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Rowe v. Municipality of McKeesport Police Dept.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 24, 2019

RASHAD ROWE, Plaintiff,
v.
MUNICIPALITY OF MCKEESPORT POLICE DEPARTMENT, JUSTIN TOTH, TIM BLISS, and THOMAS GREEN, Defendants.

          RASHAD ROWE, pro se

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Marilyn J. Horan, United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Rashad Rowe brings this this civil rights action alleging that during a traffic stop on March 31? 2016, the Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution when they stopped his vehicle without sufficient cause, forcibly removed him from his vehicle at gunpoint, and searched him and his vehicle. Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). ECF No. 22. Mr. Rowe was given until February 18, 2019 to respond to the motion to dismiss. He sought and received an extension of time to respond, first to March 11, 2019 (ECF No. 26), and then until March 25, 2019 (ECF No. 28). Mr. Rowe has not filed a formal response to the motion to dismiss, however, in his first motion for extension of time, even though he had not yet received Defendants' motion, he included "to the best of [his] knowledge," a "Brief Response." ECF No. 25-1. After careful review of the pleadings, and for the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Complaint Allegations

         Viewing the allegations in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, Rashad Rowe, he alleges the following. On March 31, 2016, while leaving his sister's apartment complex in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, he was followed by a McKeesport Police Department vehicle. At the stop sign leading out of the apartment complex, Mr. Rowe signaled to make a right turn, turned right, and proceeded down a hill. At the bottom of the hill, McKeesport Police Officer Justin Toth stopped Mr. Rowe's vehicle. Mr. Rowe alleges that he began recording the encounter on his cell phone. Officer Toth approached the vehicle and asked Mr. Rowe for his license and registration, and informed him that he stopped his vehicle because he failed to activate his turn signal.

         Another McKeesport Police Officer, Timothy Bliss, arrived on the scene and told Officer Toth that he knew Mr. Rowe. Mr. Rowe, however, did not recognize Officer Bliss as someone who had ever arrested him. Officer Bliss asked Mr. Rowe for permission to search his vehicle, but Mr. Rowe did not consent, stating that the officer had no probable cause. Officer Bliss called for "backup. Additional police officers arrived on the scene, and with guns drawn, surrounded Mr. Rowe's vehicle. Officer Bliss again asked for permission to search the vehicle. Mr. Rowe refused to consent, and asked Officer Bliss why he wanted to search his car. Officer Bliss explained it was because he was aware that Mr. Rowe was "known for guns." Mr. Rowe responded that he was not known for guns. The other officers began to scream at Mr. Rowe. After five minutes, Mr. Rowe was "yanked” out of his vehicle, "thrown to the ground," handcuffed, and searched. His vehicle was then searched. No. items were seized from the searches. Mr. Rowe was issued a ticket for having "tint" on his windows, and released.

         B. Relevant Public Records

         In addition to the complaint, courts may consider matters of public record and other matters of which a court may take judicial notice, court orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint when adjudicating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Bennan, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994) (citing 5A Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d, § 1357; Chester County Intermediate Unit v. Pennsylvania Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3d Cir. 1990)). Defendants have submitted the following relevant public records. Officer Toth issued two summary traffic citations to Mr. Rowe for failing to use a turn signal, and for illegal window tint. Commonwealth v. Rowe, Docket Number MJ-05213-TR-0000246-2016 (violation of 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 3334(a)) and Docket Number MJ-05213-TR-0000247-2016 (violation of 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4107(a)(1)) (attached as Ex. A. to Defs.' Br. Supp. (ECF No. 23-1)). Mr. Rowe was adjudged guilty of both offenses. Id.

         Defendants also submitted an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Court Summary for Mr. Rowe. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Court Summary, January 10, 2019 (attached as Ex. B. to Defs.' Br. Supp. (ECF No. 23-2)). The Court Summary indicates that in 1998, Mr. Rowe plead guilty to a charge of carrying a firearm without a license in violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6106. Id. at 1. Additionally, Mr. Rowe was found guilty in 2004, of possessing a firearm in violation of 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6105, and a charge of carrying a firearm without a license. Id. at 2.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When reviewing a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, 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." Eid v. Thompson, 740 F.3d 118, 122 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir.2008)). "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 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "Factual allegations of a complaint must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. A pleading party need not establish the elements of & prima facie case at this stage; the party must only "put forth allegations that 'raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements].'" Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 213 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Graff v. Subbiah Cardiology Associates, Ltd., 2008 WL 2312671 (W.D. Pa. June 4, 2008)); see also Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 790 (3d Cir.2016) ("Although a reviewing court now affirmatively disregards a pleading's legal conclusions, it must still. . . assume all remaining factual allegations to be true, construe those truths in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and then draw all reasonable inferences from them.") (citing Foglia v. Renal Ventures Mgmt, LLC, 754 F.3d 153, 154 n. 1 (3d Cir.2014)).

         Importantly, the Court must liberally construe the factual allegations of the Complaint because pleadings filed by pro se plaintiffs are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Therefore, if the Court "can reasonably read [the] pleadings to state a valid claim on which [plaintiff] could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or [plaintiffs] unfamiliarity with pleading requirements." Wilberger v. Ziegler, No. 08-54, 2009 WL 734728, at *3 (W.D. Pa. March 19, 2009) (citing Boag v. MacDougall 454 U.S. 364 (1982) (per curiam)).

         Plaintiffs allegations must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff when determining if complaint should be dismissed. Trzaska v. L'Oreal USA, Inc., 865 F.3d 155, 162 (3d Cir. 2017), as amended (Aug. 22, 2017). Nonetheless, a court need not credit bald assertions, unwarranted inferences, or legal conclusions cast in the form of factual averments. Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906, n. 8 (3d Cir. 1997). The primary question in deciding a motion to dismiss is not whether the Plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but rather whether he or she is entitled to offer evidence to establish the facts alleged in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir.2000). The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to "streamline [ ] litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-327, (1989).

         Finally, if the court decides to grant a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must next decide whether leave to amend the complaint must be granted. The Court of Appeals has "instructed that if a complaint is vulnerable to 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 236 (citing Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir.2002)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Rowe asserts claims of unlawful search and seizure, and excessive force under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments against all Defendants. He also asserts claims of official oppression, municipal liability, and failure to supervise, ...


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