CALLAHAN v. BOROUGH OF BRISTOL et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER THAT DEFENDANTS ELIFA SOTO, WILLIAM DAVIS AND BOROUGH OF BRISTOL'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT IS GRANTED; ETC.. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JUAN R. SANCHEZ ON 7/31/12. 7/31/12 ENTERED AND E-MAILED.(jl, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
BOROUGH OF BRISTOL, et al.
Juan R. Sánchez, J.
July 31, 2012
In this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law, Plaintiff Raymond Callahan sues
the Borough of Bristol and Borough Police Officers Elifa Soto and William Davis for damages
resulting from his arrest and incarceration on drug charges of which he was ultimately acquitted
following a jury trial in November 2009. Defendants ask this Court to dismiss Callahan’s Amended
Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Because it is clear from the Amended Complaint that Callahan’s § 1983
claims are time-barred, Defendants’ motion will be granted as to those claims. Callahan’s remaining
state law claims will be dismissed without prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).
On February 10, 2009,2 Officer Soto applied for a warrant to search the second-floor
In evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a district court must accept as true the
well-pleaded factual allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679
(2009). The court may also consider “exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public
record.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.
1993). Here, Callahan has attached to his Amended Complaint a number of documents from his
underlying criminal case, including transcripts of the preliminary hearings held on June 24, 2009,
and August 5, 2009. The following factual summary is drawn from Callahan’s Amended Complaint
and the exhibits attached thereto.
Although the Amended Complaint alleges Soto obtained the search warrant “[o]n or about Tuesday,
February 9th, 2009,” Am. Compl. ¶ 13, all of the documents from Callahan’s criminal case suggest
the warrant was issued on February 10. Whether the search warrant was obtained on February 9 or
10 is immaterial to the disposition of the instant motion. Therefore, for consistency with the
apartment (Apartment B) in a two-unit building located at 1017 Beaver Street in Bristol Borough,
Pennsylvania. Soto himself placed Callahan’s name on the warrant, which was based solely on
information from a confidential informant. Soto had no “eyewitness documentation” of any illegal
activity at the apartment before he applied for the warrant. Am. Compl. ¶ 14.
While awaiting the search warrant, Officer Davis conducted surveillance of the building from
a parking lot across the street. During his surveillance, Davis twice observed Callahan step onto the
stoop of the building, first to retrieve a pizza that had been delivered and, later, to let another man
into the building. When the other man arrived, Davis watched Callahan and the man proceed down
the steps toward the basement of the building. Upon learning via radio that the warrant had been
signed, Davis approached the building and saw Callahan following the other man up the basement
steps. Davis drew his gun and told the men to stop, but Callahan turned and ran back down the
steps, slamming the basement door behind him. By the time Davis forcibly entered the basement,
Callahan was no longer there. Davis then proceeded upstairs to the second floor where he, Officer
Soto, and other officers executed the warrant and searched Apartment B. There was a woman in the
apartment when the officers arrived; however, she did not respond when the officers announced they
were there with a warrant, and the officers thus forcibly entered the apartment. They recovered
$5,440 in cash and marijuana packaged in sandwich bags from a safe in the apartment, and found
$240 in cash, more marijuana, and a digital scale in the bedroom.
On June 24, 2009, a preliminary hearing was held at which Officers Davis and Soto testified
to the facts set forth above. At the conclusion of the hearing, the district justice dismissed the
underlying criminal case records, this Court will refer to the warrant as having been obtained on
charges against Callahan due to the lack of any evidence linking him to the apartment in which the
drugs were found.3
The police thereafter obtained a new warrant and rearrested Callahan. On August 5, 2009,
a second preliminary hearing was held at which Officer Soto testified that during the search of
Apartment B on February 10, 2009, officers found a Pennsylvania driver’s license with Callahan’s
name on it in the bedroom of the apartment. Soto also testified a car registered to Callahan at the
apartment’s address was parked behind the building. Based on Soto’s testimony linking Callahan
to Apartment B, the district justice held the charges against Callahan over for trial. Callahan
remained incarcerated with a high bail while awaiting trial. Callahan proceeded to trial, and on
November 13, 2009, a jury acquitted him of all charges. As a result of the charges against him and
his incarceration pending trial, Callahan lost his apartment, his car, and his job. He also suffered
injury to his reputation and public humiliation when local newspapers labeled him a “drug dealer”
based on information provided by Defendants.
Callahan brings claims pursuant to § 1983 and state law against Soto, Davis, and the
Borough, alleging his arrest and imprisonment were “without probable or just cause.” Am. Compl.
¶ 30. For his § 1983 claims, Callahan alleges Soto and Davis violated his Fourth, Fifth, and
Fourteenth Amendment rights by “falsely arresting and detaining [him] with no basis in fact or law
to do so,” id. ¶ 33, and seeks to hold the Borough liable for its failure to properly train and supervise
its police officers. Callahan also brings state law claims for false imprisonment and negligence
against all Defendants.
Although Officer Davis observed Callahan exit and reenter the apartment building and proceed
down the stairs to the basement, he could not see into the second floor of the building and thus saw
no activity there.
To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is
facially plausible when the facts pleaded “allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. In evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a district
court first should separate the legal and factual elements of the plaintiff’s claims. Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The court “must accept all of the complaint’s wellpleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions.” Id. at 210-11. The court must then
“determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a
‘plausible claim for relief.’” Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
Defendants argue Callahan’s § 1983 claims are barred by the applicable two-year statute of
limitations because those claims accrued no later than August 5, 2009, when the charges against him
were held over for trial, and Callahan did not commence this action until November 8, 2011.
Callahan contends the action is timely because it was not until the jury acquitted him on November
13, 2009, that he “knew he could file his 1983 lawsuit.” Pl.’s Br. in Supp. of Resp. to Defs.’ Mot.
to Dismiss 3.
A court may dismiss a case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) based on a statute of limitations
defense when the defense “clearly appears on the face of the pleading.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein,
Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.1 (3d Cir. 1994). Claims pursuant to § 1983 are subject
to the statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions in the state in which the action
arises. Garvin v. City of Phila., 354 F.3d 215, 220 (3d Cir. 2003). In Pennsylvania, the applicable
statute of limitations is two years. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5524(7); Garvin, 354 F.3d at 220.
While the length of the statute of limitations for a § 1983 claim is determined with reference
to state law, the accrual date of such a claim “is a question of federal law.” Wallace v. Kato, 549
U.S. 384, 387-88 (2007). The Supreme Court addressed the accrual of a § 1983 claim seeking
damages for false arrest in Wallace v. Kato, holding the statute of limitations on such a claim “begins
to run at the time the claimant becomes detained pursuant to legal process.” Id. at 396. The
petitioner in Wallace had obtained a reversal of his first-degree murder conviction on the ground that
he had been arrested without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. After
prosecutors elected not to retry him, the petitioner filed a § 1983 action seeking damages arising
from his unlawful arrest. The claim was timely if it did not accrue until the petitioner was released
from custody after the state dropped the charges against him, but was untimely if it accrued at an
earlier time. In resolving the accrual issue, the Supreme Court analogized the petitioner’s claim to
the common law torts of false arrest and false imprisonment, both of which challenge the victim’s
detention without legal process and thus accrue, for statute of limitations purposes, when the victim
“becomes held pursuant to such process—when, for example, he is bound over by a magistrate or
arraigned on charges.”4 Id. at 388-89. Applying this rule, the Court held the statute of limitations
on the petitioner’s § 1983 claim began to run “when he appeared before the examining magistrate
and was bound over for trial.” Id. at 391.
Here, as in Wallace, Callahan’s § 1983 claims allege his arrest and imprisonment were
unlawful because Officer Soto and Davis lacked probable cause. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 27, 30, 33;
The Court distinguished the torts of false arrest and false imprisonment from the tort of malicious
prosecution, “which remedies detention accompanied, not by absence of legal process, but by
wrongful institution of legal process.” Id. at 390.
Pl.’s Br. in Supp. of Resp. to Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss 1-2 (“Plaintiff brought this matter against the
Officers and Borough of Bristol due to the fact that they did not have a basis for the arrest . . . .”).
The claims thus accrued no later than August 5, 2009, when the charges against Callahan were held
over for trial, because from that point forward, his detention was pursuant to legal process.
Accordingly, because Callahan did not file this action until November 2011, his § 1983 claims are
barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations.5
Callahan nevertheless argues his § 1983 claims did not accrue until November 13, 2009,
because it was not until he was exonerated that he knew his cause of action existed. He cites Starks
v. City of Philadephia, No. 05-3352, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25910 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 28, 2005), for the
proposition that “[u]nder federal law, which governs the accrual of section 1983 claims, the
limitations period begins to run from the time when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the
injury which is the basis for the section 1983 action.” Id. at *5 n.6 (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). This principle, however, does not help Callahan. Callahan does not suggest he
was unaware his arrests were not supported by probable cause until the jury acquitted him.
Moreover, the record belies such an argument in any event, as Callahan’s attorney vigorously
challenged the sufficiency of the evidence linking Callahan to Apartment B or the drugs found
therein at the preliminary hearings on June 24, 2009, and August 5, 2009, and argued the search
Callahan does not purport to bring a § 1983 claim for malicious prosecution, which would be
subject to a different accrual rule. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 489 (1994) (noting “a cause
of action for malicious prosecution does not accrue until the criminal proceedings have terminated
in the plaintiff’s favor”). Indeed, at the oral argument on the motion to dismiss, after observing that
the accrual rule Callahan advocates applies to claims of malicious prosecution but not false arrest
or false imprisonment, this Court specifically noted that Callahan had not brought a malicious
prosecution claim. Callahan did not suggest otherwise but instead urged that the delayed accrual rule
applied to his false arrest and false imprisonment claims.
warrant was also issued without probable cause in an “Omnibus Pre-Trial Motion” filed in
September 2009.6 Am. Compl. Ex. B at 47-50; id. Ex. C at 9-10; id. Ex. D ¶¶ 7-10. Indeed, as
noted, at the June 24 preliminary hearing, the judge accepted defense counsel’s argument and
dismissed the charges against Callahan based on the lack of evidence linking him to Apartment B.
Am. Compl. Ex B at 51-53.7
Because Callahan’s federal claims pursuant to § 1983 will be dismissed with prejudice as
time-barred, this Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his remaining statelaw claims, which will be dismissed without prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) (“The district
courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under [§ 1367(a)] if . . . the
district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction . . . .”).
Although the attorney argument portion of the August 5 preliminary hearing was not transcribed,
it is apparent from defense counsel’s cross-examination of Officer Soto that counsel attempted to
contest any link between Callahan and the marijuana found in Apartment B. See Compl. Ex. C at
4 (characterizing the deficiency in the June 24 preliminary hearing as the lack of evidence linking
Callahan “to the apartment and to the controlled substances” (emphasis added)), 9-10 (questioning
Soto about the woman present in the apartment at the time of the search and emphasizing the
importance of “the layout [of the apartment] and who has control over what,” as possession requires
“the ability to exercise dominion and control”).
In Wallace, the Supreme Court also rejected an argument that a § 1983 false arrest claim did not
accrue until the charges against the petitioner were dismissed. There, the petitioner had argued for
a delayed accrual date based on the Supreme Court’s prior decision in Heck v. Humphrey, in which
the Court held that a claim seeking damages “for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or
imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction
or sentence invalid,” is not cognizable under § 1983, and thus does not accrue for statute of
limitations purposes, until the underlying conviction or sentence has been invalidated. See 512 U.S.
486-87. In Wallace, however, the Court explained that the rule established in Heck applies to defer
the accrual of a § 1983 claim only when success on the claim would impugn a conviction in
existence at the time the claim would accrue under ordinary accrual rules. 549 U.S. at 393. Thus,
because, under ordinary accrual rules, a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment accrues before
there is any conviction, Heck does not delay accrual of such claims. Id.
An appropriate order follows.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Juan R. Sánchez
Juan R. Sánchez, J.
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