United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.
In this Section 1983 civil rights action, Plaintiff sued several individuals asserting violations of his rights protected by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as pendent state law claims. Plaintiff alleged that several police officers, a county sheriff, three judges, a court administrator, three public defenders, and twelve unidentified individuals were the cause of his being incarcerated as the unfortunate result of his brother intentionally misrepresenting himself as Plaintiff during a traffic stop. Presently before the court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by the arresting officer (Doc. 53), wherein he contends that he had probable cause to file charges against Plaintiff and is entitled to qualified immunity, and is therefore entitled to judgment in his favor. (Doc. 58.) For the following reasons, Defendant's motion will be denied.
As in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court is limited in its review under Rule 12(c) to a few basic documents: the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputed authentic documents if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The standards governing Rule 12(c) motions are the same ones that govern motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Allah v. Hayman, 442 F.Appx. 632, 635 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2004)). Thus, the court must view the facts 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).
At the time relevant to the instant action, Plaintiff, Ever Uribe Perez Velazquez, was 27 years old, and approximately five feet and a half-inch tall. (Doc. 7, ¶¶ 17-20; see also Doc. 3-1.) Plaintiff's brother, Jose Luis Perez Velazquez ("Jose"),  was 21 years old and approximately five feet and seven inches tall. (Doc. 7, ¶¶ 31, 32.) Both Plaintiff and Jose are Hispanic and citizens of Mexico ( Id. at ¶¶ 17, 21, 31), and, while Plaintiff "understands some English" but speaks only Spanish ( Id. at ¶ 22), Jose speaks some English ( Id. at ¶ 33). Defendant, Richard Gamez, is a corporal employed by the Pennsylvania State Police. ( Id. at ¶ 5; Doc. 24, ¶ 5.)
The facts giving rise to the claims against Defendant ensue from the stop of Jose's operating Plaintiff's vehicle, a burgundy 1998 Ford Windstar minivan, on November 19, 2010 at approximately 9:30 p.m. within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. ( See Doc. 7, ¶¶ 35, 36; Doc. 3-3; Doc. 24, ¶ 36.) According to Defendant's affidavit of probable cause, he initiated the traffic stop due to his observing the vehicle traveling fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit, swerving, crossing the white fog line on three occasions, and nearly striking the westside guardrail. (Doc. 3-3, p. 6 of 6.) Jose identified himself as Plaintiff by giving Plaintiff's Mexican passport, which was in the glovebox, to Defendant. (Doc. 7, ¶¶ 38, 39.) During the encounter, Defendant observed several indicia of intoxication, and, after Jose failed a portable breath test, Defendant arrested him for driving under the influence of alcohol, and drove him to the Harrisburg Hospital for a blood test, the results of which confirmed that Jose's blood alcohol content was in excess of the legal limit. ( Id. at ¶¶ 40, 41; Doc. 3-3, p. 6 of 6.) Defendant released Jose from custody after photographing him and informing him that he would receive a summons to appear in court. (Doc. 7, ¶¶ 42, 43.) Because Jose produced Plaintiff's passport as his only form of identification, Defendant released Jose believing him to be Plaintiff. ( Id. at ¶ 39; see also Doc. 3-3, p. 6 of 6.)
On November 30, 2010, Defendant filed a police criminal complaint charging Plaintiff with six counts related to the November 19, 2010 incident. ( See Doc. 7, ¶ 44; see also Doc. 3-3.) In the affidavit of probable cause, Defendant recounted the events giving rise to the stop and stated that "[t]he defendant was identified by his International ID as Ever URIVE [sic] PEREZ, DOB: [redacted as submitted]." (Doc. 3-3, p. 6 of 6.) On December 1, 2010, Magisterial District Judge Gregory D. Johnson issued a summons for Plaintiff to appear for a preliminary hearing scheduled for February 7, 2011. (Doc. 7, ¶¶ 49, 53.) Plaintiff alleges he did not receive either summons, and, consequently, failed to appear. ( Id. at ¶¶ 50, 54.)
Due to Plaintiff's failure to appear, a bench warrant was issued for Plaintiff's arrest. (Doc. 3-4, p. 1 of 5.) On June 11, 2011, at approximately 11:00 a.m., Middletown Police Officer Andrew Crone stopped Plaintiff, who was operating his burgundy 1998 Ford Windstar minivan in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, for speeding. (Doc. 7, ¶ 60.) Plaintiff provided Officer Crone with several documents, including his passport. ( Id. at ¶ 62.) After discovering the outstanding bench warrant, Officer Crone effectuated Plaintiff's arrest with the assistance of several other law enforcement officers. ( Id. at ¶ 64.) Due to a series of continuances, Plaintiff was held at Dauphin County Prison until October 18, 2011, at which time a hearing before Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Deborah E. Curcillo was held. ( Id. at ¶¶ 105-06.) During this hearing, Defendant compared a photograph of the individual taken at Harrisburg Hospital on the night of the incident to Plaintiff and realized that Plaintiff was not the individual whom he pulled over on November 19, 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 107; Doc. 3-7, p. 2 of 4.) The prosecutor agreed to amend the information to reflect the name of the individual who was actually driving, Jose, and to release Plaintiff. (Doc. 3-7, p. 2 of 4.) Plaintiff was released from custody on October 18, 2011. (Doc. 7, ¶ 108.)
B. Procedural History
Plaintiff initiated this action on June 10, 2013, and filed his first amended complaint on June 28, 2013. (Doc. 7.) In his amended complaint, Plaintiff asserted several constitutional claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and named ten defendants, including two law enforcement officers, a county sheriff, three state judges, a court administrator, and three public defenders, in addition to twelve unidentified "Jane" or "John" Doe individuals. ( Id. ) Relevant to the instant motion, Plaintiff claimed that Defendant's naming Plaintiff in his affidavit of probable cause was made with a reckless disregard for the truth ( Id. at ¶ 138) and resulted in an unlawful seizure and malicious prosecution under Pennsylvania state law ( Id. at ¶¶ 135-148). Defendant filed his answer on August 26, 2013. (Doc. 24.)
On December 16, 2013, Defendant filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 53), followed by a brief in support on January 10, 2014 (Doc. 58), to which Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition on January 24, 2014 (Doc. 60). On February 7, 2014, Defendant filed his reply. (Doc. 61.) Thus, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.
II. Legal Standard
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to move for judgment on the pleadings "after the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate if the movant clearly establishes that there are no material issues of fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008). In analyzing a Rule 12(c) motion, a court applies the same legal standards as applicable to a motion filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Turbe v. Government of V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991); Bangura v. City of Phila., 338 F.Appx. 261, 264 (3d Cir. 2009), and must view the facts and the inferences to be drawn ...