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Brackbill v. Ruff

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 22, 2018




         Plaintiff Calvin E. Brackbill (“Brackbill”) filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging multiple constitutional violations against various police officers and the City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Brackbill also asserts related state law tort claims. Defendants move to dismiss Brackbill's complaint in part under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 18). The court will grant in part and deny in part defendants' motion.

         I. Factual Background & Procedural History

         Around 3:20 a.m. on June 28, 2015, Brackbill was driving home from work through Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when he noticed a noise coming from the front of his vehicle. (Doc. 16 ¶¶ 10, 11, 15). He pulled over to investigate the sound and discovered that a portion of his decorative front bumper cover had come loose. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12).

         Three Harrisburg Bureau of Police officers were nearby investigating an unrelated incident: Stephen J. Ruff (“Officer Ruff”), Gregory A. Hill (“Officer Hill”), and Tyron E. Meik (“Corporal Meik”). (Id. ¶¶ 17-18). Officer Ruff and Officer Hill approached Brackbill and questioned him about how much he had had to drink and what he had hit with his vehicle. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19). Brackbill-dressed in his work uniform and wearing a name tag-responded that he was driving home from work, had not had anything to drink, and had not hit anything with his vehicle that night. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 20). He further explained that he had been involved in a minor accident in January in which he slid on ice and hit a curb, which may have precipitated his bumper cover coming loose. (Id. ¶ 21).

         Officer Hill stated twice that he smelled the odor of alcoholic beverages. (Id. ¶ 22). When Brackbill asked to speak with a supervisor, the officers directed him to an approaching SUV driven by Corporal Meik. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24). Brackbill explained the situation to Corporal Meik, who responded simply that Brackbill “had been drinking.” (Id. ¶ 25). Officer Ruff then handcuffed Brackbill and placed him under arrest for driving under the influence. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28).

         No breathalyzer or field sobriety tests were performed. (Id. ¶ 29). When Brackbill asked the officers to conduct on-site testing to confirm that he had not been drinking, the officers responded that they “did not have time.” (Id.) Ian L. Dawson (“Officer Dawson”) then arrived in a police transport van and drove Brackbill to the judicial center for processing. (Id. ¶¶ 31-32).

         At the judicial center, Brackbill was fingerprinted, photographed, searched, and locked in a cell. (Id. ¶¶ 33, 39-40). He also had his blood drawn to be submitted for toxicology testing. (Id. ¶¶ 36, 38). After being incarcerated for four hours, Brackbill was released and learned that his vehicle had been towed. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 45). Shortly thereafter, he complained in person about the incident to Thomas Carter, Chief of the Harrisburg Bureau of Police (“Chief Carter”). (Id. ¶ 46).

         Brackbill's toxicology report, dated July 19, 2015, revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.00% and no unlawful drugs. (Id. ¶ 47). Brackbill attempted multiple times to speak with Chief Carter after receiving the toxicology results but was not permitted to meet with him. (Id. ¶¶ 48-52). At one point, Brackbill was told that if he returned to the police department, he would be arrested for trespass. (Id. ¶ 52).

         On July 26, 2015, Officer Ruff filed two summary traffic citations against Brackbill. (Id. ¶ 53). The first citation was for “Required Financial Responsibility” pursuant to 75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 1786(f), for allegedly operating a motor vehicle without proper insurance. (See Doc. 16-4 at 1). The second was for “Operating a Vehicle with Unsafe Equipment” pursuant to 75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 4107(b)(2), for allegedly violating a regulation codified at 67 Pa. Code § 175.78(e)(i), which requires that “[a] bumper shall be of at least equivalent strength and mounting as the original equipment.” (See Doc. 16-1 at 2).

         Brackbill hired counsel and contested the citations before a magisterial district judge. (Doc. 16 ¶ 59; see generally Doc. 16-5). After a hearing, the magisterial district judge dismissed the Section 1786(f) insurance citation but found Brackbill guilty of the Section 4107(b)(2) citation regarding the bumper issue. (Doc. 16 ¶ 63; Doc. 16-5 at 29). Brackbill appealed the decision to the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 16 ¶ 64; see generally Doc. 16-6). The court found him not guilty of the Section 4107(b)(2) offense and dismissed that citation as well. (Doc. 16 ¶ 64; Doc. 16-6 at 2).

         After both citations were dismissed, Brackbill filed this suit against the officers and the City of Harrisburg (collectively, “defendants”). He alleges the following: false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Officer Ruff (Count I); excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Officer Ruff (Count II); failure to intervene in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Officer Hill, Officer Dawson, and Corporal Meik (Count III); a Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim against Officer Ruff for fabricated evidence (Count IV); Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations against Corporal Meik under a supervisory liability theory (Count V); Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations against the City of Harrisburg under municipal liability theory (Count VI); a state law tort claim of battery against Officer Ruff (Count VII); a state law tort claim of malicious prosecution against Officer Ruff (Count VIII); a state law tort claim of abuse of process against Officer Ruff (Count IX); and state law tort claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Officer Ruff, Officer Hill, Officer Dawson, and Corporal Meik (Count X). Defendants move to dismiss many of Brackbill's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). 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 can 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. County 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)). In addition to reviewing the facts contained in the complaint, the court may also consider “exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents” attached to a defendant's motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based upon these documents. Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)).

         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 Township, 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

         Defendants attack the sufficiency of Counts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, and X of Brackbill's amended complaint. They also assert qualified immunity as a defense to Counts I through IV. We begin our analysis with Brackbill's various constitutional claims against the individual defendants.

         A. Individual ...

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