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Campeggio v. Upper Pottsgrove Township

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 8, 2014



STEWART DALZELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

We consider here the motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) of defendants Upper Pottsgrove Township and West Pottsgrove Township ("the Townships"), Upper Pottsgrove Township Police Chief William Moffet and West Pottsgrove Township Police Chief Earl Swavely ("the Police Chiefs"), Officer Sean Farrell, Officer Jim Hummer, and Corporal Brian Cass's to dismiss part of plaintiff's amended complaint.

Melinda Campeggio ("Campeggio") brings this action against the defendants, as well as Police Officers John Does #1-6, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state tort law.

We have federal question jurisdiction over Campeggio's Section 1983 claims[1] pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We have supplemental jurisdiction over Campeggio's state law claims[2] pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Defendants move to dismiss Counts II, III, IV, VI, IX, and XI of the amended complaint. Defendants also argue that Corporal Cass is entitled to qualified immunity on all of Campeggio's Section 1983 claims. Def. MTD at 11.

II. Standard of Review

A defendant moving to dismiss under Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also, e.g., Hedges v. United States , 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a facially plausible claim to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678.

As the Supreme Court stresses, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action... do not suffice." Id . Courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555.

In the wake of Twombly and Iqbal, our Court of Appeals laid out a two-part test to apply when considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6):

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.'

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). In deciding a motion to dismiss, we may consider "the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record, " and any "undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Pension Benefits Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). We recite the facts as they appear in the amended complaint ("Am. Comp.").

III. Factual Background

Plaintiff Melinda Campeggio resides in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Am. Comp. at ¶ 15. On March 16, 2012, around 1:30 a.m., Officers Sean Farrell and James Hummer and Corporal Brian Cass responded to "a report of shots fired and a male with a gun at 821 Farmington Ave." in Pottstown. Id. at ¶ 14. Campeggio was then in the backyard of her home with her dogs at 828 Farmington Avenue. Id. at ¶ 15. A neighbor, monitoring a police scanner, informed Campeggio that "police were coming to her house because of a report of shots fired." Id. at ¶ 16.

Officer James Hummer approached Campeggio with his assault rifle drawn. Id. at ¶ 15. A fence separated Officer Hummer and Campeggio. Id. at ¶ 17. When approached by Officer Hummer, Campeggio informed him "that there had been a mistake and no shots were fired and no one in her house had a gun." Id. at ¶ 18. After again advising Officer Hummer that there had been a mistake, she "turned away from [Officer] Hummer, in order to use her cell phone to call inside to her [boyfriend] and ask him to come outside." Id. at ¶ 19. Officer Hummer then grabbed her "around her neck, choking her and attempted to yank her over the fence." Id . At that time, Officer Farrell approached Campeggio "in her backyard [and] grabbed her legs and tried to assist" Officer Hummer "by throwing her legs over the fence." Id. at ¶ 20.

As the two officers allegedly tried to throw Campeggio over the fence, she "was unable to breath [sic] and her legs were uncontrollably flailing in the air, causing her to inadvertently kick" Officer Farrell, "who was trying to grab her legs." Id. at ¶ 21. After the officers unsuccessfully attempted to drag Campeggio over the fence, "she was violently taken to the ground in her backyard by defendant Police Officer Sean Farrell and/or Defendant Corporal Brian Cass, acting in concert." Id. at ¶ 23. Campeggio was then handcuffed behind her back and her legs were restrained with zip ties. Id. at ¶ 24. While she was restrained on the ground, Officer Farrell yelled, "You're going to jail, you should have never fucking kicked me." Id. at ¶ 25. Officer Farrell then "stomped down on the plaintiff's right leg" and repeated his statement, "You're going to jail, you shouldn't have fucking kicked me." Id. at ¶ 26. With Officer Hummer and Corporal Cass "standing in close proximity with time to intervene, " Officer Farrell then kicked Campeggio in her ribs. Id. at ¶ 28. Officers Hummer and Farrell and Corporal Cass then transported Campeggio to the Pottstown Police Department. Id. at ¶ 29. She was charged with two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of simple assault, one count of resisting arrest, and two counts of disorderly conduct. Id. at ¶ 30. Nothing is alleged about what happened thereafter. While at the Pottstown Police Department, Campeggio advised several police officers of her injuries, and they transported her to Pottstown Memorial Hospital for evaluation. Id. at ¶ 32-33. Campeggio "sustained severe personal injuries, including, but not limited to tearing of the posterior horn and extending into the posterious [sic] body of the medical [sic] meniscus, [3] sprain [sic] right knee, sprain [sic] left wrist, radial styloid tenosynovitis, [4] sprain of the cruciate ligament of the right knee and low back injuries." Id. at ¶ 34. Though recommended for surgery, Campeggio has not been able to obtain medical coverage for treatment. Id. at ¶ 35.

On October 15, 2013, Campeggio was found not guilty of all charges in a bench trial before the Honorable Carolyn Carluccio in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. Id. at ¶ 31. Campeggio avers that her arrest and prosecution have caused her "to suffer extreme physical harm, emotional harm and economic loss, including loss of earnings and or [sic] earnings capacity, and the necessity to spend various sums for her criminal defense in regard to the crimes she was accused and acquitted of." Id. at ¶ 41. In her amended complaint, Campeggio brings multiple claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and state tort law.

Campeggio avers that the Police Chiefs knew that their Townships' police officers, including Officers Hummer and Farrell, and Corporal Cass "engaged in unconstitutional conduct and [the Police Chiefs] acquiesced in such unconstitutional conduct." Id. at ¶ 37. Campeggio avers that Chief Moffett and Chief Swavely "maintained a policy and/or custom of allowing [police officers and the defendants] to use unreasonable force against the citizens of Pennsylvania, and to falsely arrest and maliciously prosecute individuals against whom they have used excessive force in an effort to cover-up, defend or justify the unreasonable use of force." Id. at ¶ 38.

In their partial motion to dismiss, defendants argue that the false arrest and false imprisonment claims should be dismissed because the officers had probable cause to arrest Campeggio. Def. MTD at 5. Defendants further argue that those claims should be dismissed as to Corporal Cass because he was not the arresting officer. Id. at 6. Defendants seek to dismiss the Monell claims against the Townships and Police Chiefs because municipal defendants cannot be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior; Chief Swavely and Chief Moffett are not final policymakers as a matter of law for Section 1983 liability purposes; and Campeggio fails to allege any facts supporting her legal conclusions that there is a practice, custom, policy, or procedure of allowing excessive force or a failure to train and supervise. Id. at 6-8. Defendants also seek to dismiss Campeggio's supervisory liability claims against Chief Swavely and Chief Moffett based on a failure to allege any facts in support thereof. Id. at 8.

Defendants argue that the Section 1983 conspiracy claim should be dismissed because Campeggio has failed to allege facts regarding either a meeting of the minds or a concerted action to violate her rights. Id. at 10. Defendants contend that both counts for malicious prosecution under Section 1983 and Pennsylvania law should be dismissed because the officers had probable cause to arrest Campeggio. Id. at 11. Defendants finally argue that Corporal Cass is entitled to qualified immunity on all Section 1983 claims. Id. at 12.

IV. Discussion

The Supreme Court explains that a cause of action under Section 1983 requires only two allegations: some person has deprived the plaintiff of a federal right, and that person acted under color of state or territorial law. Gomez v. Toledo , 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980); see also Shuman ex rel. Shertzer v. Penn Manor School Dist. , 422 F.3d 141, 146 (3d Cir. 2005).

A. Official Capacity Claims

Defendants seek to dismiss Campeggio's Section 1983 claims against Officer Hummer, Officer Farrell, and Corporal Cass as redundant to Campeggio's claims against the Townships. Def. MTD at 4. Campeggio's amended complaint omits her prior references to suing the individual defendants in their official capacities. Pl. Resp. at 14.

We therefore will deny defendants' motion to dismiss Campeggio's official capacity claims against Officer Farrell, Officer Hummer, and Corporal Cass as moot.

B. Claims Against Police Officers John Does #1-6

Campeggio names Police Officers John Does #1-6 in her amended complaint, but makes no factual allegations against them. Though defendants have not moved to dismiss Campeggio's amended complaint against these officers, we may take the initiative to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim where the inadequacy of the complaint is apparent as a matter of law. See, e.g., Berg v. Obama , 574 F.Supp.2d 509, 515 n.6 (E.D. Pa. 2008); Coggins v. Carpenter , 468 F.Supp. 270, 279 (E.D. Pa. 1979); see also 5 Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357.

Because Campeggio has failed to make any factual allegations against Police Officers John Does #1-6, we will dismiss all counts ...

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