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Barto v. Combs

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 20, 2015

BRIDGET BARTO, WILLIAM MORGAN and SHAWN BARTO, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHIEF MICHAEL P. COMBS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, Jr., Magistrate Judge.

I. Nature of Proceedings:

This matter is before the court on the defendant's partial motion to dismiss (Doc. 6) as to plaintiff, Bridget Barto.[1]

II. Procedural History and Factual Background:

The plaintiffs commenced this §1983 action on October 14, 2014 against Michael Combs, the Chief of Police of the Minersville Borough Police Department. The complaint (Doc. 1) alleges that the plaintiffs reside at 232 Middle Street, Minersville, Pennsylvania. Further, the complaint alleges that on two separate occasions, the defendant unlawfully entered their home in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8-10).

The defendant filed the instant partial motion to dismiss the complaint against plaintiff, Bridget Barto (Doc. 6) on December 19, 2014. The motion alleges: (1) that plaintiff, Bridget Barto was not present during either of the alleged unlawful entries; (2) that the complaint fails to allege that property was damaged or seized; and (3) that the complaint fails to allege that an actual search took place, therefore her claim should be dismissed. The parties have consented to the undersigned's jurisdiction which was approved by the Honorable Robert D. Mariani on February 19, 2015. Counsel for the parties have briefed the issue and the matter is now ripe for our determination. For the reasons set forth below, we will deny the partial motion to dismiss the complaint as to plaintiff, Bridget Barto.

III. Discussion:

A. Rule 12 (b)(6) Motion to Dismiss.

The defendant's motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (abrogating "no set of facts" language found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. This requirement "calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [necessary elements]" of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id . Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, " which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65).

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

Generally, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

B. The Fourth Amendment Claim.

In resolving the motion before us, we are guided by the following rules: The Fourth Amendment protects an individual against an unlawful search or seizure by providing that the "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; Eiland v. Jackson, 34 Fed.Appx. 40, 41 (3d Cir. 2002); Snyder v. Daugherty, 899 F.Supp.2d 391(W.D.Pa. 2012). In the seminal case on standing in the Fourth Amendment context, the Supreme Court held that standing depends upon "whether the disputed search and seizure has infringed upon an interest of the defendant which the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect. Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 140, 99 S.Ct. 421, 58 L.Ed.2d 387 (1978). It is well-settled that the Fourth Amendment protects both property and privacy interests. Soldal v. Cook County Illinois, 506 U.S. 56, 63, 113 S.Ct. 538, 121 L.Ed.2d 450 (1992). It is also clear that "Fourth Amendment rights are personal rights which, like some other constitutional rights, may not be vicariously asserted." Brown v. United States, 411 U.S. 223, 230, 93 S.Ct. 1565, 36 L.Ed.2d 208 (1973). In determining whether standing exists, we do not require that a litigant prove that his or her rights were actually violated to achieve standing. Rakas, 439 U.S. at 139, 99 S.Ct. 421. Rather, the litigant must merely allege an injury in fact. Id.

Warrantless entries into a home were recently discussed by the United States Supreme Court in Brigham City, Utah v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 400 (2006). There, the Supreme Court held that police may enter a home without a warrant when they have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that an occupant is seriously injured or imminently threatened with such injury. In Brigham City, the Supreme Court reiterated that it is a "basic principal of Fourth Amendment law that searches and seizures inside a home without a ...


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