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King v. Harmotta

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 21, 2017

CHARLES E. KING, Plaintiff,



         I. Introduction

         This 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.

         II. Jurisdiction

         The 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.

         III. Background

         This 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.

         Plaintiff 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.)

         When 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. (Id.)

         Plaintiff 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.)

         Plaintiff 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.")

         Nevertheless, 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         IV. Standard of Review

         Defendants 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).

         In 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)).

         Moreover, 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).

         Ultimately, 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).

         With respect to pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded, " they must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines ...

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