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Gentles v. The Borough of Pottstown

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 26, 2019

SEKEMA GENTLES Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOROUGH OF POTTSTOWN; F. RICHARD DRUMHELLER, The Borough of Pottstown Police Chief; SHARON VALENTINE-THOMAS, The Borough of Pottstown Mayor; DANIEL WEAND, The Borough of Pottstown President; MARK FLANDERS, The Borough of Pottstown Manager; SGT. PONTO, The Borough of Pottstown Police Officer, OFFICER JEFFERY PORTOCK; OFFICER MARTIN; and, OFFICER UNRUH Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          C. Darnell Jones, II J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Sekema Gentles commenced this action against Defendants Borough of Pottstown, Borough officials, and Borough police officers, alleging violations of both state and federal law in connection with his arrest by Pottstown police officers. Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5), (6) and 12(e) for insufficient service of process, failure to state a claim, and for a more definite statement, respectively. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion shall be granted and Plaintiff shall be afforded leave to amend.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges that on March 1, 2017, he was stopped by Borough of Pottstown Police Officers Portock, Ponto, Martin and Unruh (collectively “Defendant Officers”). (Compl. ¶ 8.) Defendant Officers asked for Plaintiff's identification, however Plaintiff refused to provide identification unless Defendant Officers notified Plaintiff of the reason for being stopped. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Defendant Officers informed Plaintiff he was under criminal investigation, handcuffed him, and placed him under arrest. (Compl. ¶ 18.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant Officers then asked Plaintiff's fiancée for her identification and threatened to arrest her and place their children in “Child Services” if she did not comply. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff's fiancée identified herself and informed Defendant Officers that she and Plaintiff had just purchased “the house.”[1](Compl. ¶ 20.) Defendant Officers released Plaintiff and charged him with Disorderly Conduct. (Compl. ¶ 21.) On June 12, 2017, Plaintiff was adjudged not guilty of the charge. (Compl. ¶ 22.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW[2]

         In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), courts 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.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This standard, which applies to all civil cases, “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[A]ll civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). “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 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). “Generally, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, a district court relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record.” Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). A court does not typically consider matters outside the pleadings.

         In this particular matter, Plaintiff has attached an unsworn declaration to his brief in opposition to Defendants' 12(b)(6) Motion. However, “[t]he United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that an affidavit filed in opposition to a pending motion to dismiss clearly comprised a matter outside the pleading.” Steinagel v. Valley Oral Surgery, Civil Action No. 12-cv-05645, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141146, at *15 (E.D. Pa. Sep. 30, 2013) (citing Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 339 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989)). “Matters outside the pleading must be excluded lest the motion to dismiss becomes a motion for summary judgment.” Steinagel, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141146, at *15. Furthermore, “it is axiomatic that the complaint may not be amended by the briefs in opposition to a motion to dismiss.” Frederico v. Home Depot, 507 F.3d 188, 202 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Corp., 745 F.2d 1101, 1107 (7th Cir. 1984)).

         Inasmuch as Plaintiff's Declaration serves no purpose other than to supplement his pleadings, the same shall not be considered by the court in its assessment of Defendants' Motion.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         As a preliminary matter, Plaintiff voluntarily withdraws all claims against former employees/agents of the Borough, including Defendants Drumheller, Valentine-Thomas, and Flanders, thereby rendering Defendants' request for 12(b)(5) relief moot. (Pl.'s Opp. 1.) Plaintiff also withdrawals all claims against Officers Martin and Pronto. (Pl.'s Opp. 2.) With respect to Defendants' motion for dismissal of Plaintiff's punitive damages claim, Plaintiff clarifies that he no longer seeks monetary damages against Defendants sued in their official capacities but does seek declaratory and injunctive relief for the alleged racially discriminatory policies of Defendant Borough. (Pl.'s Opp. 5.) A discussion of Plaintiff's remaining claims follows.

         A. Section 1983 & Monell [3]

         As a result of Plaintiff's arrest, he seeks to hold the Borough of Pottstown liable for alleged violations of his constitutional rights based on the conduct of the Borough's police officers, acting through the Borough's Police Department (BPPD). (Compl. ¶ 1.) However, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to plead a sufficient factual basis to sustain these claims.

         Section 1983 of Title 42 “provides private citizens with a means to redress violations of federal law committed by state individuals.” Woodyard v. County of Essex, 514 Fed.Appx. 177, 180 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing 42 U.S.C. §1983). In order to state a cause of action under Section 1983, a plaintiff must first allege that an individual deprived him of a federal right. Boyden v. Twp. of Upper Darby, 5 F.Supp.3d 731, 741 (E.D. Pa. 2014). Second, the plaintiff must allege that the individual who deprived him of that right acted under color of state or territorial law. Id. at 741. Plaintiff herein alleges he was deprived of his constitutional right to be protected against an “unlawful arrest, seizure, [d]etention and imprisonment.” (Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff further contends that Defendant Officers, who were acting under color of state law through the BPPD, deprived him of such a right. (Compl. ¶ 27.) However, this Court's assessment does not end here.

         It is well settled that “[a] municipality or county may not be held vicariously liable under §1983 for the actions of its agents[.]” Hanks v. Cty. of Del., 518 F.Supp.2d 642, 651 (E.D. Pa. 2007) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)). An exception exists when a municipality “has a policy or custom which is the ‘moving force' behind a constitutional violation.” Id. To prevail on such a claim, a plaintiff must show a direct causal link between the policy and a constitutional violation. Id. (citing Bd. of the County Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 400 (1997)) “If the policy or custom does not facially ...


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