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Heidelberg v. City of Erie Police Department

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 27, 2015





A. Relevant Procedural History

On April 18, 2014, Plaintiff Cl Heidelberg, Jr., an inmate incarcerated at the Erie County Prison in Erie, Pennsylvania ("ECP"), initiated this civil rights action by filing a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Named as Defendants are: City of Erie Police Department ("E.P.D."); District Attorney's Office ("DA's Office"); Captain Frank Kwitowski of the E.P.D. ("Kwitowski"); Officer Anthony Attala of the E.P.D. ("Attala"); Officer Popovic of the E.P.D. ("Popovic"); Brandon Bingle (misidentified in the complaint as "Brandon Bangal"), Assistant Erie County District Attorney ("Bingle"); R.E. Williams (originally misidentified in the complaint as "R.Greene"), an officer with the E.P.D. ("Williams")[2]; and OIC Eberlein[3], identified as a dispatcher at E.P.D. ("Eberlein"). All Defendants other than the DA's Office and Bingle, are hereafter collectively identified as the "E.P.D. Defendants."

In his pro se complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the E.P.D. Defendants subjected him to false arrest and, together with Defendant DA's Office and Defendant Bingle, maliciously prosecuted him, in violation of his rights under the fourth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution. As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages.

On August 12, 2014, the E.P.D. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [ECF No. 20], arguing that Plaintiff's claims against them should be dismissed in their entirety because they fail to state claims upon which relief may be granted. On August 22, 2014, Defendants D.A.'s Office and Bingle, filed a motion to dismiss [ECF No. 23] arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of municipal liability against Defendant D.A.'s Office upon which relief may be granted, and Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Bingle are barred by absolute prosecutorial immunity. Plaintiff has since filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motions [ECF Nos. 27]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

B. Relevant Factual History

On the evening of December 13, 2012, Plaintiff picked up an acquaintance from Tops at Liberty Plaza in Erie, Pennsylvania (ECF No. 5, Complaint, at ¶ 1). Before Plaintiff arrived, Defendant Kwitowski encountered the acquaintance and kept watch on him "for reasons unknown to Plaintiff." (Id. at ¶ 2). Defendant Kwitowski observed the acquaintance getting into Plaintiff's car and began tailing Plaintiff, while calling dispatch to run Plaintiff's license plate. Defendant Eberlein informed Defendant Kwitowski that "Cal Heidelberg" was the owner of the vehicle and had an outstanding warrant against him. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-4). When Plaintiff reached his destination and parked his vehicle by the curb, Defendant Williams pulled his vehicle into the intersection in front of Plaintiff's vehicle, exited the vehicle, and approached Plaintiff, who was still sitting in his vehicle. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-10). After asking what Plaintiff was doing sitting in his vehicle, the Defendant Williams informed Plaintiff that he had received a call from neighbors describing Plaintiff as the person who was causing a disturbance in the area. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-12). Defendant Williams then asked Plaintiff for his driver's license and told him to "sit tight until he got the situation straightened out." (Id. at ¶ 14).

When Defendant Williams returned to his vehicle, two additional police vehicles arrived at the scene blocking Plaintiff's vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 15). Defendant Attala approached the driver's side of Plaintiff's vehicle from the rear and ordered Plaintiff to exit the vehicle, and then turn and place his hands on top of the vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 17). After Plaintiff complied, Defendant Attala searched Plaintiff's pockets and found a container of crack cocaine. (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiff was then arrested and charged with possession of crack cocaine. (Id. at ¶¶ 18/-19). Defendant Popovic signed the affidavit supporting the charges.

At Plaintiff's preliminary hearing in February 2013, the D.A.'s Office amended the charges to include an additional charge of possession with intent to distribute. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21). According to Plaintiff, Defendant Attala and the other officers knew that Plaintiff was not the "Cal Heidelberg" against whom an outstanding warrant was pending. At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, the charges were bound over for court; however, Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was obtained during the arrest, which was granted by the court. As a result, the criminal charges against Plaintiff were nolle prossed by the D.A.'s Office. (ECF No. 20-3, copies of Plaintiff's criminal docket, at p. 7; ECF No. 20-4, Erie County Judge John Garhart's Order entering nolle prosequi ).

C. Standards of Review

1. Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)(rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

The Court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Although the United States Supreme Court does ...

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