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Wotring v. Stuski

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 1, 2015

DOUGLAS WOTRING, Plaintiff,
v.
MARGARET STUSKI, et al., Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Douglas Wotring filed the instant complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Cumberland County on September 15, 2014, seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, 18 Pa.C.S.A. §5701 et seq., against Defendants Margaret Stuski and West Shore Regional Police Department Officers Daniel Hair and Michael Hope. (Doc. 1, at 9). Defendants Hair and Hope subsequently removed the case to federal court. (Doc. 1). On October 9, 2014, Defendants Hair and Hope filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 4). On October 15, 2014, Defendant Stuski, appearing pro se, filed an answer and also asserted new claims against "cross-Defendants" Wotring and Wotring's counsel, Vincent Monfredo, alleging abuse of process under state law.[1] (Doc. 5). For the reasons provided herein, it is recommended that Defendants' motion to dismiss be granted. (Doc. 4).

I. BACKGROUND

This complaint arises out of a previous civil matter between Plaintiff Douglas Wotring and Defendant Margaret Stuski involving the ownership rights of two dogs. (Doc. 1, at 10-11). During the course of that dispute, Stuski brought criminal harassment charges against Wotring. (Doc. 1, at 10). As evidence of her harassment claim, on or about October 7, 2012, Stuski provided the West Shore Regional Police Department with email communications from Wotring's personal account. (Doc. 1, at 10-11). Stuski was not authorized to access the account, and most of the emails were addressed to third parties. (Doc. 1, at 11). Defendant Hope, the Chief of the Police Department, accepted the emails and provided them to Defendant Hair to review. (Doc. 1, at 10-14). The Police Department's harassment investigation ultimately resulted in stalking charges being brought against Wotring, which were dismissed and expunged upon Wotring's completion of an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program. (Doc. 9, at 17). The Police Department did not file any charges against Stuski for her unauthorized procurement of the email communications. (Doc. 1, at 14).

In his complaint, Wotring alleges that Defendants Stuski, Hair, and Hope each violated the Pennsylvania Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act by their unlawful interception, disclosure, or use of Wotring's electronic communications and are therefore liable for damages under 18 Pa.C.S.A. §5725. Wotring also asserts § 1983 claims against Defendants Hair and Hope for violating his constitutional right under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to be free from an unreasonable search or seizure of his property.

In their motion to dismiss and accompanying brief, Defendants Hair and Hope raised challenges to Wotring's state law and § 1983 claims. (Doc. 4; Doc. 9). With respect to the § 1983 claims, Defendants argue that: (1) the claims are barred under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994)[2]; (2) claims against the West Shore Regional Police Department are barred because Wotring failed to allege municipal liability as is required by Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); (3) the complaint fails to allege a supervisory liability claim against Defendant Hope; and (4) Defendants Hope and Hair are entitled to qualified immunity. (Doc. 9). Because this Court finds that Wotring failed to state a cognizable claim pursuant to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments under § 1983, we need not address Defendants' alternative arguments.[3] Having been fully briefed, this matter is ripe for disposition.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, discussing the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, has stated in relevant part:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir. 2008)]and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1955, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's bald assertions' or legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). A court need not assume that a plaintiff can prove facts that the plaintiff has not alleged. Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. Cal. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). A plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, as well as "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

III. DISCUSSION

A. SECTION 1983 CLAIMS

Wotring's complaint brings an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 ...


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