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Humphreys v. PPL Electric Utilities Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 30, 2014

VIRGINIA L. HUMPHREYS and BRIAN C. HUMPHREYS, Plaintiffs,
v.
PPL ELECTRIC UTILITIES CORPORATION, MICHELLE LaWALL, NORTHAMPTON COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, NORTHAMPTON COUNTY AREA AGENCY ON AGING, MS. BARBARA KLEINTOP and BETHLEHEM POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL, District Judge.

This matter involves an allegedly unconstitutional search and seizure by Defendants, Northampton County Department of Human Services, Northampton County Area Agency on Aging, and Barbara Kleintop (collectively "the County defendants"), and the Bethlehem Police Department and four of its officers (collectively "the Bethlehem defendants"). This alleged search and seizure was the product of a report made by Defendants, PPL Electric Utilities Corporation and its employee, Michelle LaWall (collectively "the PPL defendants"), to the Agency on Aging regarding the status of the electric service of Plaintiff, Virginia Humphreys. There are three motions pending before the Court: 1) Motion of Defendants, City of Bethlehem, PA Police Department, Lt. Doseldo, Badge No. 232, Sgt. Henning, Badge No. 268, Prm. Surber, Badge No. 254, and Prm. Waldeck, Badge No. 304 to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint (Docket No. 39); 2) Motion to Dismiss of Defendants, Northampton County Department of Human Services, Northampton County Area Agency on Aging and Barbara Kleintop (Docket No. 40); and 3) Motion to Dismiss of Defendants, PPL Electric Utilities Corporation and Michelle LaWall, for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted (Docket No. 41). For the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion of the Bethlehem defendants in part and deny it in part. Further, I will grant the motions to dismiss of the County defendants and the PPL defendants. Accordingly, the Northampton County defendants and the PPL defendants are all dismissed from this matter with prejudice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs, Virginia L. Humpreys and her resident son, Brian C. Humphreys, claim that PPL made a report to the Northampton County Agency on Aging that Virginia Humphreys "was elderly, lived alone and that her electric service was about to be terminated." (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) Plaintiffs further allege that as a result of this report received from PPL, Barbara Kleintop, an employee of the Agency, arrived at the Humphreys' home and asked to speak with Mrs. Humphreys. (Id. at ¶ 20.) After being turned away at the front door by Mr. Humphreys, Kleintop returned with four Bethlehem police officers to speak with Mrs. Humphreys. (Id. at ¶ 21.) Mr. Humphreys refused to identify himself or allow the officers into the home, and alleges that the officers then forcibly entered the home and handcuffed and detained him in the backyard, while Mrs. Humphreys was subjected to an "interrogation" by Kleintop. (Am. Compl., ¶¶ 22, 24, 26.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) (abrogated in other respects by Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc. , 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir.1985). Nonetheless, to survive a motion to dismiss, a civil complaint must allege "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" will not suffice. Id., (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). The complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to be plausible on its face. Id . "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged"; a sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully is not sufficient. Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Claims Against All Defendants Under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3).

Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint contains claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) against all defendants. For reasons that will be discussed more fully below, I grant the Motions to Dismiss of all defendants as to the §1985(3) civil conspiracy claims. Accordingly, the §1985(3) claims are stricken from Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint with prejudice.

Section 1985(3), often referred to as the "civil rights conspiracy statute, " states:

If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of any equal privileges and immunities under the laws... in any case of conspiracy set forth in this section, if one or more persons engaged therein do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators.

42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). The Supreme Court has stated that to set forth a claim under 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege four things: 1) a conspiracy; 2) motivated by a racial or class-based discriminatory animus; 3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and 4) an injury to person or property or the deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States. United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners v. Scott , 463 U.S. 825, 828-829 (1983) (citing Griffin v. Breckenridge , 403 U.S. 88, 102-103 (1971)); Hinshillwood v. County of Mont., 2002 WL 253940 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (Hutton, J.).

In alleging an underlying conspiracy, Plaintiffs must set forth an actual agreement among the co-conspirators or "meeting of the minds." Startzell v. City of Philadelphia , 533 F.3d 83, 205 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co. , 398 U.S. 144, 158 (1970). Courts have "nearly unanimously required more than conclusory allegations of deprivations of constitutional rights protected under § 1985(3)." Spence v. Thompson, 2013 WL 1180765 (W.D. Pa. 2013). Thus, although the allegations in a civil rights complaint are not held to a heightened pleading standard, see Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit , 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993), a plaintiff must assert facts showing a conspiracy with some particularity. Goodson v. Maggi , 797 F.Supp.2d 624, 639 (citing Bieros v. Nicola , 860 F.Supp. 223, 225 (E.D.Pa.1994)).

It is true that courts "normally hold pro se complaints to a less stringent' standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Tillman v. Lebanon County Corr. Facility , 221 F.3d 410, 417 n. 5 (3d Cir.2000) (citing Micklus v. Carlson , 632 F.2d 227, 236 (3d Cir.1980)). Additionally, there is an "amendment rule" in the Third Circuit, which requires that "district courts must offer amendment-irrespective of whether it is requested-when dismissing a [civil rights] case for failure to state a claim unless doing so would be inequitable or futile." Griffin-El v. ...


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