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Chappell v. Horsham Township Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

February 21, 2017

VIRGINIA CHAPPELL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HORSHAM TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER

          Slomsky, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case involves tragic circumstances for someone who has spent her life caring for pets. Plaintiff Virginia Chappell brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Horsham Township Police Department (“Horsham PD”), Chief William J. Daly (“Chief Daly”), Police Officer Jeffrey Woodruff (“Officer Woodruff”), Police Officer Andrew Nisbet (“Officer Nisbet”), Police Officer Jose Ortiz (“Officer Ortiz”), and Lieutenant K. John Potts (“Lieutenant Potts”) (collectively, “Defendants”) for allegedly violating her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights regarding the shooting and euthanization of her dog, Shayla. Additionally, Plaintiff brings state law claims for negligence and conversion.

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) contains six counts. The Counts and Defendants named in each one are as follows:[1]

• Count I alleges two separate claims for improper seizure of Plaintiffs dog in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and a violation of substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment against:
1) Chief Daly, individually and in his official capacity;
2) Officer Woodruff, individually and in his official capacity;
3) Office Nisbet, individually and in his official capacity;
4) Officer Ortiz, individually and in his official capacity; and
5) Lieutenant Potts, individually and in his official capacity;
• Count II alleges a Monell municipal liability claim for violation of Plaintiffs constitutional rights against:
1) Horsham Township Police Department; and
2) Chief Daly in his official capacity;
• Count III alleges a failure to provide procedural due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment against:
1) Chief Daly, individually and in his official capacity;
2) Officer Woodruff, individually and in his official capacity;
3) Office Nisbet, individually and in his official capacity;
4) Officer Ortiz, individually and in his official capacity; and
5) Lieutenant Potts, individually and in his official capacity;
• Count IV alleges negligence by the Horsham PD regarding Plaintiffs personal property;
• Count V alleges negligence by the Horsham PD regarding Plaintiff s dog; and
• Count VI alleges conversion against:
1) Chief Daly, individually;
2) Officer Woodruff, individually;
3) Office Nisbet, individually;
4) Officer Ortiz, individually; and
5) Lieutenant Potts, individually.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the SAC for lack of standing under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. No 11.) For reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss in part and deny it in part.

         II. BACKGROUND[2]

         On March 9, 2016, Plaintiff entered into a contract with Jonna Amentt (“Amentt”) in which Amentt agreed to foster Shayla, a female Staffordshire mix canine.[3] (Doc. No. 12 ¶ 12.) The contract provided that Plaintiff retained all property rights to Shayla through Rescue Dogs Rock Animal Rescue. (Doc. No. 12, Ex. A at 5.) The next day, Amentt began fostering Shayla in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, where she lived with her boyfriend, Thomas Kasee (“Kasee”), in his mother's house. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 14, 17, Ex. A at 2.)

         On March 12, 2016, Kasee asked the Horsham PD to assist him in taking Shayla to the SPCA, stating she was behaving aggressively. (Id. ¶ 18, Ex. B.) Officers Woodruff and Nisbet responded to the call. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 30.) Kasee told Officer Woodruff that Amentt had adopted Shayla several days prior. (Id. ¶ 24.) Officer Woodruff never attempted to contact Amentt. (Id. ¶ 25.) Officer Woodruff entered the yard without a catchpole or an assisting officer present. (Id. ¶ 27.) At that point, he was unable to secure Shayla, and exited the yard. (Id. ¶ 28.) Instead of waiting for a catchpole to arrive, Officer Woodruff entered the property again and, without any provocation, fired two shots at Shayla. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) These actions were not in compliance with Horsham PD's Animal Control Policy. (Id. Ex. C at 5.)

         One shot entered Shayla between her shoulders and exited near her upper right front leg. (Id. ¶ 33, Ex. B.) Shayla then retreated to the back door of the house. (Id. ¶ 34.) Next, Officer Ortiz arrived at the house with a catchpole. Officers Woodruff and Nisbet caught Shayla with the pole and dragged her from the yard to Officer Woodruff's police cruiser. (Id. ¶¶ 36-40.) Shortly thereafter, Lieutenant Potts arrived at the property, interviewed Officer Woodruff and Kasee, and reviewed the scene. (Id. ¶ 39.) During these discussions, Shayla remained bleeding in Officer Woodruff's car. (Id. ¶ 40.) Officer Woodruff then took Shayla to the SPCA to be euthanized. (Id. ¶¶ 38-47.) By the time Shayla was euthanized, Officer Woodruff had learned that Shayla was a foster dog. (Id. ¶ 45.) Though Shayla was wearing dog tags with Plaintiff's contact information, Plaintiff was never contacted regarding Shayla's euthanization. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 42-47.)

         On March 16, 2016, Lieutenant Potts submitted a memorandum to Chief Daly approving Officer Woodruff's use of force. (Id. ¶ 48.) Chief Daly approved the memorandum on March 21, 2016. (Id. ¶ 49.) Lieutenant Potts also approved the reports of Officers Woodruff and Nisbet on March 23, 2016. (Id. ¶ 50.)

         On May 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant civil action against Defendants. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on June 27, 2016. (Doc. No. 4.) On July 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint.[4] (Doc. No. 10.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint on July 20, 2016. (Doc. No. 11.)

         On August 3, 2016, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”). (Doc. No. 12.) On August 5, 2016, she filed a Motion for Leave to File the SAC. (Doc. No. 13.) Judge Stewart Dalzell, to whom this case was originally assigned, granted the Motion for Leave to File on September 13, 2016. (Doc. No. 15.) As noted above in the SAC, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her right to be free of unreasonable seizures and deprived her of substantive and procedural due process in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.[5] Id. Plaintiff also alleges a Monell claim and state law claims of negligence and conversion. Id.

         As permitted by Judge Dalzell, Defendants filed a supplemental brief in support of their Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint on September 23, 2016. (Doc. No. 16.) Plaintiff filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on September 30, 2016. (Doc. No. 18.) On January 4, 2017, this case was assigned to this Court (Slomsky, J.) for all further proceedings. (Doc. No. 19.) The Motion to Dismiss is now ripe for a decision.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss for want of standing is brought under Rule 12(b)(1) because standing is a jurisdictional matter. Constitution Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 357 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal citation omitted).

         A district court considering a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) must first determine whether that motion presents a “facial” attack or a “factual” attack on the claim at issue “because that distinction determines how the pleading must be reviewed.” Id. A facial challenge contests the sufficiency of the complaint because of a defect on its face, such as lack of diversity among the parties or the absence of a federal question. See Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). In a facial challenge, the court must consider the allegations of the complaint as true and consider only those allegations in the complaint and the attached documents in deciding whether the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis for subject-matter jurisdiction. See Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000); see also U.S. ex rel. Atkinson ...


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