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Aponte v. Borough of Pottstown

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 25, 2017

SHANICQUA S. APONTE, Plaintiff,
v.
BOROUGH OF POTTSTOWN, MARK FLANDERS, MONTGOMERY COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, MONTGOMERY COUNTY PENNSYLVANIA, and RICHARD BURBERRY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Shanicqua Aponte brings this case asserting constitutional due process claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Borough of Pottstown, Pottstown Borough Manager Mark Flanders, Montgomery County, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, and Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Richard Bradbury, [1] alleging that all Defendants unlawfully withheld exculpatory evidence from Plaintiff during a criminal trial in Montgomery County, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). All Defendants have filed motions to dismiss Plaintiffs claims. Those motions shall be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         According to her Amended Complaint, [3] Plaintiff was arrested after a dispute with her landlord regarding an eviction from her apartment, and subsequently charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. In advance of a preliminary hearing in her criminal matter, Plaintiff requested from prosecutors video footage from thirteen surveillance cameras in the Pottstown Police Station showing her arrival and detention after her arrest, which she contends undermines the charges against her. After her request for the footage was denied in November 2015, she submitted a Right-to-Know request to the Borough of Pottstown (the "Borough") and Borough Manager Mark Flanders, seeking the same footage. Her Right-to-Know request was denied in January 2016, and her criminal charges proceeded in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. She then filed an appeal of the denial of her Right-to-Know request with the state Office of Open Records (OOR).

         In May 2016, Plaintiff requested a continuance of a pre-trial hearing in her criminal trial so that she could obtain the video. In July 2016, Plaintiff won OOR reversal of the Borough's denial of her records request. The following week, Assistant District Attorney Richard Bradbury met with Borough officials. After that meeting, Plaintiff received a copy of the video from Bradbury that she claims she could not view. In August 2016, at a second pre-trial conference, the court ordered the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office (the "District Attorney's Office") to permit Plaintiff to view the surveillance video. After viewing the video, Plaintiff requested another continuance, claiming that she had not been shown the entire video footage of herself at the police station on the day of her arrest. Plaintiff then attempted to speak with Bradbury's supervisor about the production of the video, and was allegedly threatened with arrest.

         Meanwhile, the Borough filed a petition for review of the OOR's decision in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas. As of the filing of Plaintiff s Amended Complaint in this case, neither the District Attorney's Office nor the Borough had given Plaintiff the entire span of surveillance footage that she requested - purportedly more than four hours of footage, taken from thirteen camera recordings. Instead, Plaintiff alleges, she was shown only "selected footage" of four shots.

         Plaintiff pled guilty to several of the charges against her on February 27, 2017.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         "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)). "In light of Twombly, it is no longer sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of action; instead a complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP', 615 F.3d 159, 177 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Following the Supreme Court's rulings in Twombly and Iqbal, the Third Circuit requires a two-step analysis when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Edwards v. A.H. Cornell & Son, Inc., 610 F.3d 217, 219 (3d Cir. 2010). First, a court should separate the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting the facts and disregarding the legal conclusions. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). In doing so, the Court must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Santomenno ex rel John Hancock Trust v. John Hancock Life Ins. Co. (U.S.A.), 768 F.3d 284, 290 (3d Cir. 2014).

         In the second step of the analysis, a court must determine whether the well-pled facts sufficiently show that the plaintiff "has a 'plausible claim for relief" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). A plaintiff need not show that success on his or her claims is probable, but must assert '"enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element in a claim. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). However, '"[w]here 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" Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). At bottom, the question is not whether the claimant "will ultimately prevail . . . but whether [her] complaint [is] sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold." Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 529-30 (2011) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs claims are based on the premise that both Bradbury and Flanders failed to turn over to Plaintiff exculpatory evidence in advance of her trial (i.e., the police station surveillance video), in violation of the right articulated in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). In Brady, the Supreme Court held that withholding evidence material to either guilt or punishment is a violation of the Due Process Clause. Id. at 87. Although she has cited the Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments in her Amended Complaint, only the Fourteenth Amendment provides an appropriate basis for her claims. The Fifth Amendment applies to federal government action - not local government actions, which are at issue in this case. See Nguyen v. U.S. Catholic Conference, 719 F.2d 52, 54 (3d Cir. 1983). And "the Ninth Amendment does not independently provide a source of individual constitutional rights." Perry v. Lackawanna Cty. Children & Youth Servs., 345 F.App'x 723, 726 (3d Cir. 2009). Thus, Plaintiffs claims fall under only the Fourteenth Amendment, and, to the extent that Plaintiff has asserted claims under the Fifth and Ninth Amendments, the claims under those two amendments shall be dismissed with prejudice.

         With respect to the Fourteenth Amendment, each Defendant seeks dismissal of Plaintiff s claims on a unique basis, so the Court ...


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