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Pennsylvania General Energy Co., LLC v. Grant Township

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 5, 2017



          Baxter Magistrate Judge

         Presently before the Court is a motion filed by intervenor-plaintiff PIOGA, requesting dismissal of a counterclaim filed by defendant Grant Township pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         Standard of Review

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) permits a party to respond to a pleading by filing a motion to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." To survive a motion to dismiss, a party's claim must allege facts that '"raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint, or in this case, a counterclaim, must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) quoting Twombly. 550 U.S. at 570). A court \ identifies first those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than "legal conclusions" or "naked assertions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are "not entitled to the assumption of truth" and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Then, a court assesses the remaining "'nub' of the plaintiff['s] claim-the well-pleaded, noneonclusory factual allegation[s]"-to determine whether the claim states a plausible claim for relief. Id.

         A Court need not accept inferences drawn by a plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist.. 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly 550 U.S. at 555. citing Papasan v. Allain. 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). See a]so McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions."). A plaintiffs factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly. 550 U.S. at 556, citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004). Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

         In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at * 1 (D. Del.) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny. 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). "This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234, quoting Twombly. 550 U.S. at 556 n.3.

         The Third Circuit has expounded on the Twombly/Iqbal line of cases:

         To determine the sufficiency of a complaint under Twombly and Iqbal, we must take the following three steps:

First, the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.' Second, the court should identify allegations that, 'because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.' Finally, 'where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.'

Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011) quoting Santiago v. Warminster Two.. 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

         Failure to State a § 1983 Claim

         The Township asserts in its counterclaim, by way of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that PIOGA, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, violated its purported constitutional right to local community self-government, as set out in the Township's Community Bill of Rights Ordinance. To state a § 1983 claim, a claimant must plead that the other party acted "under the color of state law." Curlew. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 277 (3d Cir. 2002). "The ultimate issue in determining whether a person is subject to suit under § 1983 is the same question posed in cases arising under the Fourteenth Amendment." Rendell-Baker v. Kohn. 457 U.S. 830, 838, (1982). Whether PIOGA acted as a state actor or under color of state law "is a threshold issue; there is no liability under § 1983 for those not acting under color of state law." Groman v. Township of Manalapan. 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995).

         To determine whether PIOGA, a private entity, acted under color of state law, "[t]he principal question at stake is whether there is such a close nexus between the State and the challenged action that seemingly private behavior may be fairly treated as that of the State itself." Leshko v. Servis, 423 F.3d 337, 339 (3d Cir. 2005). The analysis of this question depends on "the peculiar facts or circumstances present." Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth. 365 U.S. 715, 861-862(1961).

         The Township's counterclaim fails because its factual allegations against PIOGA are not sufficient to establish that PIOGA is a state actor. ...

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