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Rankin v. Majikes

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 5, 2014

JAMES RANKIN, Plaintiff,


A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court are Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff James Rankin's ("Rankin") Amended Complaint filed by Plains Township Defendants ("Plains Defendants")[1] (Doc. 16) and Wilkes-Barre City Defendants ("City Defendants")[2] (Doc. 17). Rankin asserts that he was deprived of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution in relation to an incident that occurred on April 9, 2012 in which he was shot by a City of Wilkes-Barre police officer. In addition, Rankin asserts state law claims for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plains Defendants and City Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims. For the reasons that follow, the motions to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The facts as set forth in the Amended Complaint are as follows:

On or about April 9, 2012 at approximately 4:00 a.m., Rankin was lawfully present in the area of Kidder and Scott Streets in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. ( Am. Compl., ¶ 28.) At that time, individual Officer Defendants[3] approached, aggressively pursued, and cornered Rankin. ( Id. at ¶ 29.) Individual Officer Defendants falsely announced to each other that Rankin possessed a gun even though they did not have confirmation of this fact. ( Id. at ¶ 30.) Rankin, however, did not possess a gun, nor did he pose a threat to individual Officer Defendants or the public. ( Id. at ¶ 31.)

Individual Officer Defendants were aware of Rankin's precise location because they had set up a perimeter along Laurel Street and Scott Street where he remained under a set of steps. ( Id. at ¶ 34.) Rankin was "boxed in" at that point, as individual Officer Defendants were aware of his location and had their eyes and weapons trained on and/or targeted at him. ( Id. at ¶ 35.) Rankin remained under the steps for a short period of time because he was frightened of individual Defendant Officers. ( Id. at ¶ 36.) Rankin's fear resulted from contact he had with members of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department approximately twenty-four hours earlier in which he was told to immediately leave the City. He was informed that he would be shot if he stayed. ( Id. at ¶ 37.)

Because of the threat that he would be shot, "Rankin did what, in his mind, was the only thing he could think of to do so that he could avoid being shot; He remained underneath the steps and then tried to remove himself from the presence of the individual defendant officers before they could use unreasonable excessive force or deadly force against him." ( Id. at ¶ 38.) After Rankin got out from under the steps, he ran in front of or in close proximity to individual Officer Defendants approximately three times before he was shot in the back by Majikes. ( Id. at ¶¶ 39, 45.) Majikes was approximately four feet away from Rankin when he shot him with his police rifle. ( Id. at ¶¶ 43-44.) The location where Rankin was shot was well-lit, as there was at least one streetlight in the nearby vicinity. ( Id. at ¶ 42.) Although Majikes was one of thirteen law enforcement agents who were present at the scene at that time, he was the only officer that discharged his gun. ( Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.) The other twelve law enforcement officials present at the scene when Rankin was shot were Hine, Ziegler, Freeman, Dudick, Wychock, Dumont, Crawford, Whitebread, Valatka, Binker, Lewis, and Smith. ( Id. at ¶ 53.)

Before Rankin was shot, individual Officer Defendants did not use alternate methods of control and containment, such as verbal persuasion/warnings or hands-on techniques/control holds. ( Id. at ¶ 60.)

Rankin was unarmed at the time he was shot, and none of the thirteen officers present at the scene ever observed a firearm. ( Id. at ¶¶ 47-48.) No firearm was ever recovered from Rankin, nor was one recovered in close proximity to him or from the scene where he was shot. ( Id. at ¶¶ 49-51.)

After being shot, Rankin was transported by ambulance to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Hospital. There, Rankin was treated for a single gunshot wound that entered the left flank, eleventh rib, and traveled to his twelfth verasic vertebrae. ( Id. at ¶ 71.) Within hours of being shot, Rankin's treating surgeon opined that he would most likely be paralyzed from the waist down. ( Id. ) Rankin remains paralyzed from the waist down. ( Id. )

In view of the foregoing events, Rankin commenced this action against Plains Defendants and City Defendants on April 9, 2014. (Doc. 1.) Rankin subsequently filed his Amended Complaint on April 28, 2014. (Doc. 7.) The Amended Complaint asserts claims for violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution (Count I), assault and battery (Count II), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count III). Plains Defendants and City Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety on June 30, 2014. (Docs. 16; 17.) The motions to dismiss are now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). As such, "[t]he touchstone of the pleading standard is plausability." Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012).

The inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, meaning enough factual allegations "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar., 998 F.2d at 1196. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "bald assertions'" or "legal conclusions.'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)).

III. Discussion

Rankin alleges that all Defendants violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Additionally, Rankin asserts claims for battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against all Defendants. Defendants seek dismissal of all claims.

A. Section 1983 Claims

In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Rankin asserts claims against all Defendants for violations of his rights protected under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Rankin's constitutional claims are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides that "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen... or other person... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured, ..." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "To establish liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendants, acting under color of law, violated the plaintiff's federal constitutional or statutory rights, and thereby caused the complained of injury." Elmore v. Cleary, 399 F.3d 279, 281 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Sameric Corp. of Del., Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir. 1998)).

1. Fourteenth Amendment

First, Rankin asserts that the use of force against him on April 9, 2012 violated his rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment provides, in pertinent part, that a state shall not "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;..." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. Defendants move to dismiss the Fourteenth Amendment claim based on the "more-specific-provision rule."

The "more-specific-provision rule" provides that "if a constitutional claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision, such as the Fourth or Eighth Amendment, the claim must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that specific provision, not under the rubric of substantive due process.'" Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr., 621 F.3d 249, 260 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 272 n.7, 117 S.Ct. 1219, 137 L.Ed.2d (1997)). Here, because the only allegations raised by Rankin fit within the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable seizures, the "more-specific-provision rule" forecloses his Fourteenth Amendment claim. See, e.g., Lawson v. City of Coatesville, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, 2014 WL 7080708, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 19, 2014) ("where the Fourth Amendment covers alleged misconduct-such as searches and seizures without probable cause-a plaintiff's claims must be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment, not under the rubric of substantive due process."); Piazza v. Lakkis, No. 11-2130, 2012 WL 2007112, at *5-6 (M.D. Pa. June 5, 2012) (dismissing excessive force claim brought under the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to the more-specific-provision rule). Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment claim against all Defendants will be dismissed.

2. Fourth Amendment

Rankin also asserts in Count I of the Amended Complaint that Defendants seized him in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...." U.S. Const. amend. IV.

"To state a claim for excessive force as an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that a seizure' occurred and that it was unreasonable." Curley v. Klem, 499 F.3d 199, 203 n.4 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 288 (3d Cir. 1999)). "The use of excessive force is itself an unlawful seizure' under the Fourth Amendment." Couden v. Duffy, 446 F.3d 483, 496 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. ...

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