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Bynum v. Trustees of The University of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 23, 2015

BRANDON BYNUM,
v.
TRUSTEES OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al.

MEMORANDUM

STEWART DALZELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

We consider here defendants' motions to dismiss and for sanctions against plaintiff Brandon Bynum and his counsel. Bynum brings this action against the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Police Officers Nicole Michel, Charles Ritterson and Thomas DeVore, University of Pennsylvania Investigative Supervisor John Peterson, and University of Pennsylvania Police Sergeant David Adler, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.

We have federal question jurisdiction over Bynum's Section 1983 claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction over Bynum's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Defendants move to dismiss Bynum's entire complaint as untimely pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In the alternative, they move to dismiss Counts I and II in their entirety, Counts III, IV, and V as to the Trustees only, and Count VI's claim for "interference with state constitutional rights." Defendants also move for sanctions against Bynum and his counsel pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11.

We first consider defendants' motion to dismiss and then their motion for sanctions.

II. Standard of Review

A defendant moving to dismiss under Fed R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also, e.g., Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a facially plausible claim to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

As the Supreme Court has stressed, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action... do not suffice." Id . Courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

In the wake of Twombly and Iqbal, our Court of Appeals laid out a two-part test to apply when considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6):

First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief.'

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). In deciding a motion to dismiss, we may consider "the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record, " and any "undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Pension Benefits Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

We recite the facts as they appear in the complaint.

III. Factual and Procedural Background

This is the second case Bynum has filed regarding an August 14, 2012 incident involving him and several University of Pennsylvania police personnel.

On July 31, 2014, Bynum filed a cause of action against the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Pennsylvania Police Officer Gary Cooper, and several John Doe defendants. Compl. at ¶ 1; see Bynum v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, Case No. 14-cv-4548 ("Bynum I"). In Bynum I, we granted those defendants' motion to dismiss Counts I and II in their entirety, as well as Counts III, IV, and V against the Trustees. See Bynum v. Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, et al., 2014 WL 6473344, *6 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 18, 2014) (Dalzell, J.). The parties dismissed the University of Pennsylvania by stipulation. Bynum continues to pursue his case in Bynum I against the remaining named defendant, Officer Cooper, as well as the John Doe defendants, on Counts III, IV, and V, alleging excessive force, unlawful seizure, false arrest, and false imprisonment. Compl. at ¶ 2.

In Bynum I, Bynum alleged that he was the passenger on a motorcycle that Officer Cooper and the John Doe defendants chased, without justification. They then attacked him with their batons, and attempted to knock the motorcycle over with their police vehicles. Id. at ¶ 3. Bynum was forced to jump from the motorcycle, injuring his leg. Id . Officer Cooper and the defendant John Doe officers allegedly caused further injury by using unreasonable and unnecessary force against him, including an intentionally violent transport in the back of a police wagon. Id.

Bynum did not know the identities of the other officers involved in his apprehension and only knew Officer Cooper's name because of traffic citations Officer Cooper wrote against him. Id. at ¶ 4. Bynum alleges that Officer Cooper, and the defendants named in this action (Bynum II) conspired to cover up the illegal activities of other University of Pennsylvania police personnel. Id. at ¶ 7. He alleges that he only learned the identities of other University of Pennsylvania Police Department employees who had information about the August 14, 2012 incident when he received Officer Cooper's initial disclosures on January 27, 2015 in Bynum I. Id. at ¶ 8. Bynum also learned of the other officers allegedly involved in this incident through correspondence dated February 20, 2015, in which Officer Cooper responded to a request for production of documents in Bynum I.[1] Once Bynum learned the identities of the other officers allegedly involved in his apprehension, Bynum requested that defense counsel consent to have the newly-learned individuals' names substituted for the John Does listed in Bynum I. Id. at ¶ 18. Defense counsel refused, claiming that the statute of limitations had run. Id. at ¶ 19. Bynum believed that the discovery rule and equitable tolling barred defendants' statute of limitations defense because the defendants' conduct concealed the identities of those who were allegedly responsible for his injuries. Id. at ¶ 20.

On March 23, 2015, Bynum filed the present action, Bynum II, against the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and the five newly identified University of Pennsylvania Police Department personnel - Officers Michel, Ritterson and DeVore, Supervisor John Peterson, and Sergeant Adler. In Bynum II, Bynum reiterates much of the content from the complaint filed in Bynum I except that he includes specific allegations regarding the conduct of Officers Michel, Ritterson and Devore and Sergeant Adler during his apprehension and transport, and of Supervisor Peterson's conduct afterward.[2]

Bynum asserts six claims in Bynum II. In Count I, Bynum brings a Monell claim under Section 1983 against the Trustees alleging that the lack of investigation or discipline of Officers Cooper, Michel, DeVore and Ritterson, Sergeant Adler, and Supervisor Peterson demonstrates that the Trustees have a custom or policy of deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of Philadelphians, causing the violation of Bynum's civil rights. Compl. at ¶¶ 101-02. In Count II, Bynum seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against the Trustees for civil rights violations. Id. at ¶¶ 111-18. In ...


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