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Rhodes v. Hauser

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 22, 2015

JAMES E. HAUSER, in his individual capacity, Defendant.


TERRENCE F. MCVERRY, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 12 (b)(6) (ECF No. 5) filed by Defendant James E. Hauser, in his individual capacity, with a brief in support (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff Bradley Rhodes filed a brief in opposition (ECF NO. 8). Accordingly the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

The following background is drawn from the Complaint, and the factual allegations therein are accepted as true for the purpose of this Memorandum Opinion. As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

A. Factual Background

On June 23, 2014, Defendant Hauser, an agent of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Board of Probation and Parole, and David Zerjav, an agent of the United States Marshals Service, were traveling northbound on Fuller Road in Knox Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania in an unmarked white 2012 Chevrolet Malibu, toward a local residence to apprehend Plaintiff. At that time, Plaintiff was wanted for a parole violation as well as several crimes graded as summary offenses and misdemeanors under Pennsylvania law.

As he drove around a corner on Fuller Road-a two-way, asphalt highway with one lane in either direction-Hauser observed and recognized Plaintiff as the operator of a 1984 Honda XR 500 RE motorcycle heading southbound. Hauser and Zerjav had apparently agreed that, if they encountered Plaintiff on a motorcycle traveling toward them in the opposite direction, they would turn around and give chase rather than block him or attempt to stop him with the vehicle. Nevertheless, Hauser allegedly then turned his vehicle to the left, which caused it to cross the center line and block the entire oncoming lane with Plaintiff only ten to fifteen feet away.[1]

Plaintiff attempted to swerve right to avoid Hauser; however, he struck the Chevrolet Malibu near the right front wheel. Upon impact, Plaintiff was thrown from his motorcycle and landed on the roadside approximately twenty-one feet away. Plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the collision, which required his immediate transport to a hospital by aircraft. This suit followed.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a six-count Complaint against Hauser, in his individual and official capacities, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Bureau of Probation and Parole, alleging claims for (1) a due process violation under a state-created danger theory; (2) unlawful seizure; (3) negligence per se; (4) negligence; (5) assault; and (6) vicarious liability. The then-Defendants thereafter filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, seeking the dismissal of all claims except Count Two. Along with his response to the motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed a Rule 41(a)(1) Notice of Voluntary Dismissal regarding his vicarious liability claim against the Commonwealth as well as the negligence claims asserted against Hauser in his official capacity.

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint, which may be dismissed for the "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Upon review of a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc. , 662 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied , 132 S.Ct. 1861 (2012) (citing In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig. , 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010)). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , such "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007).

The Supreme Court later refined this approach in Ashcroft v. Iqbal , emphasizing the requirement that a complaint must state a plausible claim for relief in order to survive a motion to dismiss. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). Nevertheless, "the plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, '" but requires a plaintiff to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555).

To determine the legal sufficiency of a complaint after Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a district court must take a three step approach when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Santiago v. Warminster Twp. , 629 F.3d 121, 130 n.7 (3d Cir. 2010) (noting that although Iqbal describes the process as a "two-pronged approach, " it views the case as outlining three steps) (citing Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 675). First, "the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 675). Second, the court "should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679). Third, ...

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