United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
DARNELL JONES, II J.
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”),  and Corporal
Jamie O'Neill (“Defendant O'Neill”),
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.
Background and Procedural History
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. (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).
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. (Compl. ¶ 24).
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), which was then
followed by a sur-reply from Plaintiff (ECF No.
After a careful review of the relevant filings and for the
reasons that follow, this Court grants Defendants' Motion
to Dismiss in full.
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)).
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).
Plaintiffs Claims Against Defendants Borough of Pottstown and
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
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─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
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
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
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