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Johnson v. Cillo

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 27, 2017

POLICE OFFICER JAMES CILLO, individually and in his official capacities as a police officer of the Aliquippa Police Department, POLICE OFFICER JOHN COCHRAN individually and in his official capacity as a police officer of the Aliquippa Police Department, SGT. NEAL NICHOLSON individually and in his official capacity as a police officer of the Aliquippa Police Department, CHIEF DONALD COUCH, JR. individually and in his official capacity as a police chief of the Aliquippa Police Department, CITY OF ALIQUIPPA, Defendants.



         Presently pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Complaint in Part (ECF No. 2), with brief in support (ECF No. 3), filed by Police Officer James Cillo, Police Officer John Cochran, Police Sergeant Neal Nicholson, Police Chief Donald Couch, Jr., and the City of Aliquippa, collectively, “Defendants”. For the reasons that follow, we will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss in part and dismiss the complaint as to Counts II, III (except as against Defendants Cillo and Nicholson), IV, V, and VI.


         Plaintiffs allege the following facts in their amended complaint. In the early morning hours of June 17, 2016, Plaintiff Gregory Johnson was arrested in the Plan 12 neighborhood of Aliquippa, Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and charged at two separate docket numbers with the summary offenses of public intoxication, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5505 (MJ-36304-NT-0000361-2016), and disorderly conduct - unreasonable noise, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5503(a)(2) (MJ-36304-NT-0000362-2016). (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 15). Plaintiff was transported to a holding cell at the Aliquippa police station and was released from custody later that morning. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 16). While signing his release paperwork, Plaintiff Johnson, still intoxicated, began an argument with his wife, Plaintiff Chavonne Newman, who had arrived to pick him up from the police station. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶¶ 21-24). Also present in the release area were Defendants Cillo, Cochran, and Nicholson. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 20). During the argument between Plaintiffs Johnson and Newman, Defendant Cillo grabbed Plaintiff Johnson by the neck, threw him against a wall, and forced him to the ground, causing injury. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 26). Defendant Nicholson caused further injury by striking Plaintiff in the face with his knee while Plaintiff was on the ground. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 27). While this was occurring, Defendant Cochran drew his Taser and aimed it at Plaintiff. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 28). The Aliquippa police station is outfitted with cameras, which captured video of the incident. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 17). As a result of his encounter with the officers at the Aliquippa police station, Plaintiff Johnson alleges he suffered physical and psychological injury (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 48) and has sustained damages including pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, and reduced earning capacity (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 49).

         On June 17, 2016, a criminal complaint was filed against Plaintiff Johnson by Defendant Nicholson at case number MJ-36304-CR-0000251-2016, charging Plaintiff Johnson with one count of aggravated assault of a police officer, 18 Pa.C.S. §2702(a)(3). (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 53).[1] The criminal complaint identified Defendant Cillo as the alleged victim of this offense. Appended to the criminal complaint was an affidavit of probable cause which alleged the following.

On 6-17-2016 at approximately 0445 hours [Plaintiff Johnson] was being released from the Aliquippa Police Department to his wife, as a result of being arrested for two summary offenses.
During Johnson's release he became physically and verbally aggressive towards his wife. Officers intervened and attempted to place Johnson back into his cell. Johnson became more physically and verbally aggressive towards officers by posturing in a fighting stance and shouting. Johnson refused several times to listen to officers[‘] verbal commands.
During officers[‘] attempts to place [Plaintiff] back into his cell, Johnson became physically aggressive with officers by attempting to grab and push officers. At that time officers were required to use physical force to subdue Johnson. Johnson obtained injuries to his face as a result of officers using physical force to subdue him.
Johnson was transported to the Beaver Valley Medical Center for evaluation/treatment.

         (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 43).

         Plaintiffs preliminary hearing on the assault charge was continued twice and, on July 22, 2016, the charge was withdrawn by the Beaver County District Attorney's Office. (ECF No. 7-1 ¶ 53a; ECF No. 1, Ex. 5). On July 29, 2016, two non-traffic citations were filed against Plaintiff Johnson, charging him with one count each of harassment, (MJ-36304-NT-0000423-2016 and MJ- 36304-NT-0000424-2016). (ECF No. 7-1 ¶¶ 54, 55; ECF No. 1, Ex. 4). These citations were filed by Defendant Cochran. The named victims with respect to these charges were Plaintiff Newman and Defendant Cillo, respectively. Id The docket sheet notes that the harassment charges were eventually changed to the summary offenses of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. (ECF No. 1, Ex. 3). On September 29, 2016, Plaintiff pled guilty before a county magistrate to four offenses at four separate docket numbers. (ECF No. 1, Ex. 3).

• 361-2016: public drunkenness, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5505
• 362-2016: disorderly conduct - unreasonable noise, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5503(a)(2)
• 423-2016: disorderly conduct - unreasonable noise, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5503(a)(2)
• 424-2016: public drunkenness, 18 Pa.C.S. § 5505

         Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed their original complaint on May 17, 2017 (ECF No. 1). On July 17, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint in part, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 2), and a brief in support thereof. (ECF No. 3). Plaintiffs have filed a response (ECF No.7) and brief in opposition (ECF No. 8) with an amended complaint (ECF No.7-1) and Defendants have filed a reply (ECF No. 10). In their amended complaint, Plaintiffs assert claims of excessive force pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and a 42 U.S.C. § 1985 claim of conspiracy to commit the same. Plaintiffs also allege supplemental state law claims of battery (Amended Complaint Count I), malicious prosecution (Amended Complaint Count V), and abuse of process (Amended Complaint Count VI). Additionally, Plaintiff Newman has filed a derivative claim of loss of consortium (Amended Complaint Count VII).

         We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. The parties have consented to proceed before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) (ECF No. 9).

         Standard of Review

         A defendant moving to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) bears the burden of proving that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see also, e.g., Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). The United States Supreme Court opinions in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and, more recently, in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), have shifted pleading standards from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss. With the Supreme Court instruction in mind, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has outlined a two-part analysis that courts should utilize when deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. In other words, while courts must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, they may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, courts then decide whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to demonstrate that the plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. That is, a complaint must do more than allege the entitlement to relief; its facts must show such an entitlement. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-211 (3d Cir.2009). Further, we are mindful that, “[t]o decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record....” Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. White Consolidated Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted).

         With this standard in mind, we turn to the allegations of the Amended Complaint.


         Defendants ask this Court to enter an order dismissing all counts contained in Plaintiffs' Complaint, with the exception of battery (Count I) and excessive force (Count III) against Defendants Cillo and Nicholson. (ECF No. 2, 10).[2] Defendants offer the following arguments with respect to the remaining counts: (1) the clams raised against the individual defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed as duplicative of those asserted against the City of Aliquippa; (2) Plaintiffs have failed to establish a Monell[3] theory of liability based on any policy, custom, or practice of the City or its police force; (3) Plaintiffs have failed to set forth facts from which a conspiracy under section 1985 may be plausibly inferred; (4) Plaintiffs' claim of malicious prosecution is barred under the doctrine of Heck v. Humphrey[4]; (5) Plaintiffs have failed to produce evidence supporting a cause of action for abuse of process; (6) Plaintiffs' claims under the Eighth Amendment are not cognizable because the Amendment only applies to convicted prisoners; (7) Plaintiffs have failed to plead facts sufficient to demonstrate a violation of a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment; (8) Plaintiffs' state law claims against the City of Aliquippa are barred by the immunity provisions of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act; (9) Plaintiffs have failed to state a clam for intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (10) Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages and attorney's fees in relation to this action should be dismissed. (ECF No. 2 ¶¶ 5-15).

         In response, Plaintiffs have amended their complaint to (1) “remove mention” of the Eighth and Fourteenth[5] Amendments (ECF No. 8, at pg. 9); (2) remove the City of Aliquippa as a defendant from Counts V-VII (ECF No. 8, at pg. 10); (3) exclude the intentional infliction of emotional distress claims without prejudice (ECF No. 8, at pg. 11) and; (4) address Defendants' concerns about the punitive damages and attorney's fees. Id. With respect to the remaining arguments, Plaintiffs assert that (1) the claim for malicious prosecution survives the motion because the conduct to which Plaintiff Johnson pled guilty was not related to the incident at the Aliquippa police station and (2) the complaint pled sufficient facts in support of his §§ 1983 and 1985 claims, as well as for the state court claim of abuse of process. (ECF No. 8, at pg. 6-11).[6]Thus, Plaintiffs ask this Court to deny Defendants' motion, and request leave to amend their complaint should this Court determine that it is deficient. (ECF No. 8, at pg. 8, 9).

         I. Duplicative Claims

         Defendants first assert that the official-capacity claims against Officer Cillo, Officer Cochran, Sergeant Nicholson, and Chief Couch should be dismissed as duplicative of the claims asserted against the City of Aliquippa at Counts II, III, and IV of the amended complaint. (ECF No. 3, at pg. 22); see also ECF No. 7-1 ¶¶ 10, 79-88, 84-83(a), 84(a)-88(a). Defendants are correct that this court may dismiss claims against public officials in their official capacity where the government entity is also named as a defendant “because a lawsuit against public [officials] in their official capacities is functionally a suit against the public entity that employs them.” Cuvo v. De Biasi, 169 F. App'x 688, 693 (3d Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). Here, inclusion of the individual defendants in their official capacities with respect to Counts II, III, and IV is redundant. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985). Accordingly, the Court will grant the Defendants' motion in this regard, thereby “simplifying the litigation in a way that does not cause any prejudice to plaintiffs.” See Blunt v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist, 559 F.Supp.2d 548, 568 (E.D. Pa. 2008).

         II. Section 1983 Liability for the City of ...

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