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Cook v. West Homestead Police Department

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2017

TANISHA COOK and JAMARR HARRISON, Plaintiffs,
v.
WEST HOMESTEAD POLICE DEPARTMENT, BOROUGH OF WEST HOMESTEAD, PAUL FLEMING, JAMES CIOCCO, JOHN DOES 1-10, Defendants,

          MEMORANDUM OPINION [1]

          CYNTHIA REED EDDY, United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint [ECF No. 13]. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Tanisha Cook and Jamarr Harrison filed the instant civil rights case against Defendants West Homestead Police Department (“WHPD”), Borough of West Homestead (“Borough”), Officer Paul Fleming, Officer James Ciocco and John Does 1-10 related to a high speed chase in which Plaintiffs were injured.

         On October 4, 2015, Officer Fleming spotted Jesse Warren's (a non-party to this action) vehicle and suspected that the vehicle that Warren was driving matched the description of a vehicle that had been reported stolen. Officer Fleming followed Warren in his marked police vehicle until it stopped on West 8th Avenue in West Homestead, the driver seemingly intending to park the vehicle on the street. Without waiting for backup, and not knowing the identity of the driver, Officer Fleming activated his flashing lights, got out of his cruiser and approached the vehicle with his weapon drawn. As Officer Fleming approached the vehicle on foot, Warren pulled away and traveled down 8th Avenue, passing a second police car driven by Officer Ciocco, who was approaching the site of the traffic stop from the opposite direction. Officer Ciocco made a U-turn and commended pursuit of Warren, while Officer Fleming returned to his car and followed the pursuit. The two officers employed their sirens and flashing lights, but Warren accelerated to speeds approximating 70 miles per hour and the pursuing officers kept pace through the densely populated commercial and residential Borough neighborhoods. Warren refused to stop and disregarded traffic control signs with Officers Fleming and Ciocco pursuing him and eventually crossed a double-yellow line and entered a one-way underpass headed in the wrong direction. The police officers followed. When the pursuit then reached a divided section of state highway 837, Officer Ciocco attempted to pass Warren, but Warren blocked the maneuver. Officer Ciocco pulled back behind Warren's vehicle. The pursuit ended abruptly at the intersection of state route 837 and Commonwealth Avenue in the City of Duquesne where Warren veered into opposing traffic and struck the Plaintiffs' vehicle head-on at a high rate of speed. The Plaintiffs sustained serious bodily injuries from the collision.

         Plaintiffs commenced the instant action on August 24, 2016 against the WHPD, the Borough, Officer Fleming, Officer Ciocco and certain John Does alleging the following claims in connection with the high speed pursuit: (1) a state law negligence claim against WHPD, the Borough and Officers Fleming and Ciocco (Count I); (2) a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim for “injury to bodily integrity” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all of the Defendants (Count II); and (3) a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim for “injury [caused] as a result of a state created danger” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all of the Defendants (Count III). See Compl. [ECF No. 1] at p. 15, 16. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages for their injuries. Defendants presently move to dismiss the constitutional claims levied against them, but do not move to dismiss the state law claims.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The applicable inquiry under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is well settled. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, a complaint must 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) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint 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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A complaint that merely alleges entitlement to relief, without alleging facts that show entitlement, must be dismissed. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). 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 elements.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Nevertheless, the court need not accept as true “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, ” Doug Grant, Inc. v. Great Bay Casino Corp., 232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000), or the plaintiff's “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

         Although a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and “sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Facial plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. . . . Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'”

Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal citations omitted).

         When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of his claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

         Courts generally consider the allegations of the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record in deciding motions to dismiss. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual allegations within documents described or identified in the complaint also may be considered if the plaintiff's claims are based upon those documents. Id. (citations omitted). In addition, a district court may consider indisputably authentic documents without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004); Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 2004) (in resolving a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule ...


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