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Wheeler v. Wheeler

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 20, 2015

KEVIN PATRICK WHEELER, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAD WHEELER, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Kevin Patrick Wheeler filed a Complaint on March 7, 2014, alleging violations to his constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff was given leave to file an amended complaint on September 22, 2014. (Doc. 29). Pending before this Court is Defendant John Strelish's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint. (Doc. 33). For the reasons provided herein, this Court will grant Defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 33).

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff commenced this action with the filing of a complaint on March 7, 2014, asserting claims of malicious prosecution, false arrest, and procedural and substantive due process violations against Defendant John Strelish in his individual and in his official capacity as an officer of the Pennsylvania State Police, and against Defendant Chad Wheeler. (Doc. 1). Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on June 18, 2014 (Doc. 10), which this Court granted on September 22, 2014. (Doc. 28). Plaintiff was given leave to amend his complaint to properly assert a malicious prosecution and false arrest claim against Defendant. (Doc. 28). Plaintiff, in accordance with this Court's Order, filed a timely amended complaint. (Doc. 30). In that amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on July 26, 2012, he was brutally assaulted and battered by Defendant Chad Wheeler and as a result, suffered numerous injuries, including a brain injury that required placing Plaintiff in a medically-induced coma for two weeks. (Doc. 30). Plaintiff claims that an initial investigation was conducted by Pennsylvania State Trooper E. Boettcher who determined that Plaintiff was the victim of aggravated assault. (Doc. 30). The investigation was then allegedly transferred and assigned to Defendant Strelish. (Doc. 30). Plaintiff claims that Defendant Strelish wrongfully reduced the charges against Defendant Wheeler from aggravated assault to simple assault and harassment. (Doc. 30). Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Strelish wrongfully arrested Plaintiff on simple assault and harassment charges. (Doc. 30).

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Strelish, acting under color of state law, engaged in malicious prosecution against Plaintiff in the absence of probable cause, by failing to conduct an adequate investigation into the events involving Defendant Wheeler. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Strelish refused to interview eye-witnesses, accept information provided by Plaintiff and Plaintiff's wife, and review Plaintiff's medical records. (Doc. 30). Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Strelish threatened to subject Plaintiff to a psychological examination for inquiring into the criminal charges against Defendant Wheeler. (Doc. 30).

On October 6, 2014, Defendant Chad Wheeler filed an answer to Count I of Plaintiff's amended complaint, which asserts state law claims of assault and battery against Defendant Wheeler. (Doc. 32). On October 20, 2014, Defendant Strelish moved to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 33), for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the basis that Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim for relief with respect to his false arrest and malicious prosecution claims set forth in Count II and Count III of his amended complaint (Doc. 34). Specifically, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged facts showing that Defendant acted in the absence of probable cause. (Doc. 34). On November 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss (Doc. 35). Defendant filed a reply brief on November 17, 2014. (Doc. 36). Having been fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION

A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a motion to dismiss, this Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and must view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Although the Court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d. Cir. 2013)(quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)). Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 530 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009)).

This context-specific task requires the District Court to conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim must be separated. The District Court must accept all the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. 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." Id. at 1950. Stated differently, a complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts. See Phillips v. Co. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008). Where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the district court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant has the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991). In considering a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider the facts alleged on the fact of the complaint, as well as documents incorporated by reference into the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. See Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). With this standard in mind, this Court turns to the facts articulated in the Plaintiff's amended complaint.

B. MALICIOUS PROSECUTION CLAIM

Plaintiff has asserted a §1983 action based on malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Plaintiff must allege the following facts supporting a malicious prosecution claim in order to survive a motion to dismiss:

(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding, (2) the criminal proceeding ended in his favor, (3) the defendant initiated the proceeding without probable cause, (4) the defendant acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice and, (5) the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty ...

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