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The Estate of Klee v. City of Scranton

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2019

THE ESTATE OF WINIFRED KLEE, KELLY KLEE-MEDICI, Administratrix, and KELLY KLEE-MEDICI and KIMBERLY KLEE-RODRIGUES, as Individual Heirs to the Estate of Winifred Klee, Plaintiffs
v.
THE CITY OF SCRANTON and PATRICK HINTON, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the court is the defendants’ motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ complaint. (Doc. 7). Upon review, the defendants’ motion will be granted in part and denied in part as discussed below.

         The defendants’ motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) (abrogating “no set of facts” language found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. 544. This requirement “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of” necessary elements of the plaintiff’s cause of action. Id. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, ” which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 544).

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. See Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider “undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff’s claims are based on the [attached] documents.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, “documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered.” Pryor v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O’Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

         Generally, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). “Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility.” Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

         The instant action arises from the demolition of real property located at Rear 823 Moosic Street in Scranton, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, by the City of Scranton. On May 4, 2011, the property was condemned by the City of Scranton and notice of the condemnation was both provided to the property owner and posted on the property.[1] On May 2, 2016, notice of the demolition of the property was provided to the owner and posted on the property. Winifred Klee, the property owner, died on October 11, 2017. The property was later demolished in or about July of 2018.[2]

         The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that, after the death of Winifred Klee, they became the equitable owners of the property and they took the appropriate actions to file the estate of Winifred Klee with the Lackawanna County Register of Wills and likewise advertised the estate giving notice to any parties with claims against the estate and of the estate’s and heir’s equitable interest in the estate. Irrespective of the estate being filed and public advertisement of the estate, the plaintiffs allege the City of Scranton demolished the property without notifying them or counsel for the estate and without providing the plaintiffs with the opportunity to exercise their due process rights. In so doing, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants entered on the property without probable cause; entered on the property without notice, consent, or the benefit of a search warrant and authorized contractors, agents and servants to enter on the property without having given the plaintiffs an opportunity exercise their due process rights; demolished the premises without probable cause or jurisdiction over the equitable owners; established a lien against the remainder of the property and against the equitable owners without probable cause or jurisdiction; demolished the premises without notice to the plaintiffs so as to allow for the exercise of their due process rights; demolished the property without performing a title search or investigating the public records as required by Keller v. The City of Scranton, as well as City policy as established after Keller; and demolished the property while being on notice of the equitable ownership of the estate and heirs of Winifred Klee.

         The plaintiffs allege that the defendants acted pursuant to a specific design, plan and policy to substitute the criteria of the Keller requirements, ordinances, policies and code of the defendant with the discretion, criteria and will of the defendants and the arbitrary investigation, inspection, adjudication and demolition of the premises in violation of the plaintiffs’ due process rights. The plaintiffs further allege that the actions of the defendants were done pursuant to and consistent with a pattern and practice of the defendants and were done as a result of the lack of training and expertise of the defendants. According to the plaintiffs, the actions of the defendants were reckless, intentional and done with indifference to the plaintiffs’ rights to the property and the right to be free from interference and from arbitrary, capricious, irrational inspections, seizure and demolition of their property and due process rights.

         As a result of the defendants’ actions, the plaintiffs allege that they were deprived of the value of the property, potential right to income from the property, embarrassment, humiliation and emotional distress. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.[3]

         In their pending motion, the defendants initially argue that the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claim should be dismissed because the plaintiffs have failed to provide sufficient factual allegations to indicate that any search and/or seizure of the property was unreasonable. In response, after setting forth the law applicable to Fourth Amendment claims, the plaintiffs argue,

For the Purposes of the Motion at hand, Plaintiffs submit that the cause of action is a viable cause of action and dismissal should be denied.

(Doc. 15-1, p.6). However, the plaintiffs’ response goes on to provide,

The Fourth Amendment secures against “arbitrary invasions by governmental officials.” Camara, 387 U.S. at 528. Far from acting arbitrarily in this case, the City followed the published procedures set forth in its City Property Maintenance Code and acted reasonably under the circumstances. The seizure of the structure did not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the Defendant has clearly pointed to an absence of genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff’s §1983 claim grounded in the Fourth Amendment. Id.

(Id.) (emphasis added). Thus, although the plaintiffs argue in a conclusory manner at one point in their brief that their Fourth Amendment claim should be allowed to proceed, they then inexplicably concede that the defendants acted reasonably in their seizure of the property.[4] Because of the inconsistency of the plaintiffs’ brief, it is unclear exactly what position they are taking on this claim. Regardless, allegations strikingly similar to those set forth by the plaintiffs in this case have been found to be sufficient to support a Fourth Amendment claim for purposes of a motion to dismiss. See Keller v. City of Scranton, 2010 WL 2104665, *2 (M.D.Pa. May 24, 2010) (“Keller I”). As such, at this ...


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