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Graham-Smith v. Wilkes-Barre Police Department

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 19, 2015

DELILAH A. GRAHAM-SMITH and RODNEY G. SMITH, her husband, Plaintiff
v.
WILKES-BARRE POLICE DEPARTMENT, CITY OF WILKES-BARRE, ALAN GRIBBLE, in his official and individual capacities and GERARD E. DESSOYE, in his official and individual capacities, Defendants

MEMORANDUM

JAMES M. MUNLEY United States District Court

Plaintiff Delilah Graham-Smith asserts several federal civil rights and state law tort claims against the defendants arising from her alleged failure to report an automobile accident, which occurred in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Before the court for disposition is defendants’ motion to dismiss all claims within plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant in part and deny in part defendants’ motion to dismiss.

Background [1]

Plaintiff Delilah A. Graham-Smith (hereinafter “plaintiff”) brings various claims relating to her alleged failure to report an automobile accident on November 13, 2012. On that date, plaintiff drove in downtown Wilkes-Barre when another driver ran a red light and struck her car. (Doc. 1, Compl. (hereinafter “Compl.”) ¶ 13). Shortly after the accident, plaintiff attempted to obtain assistance from a Wilkes-Barre police officer and a fire official. (Id. ¶¶ 15-19). Both the police officer and fire official, however, failed to render any assistance. (Id.) Accordingly, plaintiff walked to the Luzerne County Bank, approximately one-half block from the accident scene, to call her husband and the police. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20).

While on the phone, plaintiff contends Defendant Officer Alan Gribble (hereinafter “Gribble” or “Officer Gribble”) arrived at the bank and, without cause or provocation, verbally accosted, assaulted, battered, unlawfully seized, used excessive force against, and falsely imprisoned her. (Id. ¶¶ 21-35). Specifically, Gribble forcefully handcuffed plaintiff, escorted her out of the bank, shoved plaintiff into the back of his police car and drove plaintiff to the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital to have plaintiff involuntarily committed. (Id. ¶¶ 21-39).

Based upon these factual allegations, plaintiff asserts various civil rights claims and state law tort claims including the following: Count I, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment versus all defendants; Count II, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment versus all defendants; Count III, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Municipal Liability against the City of Wilkes-Barre; Count IV, State Law–assault against Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble; Count V, State Law–battery versus Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble; Count VI, State Law–false imprisonment versus Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble; Count VII, State Law–intentional infliction of emotional distress versus Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble; Count VIII, State Law–negligent infliction of emotional distress against Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble; Count IX, State Law–loss of consortium against Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble.

Defendants Wilkes-Barre Police Department, City of Wilkes-Barre, Chief of Police Gerard R. Dessoye and Police Officer Alan Gribble (collectively “defendants”) have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties have briefed their respective positions, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

The court has federal question jurisdiction over this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought to redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief). We have supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). (“[I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.”).

Legal Standard

Defendants filed their motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court tests the sufficiency of the complaint’s allegations when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. All well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed as true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to determine whether, “‘under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.’” Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 665-66 (3d Cir.1988) (quoting Estate of Bailey by Oare v. Cnty. of York, 768 F.2d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985)). The plaintiff must describe “‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’ [each] necessary element” of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that “justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation.” Id. at 234-35. In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint the court may also consider “matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The court does not have to accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)).

Discussion

Defendants Wilkes-Barre Police Department, City of Wilkes-Barre, Officer Alan Gribble and Chief Gerard Dessoye each seek dismissal of all claims against them. Thus, the court will address each count of plaintiff’s complaint in seriatim.

Prior to addressing plaintiff’s civil rights claims asserted in Counts I-III, the court will briefly discuss three issues regarding these claims. First, defendants move to dismiss all civil rights claims against the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, contending these claims are duplicative of the claims against the City of Wilkes-Barre. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a municipality and its police department are treated as the same entity under section 1983. Briggs v. Moore, 251 F. App’x 77, 79 (3d Cir. 2007); see also Bonenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (“As in past cases, we treat the municipality and its police department as a single entity for purposes of section 1983 liability.”). Here, plaintiff asserts identical civil rights claims against both the Wilkes-Barre Police Department and the City of Wilkes-Barre. Plaintiff’s claims against the Wilkes-Barre Police Department are therefore duplicative of her claims against the City of Wilkes-Barre and will be dismissed.[2]

Second, Defendants Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble seek the dismissal of all claims against them in their official capacities. The United States Supreme Court has explained that a suit against an individual defendant in his official capacity is equivalent to a suit against the municipality. See Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55 (1978) (“[O]fficial-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. . . .”); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 167 n.14 (1985) (“There is no longer a need to bring official-capacity actions against local government officials, for under Monell . . . local government units can be sued directly for damages and injunctive or declaratory relief.”). Ergo, the court will dismiss all civil rights claims against Chief Dessoye and Officer Gribble in their official capacities as duplicative of the claims against the City of Wilkes-Barre.[3]

Finally, Chief Dessoye moves to dismiss all civil rights claims against him in his individual capacity, arguing that he had no personal involvement in the alleged unconstitutional conduct. In section 1983 cases, it is well established that respondeat superior is not a viable theory. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. Rather the Supreme Court has held that supervisor liability can only be imposed in section 1983 claims if that supervisor played an “affirmative part” in the complained-of misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009) (“In a section 1983 suit–where masters do not answer for the torts of their servants–the term ‘supervisory liability’ is a misnomer.”)

Absent vicarious liability, each Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct.”). To set forth an action for supervisory liability under section 1983, a “plaintiff must demonstrate that the supervising officials: (1) personally participated in violating a person’s rights; (2) directed others to violate a person’s rights; or (3) had knowledge of and acquiesced in a subordinate’s violation of a person’s rights.” Simonton v. Tennis, 437 F. App’x 60, 64 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286, 1293 (3d Cir. 1997), abrogated on other grounds by Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 76-78 (2006)).

As discussed in detail below, plaintiff has failed to allege that Chief Dessoye participated in violating or directed Officer Gribble to violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Additionally, the complaint fails to state that Dessoye actually knew or acquiesced in Officer Gribble’s alleged unconstitutional conduct. Where a plaintiff merely hypothesizes that an individual defendant may have had knowledge of or personal involvement in the deprivation of his or her rights, individual liability will not follow. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). Accordingly, the court will dismiss all federal claims against Chief Dessoye in his individual capacity.[4]

I. Plaintiff’s federal law claims: Counts I – III [[5]]

Plaintiff asserts her civil rights claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (hereinafter “section 1983”). Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights. Rather, it provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). Section 1983 states in pertinent part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a claim under section 1983, two criteria must be met. First, a person acting under color of state law must have committed the underlying conduct. Sameric Corp. of Del., Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir. 1998). Second, the conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution or federal law. Id. Here, the parties do not contest the defendants acted under state ...


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