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Harris v. Wenzel

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 7, 2015

TERRENCE A. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM WENZEL, COUDERSPORT BOROUGH POLICE DEPARTMENT, TROOPER/OFFICER TWIGG, and SERGEANT GOODWIN, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants William Wenzel and Coudersport Borough Police Department, (ECF No. 3), as well as a separate Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Trooper Twigg and Sergeant Goodwin. (ECF No. 13). The matter is ripe for disposition and, for the reasons discussed below, both Motions will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On December 13, 2014, Plaintiff Terrence A. Harris was subjected to a traffic stop conducted by Trooper Twigg of the Pennsylvania State Police and later joined by Officer Wenzel of the Coudersport Police Department. (ECF No. 1-1, p. 4, ¶¶ 1, 2). During the traffic stop, Mr. Harris did not produce a valid driver's license; rather, he produced a "Writ of a Freeman's Right to Travel[.]" Id. at ¶ 12. Mr. Harris also attempted to explain that his vehicle was exempt from Pennsylvania's vehicle registration requirements before producing documents to prove the "validity" of his vehicle title and registration. Id. at ¶ 15. These documents were issued by the "Kingdom of Heaven."[1] Id.

Mr. Harris alleges that, during the traffic stop, the two officers engaged in an "illegal snatching" of his "Apostatized Documents... along with other Legal Documents secured in a Five Star Document holder[.]" Id. at ¶ 4. During this "illegal snatching, " the officers threw the documents "into the snow/mud" causing damage to the documents. Id . Mr. Harris' possessions were confiscated, he was removed from his vehicle, and he was placed in the back of Trooper Twigg's patrol car while the officers searched his vehicle. Id. at ¶ 16. After the search concluded, Mr. Harris was released and his personal possessions were returned to him, although his vehicle was towed and impounded for ten days. Id. at pp. 18, 20. Mr. Harris alleges that the police committed "theft" by taking his prescription medications without providing a "receipt." Id. at p. 22.

Mr. Harris was cited for operating an unregistered vehicle, operating a vehicle without headlights, driving a vehicle without a title certificate, operating a vehicle without the required proof of financial responsibility, and operating a vehicle without a valid inspection. (ECF No. 14, Ex. A).[2] He was found guilty on all five counts. Id.

On January 13, 2015, Mr. Harris initiated this pro se action by filing a Notice of Claim with the Court of Common Pleas of Potter County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 1). Mr. Harris brings claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, alleging that the Defendants have violated his rights under the Second and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution through their gross negligence and incompetence. Id . On January 21, 2015, the Coudersport Borough Police Department removed the action to this Court. Id.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. See Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. See Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the amended complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 "requires only 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 on which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of his entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)).

A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a "dispositive issue of law." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989). If it is beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations, then a claim must be dismissed "without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one." Id. at 327. In considering a motion to dismiss, "courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." See Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3rd Cir. 1993). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has "defined a public record, for purposes of what properly may be considered on a motion to dismiss, to include criminal case dispositions such as convictions or mistrials[.]" Id. at 1197.

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants present several arguments as to why dismissal is appropriate, including that (1) the suit is barred as a collateral attack on Mr. Harris' conviction, and (2) Mr. Harris has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. ...


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