United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
DAVID D. RICHARDSON, Plaintiff,
KEVIN PIERCE, et al., Defendants.
case arises out of the execution of a search warrant at
Plaintiff David D. Richardson's home. (Doc. No. 1
¶¶ 2, 7.) Plaintiff alleges that Assistant District
Attorney Kevin Pierce violated his constitutional rights when
he approved the sufficiency of the warrant application for
submission to a judicial officer prior to the search.
(Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff argues that Defendant
Pierce improperly relied on Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal
Procedure 201(1) and 507. (Id. ¶ 10.) He contends
that these Rules apply to arrest warrants rather than to
search warrants. (Id.) Relying on this contention,
Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brings this suit under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights were violated. (Id.) Defendants are
Kevin Pierce, an Assistant District Attorney for Chester
County, Thomas Hogan, the District Attorney for Chester
County, and the County of Chester. (Id.)
Count I of the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant
Pierce violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment due
process rights under the United States Constitution by
advising Detective John DiBattista that the search warrant
application the Detective had prepared was sufficient and
supported by probable cause during the “investigative
phase” of Plaintiff's criminal prosecution.
(Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges in Count II that
Defendant Hogan violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights because he had “final policymaking”
authority and failed to have in place a policy on advising
police as to the existence of probable cause during the
“investigative phase” of a criminal prosecution.
(Id. ¶ 20.) Finally in Count III, Plaintiff
brings a Monell claim against Chester County,
claiming that it violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights by failing to have in place a policy to prevent
district attorneys from advising police on whether probable
cause exists to issue a search warrant. (Id. ¶
29.) Before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss
the claims against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Doc. Nos. 2, 7.) The
Motions are ripe for a decision.
March 18, 2016, Detective DiBattista, who is not a party to
this litigation, executed a search warrant at Plaintiff's
home located at 125 East Union Street, West Chester,
Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 7.) Before
executing the warrant, and while the criminal prosecution was
still in the “investigative phase, ” Detective
DiBattista sought advice from Assistant District Attorney
Pierce on whether probable cause existed to support the
warrant. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.) Defendant Pierce
advised Detective Battista that the warrant application was
sufficient and supported by probable cause. (Id.
¶¶ 11, 14.) After speaking with Detective
DiBattista, Defendant Pierce approved the warrant application
for submission to a judicial officer. (Id. ¶ 9.)
Plaintiff contends that Pierce based his decision to approve
the warrant application on Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal
Procedure 201(1) and 507, which apply to the issuance of
search warrants and arrest warrants,
respectively. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that
Defendant Pierce's reliance upon Rules 201(1) and 507 was
misplaced. (Id. ¶ 10.) He argues that these
Rules apply to arrest warrants and not to search warrants.
1, 2017, Plaintiff instituted this action in the Court of
Common Pleas of Chester County. (Doc. No. 1 at 6.) On May 24,
2017, Defendants Pierce and Hogan removed the case to this
Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, the removal statute.
(Doc. No. 1.) On May 26, 2017, Defendants Pierce and Hogan
filed a Motion to Dismiss the claims against them pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Doc. No. 2.) On
June 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition. (Doc.
No. 5.) On June 16, 2017, Defendant County of Chester also
filed a Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 7.)
The Motions to Dismiss are presently before this Court for a
STANDARD OF REVIEW
motion to dismiss standard under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) is set forth in Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). After Iqbal it is
clear that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a
cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do
not suffice” to defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to
dismiss. Id. at 678; see also Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). “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.” Ethypharm S.A. France v.
Abbott Labs., 707 F.3d 223, 231 n.14 (3d Cir. 2013)
(quoting Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609
F.3d 239, 262 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010)). “A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. Applying the principles of Iqbal and
Twombly, the Third Circuit in Santiago v.
Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121 (3d Cir. 2010), set forth
a three-part analysis that a district court in this Circuit
must conduct in evaluating whether allegations in a complaint
survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss:
First, the court must “tak[e] note of the elements a
plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Second, the
court should identify allegations that, “because they
are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Finally, “where there are
well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise
to an entitlement for relief.”
Id. at 130 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675,
679). The inquiry is normally broken into three parts:
“(1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2)
reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and
then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the
complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements
identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently
alleged.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563
(3d Cir. 2011).
complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff's
entitlement to relief, it must “show” such an
entitlement with its facts. Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (citing Phillips v.
Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2008)).
“[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court
to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the
complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]-that the pleader
is entitled to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. At 679
(alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The “plausibility” determination is a
“context-specific task that requires the reviewing
court to draw on its judicial experience and common
determining a motion to dismiss, the court must “accept
all factual allegations in the complaint as true and view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.”
Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260
(3d Cir. 2006). Where, as here, the complaint is filed pro
se, the “complaint, ‘however inartfully
pleaded' must be held to ‘less stringent standards
than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'”
Fatone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184, 193 (3d Cir. 2015)
(quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21
(1972)). It should be dismissed only if it appears
“beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of
facts in support of [his] claim that would entitle [him] to
relief.” Olaniyi v. Alexa Cab Co., 239 F.
App'x 698, 699 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing McDowell v.
Del. State Police, 88 F.3d 188, 189 (3d Cir. 1996)).
has filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that
Defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights to the United States Constitution. Section 1983
provides that “[e]very person who, under color of
[state law], . . . subjects or causes to be subjected, any
citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.” 42
U.S.C. § 1983. To state a § 1983 claim, Plaintiff
must allege (1) “a violation of a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States” and (2) that
the violation was “committed by a person acting under
color of state law.” Yoder v. MacMain Law Grp.,
LLC, 691 F. App'x 59, 60 (3d Cir. 2017) (citing
We s t v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)).
do not dispute that they were acting under color of state
law. Therefore, the Court will only analyze whether Plaintiff
has stated a plausible claim for a violation of his
constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleges that his
constitutional rights were violated when Defendant Pierce:
(i) advised Detective DiBattista on whether the warrant
application to search Plaintiff's home was supported by
probable cause by relying on Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal
Procedure 201(1) and 507, (ii) informed the Detective that
the warrant application was supported by probable cause, and
(iii) approved the warrant for submission to a judicial
officer. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Defendants seek to
dismiss the Complaint in its entirety. (Doc. Nos. 2, 7.) Each
of Defendants' arguments in support of dismissal will be
addressed in turn.
Plaintiff's Claims Will Be Analyzed Under the Fourth
Pierce and Hogan argue that Plaintiff's claims should be
analyzed under only the Fourth Amendment rather than under
the Fourth and the Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. No. 2-1 at 5,
Doc. No. 6 at 1-2.) In response, Plaintiff asserts that his
due process rights were violated under both the Fourth and
the Fourteenth Amendment because the Fourth Amendment was
incorporated into and applies to the states through the
Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. No. 5 at 7-8.)
individual's right under the Fourteenth Amendment to be
free from criminal prosecution except upon probable cause
does not sound in Fourteenth Amendment substantive due
process. Washington v. Hanshaw, 552 F. App'x
169, 172 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Albright v. Oliver,
510 U.S. 226, 268 (1994)). Instead, this right is
“grounded on the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on
unreasonable searches and seizures.” Id. at
172-73 (citing Albright, 510 U.S. at 273).
“[W]here a particular Amendment provides an explicit
textual source of constitutional protection against a
particular sort of government behavior, that Amendment, not
the more generalized notion of substantive due process, must
be the guide for analyzing these claims.” Id.
at 173 (quoting Albright, 510 U.S. at 273). Although
the Fourth Amendment has been incorporated into and applies
to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment, Mapp v.
Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655 (1961), it is evident that
Plaintiff's claims are grounded in the Fourth
Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and
seizures. Therefore, the Court will analyze each of
Plaintiff's claims only under the Fourth Amendment.
Plaintiff's Claim in Count I Against Defendant Pierce
Will Be Dismissed
Fails to State a Fourth Amendment Claim
Against Defendant Pierce
Count I, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Pierce advised
Detective DiBattista that the search warrant was supported by
probable cause and improperly applied Pennsylvania Rules of
Criminal Procedure 201(1) and 507 in violation of
Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. (Doc. No. 1 at 8-9.)
Plaintiff asserts that Rules 201(1) and 507 apply to arrests
rather than to searches. (Id. ¶ 10.) Defendant
Pierce argues to the contrary that the claim against him
should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege a
constitutional violation under the Fourth Amendment. (Doc.
No. 2-1 at 5.)
The Fourth Amendment provides:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall
issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or
affirmation, and particularly describing ...