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Pazicni v. Miller

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 5, 2017



          Barry Fischer U.S. District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Bethany Ann Pazicni brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging various violations of her constitutional rights as well as a state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) against Defendants Russell P. Miller, the Chief of Police of South Connellsville Borough; Allen Clarke; and South Connellsville Borough. (Docket No. 29). Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docket Nos. 30, 32). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. (Docket Nos. 31, 33-39, 42). For the reasons that follow, the motions will be granted.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff is a member of the Grubbs family, which is well known in South Connellsville for its support for the Borough's volunteer Fire Department. (Docket No. 29 ¶ 10). According to Plaintiff, Miller “has a demonstrable vendetta against the South Connellsville Fire Department and its supporters[, ]” which he has allegedly carried out by “target[ing] Fire Department supporters” with “baseless criminal charges.” (Id.).

         Clarke is Plaintiff's ex-boyfriend and the father of her child. (Id. ¶ 12). After their relationship soured, Plaintiff obtained a PFA order against Clarke. (Id. ¶ 14). Clarke has what Plaintiff describes as “an unusually friendly and inappropriate relationship with the Police Department of South Connellsville Borough, namely Miller and Officers Alex Byers and Frank Neal.” (Id. ¶ 16). “[D]uring early to mid-September 2016, Clarke and Miller began to meet and conspire to exploit and violate [Plaintiff's] civil liberties[.]” (Id.). To that end, on September 9, 2016, Miller, “at Clarke's urging, ” issued Plaintiff two non-traffic citations - one for disorderly conduct and one for harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 21-21). The first citation, which charged Plaintiff with disorderly conduct, alleged that Plaintiff was driving past Clarke's residence “causing alarm and inconvenience” and “making threats to alarm residents.” (Id. ¶ 20). The second citation, which charged Plaintiff with harassment, alleged that she was sending harassing text messages to Clark and “[d]riving around [his] residence and following him.” (Id. ¶ 21). According to Plaintiff, these events “never took place.” (Id. ¶ 19). A summary trial was scheduled for January 9, 2017, but Miller failed to appear and the magistrate dismissed the citations. (Id. ¶ 25).

         Meanwhile, Clarke continued to harass Plaintiff by driving past her house at all hours of the day and engaging in other conduct that Plaintiff believed violated the PFA order. (Id. ¶ 38). Plaintiff and her mother repeatedly reported the alleged harassment to the South Connellsville Police Department, but to no avail. (Id. ¶ 26). Instead, according to Plaintiff, “Miller and his police department took overt affirmative actions to suppress and obstruct [Plaintiff's] ability to report violations to the police.” (Id.). For example, the last time Plaintiff and her mother reported the alleged PFA violations to Miller, Miller told “her that he ‘did not care to hear about any further alleged violations of the Order' and that if she ‘did report any further violations she would be charged with disorderly conduct.'” (Id. ¶ 27). Miller also told Plaintiff that any additional alleged violations of the PFA order should be reported “by reaching out to the officer on duty via their individual Facebook page.” (Id.).

         On October 11, 2016, Miller was charged with official oppression by the Fayette County District Attorney's Office “for using his position as Chief of Police to intimidate and stifle the protected free speech [of] resident Mary Lubich-Riley, who is affiliated with the South Connellsville Volunteer Fire Department[.]” (Id. ¶ 31). He has since been placed on restricted duty. (Id. ¶ 32). Plaintiff alleges that “Miller's suppression of the constitutional rights of Borough citizens through actions of malicious prosecution was ongoing during his term as Chief of Police.” (Id. ¶ 33). As an example, Plaintiff alleges that Miller had criminal charges filed against Amanda Burnsworth in September 2015, which were dismissed at a preliminary hearing. (Id. ¶ 34). And in the spring of 2016, Miller arrested Kenneth Harshman and threated to charge him with serious crimes if he “did not agree to provide a statement that would implicate other supporters of the Borough Fire Department.” (Id. ¶ 35).

         Plaintiff filed this suit on January 24, 2017. (Docket No. 1). After Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Docket No. 29), which includes claims for malicious prosecution against Miller and Clarke (count I), failure to train against the Borough (count II), state-created danger against Miller (count III), a violation of equal protection against Miller (count IV), municipal liability against the Borough (count V), civil conspiracy against Miller and Clarke (count IV), fabrication of evidence against Miller and Clarke (count VII), and IIED against Miller and Clarke (count VIII). Defendants now move to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety. (Docket Nos. 30, 32). They filed briefs in support of their respective motions on April 24, 2017. (Docket Nos. 31, 33). Plaintiff submitted responses and briefs in opposition on May 8, 2017. (Docket Nos. 34-37). Defendants filed reply briefs on May 22, 2017. (Docket Nos. 38, 39). And, after receiving leave of Court, on May 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed a sur-reply. (Docket No. 42).

         III. Standard of Review

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must include “enough factual matter” to “‘nudge [the plaintiff's] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Co. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 570 (2007)).

         In assessing the merits of a claim subject to a motion to dismiss, the court must engage in a two-part analysis. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). First, factual and legal elements of a claim must be distinguished. Id. Second, it must be determined whether the facts as alleged support a “plausible claim for relief.” Id. In making the latter determination, the court must be mindful that the matter pleaded need not include “detailed factual allegations, ” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555), and the court must construe all alleged facts, and draw all inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. at 228 (citing Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003)). Moreover, a pleading party need only “put forth allegations that ‘raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s].'” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 213 (quoting Graff v. Subbiah Cardiology Assoc., Ltd., 2008 WL 2312671 (W.D. Pa. June 4, 2008)). A well-pleaded complaint, even when “it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of…facts is improbable, ” will not be dismissed as long as the pleader demonstrates that his or her claim is plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 -56).

         Nevertheless, the facts pled do need to raise the expectation of relief above a purely speculative level, and must include more than “labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554-56). Rule 8(a)(2) “requires a ‘showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 232. “[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Malicious Prosecution

         In count I, Plaintiff asserts a malicious prosecution claim under § 1983 against Defendants Miller and Clarke. (Docket No. 29). In moving to dismiss this claim, Miller argues that Plaintiff failed to plead that she suffered a deprivation of liberty, which Miller says is required to establish a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim. ...

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