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Joyce v. Capital Area Transit

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 28, 2017



          Yvette Kane, District Judge.

         Before the Court in the above-captioned action are three pending motions to dismiss. (Doc. Nos. 3, 7, 12.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss filed by Plaintiff Michelle M. Joyce (“Joyce”) will be deemed withdrawn, the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Capital Area Transit (“CAT”) and Jim Cramer (“Cramer”) will be granted in part, and this action will be remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background[1]

         Joyce is an adult female residing in Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 1-4 ¶ 1.) On the evening of December 31, 2013, Joyce left work planning to take her regular bus - the Route 322 Hershey Hummelstown bus - home to Hershey. (Id. ¶ 11.) When her regular bus failed to arrive, she decided to take the Number 7 bus to Middletown. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Initially, the bus was filled with passengers; however, the number of riders decreased as the bus approached the stop at the Middletown Giant, where Joyce planned to exit. (Id. ¶¶ 17-19.) Joyce confirmed with the driver of the bus that the bus was going to stop at the Middletown Giant. (Id. ¶ 20.) The driver responded “yes, we will be alone at the Giant.” (Id. ¶ 21.) The last remaining passengers exited the bus at stops before the Middletown Giant, leaving Joyce and the driver alone on the bus. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         When the bus reached the Middletown Giant, the driver drove the bus to the far left end of the parking lot, and parked. (Id. ¶ 24.) As Joyce gathered her things to exit the bus, she heard a loud “click” noise, rather than the sound of the doors being opened. (Id. ¶ 25.) The driver locked the doors to the bus, trapping Joyce on the bus alone with him. (Id. ¶ 26.) The driver blocked the door to the bus and stated, “OK, come on, you and I are going to get it on in the back of the bus.” (Id. ¶ 27.) While saying this, the driver made sexual thrusting motions toward Joyce. (Id. ¶ 28.) Joyce remarked “Are you kidding me?” (Id. ¶ 31.) The driver persisted, responding “No, let's go, right here in the back of the bus, just the two of us.” (Id. ¶ 32.) Joyce refused his advances and demanded to be let off the bus. (Id. ¶¶ 33-34.) The driver blocked Joyce's exit, grabbed her, stating “come on, it's New Year's Eve, ” and then attempted to kiss her. (Id. ¶ 36.) Joyce, fearing that she would be physically harmed by the driver, pretended to be willing to give him a kiss, so she could attempt to escape the bus. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) However, the driver grabbed her arms tightly and pulled her against him and kissed her on the mouth. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) Joyce continued to struggle and eventually freed herself from the driver, ran towards the door, and demanded to be let off the bus. (Id. ¶ 42.) The driver unlocked the doors, and Joyce ran across the parking lot to a nearby pizza shop, where she reported the incident. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44.) Joyce subsequently took her regular bus to work on January 2, 2014, and told the driver of her regular bus, who she knew as “Corey, ” about the incident that occurred on December 31. (Id. ¶¶ 48-50.) Corey convinced her to go with him to the General Manager of the CAT office as soon as he completed the route. (Id. ¶ 51.) Joyce reported the incident to the General Manager of CAT. (Id. ¶ 52.) The individuals at CAT identified the driver based on the description provided by Joyce, but did not provide his name to her. (Id. ¶ 53.) He was described as a “floater” driver. (Id. ¶ 54.) Joyce's regular driver told her “that the driver who assaulted Joyce had previously solicited [a relative of his] for sex after acquiring her number under false pretenses.” (Id. ¶ 55.) Joyce alleges that the driver responsible for the incident was a former firefighter in the City of Harrisburg and had a history of similar misconduct prior to being hired by CAT. (Id. ¶ 56.) Joyce alleges that CAT was aware of other incidents of misconduct by the driver prior to December 31, 2013. (Id. ¶ 57.)

         On or about January 3, 2014, CAT Operations Manager Brad Flickinger sent Joyce a letter of apology from CAT regarding the incident. (Id. ¶ 58.) Flickinger indicated that he had seen video and heard audio of the incident and that the driver had been immediately terminated. (Id. ¶ 59.) On behalf of CAT, Flickinger gave Joyce several months' worth of bus passes and admitted that “it in no way compensates [her] for what [she] went through.” (Id. ¶ 60.) As a result of this incident, Joyce alleges that she has developed severe general anxiety in public, and particularly in any enclosed space, which is exacerbated if older men are present. (Id. ¶ 65.) Joyce also has exhibited symptoms of severe anxiety including loss of sense of smell, ringing in her ears, migraines, panic attacks, shortness of breath, nausea and a nervous cough. (Id. ¶ 66.) Joyce has lost significant time from work as a result of her anxiety and depression, which have required ongoing treatment, including prescription medication and ongoing therapy. (Id. ¶¶ 67- 68.) Joyce alleges that a criminal investigation into the incident was initiated; however, she is not aware of the status of the investigation. (Id. ¶ 70.)

         B. Procedural Background

         On December 31, 2015, Joyce commenced this action by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County against CAT and Cramer, whom Joyce identified as the driver of the Number 7 CAT bus on December 31, 2013. (Doc. No. 6 at 3.) Joyce's complaint asserts six counts for relief, including five state law tort claims and one claim under federal law. The first three counts are asserted solely against Cramer: (1) false imprisonment; (2) assault and battery; and (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Id. at 11-14.) Counts 4 and 5 are asserted against CAT - Count 4 asserts negligence and gross negligence, and Count 5 asserts a “respondeat superior” claim. (Id. at 14-18.) Finally, Count 6 asserts a 42 U.S.C. “§1983 action against CAT and John Doe.” (Id. at 18-20.)

         Subsequent to the filing of her complaint in state court, Joyce filed praecipes to reinstate the complaint on January 29, 2016, February 29, 2016, and March 30, 2016. (Id. at 22-24.) The January 29 praecipe to reinstate the complaint represented that “[e]fforts to secure acceptance by CAT and a reliable address for Mr. Cramer are ongoing.” (Id. at 22.) Further, the praecipes to reinstate the complaint filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County on February 29 and March 30 stated that “[s]ervice of defendants by the Sheriff at the best known addresses is being processed on this date.” (Id. at 23-24.) The complaint was ultimately served on Defendant CAT on April 5, 2016, (id. at 77), and on Defendant Cramer on April 12, 2016 (id. at 78). CAT filed preliminary objections to the complaint on April 25, 2016, and amended preliminary objections to the complaint on May 4, 2016. (Doc. No. 6 at 25, Doc. No. 10 at 2.) CAT also filed a praecipe to file a certificate of incorporation with attached articles of incorporation on May 4, 2016. (Doc. No. 10 at 83.) CAT filed a notice of removal with this Court on the same day. (Doc. No. 1.)

         On May 11, 2016, CAT filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(4) on the grounds of insufficient process, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5) on the grounds of insufficient service of process, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Doc. No. 3.) On May 13, 2016, Defendant Cramer filed his motion to dismiss on the same grounds. (Doc. No. 7.) CAT filed a brief in support of its motion to dismiss on May 25, 2016, (Doc. No. 9), and Cramer filed a brief in support of his motion on May 27, 2016, (Doc. No. 11). On June 15, 2016, Joyce filed a document entitled “Motion to Dismiss Filed by Plaintiff Joyce.” (Doc. No. 12.) Upon Joyce's failure to file a brief in opposition to Defendants' motions to dismiss, the Court issued an Order on June 17, 2016 directing Joyce to show cause within ten days why Defendants' motions to dismiss should not be granted as unopposed. (Doc. No. 13.) On June 27, 2016, Joyce filed a brief in opposition to Defendants' motions to dismiss. (Doc. No. 14.) On July 11, 2016, Defendant CAT filed its reply brief in further support of its motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 15.) Having been fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for disposition.


         A motion filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint's factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted) (interpreting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). Generally, a court considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must determine whether the complaint contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Consistent with the Supreme Court's rulings in Twombly and Iqbal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit requires district courts to engage in a two-part analysis when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion: (1) first, a court should separate the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepted well-pleaded factual matter and disregarding legal conclusion; (2) second, a court should determine whether the remaining well-pled facts sufficiently demonstrate that a plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Facial plausibility exists when the plaintiff pleads ...

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