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Wardell v. City of Erie

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 24, 2014

CITY OF ERIE, et al, Defendants.



Plaintiff, acting pro se , filed this civil rights action on July 8, 2013, along with another similar civil rights action, filed at Civil Action No. 13-202E. The two cases were consolidated as they were based on the same facts. Thereafter, Plaintiff was directed to file an Amended Complaint at this case number in order to combine the claims in the two cases and to more fully state his claims. Because the Original Complaint filed at each of the case numbers was vague as to the acts alleged against each Defendants, this Court specifically directed that the Amended Complaint contain "all of Plaintiff's allegations against every named Defendant" and that "Plaintiff must explain how each Defendant violated his civil rights." ECF No. 13.

The operative complaint in this action is filed at ECF No. 14. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff characterizes his case as "a civil rights action brought under U.S.C. § § 1983-1985 and raising supplemental state law claims concerning the actions of Defendant Erie County Sheriff's Dept. and Erie Police's [sic] Dept. in an unlawfully [sic] arrest, maliciously prosecuting [sic], and using excessive and unreasonable force against the Plaintiff Michael D. Wardell. This violating the Plaintiff's constitutional rights under the United States." ECF No. 14, page 1. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is bare-bones, but seems to raise constitutional and state tort claims arising out of a false arrest situation. This Court liberally construes[1] the Amended Complaint as raising legal claims of false arrest/imprisonment, malicious prosecution and excessive force.

As Defendants to this action, Plaintiff names the following: City of Erie Officers Kaschalk, Janus, Williams, and Russell and Erie County Sheriffs Deputies Habursky, David Orr, Jeremy Markham, and Doug Kubiak.[2] Although all these Defendants are named in the caption of the Amended Complaint[3], only Kaschalk and Habursky are mentioned within the body of the pleading. Plaintiff identifies the named parties alleging that "all Defendants acted in conspiracy. Erie City Officers came to agreement with four Erie County Deputies to be a witness in a criminal proceeding against the Plaintiff." ECF No. 14, page 1. Here, this Court liberally construes this allegation as attempting to state a claim of conspiracy.

Both the City of Erie Defendants and the County Defendants have filed motions to dismiss and Plaintiff has filed an Opposition Brief thereto. See ECF Nos. 15, 18, and 21 (captioned as "Opposing Affidavits Motion for Summary Judgment"). The City Defendants also move for a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). Plaintiff has also filed a motion for summary judgment and both sets of Defendants have filed a Response thereto. See ECF Nos. 22, 23, and 24.

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is deficient in several ways. While the Amended Complaint is full of legal conclusions, it is short on facts. Plaintiff has not provided the basic factual allegations as to what each Defendant did to violate his rights.[4] Indeed, only Kaschalk and Habursky are even mentioned in the Amended Complaint.

Besides lacking basic factual specifics as to what each named Defendant did, the Amended Complaint is lacking in several other respects. The Amended Complaint does not indicate the date or place of the incident, the charges that were filed against Plaintiff, how the charges were resolved or how each of the Defendants acted to advance the alleged conspiracy against him. Plaintiff has not laid out enough facts to adequately allege a claim of false arrest/imprisonment[5], malicious prosecution[6], excessive force[7] or conspiracy[8].

Although Plaintiff's Opposition Brief provides a few factual details that flesh out the Amended Complaint, they are not enough to satisfy the notice pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (both because the "allegations" are not contained within a complaint and because they do not provide the required notice of a "short and plain statement of the claim.").[9]

At this early stage of the pleadings, this Court cannot say that further amendment of the complaint is futile. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(B)(2) ("the court should freely give leave when justice so requires."). Accordingly, Plaintiff will be given an opportunity to file a Second Amended Complaint to fully lay out the factual allegations underlying the arguments raised in his Opposition Brief.

The Second Amended Complaint must include all the claims against all the Defendants, fully explaining which individual Defendant took what action and when that action was taken. See In re Suprema Specialties, Inc. Sec. Litig. , 438 F.3d 256, 267-77 (3d Cir. 2006) (a plaintiff must assert all the essential factual background that would accompany "the first paragraph of any newspaper story' - that is, the who, what, when, where and how' of the event at issue."). The Second Amended Complaint must be a single stand-alone document that does not incorporate or reference either the Original Complaint or the First Amended Complaint. In the interests of fairness to the Defendants who have now filed two dispositive motions, this will be Plaintiff's final opportunity to amend his complaint.

An appropriate Order follows.


AND NOW, this 24th day of July, 2014;

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff file a Second Amended Complaint in accordance with this Memorandum Opinion before August 15, 2014. This will be Plaintiff's final opportunity to amend his complaint. In the event that Plaintiff fails to file a Second Amended Complaint before August 15, 2014, this action may be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Following the filing of the Second Amended ...

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