United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
ROCHELLE BILAL, ET AL.
COLWYN BOROUGH, ET AL.
BARCLAY SURRICK, J.
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
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.
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. ¶¶
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'
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.)
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.)
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
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. (Pis.' Resp., ECF No.
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).
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
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.
Unreasonable Search and Seizure (Count One)
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.
§ 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).
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).
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
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
Malicious Prosecution (Count Two)
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
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 ...