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Weber v. Erie County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

November 5, 2019

ERIE COUNTY, et al, Defendants




         Plaintiff Richard Edward Weber commenced this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the County of Erie, Pennsylvania, and various Erie County officials violated his constitutional rights during his criminal prosecution in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County. ECF No. 1. Defendants have moved to dismiss Weber's Complaint [ECF No. 10] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.[1]

         I. Factual Background

         According to Weber's Complaint and the exhibits attached thereto, Weber was arrested on May 24, 2018, and charged with three counts of access device fraud, three counts of identity theft, and three counts of theft by deception. ECF No. 1, ¶ 10. Magisterial District Judge Paul Bizzarro subsequently released Weber on a $25, 000 unsecured bond. Id. On August 22, 2018, and September 18, 2018, Defendant Jeremy Lightner, an Assistant District Attorney for Erie County, successfully petitioned for Weber's bond to be increased to $50, 000, with 10% cash security, which Plaintiff posted. Id. at ¶¶ 11-14. On September 26, 2018, Defendant Lightner sought and obtained a further modification of Weber's bond. Id. at ¶ 15. This time, Weber's bond was increased to $250, 000 "straight cash," which Weber was unable to post. Id. at ¶ 16. Consequently, Weber was detained in the Erie County Prison for approximately two and one-half months pending trial on the charges against him.

         While detained, Weber moved pro se to modify his bond, and the motion was heard by Judge Daniel Brabender of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County on November 19, 2016. Id. at ¶¶ 17-18. Defendant Nicholas Maskrey, another Erie County Assistant District Attorney, opposed Weber's motion. Id. at ¶ 18. Despite this opposition, the Court reduced Weber's bond to 10% of $17, 500, which Weber posted to secure his pretrial release. Id. at ¶¶ 18-19. Weber claims that the "unlawful and unconstitutional 2 Vi month period of incarceration" caused his to suffer a variety of damages, including the loss of his employment, the loss of his residence, and the demise of his marriage. Id. at ¶ 19.

         As Exhibit D to his Complaint, Weber attached the Commonwealth's Motion to Revoke Bond, which Defendant Michael Burns, another Erie County Assistant District Attorney filed on September 18, 2018. ECF 1-3, pp. 1-9. Included in that document is a Police Criminal Complaint filed on September 13, 2018, charging Weber with three additional counts of access device fraud, two additional counts of theft by deception, and one new count of attempted theft by deception. Id. pp. 4-6.

         Weber's Complaint asserts that Defendants Burns, Lightner, and Maskrey filed "aggressive, persistent, habitual and harassing motions" to modify his bail amounts, which constituted: (1) "unlawful and unreasonable seizure and unlawful arrest" in violation of the Fourth Amendment, (2) excessive bail in violation of the 8th Amendment, and (3) a civil conspiracy. He additionally asserts a claim against Erie County pursuant to Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. Of City of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and a claim against Defendant Jack Daneri, the Erie County District Attorney, for "failure to properly train and closely monitor the elicit (sic) conduct of their ADAs[.]"

         Defendants' motion seeks dismissal of Weber's claims on the following grounds: (1) Burns, Lightner, and Maskrey are protected by absolute prosecutorial immunity; (2) the Complaint fails to state a claim against Defendant Kathy Dahlkemper, the Erie County Executive, because it does not allege facts to support her personal involvement in any actionable conduct; (3) the Complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to support a "failure to train/supervise" claim against District Attorney Jack Daneri; and (4) the Complaint fails to state a Monell claim against Erie County because it does not allege facts to support a policy or custom that resulted in constitutional harm to Weber.[2] This matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Standards of Review

         A. Pro se Litigants

         Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded," must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir. 1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance"); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956 F.2d 295 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Freeman v. Dep't of Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir. 1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in a complaint in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir. 1997). See, e.g., Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (same).

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz,1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits; rather, the plaintiff must only present factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-236 (3d ed. 2004)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662 (2009)). A complaint should only be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it fails to allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard established in Conley v. Gibson,355 U.S. 41 (1957)). In making this ...

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