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Banks v. City of York

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 7, 2015

VIVIAN BANKS, for herself and for her minor child, L.F., Plaintiffs,
CITY OF YORK, et al., Defendants.


YVETTE KANE, District Judge.

Before the Court are Defendants School District of the City of York, Principal Darlene Freeman, and Jim Rauhauser's (together the "School Defendants") motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 15), and Defendants City of York, Officer Rich Kehler, and Police Chief Wes Kahley's (together the "City Defendants") motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 19), Plaintiffs' complaint (Doc. No. 1). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the School Defendants' motion, grant in part and deny in part the City Defendants' motion, and dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint in part.


Plaintiffs Vivian Banks and her daughter L.F. allege that the Defendant Police Officer Kehler deployed a taser at L.F. at her school, causing compensable injuries and violating L.F.'s constitutional rights. (Doc. No. 1 ¶ 38.) In December 2012, Plaintiff L.F. was 16 years old and enrolled at Lindbergh Academy in York, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 12.) Because of her involvement as a witness in an unrelated criminal prosecution, Plaintiff L.F. and her mother, Plaintiff Vivian Banks, met with Lindbergh Academy Principal Darlene Freeman on December 1, 2012 to discuss L.F.'s safety at school. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 15.) At that meeting, Principal Freeman agreed to grant L.F. an exception to the general school rule prohibiting student possession of cellular telephones and to allow L.F. to carry a cellular telephone on her person while at the school. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.) Days later, L.F. used the device to show a picture to a school employee, after which another school employee, Defendant Jim Rauhauser, demanded that she turn over the cellular telephone, because he was unaware of Principal Freeman's decision and believed that L.F. was not allowed to possess the phone at school. (Id. ¶ 16-17.) L.F. refused to surrender the telephone, and she "became angry that [Defendant Rauhauser] would not listen to her explanation[, ] and the argument became heated." (Id.) Both the school counselor and the principal were nearby, but neither intervened to stop the escalating exchange. (Id.)

Defendant Rauhauser then summoned Defendant Police Officer Rick Kehler, who was on duty at a nearby school. (Id. ¶ 18.) Officer Kehler arrived and insisted that L.F. leave school grounds, but she did not comply at first, instead attempting to explain again that she was allowed to have the cellular telephone at school. (Id. ¶ 19.) The dispute between Officer Kehler and L.F. intensified, and eventually Officer Kehler tried to "forcibly remove" L.F. from the school. (Id. ¶ 20.) After physically freeing herself, L.F. walked towards an exit, apparently complying with Officer Kehler's instruction. (Id.) "Kehler walked next to her and said something which [L.F.] did not understand, as [L.F.] turned towards Kehler's voice, he activated a taser, employing it against her torso." (Id.) After he subdued L.F. with the taser, and while she remained immobilized on the ground, Officer Kehler placed L.F. in handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 21.)

L.F. claims that she has suffered physical and emotional injuries as a result of the incident. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Officer Kehler's conduct resulted from poor or nonexistent training or supervision on the part of Defendants Police Chief Wes Kahley and the City of York. (Id. ¶¶ 25-27.) Plaintiffs also allege that the School Defendants are liable, because they claim that Principal Freeman had a duty to inform her employees that L.F. was allowed to possess the cellular phone, and that her failure to do so caused L.F.'s injuries. (Id. ¶ 34.)

Plaintiffs initiated the above-captioned action by filing a federal complaint on June 19, 2014. (Doc. No. 1.) All defendants executed waivers of service, and the School Defendants filed their joint motion to dismiss on September 8, 2014. (Doc. No. 15.) The City Defendants filed their joint motion to dismiss on September 22, 2014. (Doc. No. 19.) Plaintiffs' complaint raises claims under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution via 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in addition to claims under Pennsylvania constitutional and tort provisions.[2]


Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide the defendant notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008). The plaintiff must present facts that, accepted as true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires "only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " a complaint may nevertheless be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for its "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010). The Court's inquiry is guided by the standards of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Under Twombly and Iqbal, pleading requirements have shifted to a "more heightened form of pleading." See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must set out "sufficient factual matter" to show that the claim is facially plausible. Id . Accordingly, to determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has identified the following steps a district court must take when determining the sufficiency of a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6): (1) identify the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identify any conclusory allegations contained in the complaint "not entitled" to the assumption of truth; and (3) determine whether any "well-pleaded factual allegations" contained in the complaint "plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation and quotation marks omitted).


This memorandum addresses challenges to Plaintiffs' complaint in the following order: (A) Plaintiffs' generic Section 1983 claim(s) from Count I; (B) Plaintiffs' Section 1983 Fourth Amendment claim for unlawful arrest; (C) Plaintiffs' Section 1983 municipal liability claim from Count IV; (D) Plaintiffs' claims against the individual defendants in their official capacities; (E) Plaintiffs' Section 1983 supervisory liability claim from Count III; (F) Plaintiffs' state constitutional claims from Count V; and (G) punitive damages.

A. General Section 1983 claim

Count I of Plaintiffs' complaint raises a Section 1983 claim against all defendants. (Doc. No. 1 at 9.) This count lays out the basic elements of a Section 1983 claim: Defendants acted under color of state law (id. ¶ 40), and Defendants deprived Plaintiffs of "various federal Constitutional rights, " (id. ¶ 41). The count does not specify which rights have been violated. (See id. at 9.)

Section 1983 provides an avenue of redress for those deprived of federal rights by persons acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 allows victims of constitutional torts to recover monetary damages from the state actors who caused their injury. See Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 255 (1978). However, Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (internal quotations omitted); see also id. at 288 n.2 (Souter, J., concurring) (discussing Section 1983 claims arising from violations of Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights) (citing Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989)). As a result, Section 1983 plaintiffs must ultimately establish that defendants acted under color of state law under Section 1983 and must show that the defendants' actions caused a deprivation of the specific underlying constitutional right. Baker, 443 U.S. at 140-141.

Count I of Plaintiffs' complaint describes the threshold elements of Section 1983 but makes no reference to any particular substantive constitutional right. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 39-42.) The Complaint goes on to state a more specific Section 1983 claim in Count II for Fourth Amendment excessive force. (Id. ¶¶ 43-53.) While Plaintiffs' statement of jurisdiction and venue alludes to the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the Count I Section 1983 claim against all defendants rests generically on violations of "various federal Constitutional rights." (Id. ¶¶ 9, 39-42, 44.) Defendants have addressed several claims that they have found in the complaint, including false arrest (Doc. No. 21 at 5), and substantive due process[3] (Doc. No. 15 ¶ 5(g)), even though it is not at all clear that these claims are those Plaintiffs intended to bring. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires a "short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " and in the first instance, Plaintiffs must make clear the nature of their theories of recovery and against whom they assert them. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Therefore, ...

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