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Bressi v. Brennen

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 6, 2018

AARON J. BRESSI, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERY BRENNEN, et al., Defendants.

          BRANN, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a federal civil rights action. The pro se plaintiff, Aaron J. Bressi, seeks damages and injunctive relief against three police officers with the Coal Township Police Department. Bressi asserts civil rights claims against all three defendants arising out of his arrest and criminal prosecution on multiple occasions over a five-year period. In addition, he claims that one of these defendants failed to investigate and bring criminal charges against other individuals based on Bressi's complaints, and another defendant threatened to jail Bressi on criminal charges if he didn't lower the price of a house the officer was interested in purchasing. On September 26, 2017, the Court received and filed the plaintiff's complaint, which had been signed and dated by the plaintiff on September 20, 2017. (Doc. 1). At the time, Bressi was incarcerated at SCI Coal Township, located in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.[1]

         On December 18, 2017, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss this action on various grounds. (Doc. 20). On December 28, 2017, the defendants filed a brief in support of their motion to dismiss. (Doc. 23). On January 11, 2018, Bressi filed a brief in opposition to the motion. (Doc. 24). On January 24, 2018, the defendants filed a reply brief. (Doc. 25).

         For his part, the pro se plaintiff has filed three separate, perfunctory motions for summary judgment (Doc. 27; Doc. 37; Doc. 38), none of which was accompanied by a statement of material facts, which is required under the local rules. See L.R. 56.1. He has filed a brief in support of only one of these three motions for summary judgment (Doc. 35), despite a local rule requiring all such motions to be supported by a brief in support. See L.R. 7.5. The defendants have filed two briefs in opposition to the plaintiff's summary judgment motions. (Doc. 28; Doc. 39).

         These motions are now ripe for disposition.

         I. Background

         Bressi's claims concern a series of interactions with officers of the Coal Township Police Department, which occurred over a five-year period between November 2011 and September 2016.

         The first encounter concerns Bressi's November 2011 arrest by Officer Edward Purcell, one of the three defendants in this action. On November 24, 2011, Purcell arrested Bressi and swore out a criminal complaint charging him with simple assault, a misdemeanor, and harassment, a summary offense. Bressi was arraigned that same day and released on $10, 000 unsecured bail. A preliminary hearing was held before a state magisterial district judge on July 3, 2012. A criminal information was filed by the county prosecutor on August 2, 2012. All charges were nolle prossed pursuant to a plea agreement on December 26, 2012.[2] Bressi alleges that these charges were based on false statements by the brother of the mother of Bressi's children.

         The second encounter concerns Bressi's May 2013 arrest by Officer Purcell and Officer Jeffrey Brennan, the second of three defendants in this action. On May 17, 2013, Purcell and Brennan arrested Bressi and Brennan swore out a criminal complaint charging him with terroristic threats, a felony, and disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. On May 21, 2013, Bressi was arraigned and released on $5, 000 unsecured bail. A preliminary hearing was held before a state magisterial district judge on July 16, 2013. That same day, Bressi pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to twelve months on probation. The felony terroristic threats charge was withdrawn. On August 23, 2013, a revocation petition was filed for violation(s) of the terms of Bressi's probation. On October 10, 2013, Bressi's probation was revoked by a common pleas judge and he was sentenced to serve an additional twelve months on probation.[3] Bressi alleges that these charges were based on false statements by non-party Vinny Clausi, Bressi's former employer and a county commissioner at the time.

         The third, fourth, and fifth encounters occurred within the space of a few days in August 2015. An incident on August 17, 2015, formed the basis for an August 20, 2015, criminal complaint by Officer Christopher Lapotsky, the third of three defendants in this action. Officer Lapotsky charged Bressi with indecent exposure, a misdemeanor, and the summary offenses of harassment and disorderly conduct. Bressi was arraigned on August 20, 2015, and released on $5, 000 unsecured bail.[4] An incident on August 20, 2015, formed the basis for two August 25, 2015, non-traffic citations by non-party Officer William J. Carpenter. Officer Carpenter charged Bressi with the summary offenses of harassment and public drunkenness.[5] An incident on August 21, 2015, formed the basis for a criminal complaint filed that same day by Officer Brennan, charging Bressi with stalking, a misdemeanor offense. Bressi was arraigned that same day and bail of $15, 000 was imposed. Bressi was unable to post bail at that time.[6]

         Bressi appeared before a state magisterial district judge on September 8, 2015, for a preliminary hearing on the two misdemeanor cases (concerning the August 17 and 21 incidents), and for disposition of the two summary cases (concerning the August 20 incident).[7] On October 9, 2015, the county prosecutor filed a criminal information in each of the misdemeanor cases. On December 11, 2015, Bressi posted bail and was released pending trial.[8]

         On September 29, 2016, Bressi pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment in connection with the August 17, 2015, incident, and to misdemeanor simple assault in connection with the August 21, 2015, incident. All other charges were nolle prossed in exchange. The common pleas court immediately sentenced Bressi to two consecutive terms of twelve months on probation.[9] Notwithstanding his guilty plea, Bressi appealed his conviction and sentence, which was affirmed by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania on October 25, 2017.[10]

         Bressi alleges that Brennan filed all three sets of charges in August 2015, despite being away on vacation at the time of the incidents. Bressi appears to imply that the charges are fabricated or otherwise defective as a result.

         The sixth encounter occurred in June 2016. Bressi alleges that Officer Lapotsky and his sister came to look at a house Bressi had for sale. Bressi alleges that Lapotsky threatened to “make sure I go to jail and lose my home” if he didn't knock $10, 000 off the price for her.

         The seventh encounter involved a three-month period-June, July, and August 2016-during which Bressi was allegedly harassed and abused by the mother of his children and her then-boyfriend. Bressi alleges that he called the police and stopped by the police station to report this harassment, but Officers Brennan and Purcell refused to investigate or charge Bressi's alleged harassers.

         The eighth encounter concerns a vehicular collision between Bressi and the mother of his children on September 30, 2016. Bressi alleges that she backed into his car two times at two different locations, and that he called 911 more than seven times over a 90-minute period. But instead of her being prosecuted, Bressi alleges that Officer Purcell and unidentified probation officers turned up at Bressi's home, handcuffed him and took him under arrest to the Coal Township police station. Bressi alleges that, at the police station, Officer Brennan placed him in a holding cell, told Officer Lapotsky what charges to put on the arrest paperwork, and then “harassed” Bressi the whole time he was there. Later, when it was time to transport Bressi to the Snyder County Prison, [11] Bressi alleges that Officer Brennan “grabbed me by my neck and threatened me and my future with my children.” Bressi alleges that Officers Purcell and Brennan then transported him to Snyder County Prison, “threaten[ing] me and har[]ass[ing] me the whole way.”

         On September 30, 2016, Officer Lapotsky swore out a criminal complaint charging Bressi with felony aggravated assault and a variety of related misdemeanor and summary offenses. Bressi was arraigned that same day and bail was set at $50, 000, which Bressi was unable to post. On November 22, 2016, a preliminary hearing was held before a state magisterial district judge. On December 16, 2016, a criminal information was filed by the county prosecutor. On October 27, 2017, following a jury trial, Bressi was found guilty of felony aggravated assault, two counts of misdemeanor terroristic threats, and other misdemeanor and summary offenses. On November 20, 2017, Bressi was sentenced to serve an aggregate term of four to eight years in prison. Bressi has filed an appeal, which remains pending before the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.[12]

         On September 20, 2017, Bressi constructively filed this federal civil rights action seeking $1 million in damages from the defendants.

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff's claims lack facial plausibility.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Although the Court must accept the fact allegations in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant has the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991); Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 32-33 (3d Cir. 1980); Holocheck v. Luzerne County Head Start, Inc., 385 F.Supp.2d 491, 495 (M.D. Pa. 2005). Although a plaintiff is entitled to notice and an opportunity to respond to a motion to dismiss, he has no obligation to do so-he may opt to stand on the pleadings rather than file an opposition. The Court must nevertheless examine the complaint and determine whether it states a claim as a matter of law. Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (3d Cir. 1991); Anchorage Assocs. v. Virgin Islands Bd. of Tax Review, 922 F.2d 168, 174 (3d Cir. 1990). In deciding the motion, the Court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, as well as “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

         III. Discussion

         The defendants have moved for dismissal of Bressi's claims on multiple grounds. For the reasons set forth below, we agree that all of the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         A. November 2011 and May 2013 Arrests

         Bressi alleges that his November 2011 arrest and related criminal proceedings were based on false charges by the brother of the mother of his children. Bressi similarly alleges that his May 2013 arrest and related criminal proceedings were based on false charges by his former employer, non-party Vinny Clausi. Although the nature of Bressi's claims concerning these arrests-e.g., false arrest, false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution-is not entirely clear from the allegations of the complaint, any claims Bressi could bring that arise out of these arrests and the related criminal charges are barred by the applicable statute of limitation.

         Federal civil rights claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are subject to Pennsylvania's two-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions. Bougher v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 882 F.2d 74, 78-79 (3d Cir. 1989); see also 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5524. Although the running of a statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, which generally must be raised by way of answer to the complaint, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c), where that defense is obvious from the face of the complaint and no development of the record is necessary, a court may dismiss a time-barred complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). See Robinson v. Johnson, 313 F.3d 128, 135 & n.3 (3d Cir. 2002); Chester v. Beard, 647 F.Supp.2d 534, 540 (M.D. Pa. 2009); see also Collins v. Village of Palatine, 875 F.3d 839, 842 (7th Cir. 2017) (“Although the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is appropriate if the complaint contains everything necessary to establish that the claim is untimely. Moreover, judicial notice of public court documents is appropriate when ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.”) (citations omitted).

         Here, the first arrest at issue occurred in November 2011, and the ensuing criminal proceedings were completed in December 2012. The second arrest occurred in May 2013, and the ensuing criminal proceedings were completed in October 2013. The complaint in this action was filed in September 2017, well more than two years after the last possible date of accrual for claims arising out of either of these arrests or the related criminal proceedings.

         Accordingly, it is recommended that all claims concerning the plaintiff's November 2011 and May 2013 arrests and related criminal proceedings be dismissed for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         B. August 2015 Arrests

         Although it is not entirely clear from the allegations of the complaint, Bressi appears to claim that the several criminal charges and proceedings initiated in August 2015 were fabricated by or at the behest of Officer Brennan.

         1. August 20 Incident

         To the extent Bressi asserts any claims arising out of the August 20 incident that formed the basis of non-traffic citations issued by non-party Officer Carpenter, charging Bressi with the summary offenses of harassment and public drunkenness, these claims are clearly time-barred. The incident giving rise to these two summary cases occurred on August 20, 2015. The summary proceedings were completed on September 8, 2015. Bressi did not appeal. The complaint in this action was constructively filed when Bressi presented it to prison officials for mailing on September 20, 2017, more than two years later.

         Accordingly, it is recommended that any claims concerning the August 2015 citations by Officer Carpenter-arising out of an incident that occurred on August 20, 2015-and the related summary offense proceedings be dismissed for failure to ...


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