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Griffin v. Wingard

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

March 25, 2014

JEFFERY A. WINGARD, Badge #16253; STEVE PIACENTI; CITY OF PITTSBURGH; TARA SMITH, Magistrate Judge, Jurisdiction Lincoln Avenue, Defendants. Re: ECF Nos. 23, 39

Cathy Bissoon, Judge


Maureen P. Kelly, Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Jamaal Griffin (“Plaintiff”) has filed this pro se civil rights action alleging that Jeffrey A. Wingard, a City of Pittsburgh police officer, and Tara Smith, an Allegheny County Magisterial District Judge, violated his constitutional rights in the course of his arrest for the aggravated assault and burglary. The City of Pittsburgh and a private citizen, Steve Piacenti, have also been named as defendants. Pending before the Court are Motions to Dismiss [ECF Nos. 23 and 39] filed on behalf of Defendant Wingard and the City of Pittsburgh, contending that Plaintiff’s Complaint and Amended Complaint fail to set forth any facts upon which relief may be granted.

For the following reasons, it is respectfully recommended that the Motions to Dismiss be granted and the claims asserted against Defendants Wingard and the City of Pittsburgh be dismissed with prejudice. Further, because absolute immunity applies to the claims asserted against Magisterial District Judge Tara Smith, and because Plaintiff fails to allege any claims against any remaining party within the jurisdiction of this Court, it is respectfully recommended that this action be dismissed with prejudice.



When considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true the factual allegations in the Complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in the Plaintiffs favor. Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Therefore, for the purposes of this decision, the essential facts are as follows.

On March 30, 2013, Plaintiff arrived at Defendant Piacenti’s home for a visit and was invited in. [ECF No. 5]. After entering, Piacenti accused Plaintiff of having sex with Piacenti’s girlfriend and spit on Plaintiff’s face. Piacenti suffers from Hepatitis C, and Plaintiff believed that Piacenti’s conduct exposed Plaintiff to the disease. Plaintiff candidly admits he responded by choking Piacenti. Id. Plaintiff then went to the bathroom, cleaned himself off and left the premises, telling Piacenti’s girlfriend that he had been spit upon. Later that day, Piacenti called the City of Pittsburgh police department to report that he had been assaulted by the Plaintiff.

After talking with Piacenti, Defendant Wingard drew up a “warrant of probable cause” seeking Plaintiff’s arrest for aggravated assault and burglary. [ECF No. 22]. Plaintiff alleges that there was no evidence that anything was stolen from Piacenti’s residence to justify a burglary charge, nor medical evidence establishing that Piacenti was seriously injured to justify an aggravated assault charge. In the absence of this evidence, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Wingard maliciously upgraded the charges against Plaintiff, rather than charge him with a lesser crime, such as simple assault. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Wingard was aided in his efforts by Assistant District Attorney Edward Sheid and Magisterial District Judge Tara Smith. Plaintiff contends that she failed to question Defendant Wingard concerning the contents of the affidavit. Plaintiff also alleges that Magisterial District Judge Smith exceeded her judicial authority by issuing the warrant, because the location of the crime was not in her judicial district, and she forged the warrant for his arrest.

After obtaining the arrest warrant, Defendant Wingard delayed Plaintiff’s arrest for two weeks, to coincide with Plaintiff’s appearance for a non-jury trial in an unrelated criminal matter.[1] Plaintiff claims the matter in which he was scheduled to appear has given rise to an excessive force complaint against a police officer. Accordingly, Plaintiff believes that Defendant Wingard arrested him in front of that police officer to retaliate for filing an excessive force complaint and to cause embarrassment and hurt feelings. [ECF No 22].

Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint alleges that because of the unwarranted charge for aggravated assault, his bail was set at “$50, 000, straight bond.” Id. Plaintiff claims that his bail requirement far exceeded the amount set for other prisoners charged with aggravated assault and is a result of Defendant Wingard’s malicious conduct.

Plaintiff alleges that as a result of his arrest, he has been kicked out of the Sanford-Brown School where he was an honor roll student and he has lost possession of his truck. Plaintiff seeks the compensatory damages to pay his bail bond, replace his lost tuition, and an additional sum in excess of $75, 000 in compensatory damages. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages and the filing of criminal charges against Defendant Steve Piacenti for spitting on him. [ECF No. 5, 22].


When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must read the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and all well-pleaded, material allegations in the complaint must be taken as true. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). The court is bound to give the plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the “well-pleaded” allegations of the complaint. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that “a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In Twombly, the Supreme Court held that it would not require a “heightened fact pleading of specifics, ” but only “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

The United States Supreme Court revisited the requirements for surviving a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). In Iqbal, the Supreme Court made clear that “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements [are] not suffic[ient]” to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Id. at 678. Only “a ...

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