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Vanderhoff v. City of Nanticoke

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 20, 2018

AMOS VANDERHOFF, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NANTICOKE and POLICE CHIEF THOMAS WALL, in his Individual and Official capacity, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge.

         Presently before me is the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 5) filed by Defendants the City of Nanticoke (the “City”) and Police Chief Thomas Wall (“Wall”) (collectively, where appropriate, “Defendants”). Plaintiff Amos Vanderhoff (“Vanderhoff” or “Plaintiff”), a City police officer, alleges Defendants imposed a prior restraint on his speech and interfered with his right to intimate association in violation of the United States Constitution. Defendants have moved to dismiss both claims. Because the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the motion to dismiss will be granted, but Vanderhoff will be granted leave to file a further amended complaint.

         I. Background

         The facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint are as follows:

Vanderhoff is employed by the City as a police officer. (See Doc. 3, ¶ 1). Wall is the City's Police Chief. (See id. at ¶ 3).

         On or about May 21, 2018, Vanderhoff was told by Wall “that he is not allowed to talk about Defendant Wall to the public and that his family has to do the same as well, including but not limited to his cousin, who owes [sic] a beauty shop in the City of Nanticoke.” (Id. at ¶ 10). Vanderhoff “has been issued a written warning and threatened with discipline if he and his family does [sic] not stop talking about Defendant Wall.” (Id. at ¶ 14). Additionally, Wall “specifically made mention of Plaintiff's cousin, who owes [sic] a beauty shop and if she does not stop talking about Defendant Wall[, ] Plaintiff will be disciplined further.” (Id. at ¶ 16).

         Based on the foregoing, Vanderhoff commenced this action on May 22, 2018 against the City and Wall. (See Doc. 1, generally). Vanderhoff filed the Amended Complaint the next day. (See Doc. 3, generally). Therein, Plaintiff asserts claims for “prior restraint of speech” (Count I) and “retaliation for intimate association” (Count II). (See id.).

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint on June 11, 2018. (See Doc. 5, generally). That motion has now been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). “Under the ‘notice pleading' standard embodied in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must come forward with ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         When resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a court must consider no more than whether the complaint establishes ‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements' of the cause of action.” Trzaska v. L'Oreal USA, Inc., 865 F.3d 155, 162 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir. 2016)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must take three steps: (1) identify the elements of the claim; (2) identify conclusions that are not entitled to the assumption of truth; and (3) assume the veracity of the well-pleaded factual allegations and determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. See Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (citations omitted). “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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)).

         III. Discussion

         In Count I of the Amended Complaint, Vanderhoff contends that Defendants violated his First Amendment rights by imposing a prior restraint on his speech. Count II of the Amended Complaint alleges Defendants interfered with Vanderhoff's right to intimately associate with his cousin. Defendants seek dismissal of both claims.

         A. ...


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