United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
FRANCIS P. LAGANELLA, Plaintiff,
CORPORAL TERRY WEALAND, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
F. SAPORITO, JR. United States Magistrate Judge
a pro se civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 alleging malicious prosecution and false
imprisonment. The defendant is a Harrisburg City police
officer, Cpl. Terry Wealand, who is sued in his official and
individual capacities. The complaint alleges that the action
arises out of an unlawful search, seizure, and arrest on
December 31, 2008. (Doc. 1). The defendant has filed a motion
to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Doc. 15). In his
motion papers, Wealand contends that Laganella's claims
are time-barred and, alternatively, he asserts that
Laganella's claims fail as a matter of law. Wealand also
contends that he is entitled to qualified immunity.
also received Laganella's request for the appointment of
counsel. (Doc. 18). The issues have been briefed and are ripe
for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, we will
recommend that the motion to dismiss (Doc. 15) be granted and
the motion for appointment of counsel (Doc. 18) be deemed
moot and denied.
brought a similar action in this court against Wealand and
others arising out of the same operative facts as alleged in
the complaint. See Laganella v. Don's & Son's
Towing & Body Shop, et al., Civil Action No.
1:cv-11-1101. That complaint was dismissed upon the
defendants' motion, and the case was closed on January
second action, Laganella alleges that Wealand initiated a
traffic stop on December 31, 2008, in Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania. During the stop, Wealand noticed that
Laganella's vehicle did not have the required emissions
sticker and he learned that Laganella's license was
suspended. After issuing the citations for these infractions,
Wealand asked Laganella to step out of the car to sign for
the citations. At that time, Wealand told Laganella that he
was free to leave, but that the car would be towed because of
Laganella's suspended license. Wealand advised Laganella
that Department policy required him to conduct an inventory
of the vehicle's contents. Laganella was permitted to
stay and observe the inventory search.
began the inventory search, Wealand observed a jacket in the
backseat of the car. He asked Laganella if he wanted the
jacket, and Laganella responded that he did. Wealand advised
that he had to check it for weapons, and as he squeezed the
jacket, he felt a hard object, which Laganella indicated was
an eyeglass case. Wealand opened the eyeglass case with
Laganella's permission and observed two bags containing
marijuana seeds and several plastic bags with what Wealand
believed to be cocaine residue. At that point, Wealand placed
Laganella under arrest, handcuffed him, and seated him behind
then resumed the search and discovered a Savage Stevens
20-gauge shotgun and a Sears-Roebuck .30-06 hunting rifle.
Based upon an earlier computer check of Laganella's
license, Wealand knew that Laganella was a convicted felon
and could not possess weapons. Laganella admitted the hunting
rifle was stolen.
trial court denied Laganella's motion to suppress
evidence which was affirmed by the Superior Court of
Pennsylvania. However, on December 27, 2013, the Supreme
Court of Pennsylvania reversed on the basis that Wealand had
no legal basis to tow Laganella's vehicle and, as a
result, the inventory search was improper and evidence of the
weapons found in the trunk should have been suppressed. It is
on these facts that Laganella commenced this federal civil
action in this court on March 25, 2016, naming Wealand as a
defendant individually and in his official capacity as a
police officer of the Harrisburg City Police Department.
are to construe pro se litigants' pleadings
liberally, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520
(1992); Higgs v. Attorney Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339
(3d Cir. 2011), Laganella's complaint, although
inartfully drafted, raises claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
that Wealand engaged in malicious prosecution and false
arrest or imprisonment, in violation of Laganella's
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. This matter has
been briefed and is ripe for a disposition.
Rule 12(b)(6) Standard
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a
defendant to move to dismiss for failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
“Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be
granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in
the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff's
claims lack facial plausibility.” Warren Gen. Hosp.
v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56
(2007)). Although the Court must accept the fact allegations
in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept
“unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or
a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”
Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013)
(quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d
Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant has the burden of showing that
no claim has been stated. Kehr Packages, Inc. v.
Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991);
Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 32-33 (3d Cir.
1980); Holocheck v. Luzerne Cty. Head Start, Inc.,
385 F.Supp.2d 491, 495 (M.D. Pa. 2005). In deciding the
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 ...