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Gentles v. Borough of Pottstown

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 19, 2019

SEKEMA GENTLES Plaintiff,
v.
BOROUGH OF POTTSTOWN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          C. DARNELL JONES, II J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Sekema Gentles (“Plaintiff”) commenced this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Borough of Pottstown (the “Borough”), Administrators of the Borough of Pottstown Council (the “Council”), [1] and Corporal Jamie O'Neill (“Defendant O'Neill”), [2] alleging a violation of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-12, ECF No. 1). In addition, Plaintiff brings forth state law claims for Malicious Prosecution and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress against Defendant O'Neill. (Compl. ¶¶ 28-34). Pending before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 6) Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 1) for failure to state a claim in accordance with Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is granted, and Plaintiff is given leave to amend.

         Factual Background and Procedural History

         The facts of this case relate to Defendant O'Neill's arrest of Plaintiff, and this Court construes them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. On March 25, 2017, Defendant O'Neill notified Plaintiff of an outstanding Protection from Abuse Order (“PFA”) against Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 13). Plaintiff met with Defendant O'Neill and discussed three text messages sent from the internet phone number, 205-240-4521. (Compl. ¶ 14). On March 26, 2017, while in possession of an affidavit of probable cause, Defendant O'Neill performed an on-site arrest of Plaintiff “without being witness to a crime[.]” (Compl. ¶¶ 15-17). Plaintiff asserts Defendant O'Neill arrested him despite no established nexus between Plaintiff and the texts, which violated the PFA.[3] (Compl. ¶ 16). After a hearing on April 4, 2017, the PFA was lifted. That same day, the Commonwealth withdrew the related criminal contempt charge. (Compl. ¶ 18).

         Plaintiff commenced this action on March 21, 2019, alleging that his arrest violated his rights pursuant to the Fourth Amendment because Defendant O'Neill lacked the probable cause necessary to make said arrest. (Compl. ¶ 25). Additionally, Plaintiff attached state law claims of malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendant O'Neill for the purported illegal arrest and the prosecution resulting therefrom. (Compl. ¶ 20). Plaintiff further alleges that the Council should be held liable for allowing the Borough of Pottstown Police Department (“BPPD”) to arrest black men without probable cause.[4] (Compl. ¶ 24).

         Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss, arguing Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss 2, ECF No. 6). Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition thereto (ECF No. 7) prompting Defendants to file a Reply Brief (ECF No. 10)[5], which was then followed by a sur-reply from Plaintiff (ECF No. 13).[6] After a careful review of the relevant filings and for the reasons that follow, this Court grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in full.

         Standard of Review

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's pro se complaint must present a plausible claim. Courts reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) 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.” See Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings, Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007). Despite this rigorous standard, the Supreme Court has explained that “a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Fantone v. Latini, 780 F.3d 184, 193 (3d Cir. 2015) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596 (1972)). However, this liberality does not relieve a pro se plaintiff of their obligation “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face” and that shows an entitlement to relief. Fantone, 780 F.3d at 193 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)).

         To satisfy facial plausibility, a claim's factual content must allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Sweda v. Univ. of Pennsylvania, 923 F.3d 320, 325 (3d Cir. 2019) (internal citation omitted). This “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. Although the court must “accept all factual allegations as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . [it is] not compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences… or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Estate of Roman v. City of Newark, 914 F.3d 789, 795-96 (3d Cir. 2019) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         Discussion

         I. Plaintiffs Claims Against Defendants Borough of Pottstown and Pottstown Borough Council[7]

         Plaintiff alleges that the Council “has failed to correct the de facto policy, practice or custom of playing hunches and arresting men of color without reasonable suspicion or probable cause after notice thereof, by citizen complaint and civil suit.” (Compl. ¶¶ 21-22). After a liberal interpretation of the Complaint, this Court holds that Plaintiff has failed to plausibly state a claim against Defendants by failing to plead a constitutional violation or Monell liability.

         A. Monell Claim

         To successfully state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must plausibly plead the deprivation of a right secured by federal law by a person acting under color of state law. See Miller v. Mitchell, 598 F.3d 139, 147 (3d Cir. 2010); see also Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (3d Cir. 2000). Additionally, to survive the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff must plead the elements of municipal liability set forth in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). A plaintiff may proceed in a suit against a municipal defendant in two ways[8]─either by (1)“put[ting] forth that an unconstitutional policy or custom of the municipality led to his or her injuries” or (2) asserting that his or her injuries “were caused by a failure or inadequacy by the municipality that reflects a deliberate or conscious choice.” Forrest v. Parry, 930 F.3d 93, 106 (3d Cir. 2019), petition for cert. filed (U.S. Nov. 6, 2019) (No. 19-593) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-93. Presently, Plaintiff embraces two theories in his allegations: (1) policy or custom; and, (2) failure or inadequacy. However, the Complaint fails to present a plausible claim under either theory.

         With regard to the first theory, Plaintiff fails to plead any facts consistent with the existence of either a policy or custom. To establish a Monell claim based on a policy or custom, the Third Circuit outlines how a plaintiff must proceed:

Policy is made when a decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict. Custom can be proven by showing that a given course of conduct, although not specifically endorsed or authorized by law, is so well-settled and permanent as virtually to constitute law.

Estate of Roman, 914 F.3d at 798. Despite the Council's authority to establish municipal policies under 8 Pa. C.S.A. § 1006, the Complaint fails to refer to any actions taken by said Defendant. Instead, Plaintiff summarily states the Council “acquiesced, approved, implemented, enforced, encouraged and sanctioned de facto policies, practices and/or customs exhibiting malice and indifference ...


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