United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
R. Sánchez, J.
Capri Talley and her five-year-old daughter R'Mani
Rankins were brutally murdered by Marcel Johnson, an
associate of Talley, in November 2013. Rakeem Rankins,
R'Mani's father, and Pearline Davis, Talley's
mother, individually and as administrators of their
daughter's estates, bring this civil rights action,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting claims for
violations of their daughters' Fourteenth Amendment
rights under a state-created danger and municipal liability.
The Township moves to dismiss this action pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Because Plaintiffs have
failed to sufficiently plead any of the necessary elements of
a state-created danger claim and have failed to plead the
existence of an unconstitutional custom or policy, a
prerequisite for the imposition of municipal liability, the
Court finds dismissal is warranted. Plaintiffs' Complaint
will be dismissed without prejudice.
November 2013, Johnson murdered Ebony Capri
Talley and her five-year-old daughter, R'Mani
Rankins by stabbing them and then setting them on fire inside
their apartment. Johnson was subsequently convicted of both
December 2014, Rakeem Rankins, R'Mani's father,
learned that at the time of the murder, Talley and Johnson
were under investigation by the Township for drug
trafficking. As part of the investigation, the Bristol
Borough Police Department had been gathering evidence,
including video and audio surveillance recorded by a
government informant, of Talley and Johnson engaging in drug
transactions. The informant also engaged in drug transactions
with Talley. Some of the drug transactions captured and
facilitated by the informant occurred while R'Mani was
present. Plaintiffs allege that by conducting this
investigation of Talley, the Township created a danger, or
increased the risk of danger, to both Talley and R'Mani,
and ultimately caused their deaths.
survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6),
“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)). In
evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court first must
separate the legal and factual elements of the
plaintiff's claims, accepting the well-pleaded factual
allegations as true and disregarding any legal conclusions.
Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.
2009). The court “must then determine whether the facts
alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the
plaintiff has a ‘plausible claim for
relief.'” Id. at 211 (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). A claim is facially
plausible when the facts pleaded “allow the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678. A court may consider matters of public record in
deciding a motion to dismiss. See Schmidt v. Skolas,
770 F.3d 241, 249 (3d Cir. 2014).
state a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must allege the
defendants, “acting under color of state law deprived
him . . . of a right secured by the Constitution or the law
of the United States.” Kaucher v. Cty. of
Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006). Here,
Plaintiffs allege the Township violated their daughters'
Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights under the
“state-created danger” doctrine.
state-created danger doctrine is an exception to the general
rule that “[a] state's failure to take affirmative
action to protect a victim from the actions of a third person
will not, in the absence of a custodial relationship between
the state and the victim, support a civil rights
claim.” Brown v. Grabowski, 922 F.2d 1097,
1100-01 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing DeShaney v. Winnebago Cty.
Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189 (1989)). Under
the state-created danger doctrine, a due process violation
may “occur when state authority is affirmatively
employed in a manner that injures a citizen or renders him
‘more vulnerable to injury from another source than he
or she would have been in the absence of state
intervention.'” Bright v. Westmoreland
Cty., 443 F.3d 276, 281 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting
Schieber v. City of Phila., 320 F.3d 409, 416 (3d
Cir. 2003)). To plead a state-created danger claim, a
plaintiff must allege
(1) the harm ultimately caused to the plaintiff was
foreseeable and fairly direct; (2) the state-actor acted in
willful disregard for the plaintiff's safety; (3) there
was some relationship between the state and the plaintiff;
and (4) the state-actor used his authority to create an
opportunity for danger that otherwise would not have existed.
Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d
Cir. 2008); see also Bright, 443 F.3d at 281.
purposes of the first element, harm is foreseeable when there
is “an awareness on the part of the state actors that
rises to the level of actual knowledge or an awareness of
risk that is sufficiently concrete to put the actors on
notice of the harm.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at
238; see K.S.S. v. Montgomery Cty. Bd. of
Comm'rs, 871 F.Supp.2d 389, 400 (E.D. Pa. 2012)
(“[H]arm is foreseeable when a state actor has actual
awareness, based on concrete information, of a risk of harm
to an individual . . . such that the actor is on notice that
his or her act or failure to act significantly enhances the
risk of harm.” (citation omitted and omission in
original)). Moreover, to determine whether the harm is fairly
direct, the court considers whether the harm “occurs to
an identifiable or discrete individual under the
circumstances” or merely “to a ‘random'
individual with no connection to the harm-causing
party.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 239. “This
inquiry essentially asks whether the alleged misconduct and
the harm caused were ‘too attenuated' to
justifiably hold the defendant liable.” D.N. ex
rel. Nelson v. Snyder, 608 F.Supp.2d 615, 625 (M.D. Pa.
2009) (citing Phillips, 515 F.3d at 238).
sufficiently plead the second element of a state-created
danger action-state action in willful disregard of the
plaintiff's safety-a plaintiff must allege that the state
actor acted with a degree of culpability that “shocks
the conscience.” Bright, 443 F.3d at 281.
There is “no calibrated yard stick” to measure
what actions shock the conscience, and “the exact
degree of wrongfulness necessary . . . depends upon the
circumstances of a particular case.” Kaucher,
455 F.3d at 435-36 (3d Cir. 2006). This element may be
satisfied by allegations showing the state action acted with
“(1) deliberate indifference; (2) gross negligence or
arbitrariness that indeed shocks the conscience; or (3)
intent to cause harm.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at
third element of a state-created danger claim requires a
plaintiff to plead a relationship between the state and the
plaintiff “such that the plaintiff was a foreseeable
victim of the defendant's acts, or a member of a discrete
class of persons subjected to the potential harm brought
about by the state's actions.” Bright, 443
F.3d at 281. Such a relationship exists where there is
“some contact such that the plaintiff was a ...