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Long v. Borough of Downingtown

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 31, 2014

JOSEPH W. LONG, JR
v.
BOROUGH OF DOWNINGTOWN, et al.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ELIZABETH T. HEY, Magistrate Judge.

In this civil rights action, Plaintiff brings claims of false arrest, excessive force, unlawful search and seizure, malicious prosecution, and related state law claims, as well as conspiracy, against the Borough of Downingtown, Police Chief James McGowan, and Patrol Officer (formerly Detective) Pamela Fentner (collectively "Borough Defendants"), among others. Presently before the court is the Borough Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff shall have 14 days from the date of the Order in which to file a Third Amended Complaint consistent with this Memorandum.[1]

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Amended Complaint alleges the following facts. Plaintiff is a resident of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and is a veteran who has never been in trouble with the law. Amended Compl. (Doc. 2) ¶¶ 3, 15. On or about September 27, 2011, Plaintiff was arrested by Defendant Fentner and charged with three counts of theft by deception, receiving stolen property, and two counts of unsworn falsifications to authorities. Id . ¶ 5, 11, 12. Plaintiff was innocent of the charges. Id . ¶ 13. Fentner filed the criminal charges against Plaintiff "as a result of a personal vendetta against Carla Long, Plaintiff's wife, for reporting... Fentner for sleeping on duty." Id . ¶ 25. Prior to the arrest, Fentner contacted Defendants Scott Duffey and Bruce Hill, who Plaintiff identifies as employees of the Federal Emergency Management Authority ("FEMA"), regarding a claim Plaintiff and his wife had submitted to FEMA for property damage related to a recent storm. Id . ¶¶ 8-9, 26-31. Access to FEMA records requires the written authorization of the relevant chief law enforcement officer, who at the time was Defendant McGowan. Id . ¶¶ 6, 30.

The Honorable William Mahon, Court of Common Pleas of Chester County, subsequently dismissed all charges against Plaintiff. Amended Compl. ¶ 14. As a result of the charges, Plaintiff lost his job and suffered various emotional damages, including embarrassment and severe mental and emotional distress. Id . ¶¶ 16-17.

The Amended Complaint asserts four causes of action. The First Cause of Action seeks relief against the individual and municipal defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from defendants' actions, committed under color of state law, which allegedly deprived Plaintiff "of his right to be free from unreasonable and excessive force, and unlawful search and seizure, unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, to be secure in his person and property and to due process of law" in violation of the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Amended Compl. ¶¶ 19, 21.

The Second Cause of Action asserts supplemental state law claims against the individual defendants for assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id . ¶ 33. The Third Cause of Action asserts the identical supplemental state law claims, as well as abuse of process, against Fentner individually, and also alleges that Fentner's actions were willful, reckless and malicious. Id . ¶¶ 35-36. The Fourth Cause of Action asserts a civil conspiracy claim against all individual defendants. Id . ¶¶ 38-46.

Borough Defendants have moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Doc. 10. In his response to the motion, Plaintiff withdraws his federal and state law claims of excessive force and assault and battery, as well as his claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process. See Doc. 21 at 11-13.[2] Plaintiff otherwise argues that the allegations in the Amended Complaint are sufficient to survive Borough Defendants' motion.[3]

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), we "consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, [and] matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick , 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus. Inc. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. DelRio-Mocci v. Connolly Props., Inc. , 672 F.3d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc. , 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a plaintiff to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim" which gives the defendant "fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible, ' thus enabling the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for [the] misconduct alleged.' Warren Gen. Hosp. , 643 F.3d at 84 (quoting Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009)). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a mere possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). Thus, the court will grant a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.' West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat'l Bank , 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555).

III. DISCUSSION

A. First Cause of Action: Federal Claims Pursuant to Section 1983

The Amended Complaint asserts claims for violation of Plaintiffs First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Amended Compl. ¶ 19. "Section 1983 provides remedies for deprivations of rights established in the Constitution or federal laws. It does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights." Kaucher v. County of Bucks , 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (footnote omitted) (citing Baker v. McCollan , 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979)). Consequently, in order to state a claim for relief pursuant to section 1983, "a plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived him or her of a right secured by the Constitution or the ...


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