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Page v. Doyle

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2018

KYLE MARCEL PAGE Plaintiff,
v.
CHIEF DANIEL DOYLE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          KEARNEY, J.

         While awaiting his September 2018 state court trial on robbery charges, Kyle Page pro se sues Tullytown Borough Police Chief Daniel Doyle and Bucks County Detective Eric Landamia for false imprisonment, excessive force, harassment, slander, perjury, pain and suffering, and forgery relating to the pending charges against him. Detective Landamia moves to dismiss the Complaint and Chief Doyle moves to partially dismiss the Complaint. We grant their Motions without prejudice to Mr. Page amending his Complaint if he can allege facts in good faith consistent with this Memorandum. His present pro se Complaint does not come close. Until we can review facts possibly stating a claim, we decline to predict whether several arguments under qualified immunity, immunity from state law claims, improper collateral attack on an ongoing state criminal prosecution, and statute of limitations could further bar Mr. Page's claims.

         I. Alleged facts

         On February 20, 2017, Detective Eric Landamia and Chief Daniel Doyle arrested Mr. Page suspecting his involvement in a robbery.[1] Chief Doyle grabbed Mr. Page's wrists and threw him against a car during the arrest.[2] Chief Doyle bent Mr. Page's arm backward and twisted his wrist while Detective Landamia called Mr. Page the "N" word.[3] Mr. Page complained about the pain and his left thumb popped out of its socket.[4] Detective Landamia told Mr. Page if he said anything about the incident he would regret it.[5] Detective Landamia said he would do anything to get Mr. Page in jail even if he had to fabricate evidence.[6]

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle falsified victims' statements and other documents in connection with his arrest.[7] Mr. Page alleges they changed the victims' statements to match his height, weight, and build to retaliate against him and make a stronger case. Mr. Page also alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle told his landlord "Kyle Page your tenant held up three people at gunpoint you should kick him out."[8]

         Mr. Page initially entered a nolo contendere plea for the robbery and related charges.[9] On February 9, 2018, Mr. Page moved to withdraw his nolo contendere plea.[10] The Court of Common Pleas granted his motion to withdraw the plea on June 8, 2018 and the state court scheduled trial for September 4, 2018. Mr. Page is incarcerated awaiting his trial.

         II. Analysis

         Mr. Page sues Chief Doyle and Detective Landamia for false imprisonment, excessive force, harassment, slander, perjury, pain and suffering, and forgery. Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle move to dismiss the pro se Complaint.[11] Mr. Page alleges he pled sufficient facts for each claim. Chief Doyle does not presently challenge Mr. Page's claim for excessive force.[12]

         A. We dismiss Mr. Page's verbal harassment claim.

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle called him racial slurs during his arrest. Mr. Page claims Detective Landamia told him he would fabricate evidence to get him in jail.

         Assuming Mr. Page attempts to plead a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, to state a claim, "he must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law."[13] A cause of action under § 1983 fails when no identifiable constitutional right is infringed.[14] Absent injury, allegations of verbal abuse or threats are not cognizable under § 1983.[15]

         Mr. Page fails to allege Detective Landamia or Chief Doyle injured him beyond the threats. Mr. Page does not allege injury arising from the racial slurs. He fails to plead the alleged threat ended in a physical injury. We dismiss Mr. Page's verbal harassment claims against Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle with leave to amend.

         B. We dismiss Mr. Page's false imprisonment claim.

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle improperly detained him during his arrest and he is currently improperly detained in prison. Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle violated his Fourth Amendment right through false imprisonment and alleges a lack of probable cause.

         Under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer needs probable cause to arrest an individual.[16] To determine whether an officer has probable cause, we must evaluate the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the objective facts available to the officer sufficiently justified a reasonable belief the suspect committed a crime.[17] "[T]o recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus."[18]

         Mr. Page's robbery charge still stands.[19] Mr. Page moved to withdraw his nolo contendere plea and the state court granted his motion. But he remains in jail awaiting his September 4, 2018 trial. No. court has acquitted him. The Commonwealth has not expunged a conviction.[20] He cannot, as yet, state a claim for an unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment. We dismiss Mr. Page's claim of false imprisonment against Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle without prejudice.

         C. We dismiss Mr. Page's defamation of character claim.

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle defamed his character by telling his landlord, "Kyle Page your tenant held up three people at gunpoint you should kick him out."[21]

         "The Supreme Court has made clear that federal courts are not to view defamatory acts as constitutional violations."[22] Mr. Page cannot plead a slander claim as a § 1983[23] claim because it is not cognizable under § 1983. To state a due process claim for deprivation of a liberty interest in reputation, "a plaintiff must show a stigma to his reputation plus deprivation of some additional right or interest."[24] Known as the "stigma-plus" test, Mr. Page must plead facts stating (1) a false and stigmatizing statement was made publicly and (2) an alteration or extinguishment of "a right or status previously recognized by state law."[25]

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle told his landlord to kick him out because he held up three people at gunpoint. Mr. Page fails to satisfy either prong of the stigma-plus test. Mr. Page alleges this statement is untrue but does not allege Detective Landamia or Detective Doyle publicly made the statements or that led to an extinguishment of a previously recognized right. We dismiss Mr. Page's defamation of character claim without prejudice.

         D. We dismiss Mr. Page's state law defamation claim.

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle defamed his character by telling his landlord, "Kyle Page your tenant held up three people at gunpoint you should kick him out."[26] Mr. Page's defamation claim fails under Pennsylvania state law because he does not plead the seven elements of defamation under 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8343: (1) the defamatory nature of the alleged communication, (2) its publication by the defendant, (3) its application to the plaintiff, (4) the recipient's understanding of the its meaning, (5) the recipient's understanding that the communication is intended to be applied to the plaintiff, (6) special harm resulting to the plaintiff, and (7) abuse of a conditionally privileged occasion."[27]

         Mr. Page does not allege Detective Landamia or Chief Doyle published the defamatory words or special harm resulting from its publication. We dismiss the state law defamation/ slander claim against Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle without prejudice.

         E. We dismiss Mr. Page's slander claim.

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle "went around slandering [his] name and got [him] kicked out of [his] apartment."[28]

         "Statements by a defendant imputing to the plaintiff a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment, or conduct incompatible with the plaintiffs business constitute slander per se. "[29]Mr. Page is not required to allege the slander per se resulted in special harm, but only actual harm.[30] Actual harm includes impairment of reputation and standing in the community, personal humiliation, and mental anguish and suffering.[31]

         Mr. Page fails to allege Detective Landamia or Chief Doyle's slanderous statements resulted in either special harm or actual harm. Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle "got [him] kicked out of [his] apartment, " but does not allege this occurred because of their statements. Although Chief Doyle alleges the slander claim is barred by the statute of limitations, Mr. Page never specifies when Detective Landamia or Chief Doyle talked to his landlord. We dismiss Mr. Page's slander per se claim without prejudice.

         F. We dismiss Mr. Page's fabrication of evidence claim.

         Mr. Page alleges Detective Landamia and Chief Doyle changed victims' statements purposely (height, weight, and build) to ...


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