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Sauers v. Homanko

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 3, 2017

MICHAEL SAUERS, Individually and as Administrator of the ESTATE OF CAROLA R. SAUERS, Deceased, Plaintiff
v.
STEPHEN HOMANKO, BOROUGH OF NESQUEHONING, and SEAN SMITH Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          JAMES M. MUNLEY United States District Court

         Plaintiff 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 Defendants Borough of Nesquehoning and police chief Sean Smith's (hereinafter “the Borough defendants”) 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. 19). For the following reasons, the court will grant in part and deny in part the motion.

         Background

          On May 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).

         On May 6, 2016, plaintiff filed a seven-count complaint against Defendant Homanko and the Borough defendants. Counts I, II, and III allege civil rights violations under section 1983 against all defendants. Counts IV, V, VI, and VII assert respective Pennsylvania state law negligence, wrongful death, survival, and vicarious liability claims.

         On July 28, 2016, the Borough defendants 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. 19). The parties have briefed their respective positions and the matter is ripe for disposition.

         Jurisdiction

         As this 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. § 1367.

         Standard of Review

         The Borough defendants 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. 1997)).

         Discussion

         The Borough defendants move 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. Plaintiff argues, however, that his federal civil rights and state law claims are sufficiently alleged. We first address plaintiff's federal civil rights claims, and then, if necessary, plaintiff's state law claims.[1]

         I. Section 1983 Claims

          The Borough defendants first seek to dismiss plaintiff's section 1983 claims stated in Counts I and III of the complaint. Count I asserts section 1983 supervisory liability and state-created danger claims against Nesquehoning police chief Sean Smith (hereinafter “Defendant Smith”). Count III asserts a section 1983 municipal liability claim against the Borough of Nesquehoning (hereinafter “the Borough”).

         Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights. Rather, it provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal law. Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). Section 1983 states, in pertinent part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Thus, to establish a claim under section 1983, two criteria must be met. First, the conduct complained of must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law. Sameric Corp. ofDel., Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir.1998). Second, the conduct must deprive the plaintiff of rights secured under the Constitution or federal law. Id. Here, the parties do not contest whether the Borough defendants acted under state law. Rather, the ...


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