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Richardson v. Pierce

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 23, 2017

DAVID D. RICHARDSON, Plaintiff,
v.
KEVIN PIERCE, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          Slomsky, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This 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.[1] (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.)

         In 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.

         II. BACKGROUND [2]

         On 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.[3] (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.[4] (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. (Id.)

         On May 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 decision.[5]

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The 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).

         A 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 sense.” Id.

         When 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)).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff 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)).

         Defendants 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.

         A. Plaintiff's Claims Will Be Analyzed Under the Fourth Amendment

         Defendants 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.)

         An 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.

         B. Plaintiff's Claim in Count I Against Defendant Pierce Will Be Dismissed

         1.Plaintiff Fails to State a Fourth Amendment Claim Against Defendant Pierce

         In 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 ...

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