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Bonilla v. City of York

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 2, 2015

EVERLIDIS BONILLA, Individually and as Personal Representative for the ESTATE OF JUAN BONILLA, JR. Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF YORK, PENNSYLVANIA, YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER CHRISTOPHER ROOSEN, WEST MANCHESTER TOWNSHIP, WEST MANCHESTER TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, and OFFICER MICHAEL JORDAN Judge Sylvia H. Rambo Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this Section 1983 civil rights action, Plaintiff brings claims both individually and on behalf of the estate of her deceased son against two police officers and their respective police departments and municipalities, asserting violations of the decedent's rights protected by the Fourth Amendment, as well as pendent state law claims. Plaintiff alleges that the two police officers used excessive force by fatally shooting the decedent in response to a shootout that he was involved in outside of a nightclub. Presently before the court are two motions to dismiss, wherein Defendants allege that Plaintiff has failed to state a valid Section 1983 claim. For the reasons stated herein, the motions to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

"As a general matter, a district court ruling on a motion to dismiss may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). Thus, for the purposes of the motion sub judice, the court only considers the allegations contained in the complaint (Doc. 1), and will accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations contained therein. See Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975)).

A. Facts

On or about November 24, 2012, Plaintiff's son, Juan Bonilla, Jr. ("Bonilla"), went to a private nightclub known as "Ada's, " where he became involved in a dispute that arose among some patrons. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-14.) During the course of the dispute, gunshots were fired inside Ada's, causing Bonilla and the other patrons to exit the club. (Id. at ¶ 14.) The dispute continued outside of the club and Bonilla fired multiple gunshots at an individual named James Fudge while moving south toward the parking lot of Royers Flower Shop. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16.)

Defendants Officer Christopher Roosen ("Officer Roosen") of the York City Police Department and Officer Michael Jordan ("Officer Jordan") of the West Manchester Township Police Department responded to the reports of gunshots at Ada's. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Officer Roosen arrived first on the scene, followed shortly thereafter by Officer Jordan and other officers from the York City Police Department. (Id. at ¶ 19.) As Bonilla moved closer toward Royers Flower Shop, Officer Roosen took a position behind Bonilla and Officer Jordan took a position near his police vehicle to Bonilla's front and left. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-22.) Bonilla continued firing shots in the direction of Route 30 and both Officer Roosen and Officer Jordan fired upon Bonilla in order to stop him from continuing to fire his weapon. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-24.)

During the exchange of gunfire, Bonilla was struck by a bullet in his left thigh, at which point he dropped his gun and began hobbling toward Officer Jordan. (Id. at ¶ 25-26.) Bonilla traveled approximately sixty-five feet and fell to one knee on a grassy median, approximately ten to fifteen feet from Officer Jordan. (Id. at ¶¶ 27, 29, 32.) Bonilla raised his hands in the air and asked, "yo, yo, really?" before collapsing face down on the median. (Id. at ¶ 28.) While lying face down, Bonilla attempted to roll onto his side, at which point Officer Jordan fired a shot at Bonilla's chest. (Id. at ¶ 30.) Bonilla died from a gunshot wound that entered his body in approximately the middle of his back and pierced his heart. (Id. at ¶ 31.) The Pennsylvania State Police Laboratory was unable to determine whether the fatal shot had been fired from the gun of Officer Roosen or that of Officer Jordan. (Id. )

B. Procedural History

Bonilla's mother, Everlidis Bonilla ("Plaintiff"), initiated this action by filing a complaint on November 21, 2014. (Doc. 1.) In her complaint, Plaintiff asserted several constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and named six defendants, including Officers Roosen and Jordan, and their respective police departments and municipalities. (Id. ) Relevant to the instant motion, Plaintiff claimed, inter alia, that the use of excessive force by either Officer Roosen, or, alternatively, Officer Jordan, in fatally shooting Plaintiff's son constituted an unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment ( id. at ¶¶ 41-43, 49-51), and constituted assault, battery and wrongful death under Pennsylvania state law ( id. at ¶¶ 52-65).[1] Plaintiff further claimed that Defendants City of York, York City Police Department, West Manchester Township and West Manchester Township Police Department (collectively, the "Municipal Defendants") are liable for failure to train the officers properly in the use of deadly force. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-40 and 44-48.)

On February 2, 2015, Defendants Officer Jordan, West Manchester Township and West Manchester Township Police Department (collectively, the "West Manchester Defendants") jointly filed a motion to dismiss the claims asserted against them for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (Doc. 18), and on February 3, 2015, filed a brief in support thereof (Doc. 19). As the basis for their motion, the West Manchester Defendants argued that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 18.) The West Manchester Defendants argue in support of their motion as it pertains to the West Manchester Township Police Department that a police department is not a proper defendant in a civil rights action and therefore all federal claims against it must be dismissed. (Id. at ¶ 4.) With regard to the claims against Officer Jordan, the West Manchester Defendants argue that Officer Jordan's use of deadly force in response to Bonilla's repeatedly firing a gun in a crowded public place was objectively reasonable and not excessive, and, therefore, he cannot be held liable for committing an unlawful seizure or assault and battery as a matter of law. (Id. at ¶ 5, 8.) The West Manchester Defendants further argue that the wrongful death and survival claims must also be dismissed because they are derivative of the assault and battery claims. (Id. at ¶ 9.) The West Manchester Defendants argue, alternatively, that if Officer Jordan's use of deadly force was unreasonable, then he is entitled to qualified immunity. (Id. at ¶ 6.) In response to Plaintiff's claims of municipal liability, the West Manchester Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Monell claim against West Manchester Township for failure to train must be dismissed both because Plaintiff's underlying constitutional claim against Officer Jordan fails and because Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support the claim. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Lastly, the West Manchester Defendants argue that Plaintiff's request for punitive damages must be dismissed against Officer Jordan because Plaintiff did not establish the requisite malice, and against West Manchester Township and West Manchester Township Police Department because neither party can be liable for punitive damages as a matter of law. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

Defendants Officer Roosen, City of York and York City Police Department (collectively, the "York Defendants") also jointly filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on February 2, 2015 (Doc. 17) and a brief in support thereof on February 3, 2015 (Doc. 20). In support of their motion, the York Defendants make substantially similar arguments to those made by the West Manchester Defendants with regard to the claims asserted against the York City Police Department as well as the claims for punitive damages asserted against all York Defendants. ( See id., pp. 3-5 of 6.) The York Defendants do not, however, move to dismiss any of the individual claims asserted against Officer Roosen or the failure to train claim asserted against the City of York.

On February 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed two responses, one to the motion to dismiss filed by the York Defendants (Doc. 21) and the other in response to the motion to dismiss filed by the West Manchester Defendants (Doc. 22). With respect to the West Manchester Defendants, Plaintiff concedes that Defendant West Manchester Township Police Department "is an administrative arm of [Defendant] West Manchester Township and not a separate legal entity, "[2] ( id. at p. 5 of 12), but argues that she properly pleaded the remainder of her claims ( id. at pp. 5-12 of 12). With respect to the York Defendants, Plaintiff argues that punitive damages may be awarded against Defendant Officer Roosen if she can be prove that Officer Roosen fired the fatal shot, and that, in any event, his conduct was at least reckless under the circumstances.[3] (Doc. 21 at pp. 5-6 of 6; see Doc. 22 at pp. 11-12 of 12.)

The York Defendants filed a reply on March 3, 2015 (Doc. 25), and the West Manchester Defendants filed a reply on March 6, 2015 (Doc. 29). Thus, this matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.

II. Legal Standard

The motions to dismiss filed by both the York Defendants and the West Manchester Defendants challenge Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a), which requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief "in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

Thus, when adjudicating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must view all of the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and must grant the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be derived therefrom. Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). However, the court need not accept inferences or conclusory allegations that are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See Reuben v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 500 F.Appx. 103, 104 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, ...


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