United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
H. RAMBO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the court is Defendant Officer Abigail M. Roberts'
(“Defendant”) motion to dismiss Plaintiff Ashley
Smith's (“Plaintiff”) amended complaint for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 15.)
For the reasons that follow, the court will grant
Defendant's motion to dismiss.
December 5, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Writ of Summons against
Defendant in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas (Docs.
1-2, 1-3), then filed her complaint in the same court on
September 21, 2018. (Doc. 1-5). Defendant removed the case to
this court on October 10, 2018 (Doc. 1), and filed her first
motion to dismiss on October 18, 2018 (Doc. 3). On April 29,
2019, this court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss
Plaintiff's complaint without prejudice as to Officer
Roberts and with prejudice as to the City and the Harrisburg
Police Bureau. (Doc. 13.) The court found that Plaintiffs
claims were not obviously futile and that Plaintiff should be
afforded an opportunity to replead facts to satisfy the
plausibility requirement under Rule 8. Plaintiff filed an
amended complaint on May 13, 2019, which reasserted her
Section 1983 claim for false arrest and added claims for
malicious prosecution and unlawful search and seizure under
federal law and state law claims for invasion of privacy and
intentional infliction of emotional distress
(“IIED”). (Doc. 14.) Defendant again filed a
motion to dismiss arguing that the state law claims are
barred by governmental immunity. (Doc. 15.) The matter has
been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.
following facts are gleaned from Plaintiff's amended
complaint and are taken as true for purposes of disposing of
Defendant's motion to dismiss. On or around December 7,
2015, Plaintiff was a guest at the Crown Plaza Hotel in
Harrisburg. That same evening, Harrisburg police responded to
a call from a bar in a nearby hotel, the Hilton, stating that
an individual had left the bar without paying their tab.
Defendant arrived at the Hilton but was unable to locate the
suspect. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant subsequently left
the Hilton Hotel, entered the Crown Plaza, and began
systematically canvassing the rooms. Eventually, Plaintiff
responded to a knock at her door and began conversing with
Defendant, who stated that she believed Plaintiff matched the
description of the suspect. Plaintiff and Defendant then
walked to the lobby of the hotel, where Defendant asked
Plaintiff to accompany her back to the Hilton to be either
identified or exculpated by the bartender. Plaintiff refused.
Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant forcibly removed
her from her hotel room and escorted her back to the Hilton.
During this time, Defendant stated in her police report that
Plaintiff began to cause a scene that attracted onlookers and
generally disturbed the peace of the hotel patrons.
Plaintiff, however, alleges in the complaint that it was
Defendant's aggressive conduct that caused the
disturbance. Regardless, Plaintiff was taken to the Hilton,
but was not identified as the pilsner pilferer, libation
larcenist, or alcohol absconder. Even so, Plaintiff was still
placed under arrest on charges of disorderly conduct and
public drunkenness under 18 Pa. C.S. § 5503(a)(2), and
§ 5505, respectively. Plaintiff also avers that, during
the course of the arrest, Defendant used excessive force that
caused bruising on Plaintiff's wrists. Plaintiff spent
the night in jail, but the charges were later dismissed
before a Magisterial District Judge and were never refiled.
(Doc. 1-5, Ex. B.)
deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), the court may look only to the facts
alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v.
Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d
1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). The court must accept as true all
well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and view them in
the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v.
Prudential-Bache Sec, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir.
complaint must set forth “a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “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).
Although a court must accept as true all of the factual
allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does
not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, pleadings must
include factual allegations to support the legal claims
asserted. Id. at 678, 684. “Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”
Id. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see also
Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d
Cir. 2008) (“We caution that without some factual
allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the
requirement that he or she provide not only ‘fair
notice,' but also the ‘grounds' on which the
claim rests.” (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556
n.3)). Accordingly, a plaintiff must plead “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).
disposing of a motion to dismiss, the court “should
conduct a two-part analysis.” Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).
“First, the factual and legal elements of a claim
should be separated. The District Court must accept all of
the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may
disregard any legal conclusions.” Id. at
210-11. “Second, a District Court must then determine
whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to
show that the plaintiff has a ‘plausible claim for
relief” Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 679). “In other words, a complaint must do
more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A
complaint has to show such an entitlement with its
facts.” Id. at 211 (internal quotation marks
omitted). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are
‘merely consistent with' a defendant's
liability, it ‘stops short of the line between
possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to
relief” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).
does not seek dismissal of Plaintiff's claims for false
arrest, malicious prosecution, or unlawful search and seizure
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendant, however,
contests the state law claims on two grounds: plausibility
under Rule 8 and local government immunity pursuant to the
Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa.
C.S. §§ 8541, 8545 (“Tort Claims Act”).
Upon review of the pleadings, the court finds that Plaintiff
has failed to plead the required elements of a claim for IIED
and that Plaintiff's invasion of privacy claim is barred
by governmental immunity.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
recognizes a tort for IIED where: (1) the defendant's
conduct was intentional or reckless; (2) the defendant's
conduct was extreme and outrageous; (3) the defendant's
conduct caused emotional distress; and (4) the resultant
emotional distress was severe. Bruffett v. Warner
Commc'ns, Inc., 692 F.2d 910, 914 (3d Cir. 1982)
(citing Chuy v. Phila. Eagles Football Club, 595
F.2d 1265, 1273 (3d Cir. 1979)). “At the pleading
stage, the court is ‘to decide as an initial matter
whether the conduct at issue can reasonably be regarded as
sufficiently extreme to constitute ‘outrageousness'
as a matter of law.'” Simpson v. Phila.
Sheriff's Office, 351 F.Supp.3d 919, 926-27 (E.D.
Pa. 2019) (quoting Smith v. Sch. Dist. of Phila.,
112 F.Supp.2d 417, 427 (E.D. Pa. 2000)). “Courts have
limited ‘outrageous' conduct to that which goes
‘beyond all possible bounds of decency, and [is]
regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized
community.'” Id. (quoting Fugarino v.
Univ. Servs., 123 F.Supp.2d 838, 844 (E.D. Pa. 2000)).
Plaintiffs allegations, taken as true, fail to meet this
standard of intolerability. Defendant's alleged conduct
may have been unreasonable given the circumstances, but it
does not meet the standard for outrageous and atrocious
conduct. See, e.g., Rosembert v. Borough of E.
Lansdowne, 14 F.Supp.3d 631 (E.D. Pa. 2014). (finding a
plausible claim for IIED where police officers beat arrestee
and used stun gun on him, and that arrestee's
psychological injuries that resulted from alleged incident
with officers “manifested themselves physically in the
form of financial loss, sleep deprivation, reoccurring
nightmares and other physically disabling
manifestations.”). Plaintiff also argues that the arrest
was outrageous because it amounts to a falsification of
evidence. (Doc. 21, p. 8 (citing Banyas v. Lower Bucks
Hosp., 437 A.2d 1236, 1239 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1981).) The
allegations in the complaint do not bear this out. At worst,
Defendant cited Plaintiff for disturbing the peace when doing
so was unjustified. There is no allegation that Defendant
falsified evidence or acted maliciously or intentionally. In
contrast, the defendants in Banyas intentionally
falsified medical records to blame someone else for the
negligent death of a patient. Banyas, 437 A.2d at
1239. This level of intentionally framing another for a
serious crime differs significantly from an officer arresting
an individual for conduct that, judging from the dismissal of
the charges, was perhaps unwarranted. The standard of IIED in
this regard is necessarily heightened. Being detained or
placed under arrest by a police officer carries no small
amount of stigma, regardless of the eventual conviction.
However, it is only under limited circumstances that
effecting an arrest rises to the level of atrocious and
utterly intolerable conduct, and here, Defendant's
alleged actions fall short of that standard.