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Ihlenfeld v. Darby Borough Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 13, 2017



          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Dennis Ihlenfeld was arrested in 2014 for his role in an alleged fight in which he was accused of trying to run over another man with his truck. Ultimately, prosecutors decided not to pursue a case against him. Ihlenfeld sued the Borough of Darby, Officer Mathew Barr, Police Chief Robert Smythe and four John Doe Defendants alleging constitutional violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution, assault and battery. The Defendants moved to dismiss all claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' Motion.


         On May 14, 2014 Darby Borough Police Officer Mathew Barr responded to a call to investigate an ongoing fight at a residence. (Am. Compl. ¶ 20, ECF No. 12.) On his way to the incident, Officer Barr received an update that a suspect was attempting to run over another person with a truck. (Id. ¶ 21.) By the time he arrived, however, the fight was over.

         At the scene, Officer Barr met the alleged victim, Isheem Smith. Smith told Officer Barr that Plaintiff Dennis Ihlenfeld had started a fight with him over a set of tools. (Id. ¶ 22.) Ihlenfeld had loaned tools to Jamie Wright, who lived with Smith.[1] When Ihlenfeld came to collect the tools, Smith did not allow him to enter the property. (Id. ¶ 26.) According to Smith, Ihlenfeld proceeded to verbally berate him while brandishing a metal pole. (Id.) Smith ran from Ihlenfeld and Ihlenfeld chased him in his truck, in an attempt to run him over. (Id. ¶ 28.) Smith claimed that he was ultimately forced to dive into shrubbery to avoid being hit. (Id. ¶ 29.) Smith provided a written statement to police. (Defs.' Ex. D-1, Affidavit of Probable Cause, hereafter “Affidavit.”) Officer Barr also showed Smith a photo of Ihlenfeld which Smith positively identified as a picture of his attacker. (Id.)

         Officer Barr recorded all of the above information in his affidavit of probable cause.[2] See (Affidavit). Based on Barr's affidavit, a neutral magistrate issued a warrant for Ihlenfeld's arrest. (Am. Compl. ¶ 32.) Later that day, three or four Darby Borough police officers arrested Ihlenfeld for aggravated assault, simple assault and terroristic threats. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 4, 34.) Ihlenfeld was incarcerated for approximately four or five days. (Id. ¶ 33.) During his incarceration, he allegedly suffered extreme pain and discomfort due to his medical condition, endocarditis, which was exacerbated by jail conditions and jail personnel's failure to provide him with his medication. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 38.)

         On June 11, 2014 a preliminary hearing was held in the Darby Borough Magisterial District Court, where, according to Ihlenfeld, Smith provided inconsistent and perjurious testimony. (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.) Nevertheless, Ihlenfeld's charges were held over after the hearing. (Id. ¶ 88.) The Delaware County District Attorney's Office, however, ultimately decided not to pursue the case against Ihlenfeld and all charges were dismissed with prejudice on December 17, 2014. (Id. ¶ 40.)

         Ihlenfeld sued the Darby Borough Police Department and Officer Barr on April 27, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on August 16, 2016. (ECF No. 9.) Ihlenfeld filed an amended complaint against the Borough of Darby, Officer Barr, Police Chief Robert Smythe and four John Doe Defendants on September 6, 2016. (ECF No. 12.) Defendants' filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on September 20, 2016. (ECF No. 15.) Ihlenfeld filed a response on October 11, 2016, (ECF No. 17), and Defendants filed their reply on October 14, 2016, (ECF No. 18).


         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (citation omitted). While a complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Twombly and Iqbal require the Court to take three steps to determine whether the second amended complaint will survive Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First, it must “take note of the elements the plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, it must identify the allegations that are no more than legal conclusions and thus “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where the complaint includes well-pleaded factual allegations, the Court “should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         This “presumption of truth attaches only to those allegations for which there is sufficient factual matter to render them plausible on their face.” Schuchardt v. President of the United States, 839 F.3d 336, 347 (3d Cir. 2016) (internal quotation and citation omitted). “Conclusory assertions of fact and legal conclusions are not entitled to the same presumption.” Id. This plausibility determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. (quoting Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786-87).

         This plausibility standard, however, “does not impose a heightened pleading requirement” and does not require a plaintiff to plead specific facts. Id. In other words, “courts cannot inject evidentiary issues into the plausibility determination.” Id. The Third Circuit has also made it clear that “at least for purposes of pleading sufficiency, a complaint need not establish a prima facie case in order to survive a motion to dismiss” because a “prima facie case is an evidentiary standard, not a pleading requirement and hence is not proper measure of whether a complaint fails to state a claim.” Connelly, 809 F.3d at 789 (internal quotations and citations omitted). Instead, a plaintiff should plead “enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements.” Id. (quoting Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).



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