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Golden Eagle Tavern, Inc. v. City of Lancaster

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 4, 2014

GOLDEN EAGLE TAVERN, INC., and ANH HUYNH, owner, Plaintiffs,
CITY OF LANCASTER, LANCASTER CITY BOARD OF HEALTH, KIM WISSLER, in her individual capacity, JAMES DOUNTAS, in his official and individual capacities, and GARY HORNING, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


JEFFREY SCHMEHL, District Judge.

This matter involves an allegedly unconstitutional seizure of Plaintiffs' restaurant liquor license by Defendant, James Dountas, a Pennsylvania State Police Liquor Enforcement Officer. Presently pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss of Defendant, James Dountas (Docket No. 21). For the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion of Defendant Dountas and dismiss him from this action.


Plaintiffs are Golden Eagle Tavern, Inc. ("GET"), a restaurant/bar in the city of Lancaster, and Anh Huynh, the owner of GET. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-8.) Plaintiffs have operated the GET in Lancaster since 1987. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Prior to November 3, 2011, GET had a valid restaurant license issued by the City of Lancaster pursuant to its City Code. (Compl. ¶ 19) Plaitiffs also had a valid restaurant liquor license. (Compl. ¶ 20.) On November 3, 2011, Liquor Enforcement Officer James Dountas ("Dountas") attended an inspection at GET performed by City of Lancaster Health Officer Kim Wissler. (Compl. ¶ 23.) On that date, Officer Wissler ("Wissler") found approximately 15 violations and closed GET due to "unsanitary" conditions. (Compl. ¶¶ 33-34.) Plaintiffs' Complaint also alleges that Dountas and Wissler made "false statements" to the press about the condition of GET. (Compl. ¶ 74.) Plaintiffs allege that the violations were quickly remedied and despite repeated attempts to contact Wissler to re-inspect the restaurant, Wissler failed to perform a re-inspection of GET. (Compl. ¶¶ 52-53, 55.)

On November 9, 2011, an emergency hearing was held by the City Board of Health and as a result, GET's restaurant license was revoked. (Compl. ¶¶ 61-62.) As a result of the revocation of GET's restaurant license by the City, GET's liquor license was placed in safekeeping by the LCB, where it remains to this day. (Compl. ¶69.) GET has been closed since November 3, 2011. Plaintiffs' filed the instant action on March 15, 2013.

Plaintiffs' Complaint sets forth the following causes of action against Defendant Dountas: 1) declaratory judgment; 2) unconstitutional seizure under the Fourth Amendment; 3) procedural due process violations; and 4) substantive due process violations. (See Compl.)


A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) (abrogated in other respects by Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). In determining whether a complaint is sufficient, 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, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (citing Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)).

Although "conclusory" or "bare-bones allegations" will not survive a motion to dismiss, Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210, a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Phillips , 515 F.3d at 231. Nonetheless, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must provide "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Id . at 234 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556) (internal quotations omitted).


A. Motion to Dismiss.

Defendant Dountas seeks to have Plaintiffs' Complaint dismissed for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Dountas argues that Plaintiffs' Complaint does not state § 1983 claims against Dountas under the facts set forth in the Complaint. A close reading of Plaintiffs' Complaint shows that none of the civil rights allegations against Dountas have merit. Accordingly, I will grant Dountas' Motion to Dismiss with prejudice.

1. Unreasonable Seizure

Plaintiffs' Complaint sets forth a cause of action against Dountas for "unconstitutional seizure" under the Fourth Amendment, stating that Defendant Dountas seized Plaintiffs' property without cause, and deprived Plaintiffs of their liquor license.[1] (Compl. ¶¶ 91-92.) A seizure of property occurs under the Fourth Amendment when "there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests" in that property. Marcavage v. Borough of Lansdowne, 493 Fed.Appx. 301, 307 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Soldal v. Cook County , 506 U.S. 56, 61 (1992)). However, it is undisputed that a liquor license is not considered property in Pennsylvania. To the contrary, a liquor license constitutes a "privilege between the board and the licensee." See 47 P.S. § 4-468(d); 1412 Spruce, Inc. v. Com., Pennsylvania Liquor Control Bd. , 474 A.2d 280, 283 (Pa. 1984). As Plaintiffs never had a protected property interest in the liquor license in question, their Fourth Amendment claim must fail. A valid property interest is necessary for a seizure ...

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