United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MICHAEL SAUERS, Individually and as Administrator of the ESTATE OF CAROLA R. SAUERS, Deceased, Plaintiff
STEPHEN HOMANKO, BOROUGH OF NESQUEHONING, and SEAN SMITH Defendants
M. Munley United States District Court
Michael Sauers (hereinafter “plaintiff”) avers
that a local police officer violated his and his late
wife's civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(hereinafter “section 1983”) when he lost control
of his police cruiser and collided with plaintiff's
automobile. Before the court for disposition is the police
officer's motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. (Doc. 11). For the following
reasons, the court will deny the motion.
12, 2014, Nesquehoning police officer Stephen Homanko
(hereinafter “Defendant Homanko”), on duty in his
2009 Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser, was travelling in
the southbound lane of Route 209 in Nesquehoning,
Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, Compl. (hereinafter
“Compl.”) ¶ 10). At some point, he observed
a yellow Dodge Neon commit what he believed to be a potential
summary traffic offense in the northbound lane of Route 209.
(Id. ¶ 11). Based on his observation, Defendant
Homanko turned his police cruiser around and pursued the
Neon. (Id. ¶ 12). To catch up to and apprehend
the Neon's driver, Defendant Homanko at times reached
speeds over 100 miles-per-hour. (Id. ¶ 14).
While attempting to negotiate a curve in the road, Defendant
Homanko lost control of his police cruiser and collided with
a 2007 Toyota Yaris traveling southbound on Route 209 and
driven by Plaintiff Michael Sauers. (Id.
¶¶ 15, 9). Plaintiff endured extensive injuries as
a result of the collision, and his wife, who was travelling
in the front passenger seat of the vehicle, died as a result
of her injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 17-18).
6, 2016, plaintiff filed a seven-count complaint against
Defendant Homanko, the Borough of Nesquehoning, and
Nesquehoning police chief Sean Smith. Counts I, II, and III
allege civil rights violations under section 1983 against all
defendants. Counts IV, V, VI, and VII also assert respective
Pennsylvania state law negligence, wrongful death, survival,
and vicarious liability claims.
11, 2016, Defendant Homanko moved to dismiss plaintiff's
complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted. (Doc. 11). The parties have briefed their
respective positions and the matter is ripe for disposition.
case is brought pursuant to section 1983 for a violation of
plaintiff's constitutional rights, we have jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (“The district courts shall
have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under
the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States.”). We have supplemental jurisdiction over
plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
Homanko filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The
court tests the sufficiency of the complaint's
allegations when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.
All well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed
as true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to
determine whether, “‘under any reasonable reading
of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to
relief.'” Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838
F.2d 663, 665-66 (3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Estate of Bailey
by Oare v. Cty. of York, 768 F.2d 503, 506 (3d
Cir. 1985)). The plaintiff must describe “‘enough
facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will
reveal evidence of' [each] necessary element” of
the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. Cty. of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556
(2007)). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that
“justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the
next stage of litigation.” Id. at 234-35. In
evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, the court may also
consider “matters of public record, orders, exhibits
attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record
of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran
& Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted). The court need not accept legal
conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See
Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del.,
Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse
v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir.
Homanko moves to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically,
Defendant Homanko argues that plaintiff has not pled facts
sufficient to satisfy the elements of his section 1983 claim.
Alternatively, Defendant Homanko contends that he is entitled
to qualified immunity. We address these issues in turn.
Section 1983: State-Created Danger
II of plaintiff's complaint asserts a section 1983 claim
against Defendant Homanko. Section 1983 provides a civil
remedy for the “deprivation of any rights, privileges,
or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” 42
U.S.C. § 1983. “To state a claim under section
1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that ‘some
person has deprived him of a federal right . . . [and] that
the person who has deprived him of that right acted under the
color of state or territorial law.'” Halsey v.
Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 290 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting
Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980)). Thus,
“[t]he threshold issue in any [section] 1983
lawsuit is whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a
deprivation of a constitutional right.” L.R. v.
Sch. Dist. of Phila., 836 F.3d 235, 241 (3d Cir. 2016).
In the instant case, plaintiff alleges that Defendant
Homanko, a Nesquehoning police officer who undisputedly acted
under the color state law, violated his right to bodily
integrity and his wife's right to life protected by the
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
the Due Process Clause does not impose an affirmative duty
upon the state to protect citizens from the acts of private
individuals.” Sanford v. Stiles,456 F.3d 298,
303-04 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty.
Dep't of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 198-200 (1989)).
“There are, however, two exceptions to this rule: the
‘special relationship' exception and the
‘state-created danger' exception.”