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Smith v. Roberts

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 15, 2019

ASHLEY SMITH, Plaintiff,
ABIGAIL M. ROBERTS, individually and in her capacity as a police officer for the Harrisburg Police Bureau, Defendant.



         Presently 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.

         I. Background

         On 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.

         The 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.)

         II. Legal Standard

         In 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. 1985).

         A valid 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).

         In 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).

         III. Discussion

         Defendant 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.

         A. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

         Pennsylvania 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.”).[1] 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.

         B. ...

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