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Wilson v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 13, 2015

STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, et. al., Defendants.


CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.


Pro se Plaintiff Philbert Wilson initiated this action by filing a motion to proceed in forma pauperis on October 21, 2013, (ECF No. 1), and his complaint was filed on November 1, 2013. (ECF No. 2). Since then, with permission from the Court, Plaintiff has amended his complaint three times. Each time that Plaintiff amended his complaint, there were pending motions to dismiss the preceding complaint, which were denied as moot to be refiled. See (Text-Only Order from 2/6/2014; Text-Only Order from 4/1/2014; ECF No. 54 from 11/25/2014). In the third amended complaint, Plaintiff names the following Defendants: State of Pennsylvania, [2] Dennis Hoerner, Brian Covert, Mary Rosetta, and the City of Newcastle Police Department.[3] (3rd Am. Compl., ECF No. 55).[4]

Currently pending before the Court are four motions to dismiss filed by the above Defendants. (ECF Nos. 57, 62, 65, 67). Plaintiff has responded to each of these motions. (ECF Nos. 42, 45, 46, 68, 69, 71).[5] Accordingly, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. The Court will address each of the four motions in separate headings below.


On May 12, 2013, Plaintiff was arrested by Officers from the City of New Castle Police Department pursuant to a forty-eight (48) hour detainer issued by the PBPP and was taken to the Lawrence County Jail. (3rd Am. Compl. ¶ 11, ECF No. 55); (Pl.'s Ex. B, ECF No. 35-2). From May 12, 2013 until July 15, 2013, Plaintiff remained incarcerated in the Lawrence County Jail. (3rd Am. Compl. ¶ 11, ECF No. 55). On May 13, 2013, the day after Plaintiff was arrested and brought to the Lawrence County Jail, a second detainer was issued against Plaintiff from the Delaware County Special Probation division of the PBPP. (Pl.'s Ex. C, ECF No. 35-3). The second detainer, "authorized and directed [Defendant Covert] to commit and detain [WILSON, PHILBERT M] for violation of parole/probation." (Id. ). The second detainer did not contain an expiration date. (Id. ). A few days later, on May 16, 2013, a bench warrant was issued by the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Criminal Division and provided that the warden (Defendant Covert) was "commanded to take [PHILBERT WILSON] into custody" based on a violation of probation/parole reported by Defendant Boozer. (3rd Am. Compl. ¶ 11); (Pl.'s Ex. D, ECF No. 35-4).

Plaintiff alleges that after he was initially arrested, he was informed by the arresting Officers that he was not being charged with anything. (3rd Am. Compl. ¶ 11, ECF No. 55). Additionally, the arresting Officers allegedly "either inadvertently or intentionally threw away plaintiff's keys to his house intending to cause plaintiff further aggravation." (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiff claims that while in jail, he made "numerous requests" to the warden, Defendant Covert, to release him from jail. (Id. at ¶ 11). However, Defendant Covert told Plaintiff that he was given orders from the PBPP, through Defendant Boozer, a probation officer, to hold Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 3, 11). Plaintiff contends that Defendant Covert improperly held him in jail despite learning through his communications with the officials from Delaware County that they "had refused to take plaintiff." (Id. at ¶ 20).

Plaintiff also asserts that several employees of the PBPP were at fault for his arrest and incarceration from May 12, 2013 until July 15, 2013. Plaintiff allegedly complained to Defendant Boozer "numerous times about his predicament and of the need to bring him before a judge for a determination of the justification for plaintiff's continued incarceration." (Id. at ¶ 19). However, Defendant Boozer allegedly "laughed at plaintiff, instructing him to save his breath and to get used to his situation since he would be there a long time." (Id. ). Plaintiff further avers that Defendant Dennis Hoerner, supervisor of Defendant Boozer, "positively encouraged and pushed [Boozer] to do all the nefarious deeds that kept plaintiff in jail without lawful excuse." (Id. at ¶ 21). Plaintiff avers that Defendant Hoerner had knowledge of all of Plaintiff's complaints and knowingly violated the laws of Pennsylvania and the United States Constitution. (Id. ). Additionally, Defendant Mary Rosetta, probation manager and supervisor of Defendants Hoerner and Boozer, allegedly approved their decisions and conspired with them to deprive Plaintiff of his rights. (Id. at ¶ 22). Finally, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Danielle Hibberd, Deputy Executive Director of the PBPP, signed the warrant to commit and detain Plaintiff without any basis and did not arrange any hearings in Plaintiff's case. (Id. at ¶ 23). According to Plaintiff, Defendant Hibberd "failed to adequately train [her] employees to perform their duties in consonance to the laws and constitution of the United States hence leading to the loss and suffering levelled on plaintiff." (Id. )

While Plaintiff was incarcerated, he filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County. (Id. at ¶¶ 11-14). On July 15, 2013, a hearing was held regarding said petition in which President Judge Dominick Motto ordered Defendant Covert to release Plaintiff from jail, finding that Plaintiff's continued detention in the Lawrence County Jail was unlawful. (Id. ); (Pl.'s Ex. A, ECF No. 35-1). According to this Order, Defendant Covert, "through his representatives promptly notified Delaware County of [Plaintiff's] incarceration, " but "Delaware County ha[d] failed and refused to take physical custody of [Plaintiff] or conduct a bench warrant hearing or any other form of detention hearing." (Id. ). Judge Motto found that the Lawrence County Officials, including Defendant Covert, complied with Pa. R. Cr. P. 150(A)(4) by giving prompt and repeated notices to the Delaware County Officials. (Id. ). However, because the Delaware County officials did not comply with Pa. R. Cr. P. 150 by failing to give Plaintiff a hearing in connection with the bench warrant or detainers, Judge Motto concluded that Plaintiff's continued incarceration was unlawful and ordered that Plaintiff be released. (Id. ). Defendant Covert immediately complied with this Order.


A. Pro Se Litigants

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, " must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972); Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance"). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Abdul-Akbar v. McKelvie, 239 F.3d 307 (3d Cir. 2001). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same). Because Plaintiff is a pro se litigant, this Court may consider facts and make inferences where it is appropriate.

B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

Recently, our Court of Appeals aptly summarized the appropriate standard of review when considering a defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) as follows:

Under the "notice pleading" standard embodied in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must come forward with "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." As explicated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), a claimant must state a "plausible" claim for relief, and "[a] claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Although "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), a plaintiff "need only put forth allegations that raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Fowler [ v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 213 (3d Cir. 2009)] (quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Covington v. Int'l Ass'n of Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 117-18 (3d Cir.2013).

Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014). Additionally, while "[t]he District Court must accept the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, [it] may disregard any legal conclusions." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663). Consequently, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

In addition to the complaint itself, the Court may consider "exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Inds., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). "In considering external yet undisputably relevant and authentic documents, the court need not covert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment." Reginella Const. Co., Ltd. v. Travelers Cas. And Sur. Co. of America, 949 F.Supp.2d 599, 609 (W.D.Pa. 2013) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)).

Moreover, in civil rights cases, a court must give a plaintiff the opportunity to amend a deficient complaint - regardless of whether the plaintiff requests to do so - when dismissing a case for failure to state a claim, unless doing so would be inequitable or futile. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007).


The third amended complaint asserts the following federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: violation of the Fourth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and a Bivens claim.[7] It also asserts the following claims under Pennsylvania law: violation of Article 1, § 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and violations of the state common law torts of false arrest, false imprisonment, battery, and infliction of emotional distress.[8]

The Court will address the motions individually and in the same order in which they were filed. To the extent that a Defendant's motion results in the dismissal of claims as to other Defendants, the Court will not repeat the same analysis when addressing the other Defendants' subsequent motions. The Court will likewise address the claims that are dismissed as to the unknown officers as a result of the other Defendants' arguments, notwithstanding that the unknown officers are not yet identified or parties to this suit. See Coulter v. Unknown Probation Officer, 562 F.Appx. 87, 89 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2014) (district court properly dismissed complaint against unknown officer "based on grounds raised by [moving] defendants, but common to all defendants, and to which [the plaintiff] had an opportunity to respond.").

A. Covert's Motion (ECF No. 57)

1. Thirteenth Amendment

Defendant Covert, warden of the Lawrence County Jail during the relevant time period, first asserts that Plaintiff's contention in the third amended complaint that the Defendants' conduct violated the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution should be dismissed with prejudice. (Covert's Br. in Supp. at 6, ECF No. 58). Section 1 of the Thirteenth Amendment provides that "[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." U.S. CONST. amend XIII, § 1. In United States v. Kozminski, 487 U.S. 931 (1988), the Supreme Court explained that

[t]he primary purpose of the [Thirteenth] Amendment was to abolish the institution of African slavery as it had existed in the United States at the time of the Civil War, but the Amendment was not limited to that purpose; the phrase "involuntary servitude" was intended to extend "to cover those forms of compulsory labor akin to African slavery which in practical operation would tend to produce like undesirable results."

Kozminski, 487 U.S. at 942 (quoting Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328, 332 (1916)). Here, Plaintiff has made no factual allegations to warrant relief under the Thirteenth Amendment. Because this claim is applicable to all of the Defendants, and allowing amendment would be futile, it is dismissed in its entirety with prejudice.

2. Bivens Claim

Defendant Covert seeks to dismiss Plaintiff's claim pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Fed. Bur. of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). (Covert's Br. in Supp. at 7, ECF No. 58). In Bivens, "the Supreme Court recognized an implied right of action for damages against federal agents who have violated a person's Fourth Amendment rights." Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Bivens, 403 U.S. at 91) (emphasis added). Here, Defendant Covert is not a federal agent, and neither are any of the other Defendants. Consequently, because this claim is applicable to all of the Defendants, it is dismissed in its entirety with prejudice, as allowing amendment would be futile.

3. Absolute Immunity

Defendant Covert also asserts that the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims against him in the third amended complaint should be dismissed because "[b]oth of these theories are barred by the quasi-judicial immunity afforded to officials acting in accordance with facially valid ...

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