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Safa v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 16, 2014

IMAD SAFA, et al., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL M. BAYLSON, District Judge.

I. Introduction

This civil rights lawsuit involves a number of causes of action sounding in federal and state law arising out of an arrest, forfeiture, and criminal proceedings against Plaintiffs. Previously, for case management reasons, the Court addressed the Motions to Dismiss filed by all Defendants only to the extent that they address Plaintiffs' civil RICO and conspiracy to commit civil RICO claims (collectively, the "RICO claims"). On February 11, 2014, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' RICO claims against the City of Philadelphia and Plaintiffs' RICO claims against all remaining Defendants. ECF 30-31. A summary of the procedural history of this lawsuit and Plaintiffs' allegations can be found in the Memorandum of Law that accompanied this Court's February 11, 2014 Order.[1] ECF 30.

Following that Order, Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint on March 24, 2014. ECF 39. The Defendants then moved to dismiss many, but not all, of Plaintiffs' claims. ECF 42-45. Plaintiffs responded to those Motions on April 14, 2014. ECF 47.

For the following reasons, this Court dismisses Counts VIII, X, XI, XVI, and XVII. This Court further dismisses Count XV, Plaintiffs' claim for conversion, against the Wholesaler Defendants and the City of Philadelphia.[2] Count XV may proceed against Detective Straup.

II. Legal Standard

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

When deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The court will "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences from the facts alleged in the light most favorable to [Plaintiff]." Philips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008).

Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), abrogated by Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544 (2007). In Twombly, the Court announced that a complaint must plead facts sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" to survive a motion to dismiss, which "requires more than labels and conclusions and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 555. The Court, in Twombly, further explained that a complaint must provide "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court clarified that the heightened degree of fact pleading explicated in Twombly extends to all civil actions. Id. at 1953. After Iqbal, a district court deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is required to conduct a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The court first "accept[s] all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-11 (citing Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 677). Second, the court "determine[s] whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a possible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (citing Iqbal, 566 U.S. at 678).

Under Rule 9(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the pleading requirements are heightened. Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b) ("In alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake. Malice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person's mind may be alleged generally."). "To satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 9(b), a complaint may either describe the circumstances of the alleged fraud with precise allegations of date, time, or place' or may use some [other] means of injecting precision and some measure of substantiation into... allegations of fraud.'" In re Processed Egg Prods. Antitrust Litig., No. 08-md-2002 , 2012 WL 6645533, *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 20, 2012) (quoting Bd. of Trs. of Teamsters Local 863 Pension Fund v. Foodtown, Inc. , 296 F.3d 164, 172 n.10 (3d Cir. 2002)).

III. Analysis

A. Count I (§ 1983 Malicious Prosecution), Count II (Malicious Prosecution), and Count VII (Conspiracy as to Criminal Charges)

"Under Pennsylvania law, the elements of a malicious prosecution claim are that the defendant (1) instituted the proceedings (2) without probable cause with (3) actual malice and (4) that the proceedings terminated in favor of the plaintiff." Lippay v. Christos , 996 F.2d 1490, 1502 (3d Cir. 1993).

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for malicious prosecution for two reasons. First, all Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' allegations fail to state a claim for malicious prosecution since the criminal proceedings were "nolle prossed" - a disposition that does not necessarily suggest that the proceedings terminated in Plaintiffs' favor. ECF 43 at 2; ECF 44 at 5; ECF 45 at 7. Defendants rely on Hilfirty v. Shipman , 91 F.3d 573, 579-80 (3d Cir. 1996) to support their argument.

However, Hilfirty merely stands for the proposition that some circumstances surrounding a grant of nolle prosequi may not satisfy the favorable termination requirement. In Hilfirty, the Third Circuit considered whether a grant of nolle prosequi obtained pursuant to an agreement of compromise satisfies the requirement.[3] Id. at 581-85. In its analysis, the Third Circuit made clear that while some grants of nolle prosequi do not meet the requirement, others do. Id. at 579 (noting that Pennsylvania case law "clearly indicates that a grant of nolle prosequi can be sufficient to satisfy the favorable termination requirement for malicious prosecution, not all cases where the prosecutor abandons criminal charges are considered to have terminated favorably" (emphasis in original)); see also id. at 580 ("Both the Restatement and case law suggest that only terminations that indicate that the accused is innocent ought to be considered favorable."). Moreover, Hilfirty itself suggests that it should be read narrowly. The opinion summarizes the majority's conclusion as follows:

[A] grant of nolle prosequi is insufficient to support a claim of malicious prosecution only in circumstances where the accused herself enters into a compromise with the prosecution in which she surrenders something of value to obtain the dismissal or where the accused formally accepts the grant of nolle prosequi in exchange for her knowing, voluntary release of any future claims for malicious prosecution.... In the absence of a release-dismissal agreement or a waiver reflected in a court record coupled with our earlier conclusion that the grant of nolle prosequi was not the result of a compromise between [a plaintiff] herself and the prosecution, we conclude that this case is governed by [Pennsylvania case law] and that the grant of nolle prosequi is "sufficient to satisfy the requisite element of prior favorable termination of the criminal action."

Id. at 573, 584-5 (internal citations omitted). Plaintiffs have alleged that "the case terminated in the [Plaintiffs'] favor when... the District Attorney withdrew every single charge against them." ECF 39 (Second Amended Compl.) ¶ 95. These allegations do not implicate the concerns of Hilfirty and instead fall under the purview of the general rule ...

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