) The Court agreed. (Doc. No. 5.) On January 16, 2013, Plaintiff pled guilty to one count of possession of child pornography. (Doc. No. 16, Ex. B.) On March 7, 2013, Plaintiff petitioned this Court to remove the case from suspense, which the Court did, and then he filed the instant Complaint. (Doc. Nos. 6, 7, 8.)

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The motion to dismiss standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is set forth in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). After Iqbal, it is clear that “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice” to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 663; see Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ethypharm S.A. France v. Abbott Labs., 707 F.3d 223, n.14 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, n. 27 (3d Cir. 2010)). “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.” Id. “This means that our inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

A complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff’s entitlement to relief, it must “show” such an entitlement with its facts. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (citing Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008)). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged — but it has not ‘shown’ — ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The ...


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