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Strickland v. Haines City

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 25, 2019

HAINES CITY, FLORIDA, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Jerry Strickland, Sr., is suing Officer Ronald Adams and the City of Haines City Florida under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights This suit is based on the allegedly unlawful arrest of Mr. Strickland in Erie, Pennsylvania, based on a Florida warrant and his subsequent detention and extradition to face criminal charges in Florida.

         Pending here are the separate motions to dismiss by Officer Adams and Haines City.

         Relevant Procedural History

         This civil action was filed in this Court by Mr. Strickland acting on his own behalf. The Clerk of Courts originally assigned this case to then Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti.

         As Defendants to the original complaint, Plaintiff named Haines City Police Department. Ronald Adams, Christopher Colon, Joseph Sorrentino, and Anthony Sanfilippo. In opposition to the original complaint, Defendants moved to dismiss. ECF No. 14; ECF No. 19. Counsel enterec I an appearance on behalf of Mr. Strickland. Judge Conti held oral argument and granted in part and denied in part the motions to dismiss. She found that personal jurisdiction over Adams and Haines City was likely, but then set forth deadlines for limited jurisdictional discovery and the filing of an amended complaint. Later, this case was re-assigned to the undersigned.

         The operative complaint is the First Amended Complaint[1] which names as Defendants: the City of Haines City, Florida, and John/Jane Does 1-5[2] and Officer Ronald Adams, all employees of the Haines City Police Department. ECF No. 48. Mr. Strickland sets forth these four claims:

Count I - a state tort claim of malicious prosecution under Restatement (Second) of Torts § 653 against Adams and the five Doe Defendants;
Count II - a § 1983 claim against Adams and the five Doe Defendants[3];
Count III - a § 1983 claim against the five Doe Defendants based upon their supervisory authority over and liability for the actions of Adams; and
Count IV-a § 1983 Monell claim against Haines City.[4]

         Pending here are separate motions to dismiss filed by Haines City and Officer Adams under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), 12(b)(3), and 12(b)(6). ECF No. 53; ECF No. 55. These dispositive motions are fully briefed and are ripe for disposition by this Court.

         Plaintiffs Allegations

         Accepting as true Plaintiffs characterizations of the events on which this action is based, Jerry Strickland, a resident of Erie, Pennsylvania, is the father of Jerrea Strickland whose mother Elrica Roberts resides near Haines City, Florida. Jerrea, who was 16 or 17 years old, lived with her father Mr. Strickland in Erie or with her mother Elrica Roberts in Haines City, Florida. At the beginning of the school year of 2016-2017, Jerrea resided with her father in Erie, Pennsylvania and was enrolled in school. In early December 2016, Ms. Roberts traveled from Florida to Erie and physically removed Jerrea from school and took her to Florida.

         On December 16, 2016, Ms. Roberts reported to the Haines City Police Department that Jerrea was missing from her residence. Officer Heriberto Hernandez of the Haines City Police Department initially investigated. Officer Hernandez spoke with Mr. Strickland in Erie. Strickland had learned that Jerrea was on her way to Erie but he denied having provided her with funds to travel or of assisting in her effort to leave Florida. Strickland also denied having made any recent trips to Florida. Officer Hernandez threatened Strickland with criminal prosecution and Mr. Strickland responded by again denying his involvement and stating the Florida law enforcement had no jurisdiction over him. Officer Hernandez turned the matter over to Defendant Officer Adams who continued to investigate the matter.

         Officer Adams contacted the City of Erie Police Department for its assistance in locating Mr. Strickland and Jerrea. Officer Adams had multiple contacts with Erie Police Detective I Michael Hertel. On January 4, 2017, Adams confirmed that Jerrea was enrolled at East High School in the City of Erie School District.

         Around two weeks later, Officer Adams spoke to Dennis Carter, the assistant principal at East High School, who confirmed the Jerrea was enrolled in and attending East High School. On January 27, 2017, Adams was advised by East High School's resource officer Frank Bugaj that he had spoken to Jerrea who explained that she bought her plane ticket and traveled to Erie, Pennsylvania by herself, and was currently residing with her father. Officer Bugaj followed up this conversation with an email to Adams the same date. Based on this information, Officer Adams removed Jerrea from NCIC/FCIC as missing on January 27, 2017.[5]

         In early February, Officer Adams authored a "complaint affidavit" charging Mr. Strickland with aiding Jerrea in leaving Florida by providing her shelter and enrolling her in school in Erie, Pennsylvania. Although Ms. Roberts had earlier declined to pursue the matter, on February 13, 2017, Officer Adams pressured Roberts into pursuing charges against Strickland.[6]Adams then authored a second "complaint affidavit" concluding that "there is probable cause to file a complaint affidavit with the State Attorney's Office." ECF No. 48-3, page 4. Both "complaint affidavits" make note that Mr. Strickland stated that the Florida authorities had no jurisdiction over him. When he authored both "complaint affidavits, " Officer Adams knew there was no evidence that Strickland had committed any criminal act in Florida.

         Mr. Strickland was charged with Interference with the Custody of a Minor and Contributing to the Delinquency or Dependency of a Minor. On April 13, 2017, the Circuit Court Criminal Division of Polk County, Florida issued a warrant for Strickland's arrest based on the information in the "complaint affidavits."

         Three months later, Mr. Strickland was stopped by police in Erie, Pennsylvania for an alleged broken brake light. Based on the Florida warrant, Strickland was arrested. Mr. Strickland was extradited to Florida. The extradition transport was a week-long journey in which Strickland was confined in jails and detention facilities across several states. Strickland spent another week detained in Polk County before being arraigned on July 29, 2017. On August 11, 2017, Ms. Roberts formally sought a dismissal of all charges and on November 1, 2017, all charges against Strickland were nolle prossed. Between the date of his booking and the dismissal of the charges against him, Strickland incurred loss of time and travel costs on at least nine separate occasions for court.

         Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

         Both Officer Adams and Haines City move for dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction. Because jurisdiction is a threshold issue, it must be addressed at the outset. Mr. Strickland asserts the existence of specific personal jurisdiction over Officer Adams and Haines City. Specific personal jurisdiction applies when the suit arises out of or relates to the defendant's contacts with the forum. Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 923-24(2011).

         When a defendant asserts a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, it becomes the plaintiffs burden to adduce facts that establish personal jurisdiction. Fatouros v. Larnbrakis, I 627 F.App'x 84, 86-87 (3d Cir. 2015); Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 I (3d Cir. 2009). If the court does not hold an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction. Fatouros, 627 F.App'x at 86-87; D'Jarnoos v. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., 566 F.3d 94, 102 (3d Cir. 2009). In determining whether the plaintiff has made out his prima facie case, the court must accept the plaintiffs allegations as true and construe any disputed facts in the plaintiffs favor. Fatouros, 627 F.App'x at 86-87; Metcalfe, 566 F.3d at 330.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k) authorizes a federal district court to exercise personal jurisdiction in accordance with the law of the state where it sits. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(1); O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., 496 F.3d 312, 316 (3d Cir. 2007). Under Pennsylvania law, specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant is permitted "to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States" and "based on the most minimum contact with this Commonwealth allowed under the Constitution." 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5322(b); see Ackourey v. Sonellas Custom Tailors, 573 F.App'x 208, 211 (3d Cir. 2014).

         The Due Process Clause permits the exercise of personal jurisdiction when there are sufficient "minimum contacts" between a non-resident defendant and the forum state so that "maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." J. Mclntyre Mack, Ltd v. Nicastro, 564 U.S. 873, 880 (2011) quotingInt7 Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). In determining whether there are sufficient minimum contacts, the court must determine whether the defendant "purposefully directed" his activities at residents in the forum, Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 472 (1985), or whether there was "some act by which the defendant purposefully avail[ed] [himself] of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State, thus invoking the benefits and protections of its I laws." Hanson v. Denckla, 357 U.S. 235, 253 (1958) citing Int'l Shoe, 326 U.S. at 319. To be I constitutionally sufficient, the defendant's contacts must not be "random, fortuitous or attenuated." Burger King 471 U.S. at 475 n.18.

         The Third Circuit has condensed the jurisdictional analysis into a single test: first, the defendant must have purposefully directed its activities at the forum; second, the litigation must arise out of or relate to at least one of those activities; and finally, if the prior two requirements are satisfied, the court may consider whether the assertion of jurisdiction otherwise comports with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. See O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 317. The first two parts of this analysis determine whether there are sufficient minimum contacts such that the defendant could be said to have "purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum state." Williams v. Johnson, 2009 WL 3152135, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2009) citing D 'Jamoos, 566 F.3d at 102-03. The contacts must be enough that the defendant "should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." Id. at *4. The analysis demands a "highly realistic" approach, Mellon Bank (East) PSFS, Nat Ass'n v. Farino, 960 F.2d 1217, 1224 (3d Cir. 1992), that considers the relationship among the forum, the defendant, and the litigation. See Frontier Ins. Co. v. Natl Signal Corp., 1998 WL 778333, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 9, 1998) citing Mellon Bank, 960 F.2d at 1221.

         Officer Adams contends that he lacks sufficient minimum contacts with Pennsylvania because his involvement is limited to the preparation of the probable cause affidavit in Florida. However, Plaintiffs allegations as to Adams (and Haines City since Adams acted as an employee or agent of the City) are not limited to preparation of the affidavits. Mr. Strickland alleges: 1) Adams contacted the Erie Police Department to inform Erie police officers of the violation of a custody order involving Jerrea Strickland; 2) Adams contacted the assistant principal at East High School in Erie; 3) on a separate occasion, Adams contacted the resource officer at East High School; 4) Adams contacted the Erie Police Department multiple times by phone and emails in his efforts to locate Jerrea Strickland; and 5) Adams caused the Florida arrest warrant to be issued. Additionally, as to Haines City, Mr. Strickland alleges that Haines City Police Officer Hernandez spoke with him in Erie during the early days of the investigation as to Jerrea's whereabouts and threatened him with criminal prosecution in Florida.

         Based on these factual allegations, the Court finds that Officer Adams and Haines City purposefully availed themselves of the privilege of conducting activities within this Commonwealth, and thereby invoked the benefits and protections of its laws. Burger King, 471 U.S. at 474-75; Hanson, 357 U.S. at 253. Thus, they had sufficient contacts with this forum so that they should have reasonably expected to be "haled" into a Pennsylvania court if sued for events arising out of activities here. World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297(1980).

         Because Strickland has established a prima facie case for exercising specific personal jurisdiction over these Defendants, it becomes Defendants' burden to "present a compelling case" that the Court's assertion of jurisdiction would be unreasonable. Mellon Bank, 960 F.2d at 1226. Among the factors to be considered are "the burden on the defendant, the forum State's interest in adjudicating the dispute, the plaintiffs interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief, the interstate judicial system's interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of controversies, and the shared interest of the several States in furthering fundamental substantive social policies." Id. at 1222, quoting Burger King, 471 U.S. at 477. "[T]his second tier of analysis is discretionary with the court." Id.

         Although Defendants dispute the existence of sufficient minimum contacts, Officer Adams has not tried to show that the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be unreasonable based on the factors listed. The Court thus finds no basis for concluding that its assertion of jurisdiction over Officer Adams violates traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice. See Mellon Bank, 960 F.2d at 1227 ("Because the defendants bear the burden of showing the unreasonableness of an otherwise constitutional assertion of jurisdiction, and because they have failed to raise the issue in this court, we conclude that this is not an 'appropriate case' in which to consider the other factors bearing on 'fair play and substantial justice.'"). For these reasons, Officer Adams' motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(2) will be denied.

         To show the exercise of personal jurisdiction is unreasonable, Haines City argues that

It also seems unreasonable for the citizens of an out-of-state municipality like Erie, Pennsylvania, to have to pay the costs of litigation in a state where the local municipality was acting to investigate a law enforcement issue for a citizen of that municipality. It is unfair to burden the Pennsylvania community with jury service, to have a Pennsylvania trier of fact evaluate Florida law, and to have a Pennsylvania ...

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