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Altavilla v. Larksville Borough Police

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 24, 2019


          CAPUTO, J.



         I. Background and Procedural History

         This is a pro se civil rights action, initiated upon the filing of the original, fee-paid complaint in this matter by Plaintiff Robert John Altavilla (hereinafter referred to as “Altavilla”) on September 7, 2017, asserting claims against Defendants Larksville Borough Police, Officer Shawn Reilly, Officer Nicholas Riebel (collectively referred to as the “Police Defendants”) and Matt Evans[1]. The events giving rise to the complaint stem from Altavilla's March 9, 2017 involuntary commitment (“302”), pursuant to section 7302 of the Pennsylvania Mental Health Procedures Act (“MHPA”). (Doc. 1 at 6, 10). Leading up to his 302 commitment, Altavilla contacted the United States Department of Defense (“DoD”) on December 18, 2016 and claimed that government lasers were burning him from a satellite. (Doc. 1 at 9-10). Altavilla then provided the DoD with a photograph of his head to demonstrate where the lasers had purportedly burned him. (Doc. 1 at 9). Nearly three months later, on March 9, 2017, the DoD contacted the Larksville Police Department and informed Officer Andrew LaBar (“Officer LaBar”) of the exchange with Altavilla. (Doc. 1 at 9). After obtaining a copy of the telephone conversation and photograph, Officer LaBar issued a 302 mental health warrant for Altavilla in accordance with the MHPA. (Doc. 1 at 9). Officers LaBar, Riebel, and Reilly then took Altavilla into custody for an emergency mental health evaluation, and transported Altavilla from his home to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital. (Doc. 1 at 9).

         In the complaint, Altavilla alleges that the Police Defendants violated his civil rights when they came to his home and executed the 302 order. (Doc. 1 at 6). Altavilla contends that the Police Defendants unlawfully imprisoned him without a warrant in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.[2] (Doc. 1 at 6-7; Doc. 14). Altavilla seeks money damages in the amount of $20, 000 from Larksville Borough and the indefinite suspension of the Officers involved in implementing the 302 order. (Doc. 1 at 7, 11). The Police Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of improper service as well as failure to state a claim, along with a brief in support, on November 27, 2017. (Doc. 8; Doc. 9). The undersigned issued a Report and Recommendation, allowing Altavilla thirty days to effect proper service. (Doc. 23 at 12 ¶ 3). The Court adopted the Report and Recommendation in part, denying the motion to dismiss as moot. (Doc. 34 at 1 ¶ 2).

         The Police Defendants renewed their motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) after Altavilla effected proper service. (Doc. 28 at 1; 2 ¶ 5-7). The Police Defendants submit that Altavilla's claim must be dismissed as probable cause existed to take Altavilla into custody, Officers Reilly and Reibel are entitled to Qualified Immunity, and the Larksville Borough Police is not a proper defendant in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“1983”) suit. (Doc. 28 at 3-4). In response, Altavilla submits that the warrants were frivolous, and that there was no harm to the household or the general public that would have provided the basis for the warrants. This matter is now ripe for review. (Doc. 29); (Doc. 30); (Doc. 31); (Doc. 33); (Doc. 35).

         II. Standard of Review

         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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Although the Court must accept the 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)).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss, a court is generally limited to the allegations set forth in the pleadings, although it may also consider documents attached to the complaint and matters of public record. Opposition briefs to a motion to dismiss may not be used to amend a complaint.[3] Pennsylvania ex rel. Zimmerman v. PepsiCo, Inc., 836 F.2d 173, 181 (3d Cir.1988). To determine the sufficiency of a complaint a court must take three steps. Santiago v. Warminster Tp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d. Cir. 2010). First, the court must take note of the elements required to state a claim. Id. Second, the court should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). And finally, “where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.” Id.

         Pursuant to Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain: (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support; [and] (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).

         Additionally, “the statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and of the grounds upon which it rests.” Bayer v. Pocono Med. Ctr., No. CIV.A. 3:13-1900, 2014 WL 3670499, at *4 (M.D. Pa. July 23, 2014) (citing Erickson v. Pardus,551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007)). It is not the responsibility of the defendant to translate the claims of the plaintiff for the Court. Nor is it the ...

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