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Bartow v. Thomas

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 2, 2014



KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Synopsis

Pending before the Court are Defendant Thomas's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim (ECF No. 16) and Defendants Tri-Star Motors and Sergent's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's malicious use of process claim (ECF No. 12). Both motions contend that Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 1) fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Plaintiff opposes the motions. ( See ECF Nos. 18 and 19). For the reasons explained below, the Court will GRANT both motions and will dismiss the Complaint.

II. Jurisdiction and Venue

The Court has jurisdiction over the malicious prosecution claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the malicious use of process claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because a substantial portion of the events giving rise to the claims occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

III. Background

. Plaintiff alleges the following facts in the Complaint, which the Court accepts as true for the disposition of the pending motions. This case stems from an investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police into certain transactions regarding the wholesale of used cars between David Humbert and Plaintiff Michael Bartow. ( See ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 11 and 13). Defendant Kevin B. Sergent was the President of Tri-Star Motors, Inc., and Humbert was Tri-Star's Used Car Manager. ( Id. ¶¶ 9 and 13). Plaintiff is the owner of Mike's Car Lot in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. ( Id . ¶ 10).

On July 14, 2009, Sergent contacted the Pennsylvania State Police to report questionable transactions between Humbert and Plaintiff. ( Id . ¶ 11). Sergent alleged that Humbert and Plaintiff had an agreement by which Humbert would understate the value of used vehicles and then wholesale them to Plaintiff at a lower price. ( Id . ¶ 13). Sergent explained that he noticed a discrepancy when he compared the actual cash value (ACV) of the vehicles in question with the prices listed on the wholesale sheets that Humbert prepared. ( Id . ¶ 16). The ACV reflects the appraised wholesale value of the vehicle as determined by Humbert at the time Tri-Star purchased it. ( Id. ¶ 17). The wholesale sheets reflect the price of the vehicle at the time Humbert sold it in wholesale. ( Id . ¶ 18).

Thereafter, Defendant Edward R. Thomas, a Corporal with the Pennsylvania State Police, opened an investigation into the matter. ( Id. ¶ 23). Based on records provided by Tri-Star, Thomas determined that Tri-Star "lost approximately eleven thousand one hundred sixty-eight dollars and fifty-five cents ($11, 168.55) on one hundred twenty five (125) cars that were sold to Mr. Bartow from October 2006 to December 2007." ( Id . ¶ 26).

Sergent instructed Thomas to inspect Plaintiff's records to look for further inconsistencies. ( Id . ¶¶ 32-33). However, Thomas was only able to review Plaintiff's unofficial records during his investigation. ( Id . ¶ 34). The prices in Plaintiff's unofficial records reflected the purchase price plus necessary repairs, and the records documented only 54 of the transactions. ( Id . ¶ 35). Thomas subpoenaed financial records from both Plaintiff and Humbert; however, he was not able to identify any instances of money being transferred between the two parties as part of the alleged conspiracy. ( Id . ¶ 38-39). Thomas submitted a report of his findings to the Somerset District Attorney on March 30, 2010. ( Id . ¶¶ 40-41). The report stated that Tri-Star had received $700 more for the vehicles than Humbert had asked for them. ( Id . ¶ 42).

District Justice Arthur Cook "accepted charges of Theft by Deception, Criminal Conspiracy, and Theft by Receiving Stolen Property" against Plaintiff on July 7, 2010, and the case was held over for trial. ( Id . ¶¶ 43-44). Sergent then filed a claim with his insurance company and received payment for the misappropriated funds. ( Id . ¶¶ 45-46). All charges against Plaintiff were dismissed on December 12, 2011, "due to the Commonwealth's failure to exercise due diligence in prosecuting the case." ( Id . ¶ 55).

Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit to seek relief in the form of actual and compensatory damages for "loss of business, damage to reputation, and emotional distress." ( Id . ¶ 73(a)). Plaintiff asserts a claim for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Thomas and a claim for malicious use of process against Tri-Star and Sergent under Pennsylvania state law. ( Id . ¶ 1). The Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim.

IV. Standard of Review

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) allows a party to seek dismissal of a complaint or any portion of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Although the federal pleading standard has been "in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent ...

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