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Karolski v. City of Aliquippa

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

December 22, 2016




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Clifford Joseph Karolski, who is proceeding pro se, claims that his federal rights were violated by the above-captioned Defendants when he was falsely charged with numerous counts of arson, notwithstanding his alibi, and was incarcerated for approximately one month until his charges were dismissed by a magistrate at his preliminary hearing.[1] There are two pending motions to dismiss before the Court: (1) motion to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety by the Pennsylvania State Police and the Arson Division of the Pennsylvania State Police (“Commonwealth Defendants”), and (2) motion to dismiss the amended complaint in part by the City of Aliquippa, Detective Roberts, Chief Davis, and Asst. Chief Couch (collectively “City Defendants”). (ECF Nos. 29, 32). Although he had the opportunity to do so, Plaintiff did not respond to either motion, and, therefore, the motions are ripe for disposition.[2] For the reasons that follow, both motions will be granted.

         II. Factual Background

         The facts, taken from Plaintiff's amended complaint, are as follows. At the end of August 2013, a property owned by Plaintiff caught on fire. Defendants allegedly “made false and/or inaccurate statements to get an arrest warrant issued and carried out against the Plaintiff” for arson. Defendants also allegedly “made sure the Plaintiff was on and in the news” as a suspect for arson.

         Plaintiff, together with his father, voluntarily went to the Aliquippa police department and spoke with Defendant Don Couch, the assistant chief of police. During this conversation, Plaintiff claims that Couch lied to Plaintiff and his father, although the amended complaint does not specify what the lie was. Plaintiff informed Couch that he had an alibi. But, because of the purported lie told by Couch, Plaintiff stated that the police could get the alibi from Plaintiff's “attorney on another case.” The amended complaint also states that Plaintiff wanted the alibi to be investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police because “he did not trust the Aliquippa Police to do a good job.”

         In September 2013, Plaintiff's attorney advised Defendants of Plaintiff's alibi, but Defendants did not investigate it. On November 8, 2013, after learning that there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest, Plaintiff decided to turn himself in. Plaintiff also provided the alibi information to Defendants at this time, which they again ignored. After asking for the reason that he was being arrested and charged with arson, Plaintiff was told that it was because he had a key to the property involved in the fire. Plaintiff stated that he had a key to the property because he was the owner of it.

         Plaintiff asked the police if they always arrest the homeowner for arson when a property burns down. The police responded “no, just you.” Plaintiff informed Defendants that several other individuals had keys to the home, including “his separated wife, her boyfriend, her daughter, and countless others … since they were the last occupants of the property.” Plaintiff also questioned why his separated wife was not a suspect given that she was on the insurance policy of the home, despite not being on any other legal documents. Additionally, the amended complaint notes that “arson was prevalent in the Aliquippa area at the time.” Nonetheless, Plaintiff was detained in the Beaver County Jail pursuant to the arrest warrant on the following criminal charges: (1) Arson - Danger of Death or Bodily Inj.; (2) Arson Endangering Property - Reckless Endangerment of Inhabitated Buildings; (3) Arson - Intent Collect Insurance; (4) Reckless Burning or Exploding - places property having value that exceeds $5, 000 or automobile, place; and (5) Risking Catastrophe. See Magisterial District Court Criminal Docket, Docket No: MJ-36304-CR-502-2013 (City Def.s' Ex. A., ECF No. 33-1).[3]

         Defendants did not investigate Plaintiff's alibi until it was time to have Plaintiff's preliminary hearing. The preliminary hearing was initially scheduled to occur on November 14, 2013 but it was continued until December 12, 2013 so that the police could investigate his alibi. Plaintiff remained incarcerated during this time period because, according to the criminal docket sheet, he was unable to post bail. At the continued December 12, 2013 preliminary hearing, all of the above criminal charges against Plaintiff were dismissed by the magistrate. According to the amended complaint, the magistrate referred to the criminal case against Plaintiff for arson as “absurd proceedings.”

         The amended complaint avers that as a result of the foregoing, Plaintiff lost his “well paying job that had great benefits” and that he “has suffered mentally, emotionally, and physically.” Plaintiff seeks “compensatory damages for lost wages, benefits, pain and suffering (past, present, future); nominal damages for constitutional violation(s); and punitive damages.”

         III. Legal Standard - Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)

         The Commonwealth Defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint arguing that all of the claims therein are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity. While their motion seeks dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), their supporting brief argues that the amended complaint fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Compare ECF No. 29 with ECF No. 30. The Court will construe this motion as a “facial” challenge to this Court's subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1). See Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 693 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1996) (“[T]he Eleventh Amendment is a jurisdictional bar which deprives federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction … Accordingly, the motion may properly be considered … under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).”); Mayercheck v. Mayercheck/Tucciarone, 2015 WL 1000159, *3 (W.D. Pa. 2015) (“A Rule 12(b)(1) motion is the proper vehicle for asserting Eleventh Amendment immunity.”); Urella v. Pa. State Troopers Ass'n, 628 F.Supp.2d 600, 604 (E.D. Pa. 2008) (finding that the Commonwealth's Eleventh Amendment immunity argument was a “facial” challenge under Rule 12(b)(1)). A facial challenge under Rule 12(b)(1) “calls for a district court to apply the same standard of review it would use in considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 358 (3d Cir. 2014). Accordingly, both pending motions will be reviewed under the following standard.

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the well-pleaded factual content in the complaint must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and also “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted). When analyzing a motion to dismiss, it is appropriate to separate the factual and legal elements of the claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, but legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id. at 210-11. Next, a determination is made as to “whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a ‘plausible claim for relief.'” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211. This “plausibility” determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010). Moreover, because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court will accord him an even more liberal reading of the complaint, employing less stringent standards than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972). Additionally, if a pro se civil rights complaint is deficient, the Court must give the plaintiff a chance to amend within a set period of time, unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002). In this context, “‘futility' means that the pleading, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116 (3d Cir. 2000).

         IV. Discussion

         Plaintiff asserts in the amended complaint that Defendants are liable for the following violations of federal law: (1) wrongful arrest, (2) wrongful incarceration, (3) failure to do due diligence, (4) failure to provide Miranda rights, (5) slander, (6) malicious prosecution, (7) abuse of process, (8) deceit by law enforcement, (9) false imprisonment, and (10) police misconduct. The amended complaint does not assert that Plaintiff is seeking any relief under Pennsylvania law. Because it appears that Plaintiff is attempting to seek vindication of his federal constitutional rights, the Court will construe his amended complaint as asserting these federal ...

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