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Baynes v. Borough of Wilkinsburg

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 13, 2019

HELEN BAYNES, Plaintiff,
v.
BOROUGH OF WILKINSBURG, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER RE: ECF NO. 73

          MAUREEN P. KELLY, MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by the Borough of Wilkinsburg ("the Borough"), moving to dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. ECF No. 73. For the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss will be denied.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This action, commenced in relevant part pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arises out of the attempted wrongful repossession of Plaintiffs vehicle by agents employed by a commercial lending company. Claims against the lending company and its agents were resolved through arbitration, and any non-arbitrable claims against the Borough and two of its police officers were stayed. ECF Nos. 47, 59. Plaintiff has filed her Second Amended Complaint and now alleges claims against the Borough only, for its alleged participation in the misconduct of its police officers in the seizure of Plaintiff s vehicle, and the denial of her rights to due process.

         Plaintiff alleges that the attempted repossession occurred on November 22, 2016, when two of the Borough's police officers, Officer Yuhouse and Lt. Krempasky, arrived at Plaintiffs home in uniform and intervened in a confrontation between Plaintiffs husband, Blossie Long, and at least one of the repossession agents. ECF No. 72 ¶ 23. Long explained to the officers that the agents were attempting to wrongfully seize Plaintiffs car and that in the process of doing so, one of the agents assaulted Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff alleges that in the course of investigating Long's allegations, one of the officers falsely accused Plaintiff of assaulting the agent, and that the officer lodged this allegation to "intimidate her so that she would permit the repossession." Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff contacted the lender by telephone and through its representative, attempted to explain to Officer Yuhouse that the repossession was cancelled. Officer Yuhouse stated that he was not in a position to confirm the identity of the individual on the telephone, and instructed Plaintiff to permit the agents to complete the repossession. Id. ¶1 30, 32. Officer Yuhouse requested the agents' business card and attempted to give it to Long, and instructed Long to call the towing company to retrieve the vehicle after repossession. Thereafter, the lender's representative contacted the repossession agents and directed them to cease repossession. Id. ¶ 33.

         The following week, Plaintiff and Long met with Ophelia Coleman, the Borough's Chief of Police, to lodge a complaint against Yuhouse and Krempasky. Id. ¶ 38. Coleman asked Plaintiff and Long to file a formal complaint against the officers, and to work with Detective Mike Adams to bring charges against the repossession agents. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. Plaintiff shared home security video footage of the altercation, but after viewing the footage, and despite corroborating evidence, Detective Adams suggested that Plaintiff and her husband assaulted the agents. Detective Adams failed to pursue any charges. Plaintiff alleges that Detective Adams acted pursuant to a departmental policy or custom to support or endorse the wrongful conduct of its police officers and the repossession agents. Id. ¶¶ 42-44. Plaintiff further alleges that the Borough's Police Department "had a working relationship" with the repossession agent "for over 20 years as he handled towing for the department." Id. ¶ 45.

         Plaintiff alleges that the Borough, through its policy or custom, enabled and/or assisted in the wrongful seizure of her vehicle without due process, in violation of her constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that throughout the duration of the episode, the Borough, also through its officers, wrongfully seized her property in violation of the Fourth Amendment. As a result, Plaintiff alleges she suffered property damage and emotional distress and mental anguish.

         The Borough has filed a Motion to Dismiss, contending that based upon the facts alleged, Plaintiff fails to allege a cognizable claim for municipal liability.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff Odd v. Malone. 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir. 2008). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive the motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain. 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and sufficient "to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570.

         "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.... 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" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is required to make "a showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008). "This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'" Id. at 234, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n. 3.

         To determine the sufficiency of a complaint, "a court... must take three steps," that include (1) taking note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim; (2) identifying allegations that are merely legal conclusions "because they ... are not entitled to the assumption of truth;" and (3) assuming the veracity of all well-pleaded factual allegations and determining "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675, 679). If the court finds, even after construing the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief, the court can dismiss the claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside. 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).

         III. ...


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