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Eberhardinger v. City of York

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 20, 2017

ERIKA EBERHARDINGER, Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF YORK, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         Plaintiff Erika Eberhardinger ("Eberhardinger") commenced this action against the City of York, York City Police Officer Benjamin Praster ("Officer Praster"), York City Police Officer Benjamin Smith ("Officer Smith"), Matthew Foster ("Foster"), and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. (See Doc. 1). Before the court is a motion (Doc. 9) to dismiss filed by defendants City of York, Officer Praster, and Officer Smith (collectively, the "York defendants"). For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History

         On December 19, 2014, Eberhardinger, Foster, and Mason Millen ("Millen") left Banana Max Bar & Grill in York, Pennsylvania by vehicle at approximately 1:45 a.m. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 19-20). Foster drove, Eberhardinger sat in the front passenger seat, and Millen sat in the back seat behind Eberhardinger. (Id. ¶ 20). Shortly thereafter, Foster failed to stop at a stop sign. (See id. ¶¶ 21-22). Officer Praster witnessed this and pursued Foster. (Id.) When Foster did not pull over, Officer Praster continued to follow the vehicle and radioed for assistance. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 56, 57(b), 57(i)).

         Officer Smith responded to Officer Praster's request and joined the pursuit. (Id. ¶ 24). Foster saw Officer Smith's vehicle approaching from the west and started to reverse toward Officer Praster who was following him from the east. (Id. ¶¶ 24-26). Officer Smith exited his patrol car and approached Foster's vehicle on foot. (Id. ¶ 26). Foster crashed the vehicle into a telephone phone while in reverse and then attempted to drive past Officer Smith. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28, 56). Officer Smith fired four shots at the windshield of the vehicle to stop Foster from driving past him. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30). The shots struck Eberhardinger in the face, forearm, and hand. (Id. ¶ 30).

         Eberhardinger commenced the instant action on December 15, 2016. (Doc. 1). Against the York defendants, Eberhardinger asserts the following claims: an excessive force claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officers Praster and Smith (Count I), a state law negligence claim against Officers Praster and Smith (Count II), and Monell claims against the City of York (Counts III and IV). The York defendants move to dismiss all claims brought against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 9). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

         Federal notice and pleading rules require the complaint to provide "the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (alteration in original) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To test the sufficiency of the complaint, the court conducts a three-step inquiry. See Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130-31 (3d Cir. 2010). In the first step, "the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.'" Id. at 130 (alteration in original) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 675 (2009)). Next, the factual and legal elements of a claim must be separated; well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, while mere legal conclusions may be disregarded. Id. at 131-32; see Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the court isolates the well-pleaded factual allegations, it must determine whether they are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts "that allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Courts should grant leave to amend before dismissing a curable pleading in civil rights actions. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp, 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002). Courts need not grant leave to amend sua sponte in dismissing non-civil rights claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fletcher-Harlee Corp., 482 F.3d at 252-53, but leave is broadly encouraged "when justice so requires, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2).

         III. Discussion

         Eberhardinger asserts claims against Officers Praster and Smith under Section 1983 for excessive force in violation of her constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. Eberhardinger also brings Monell claims against the City of York for failure to train and discipline and for permitting a widespread persistent pattern of unconstitutional conduct. Finally, Eberhardinger avers a state law negligence claim against both officers. The York defendants challenge the sufficiency of each claim. The court will address these issues seriatim.

         A. Section 1983 Claims

         Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code creates a private cause of action to redress constitutional wrongs committed by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute is not a source of substantive rights, but serves as a mechanism for vindicating rights otherwise protected by federal law. Gonzaga Univ. v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 284-85 (2002); Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996). To state a claim under Section 1983, plaintiffs must show a deprivation of a "right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States ... by a person acting under color of state law." Kneipp, 95 F.3d at 1204 (quoting Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995)). The defendants do not dispute ...


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