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Thomas v. Airways

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 13, 2014

U.S. AIRWAYS, et al.


THOMAS N. O'NEILL, Jr., District Judge.

I have before me a motion by defendants U.S. Airways, Inc. and its employees Azim McKnight and Prudence Laing seeking dismissal of plaintiff James Thomas's complaint and plaintiff's response to their motion.[1] Plaintiff claims injuries arising out of an alleged incident with U.S. Airways defendants and certain Philadelphia police officers. For the following reasons I will grant moving defendants' motion in part and will deny it in part.


On or about August 11, 2012 at Philadelphia International Airport plaintiff attempted to board a U.S. Airways connecting flight but found that his seat had been double-booked and he was not able to board the plane. Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 10-14. Plaintiff claims that he requested that U.S. Airways employees retrieve his checked bag on board the plane but they refused. Id . at ¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that McKnight informed him that it would be impossible to retrieve his bag although the plane had not yet departed, to which plaintiff responded by asking whether McKnight's supervisor knew that, in contravention of common sense and safety, a bag was on a flight which its owner had not boarded. Id . at ¶ 16. Plaintiff contends he was directed to another U.S. Airways employee whose identity is yet unknown and was told by that employee that there was no real risk to having an unattended bag on a domestic flight. Id . at ¶ 17. Plaintiff alleges that thereafter McKnight and Laing made statements to police about him that they both knew to be false. Id . at ¶ 28.

Then "without warning, " an unidentified Philadelphia police officer approached plaintiff, allegedly called him "big mouth" and stated that plaintiff was being arrested although plaintiff claims that the officer refused to tell him why he was being arrested. Id . at ¶ 18. According to plaintiff, the officer then twisted his arm and injured his shoulder, hip, forearm and hands during the process of handcuffing him. Id . Other unidentified police officers then escorted plaintiff into a police car outside of the airport. Id . at ¶ 19. Plaintiff alleges that during the time he spent with the police officer defendants, including Robert Donohue, Michael Wojciechowski and others, he was verbally harassed by their threatening, demeaning and abusive statements. Id . Plaintiff claims that the officers also caused him physical pain and injury when they placed overly tight handcuffs on him and put him in numerous uncomfortable positions. Id . Plaintiff was then transferred to a holding cell at the police station and claims he was denied food, water and medical care. Id . at ¶ 20. Plaintiff claims that the police officer who arrested him was told by a supervising officer that his arresting officer's purported observations of plaintiff's actions were inconsistent with available surveillance video.[2] See id. at ¶ 21. Plaintiff was then transported to a medical facility where he was seen by a nurse and given medication and water.[3] See id. at ¶¶ 21-22.

On February 7, 2013 the charges against plaintiff were withdrawn. Id . at ¶ 27. Plaintiff alleges he refused to participate in a pretrial diversionary program offered at his first court appearance and subsequently the Commonwealth's witnesses failed to appear in court. Id.

Relevant here, in his complaint, plaintiff now asserts the following claims: (1) against McKnight, Laing and U.S. Airways: Count I - defamation (slander per se); (2) against McKnight, Laing, U.S. Airways and the U.S. Airways John and Jane Does: Count XI - negligence; (3) against McKnight, Laing, U.S. Airways, the U.S. Airways John and Jane Does and the Philadelphia police officer defendants: Count VI - conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count VII - conspiracy under state law; Count VIII - conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1985; Count IX: intentional infliction of emotional distress; Count X: negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (4) against all defendants: Count XIII - punitive damages.

Moving defendants seek dismissal of Counts VI, VII and VIII against them; plaintiff's recklessness allegations in Counts IX, X, XI and XIII; plaintiff's bad faith allegations; all other claims against McKnight and Laing;[4] and all claims against U.S. Airways John and Jane Does. Dkt. No. 3 at ECF pp. 1-2.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a court to dismiss all or part of an action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Typically, "a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, " though plaintiff's obligation to state the grounds of entitlement 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). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level... on the assumption that all of the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id . (citations omitted). This "simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" the necessary element. Id . at 556. The Court of Appeals has made clear that after Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009), "conclusory or bare-bones' allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss: threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.' To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009), quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. The Court also set forth a two part-analysis for reviewing motions to dismiss in light of Twombly and Iqbal:

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief."

Id. at 210-11, quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679. The Court explained, "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to show' such an entitlement with its facts." Id., 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 show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).


I. Conspiracy: Counts VI, ...

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