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Bilal v. Borough

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 25, 2017

ROCHELLE BILAL, ET AL.
v.
COLWYN BOROUGH, ET AL.

          MEMORANDUM

          R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

         Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. (Hayes and Parham, ECF No. 12; Blue, ECF No. 13; Colwyn Borough and Williams, ECF No. 15.) For the following reasons, Defendants' Motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The lawsuit arises out of the arrests of Plaintiffs and the subsequent termination of their employment. Plaintiffs assert multiple federal and state law claims against Defendants.

         A. Factual Background[1]

         Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that on March 4, 2013, Colwyn Borough (the "Borough") hired Plaintiff Wanda Davis as a police clerk. (Compl. ¶ 35.) Her employment was directly supervised by Plaintiff Rochelle Bilal, Borough Director of Public Safety, and Tonette Pray, President of Borough Council and Chair of Public Safety. (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiffs were affiliated and associated with President Pray, who was a "political rival [] and adversar[y]" of Defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 144-45, 205.)

         Approximately four months into her employment, Bilal began to prepare internal memoranda and disciplinary paperwork against Defendant police officers Trevor Parham, Sr. and Jade Hayes. (Id. ¶¶ 41, 44-47, 208.) On July 21, 2013, an emergency meeting was called by the Borough Councilmembers to vote on whether Parham and Hayes were to receive disciplinary action for their behavior. (Id. ¶ 47.) Plaintiffs allege that Parham colluded with Hayes and Borough Mayor Defendant Daniel Rutland to execute a plan to arrest Plaintiffs in order to interrupt the disciplinary process. (Id. ¶¶ 48-49.) Defendants' plan to arrest Plaintiffs, as well as Defendants' subsequent actions, form the basis for Plaintiffs' claims.

         Parham obtained a warrant for the arrest of Plaintiffs by filing an affidavit with the issuing judge. The affidavit stated that Plaintiffs had "improperly open[ed] mail of the Defendant Colwyn Borough and [engaged in] theft and conspiracy . . . ." (Id. ¶ 57.) On the day of the emergency meeting, Parham and Hayes arrested Davis and Bilal, and placed Davis in a holding cell. (Id. ¶ 49.) On July 23, 2013, the charges against Bilal and Davis were dismissed when a reviewing judge determined that, as Borough employees, Bilal and Davis had not acted illegally when they opened Borough mail. (Id. ¶¶ 49, 66-67.) The District Attorney of Delaware County agreed with the judge's summary dismissal of all charges against Plaintiffs, and held a press conference to make his views public. (Id. ¶ 68.)

         Approximately six months later, on January 7, 2014, Plaintiffs were told not to show up for work, and were informed that they no longer had a job. (Id. ¶ 75.) Nevertheless, Plaintiffs went to their place of work. Plaintiffs were informed that if they entered the building they would be arrested. (Id.) Plaintiffs received no explanation of the reason for this termination and they were not given a pre- or post- termination hearing. (Id. ¶ 72.) Plaintiffs allege that they were terminated as part of a conspiratorial plan formed by all individual Defendants to oust President Pray and her supporters. (Id. ¶ 145.) As a result of Defendants' actions, Plaintiffs have suffered significant economic and emotional harm. (Id. ¶¶ 81-83.)

         B. Procedural History

         On September 22, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint alleging claims against the Borough and Borough employees Paul Meuser, Daniel Rutland, Paula Brown, Bryan Hills, Patricia Williams, Michael Blue, Trevor T. Parham, and Jade T. Hayes. The Complaint alleges violations of the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts One through Seven). In addition, Plaintiffs assert violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (Count Four), and §§ 1985 and 1986 (Count Five). Plaintiffs also bring state law claims for defamation and injurious falsehood (Count Eight); wrongful use and malicious prosecution (Count Nine); abuse of process (Count Ten); false imprisonment (Count Eleven); and violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Counts Twelve and Thirteen).

         On October 16, 2014, Defendants filed a Motion for Extension of Time to File a Response. (ECF No. 3.) The Motion was granted. (Order, ECF No. 5.) Defendants Hayes and Parham filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint (Hayes and Parham Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 12); Defendants Blue, Brown, Hills, Meuser, and Rutland filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Blue Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 13); and Defendants Colwyn Borough and Williams filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (Colwyn Borough and Williams Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 15). Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to Defendants Parham and Hayes' Motion to Dismiss.[2] (Pis.' Resp., ECF No. 16.)[3]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule 8(a)(2), "[a] pleading that states a claim for relief 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 for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a). "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 Ail. 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). Courts need not accept "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements . . . ." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 679. 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 v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         In determining whether dismissal of the complaint is appropriate, courts use a two-part analysis. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. First, courts separate the factual and legal elements of the claim and accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true. Id. at 210-11. Next, courts 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). Given the nature of the two-part analysis, "'[determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 530 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Federal Claims

         Plaintiffs assert seven claims under Section 1983. "Section 1983 imposes civil liability upon any person who, acting under the color of state law, deprives another individual of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Shuman ex rel. Shertzer v. Penn Manor Sch. Dist., 422 F.3d 141, 146 (3d Cir. 2005) (citation omitted); see also Goldwire v. City of Phila., No. 15-2856, 2015 WL 5334314, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 11, 2015) ("A cause of action under Section 1983 requires only two allegations: a person has deprived the plaintiff of a federal right, and that person acted under color of state or territorial law." (citing Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635 (1980)). If a plaintiff brings a § 1983 claim against multiple defendants, he must prove that "each individual defendant violated his constitutional rights." Estate of Smith v. Marasco, 430 F.3d 140, 151 (3d Cir. 2005). The counts in Plaintiffs Complaint specifically allege that each individual Defendant violated Plaintiffs' rights, as set forth in each count. We will address each Count in turn.

         1. Unreasonable Search and Seizure (Count One)

         Plaintiffs allege that they were arrested without probable cause in violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. Plaintiffs allege that Parham and Hayes: (1) obtained a warrant to arrest Plaintiffs using false statements and deception, and (2) subsequently arrested and detained Plaintiffs against their will.

         A § 1983 plaintiff who challenges the validity of an arrest warrant by asserting that law enforcement agents submitted a false affidavit must demonstrate: "(1) that the affiant knowingly and deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth, made false statements or omissions that create a falsehood in applying for a warrant; and (2) that such statements or omissions are material, or necessary, to the finding of probable cause." Sherwood v. Mulvihill, 113 F.3d 396, 399 (3d Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). "A police officer may be liable for civil damages for an arrest if 'no reasonable competent officer' would conclude that probable cause exists." Wilson v. Russo, 212 F.3d 781, 789-90 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335 (1986)). "[A]n arrest warrant issued by a magistrate or judge does not, in itself, shelter an officer from liability for false arrest." Id. at 786 (citation omitted).

         The Third Circuit has provided guidance for determining when an officer's omissions or false statements constitute "reckless disregard" when obtaining an arrest warrant. Id. at 788. The court in Wilson held that "omissions are made with reckless disregard if an officer withholds a fact in his ken that 'any reasonable person would have known . . . was the kind of thing the judge would wish to know.'" Id. (quoting United States v. Jacobs, 986 F.2d 1231, 1235 (8th Cir. 1993)). The court cited the Eighth Circuit, which held that "the omission [from the affidavit] occurred at least with reckless disregard of its effect upon the affidavit" due to "the highly relevant nature of the omitted information." Id. (quoting Jacobs, 986 F.2d at 1234). Once a plaintiff has pled that an officer's omissions were "made knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth" a court must assess if the omissions "were material, or necessary, to the finding of probable cause." Reedy v. Evanson, 615 F.3d 197, 213 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In order to determine if materiality exists, courts should "excise the offending inaccuracies and insert the facts recklessly omitted, and then determine whether the corrected affidavit would establish probable cause." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         The affidavit of probable cause that Parham and Hayes submitted to the issuing judge accused Plaintiff Davis of "improperly opening mail of the Defendant Colwyn Borough and allegations of theft and conspiracy, amongst others." (Compl. ¶ 56.) Parham and Hayes did not, however, mention the fact that Plaintiffs were Borough employees-specifically, that Plaintiff Davis was a police clerk and that Plaintiff Bilal was the Public Safety Director. (Id. ¶ 60.) Rather, Defendant Parham "presented false or deceptive information" by stating that Plaintiffs "were not official employees of Colwyn Borough" even though he knew that Bilal was his superior and that Davis was Bilal's aid. (Id. ¶ 61.) Information regarding Plaintiffs' employment with the Borough is definitely "the kind of thing the judge would wish to know." Wilson, 212 F.3d at 788. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that one of Plaintiff Davis' job duties was to open and read the Borough's mail. (Compl. ¶ 67.) Clearly, Plaintiffs have pled facts sufficient to demonstrate that Defendants made false or misleading statements and deliberately omitted information including Plaintiffs' employment with the Borough in order to obtain a warrant. Plaintiffs have satisfied the first prong.

         With regard to the second prong, a judge would want to know that Plaintiffs were Borough employees, and that Plaintiffs had "authority to receive, open, read and distribute mail . . . sent to Colwyn Borough." (Id. ¶ 57.) This information is clearly material to the determination of probable cause. Had the issuing judge known of Plaintiffs' employment positions with the Borough, the issuing judge would not have found probable cause to issue the arrest warrant. In fact, the charges against Plaintiffs "were summarily dismissed upon the judge learning" that Bilal was the Public Safety Director and Davis was Bilal's aid. (Id. ¶ 54.) Accordingly, Plaintiffs have pled sufficient facts to state a claim for false arrest against Parham and Hayes based on a lack of probable cause.[4]

         2. Malicious Prosecution (Count Two)

         Plaintiffs allege that when Officer Parham initiated a "criminal proceeding" against them, they were maliciously prosecuted in violation of their First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In order for a plaintiff to prevail in a § 1983 claim of malicious prosecution, she must demonstrate that:

(1) the defendants initiated a criminal proceeding;
(2) the criminal proceeding ended in the plaintiffs favor;
(3) the proceeding was initiated without probable cause;
(4) the defendants acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and
(5) the plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a consequence of a legal proceeding.

DiBella v. Borough of Beachwood, 407 F.3d 599, 601 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Estate of Smith v. Marasco,318 F.3d 497, 521 (3d ...


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