United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
CHARLES E. KING, Plaintiff,
DIANE HARMOTTA, M. VEIL GRIFFITH, and DOUGLAS LENGENFELDER, Defendants.
GIBSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
civil rights action comes before the Court upon motions to
dismiss the amended complaint filed by Defendants M. Veil
Griffith and Douglas Lengenfelder (ECF No. 15) and Defendant
Diane Harmotta (ECF No. 17). For the reasons that follow,
Defendants Griffith and Lengenfelder's motion to dismiss
will be GRANTED, and Defendant Harmotta's motion to
dismiss will be GRANTED. However, Plaintiff will be granted
leave to file a second amended complaint with respect to
certain claims as set forth in the Order.
Court has jurisdiction over the federal constitutional claims
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1343(a)(3) and (4), and 42
U.S.C. § 1983. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction
over the state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) because a
substantial portion of the events giving rise to the claims
occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
case involves an incident that occurred on December 3, 2013.
The lawsuit was filed pro se by Plaintiff Charles King. Named
as defendants are Dianna Harmotta, M. Veil Griffith, and
Douglas Lengenfelder. In a memorandum opinion dated July 5,
2016, the Court previously granted Defendants' motions to
dismiss Plaintiff's original complaint (ECF No. 11) but
granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint, which
he did on July 25, 2016 (ECF No. 13). All three Defendants
have once again moved to dismiss. The following facts are
alleged in the amended complaint, which the Court will accept
as true for the sole purpose of deciding the pending motions.
is approximately eighty-five years old and is a black male.
(ECF No. 1 at 1.) On December 3, 2013, Plaintiff was at his
local senior citizens center, located on Main Street in
Johnstown, and was conversing with other senior citizens.
(ECF No. 13 ¶ 1.) While Plaintiff was discussing an
inspirational poster that he had in his possession, Defendant
Harmotta, the director of the center, "came at"
him, screaming and demanding that Plaintiff give her the
poster. (Id. ¶ 1.) When Plaintiff rose from the
table to leave with his poster, Harmotta pursued him and
instructed other staff members to call the police.
(Id. ¶ 2.) When Plaintiff inquired what he had
done wrong, Defendant Harmotta yelled at him and told him
that he was banned from the center. (Id.)
the police arrived, Defendant Harmotta requested that
Plaintiff be required to leave the premises. (Id.)
Plaintiff voluntarily exited the building with the police
officers. (Id.) Once outside, Plaintiff asked the
officers whether Defendant Harmotta had the right to ban him
from the center. (Id.) The officers instructed
Plaintiff to contact the Cambria County Commissioners.
met with the county commissioners in an attempt to resolve
the issue without success. (Id. ¶ 3.) Instead,
one of the commissioners, most likely Lengenfelder, released
a statement to a local newspaper indicating that someone had
been banned from the center for attacking the director.
(Id.) When Plaintiff's daughter visited the
center and asked Defendant Harmotta why she had accused
Plaintiff of attempting to attack her, Defendant Harmotta
stated that she "could tell by the look in
[Plaintiff's] eye" that he was going to strike her.
(Id.) Plaintiff submits that he was wearing
sunglasses on the day of the incident because he suffers from
light sensitivity. (Id.)
then visited the area office on aging to resolve the issue of
being banned from the center. (Id. ¶ 4.) He
requested a set of the center's rules and guidelines on
banning procedures but learned that the center did not have a
rules or guidelines. (Id.) Plaintiff spoke with
Defendant Griffith at the office on aging because he felt he
was being denied his constitutional rights. (Id.)
Griffith told him that he could go to any other senior
citizens center in Cambria County except for the on Main
Street. (Id.) Plaintiff was not happy with this
answer because all of his friends attend the center on Main
Street. (Id.) Plaintiff later hired an attorney and
appealed to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.
(Id. ¶ 5; ECF No. 1-2.) Plaintiff prevailed on
appeal and the administrative law judge ("ALJ")
overturned his ban. (ECF No. 1-2) (The ALJ concluded that
"[e]ven if there was justification for asking
[Plaintiff] to leave the [center] temporarily, there simply
is no basis for making his exclusion permanent.")
Plaintiff has not returned to the center because he believes
that Defendant Harmotta will again try to ban him as a result
of her hatred and bigotry. (ECF No. 13 ¶ 5.) Plaintiff
filed this action because he has suffered the defamation of
his character when Lengenfelder spoke to the newspaper and
violation of his rights due to hatred and bigotry.
(Id.) Plaintiff seeks to stop Defendants from
committing similar injustices to other individuals in the
future and to receive payment for the injustice suffered by
him. (Id.) With respect to his constitutional
rights, Plaintiff mentions the First Amendment rights to free
speech and free assembly as well as his due process rights
under the Fifth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.
(Id.) Accordingly, the Court construes the amended
complaint as bringing claims under Section 1983 for
violations of his rights under First, Fifth, Fourteenth, and
Fifteenth Amendments and a state law defamation claim.
filed his amended complaint on July 25, 2016. The amended
complaint does not add many additional factual allegations,
but does expressly mention several constitutional amendments.
Defendants Griffith and Lengenfelder together filed a motion
to dismiss and a supporting brief (ECF Nos. 15, 16) and
Defendant Harmotta filed her own motion to dismiss and a
supporting brief. (ECF Nos. 17, 18). Both motions move for
the dismissal of all claims. Plaintiff, who is pro se in this
matter, has not filed a response to the motions.
Standard of Review
move to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a
complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."
FED. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) allows a party to seek
dismissal of a complaint or any portion of a complaint for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Although the federal pleading standard has been "in the
forefront of jurisprudence in recent years/' the standard
of review for a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge is now well
established. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,
209 (3d Cir. 2009).
determining the sufficiency of a complaint, a district court
must conduct a two-part analysis. First, the court must
separate the factual matters averred from the legal
conclusions asserted. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210.
Second, the court must determine whether the factual matters
averred are sufficient to show that plaintiff has a
"'plausible claim for relief.'"
Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). The complaint need not include
'"detailed factual allegations.'"
Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231
(3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).
the court must construe the alleged facts, and draw all
inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to
the non-moving party. See Id. at 228 (citing
Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653
(3d Cir. 2003)). However, "legal conclusions" and
"[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action ... do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. Rather, the complaint must present sufficient
'"factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.'" Sheridan v. NGK Metals
Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).
whether a plaintiff has shown a "plausible claim for
relief" is a "context-specific" inquiry that
requires the district court to "draw on its judicial
experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 679. The relevant record under consideration includes the
complaint and any "document integral to or explicitly
relied upon in the complaint." U.S. Express Lines,
Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002)
(citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig.,
114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)). If a complaint is
vulnerable to dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the
district court must permit a curative amendment, irrespective
of whether a plaintiff seeks leave to amend, unless such
amendment would be inequitable or futile. Phillips,
515 F.3d at 236; see also Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d
113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000).
respect to pro se pleadings, "however inartfully
pleaded, " they must be held to "less stringent
standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers."