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Smith v. Bialik

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 15, 2020

CARLOS J. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN BIALIK, JAMES MANN, and the AMBRIDGE POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Mark R. Hornak Chief United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant John Bialik's Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 23.) For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion is DENIED without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Here are the relevant facts, as alleged in the Amended Complaint: On July 3, 2017, Plaintiff, Carlos J. Smith, entered Robert Davis's apartment to charge his cell phone. (ECF No. 21 ¶ 12.) Fifteen (15) minutes after he arrived, individuals began pounding on the door and threatened to shoot the occupants. (Id. ¶ 16.) Unbeknownst to the occupants, the individuals at the door were police officers. (Id. ¶ 17.) Smith, fearing for his safety, hid near a closet. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 22.)

         One of the Defendants, Officer John Bialik, eventually ordered Smith to emerge from where he was hiding, handcuffed him, and searched his person. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.) Bialik then proceeded to search the closet and announced that he found prescription pills. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 26.) Davis told Bialik that the pills belonged to a friend who was not present. (Id. ¶ 28.) Despite Davis's assertion, Bialik arrested Smith for unlawful possession, for which he was subsequently charged. (M¶¶29, 30, 33.)

         Proceedings were initiated in Beaver County and Smith was incarcerated for over three (3) months awaiting trial. (Id. ¶ 53.) During a preliminary hearing, Bialik told Smith's attorney that he did not want to press charges and that there was a lack of evidence against Smith. (Id. ¶ 41.) All charges were eventually dismissed by the Assistant District Attorney. (Id. ¶ 55.)

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Following this chain of events, Plaintiff filed suit against the arresting officer (John Bialik), the former Ambridge Chief of Police (James Mann), and the Ambridge Police Department. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff sought damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for: (1) alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment; (2) false arrest; (3) malicious prosecution; and (4) conspiracy to deprive civil rights. (Id.) On November 18, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 16.) Plaintiff then moved for leave to amend the Complaint, which was granted by the Court. (ECF Nos. 19, 20.) An Amended Complaint was filed on December 1, 2019, asserting the same claims as set forth by the initial Complaint. (ECF No. 21.) Defendant's original Motion to Dismiss was dismissed without prejudice as moot and a subsequent Motion to Dismiss was filed on December 16, 2019. (ECF No. 23.) Briefing on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss at ECF No. 23 is now complete. (ECF Nos. 24, 25.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal for failure "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To overcome that standard, a complaint must allege facts "sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)); see also Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (holding that a complaint must be dismissed if it does not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."). When determining whether dismissal is appropriate, the Court must: "(1) identify[] the elements of the claim, (2) review[] the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) look[] at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e] whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d560, 563(3dCir. 2011).

         The Court, however, should "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." Blanyar v. Genova Prods. Inc., 861 F.3d 426, 431 (3d Cir. 2017) (citing Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210). And a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the factual allegations contained in the complaint-it does not resolve disputed facts or decide the merits of the case. See Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993).

         It is also worth noting that our Circuit has firmly held (as has the Supreme Court) that a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should not be considered "under a heightened pleading requirement, but under the more liberal standards of notice pleading" as set forth by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 233 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993)); see also Abbott v. Latshaw, 164 F.3d 141, 148 (3d Cir. 1998) (observing that nothing more is required of § 1983 cases than the notice pleading requirement of Rule 8).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Section 1983 provides a civil cause of action for a deprivation of the "rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that Bialik, an Ambridge police officer, acted under color of state law and asserts three claims under § 1983 against him: (1) unlawful search in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and (3) false ...


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