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Johnson v. Thomas

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 1, 2017

CHRISTOPHER THOMAS, et al., Defendants.


          ROBERT F. KELLY, Sr. J.

         Presently before the Court is Defendants, Christopher Thomas (“Thomas”) and City of Philadelphia's (“City”) (collectively “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Plaintiff, Steven Johnson's (“Plaintiff”) Response in Opposition thereto, and Defendants' Reply. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case revolves around an incident where a prisoner was erroneously discharged 124 days past the maximum term allowed by his sentence. On September 29, 2016, Plaintiff initiated suit by filing a Complaint against Defendants. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendants moved to dismiss and, Plaintiff, subsequently, filed an Amended Complaint on October 28, 2016. (Doc. No. 5.) Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 6.)

         The underlying facts of the case begin on April 26, 2011, when Plaintiff was sentenced in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to three to six years in state prison. (Am. Compl. ¶ 6.) If Plaintiff served the maximum term allowed under his sentence, he was to be released on April 10, 2016; however, he was not actually released from custody until August 12, 2016. (Id. ¶ 16.)

         The reason for the late release had to do with Defendants not properly awarding Plaintiff time credit for the time he spent in custody. (Id. ¶ 7.) Allegedly, Plaintiff realized the error and notified Thomas and John Doe (“Doe”), the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) In addition, Plaintiff filed a pro se motion on July 12, 2015, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia to correct his time credit issue, but he was not given a hearing. (Id. ¶ 10.) Eventually, Thomas and Doe recalculated Plaintiff's time credit and realized the error. (Id. ¶ 12.) Once Thomas and Doe alerted the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and/or the Pennsylvania Board of Probation of this error, Plaintiff was immediately released from custody. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.)

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is comprised of five counts. Plaintiff alleges in Count I that all Defendants deprived him of his procedural due process rights by failing to properly execute the sentencing court's judgment. (Id. ¶¶ 24-32.) In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that Thomas and Doe violated his substantive due process rights by erroneously calculating his sentence in the course of executing the sentencing court's judgment. (Id. ¶¶ 33-38.) Count III contends that Thomas and Doe violated his Fourth and Fourteenth amendments by wrongly executing his sentence and holding him without basis past the expiration of his sentence. (Id. ¶¶ 39-45.) Count IV alleges that the City was responsible for the aforementioned claims based on municipal liability. (Id. ¶¶ 46-53.) Finally, in Count V, Plaintiff contends that Thomas and Doe committed the state law tort of false imprisonment, related to their wrongful execution of the sentencing court's judgment. (Id. ¶¶ 54-58.) On November 2, 2016, Defendants filed the Motion to Dismiss that is before us today. (Doc. 6.)


         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant bears the burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff has failed to set forth a claim from which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also Lucas v. City of Phila., No. 11-4376, 2012 WL 1555430, at *2 (E.D. Pa. May 2, 2012) (citing Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005)). In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the court must view any reasonable inferences from the factual allegations in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Buck v. Hamilton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2002).

         The United States Supreme Court (“Supreme Court”) set forth in Twombly, and further defined in Iqbal, a two-part test to determine whether to grant or deny a motion to dismiss. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (“Third Circuit”) has noted that these cases signify the progression from liberal pleading requirements to more “exacting scrutiny” of the complaint. Wilson v. City of Phila., 415 F.Appx. 434, 436 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Initially, the court must ascertain whether the complaint is supported by well-pleaded factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Conclusions of law can serve as the foundation of a complaint, but to survive dismissal they must be supported by factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. These factual allegations must be explicated sufficiently to provide a defendant the type of notice that is contemplated by Rule 8. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (requiring a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). Where there are well-pleaded facts, courts must assume their truthfulness. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         Upon a finding of a well-pleaded complaint, the court must then determine whether these allegations “plausibly” give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 679. This is a “context specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. Plausibility compels the pleadings to contain enough factual content to allow a court to make “a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 at 570). This is not a probability requirement; rather plausibility necessitates “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). In other words, a complaint must not only allege entitlement to relief, but must demonstrate such entitlement with sufficient facts to nudge the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Id. at 683; see also Holmes v. Gates, 403 F. App'x 670, 673 (3d Cir. 2010).


         Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint should be dismissed on its merits for several reasons. Defendants first argue that all of Plaintiff's claims are barred by the decision of the Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 4-5.) Second, Defendants argue that if Heck does not bar Plaintiff's claims, the claims should nonetheless be dismissed because they cannot be liable for mere “negligence” under § 1983. (Id. at 4.) Finally, Defendants argued that Count IV should be dismissed because the City cannot be held liable for any claims since the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint do not ...

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