MAZZA et al v. TREDYFFRIN TWP
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE WENDY BEETLESTONE ON 1/21/16. 1/21/16 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED AND MAILED TO PRO SE PLFF.(kw, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TREDYFFRIN TOWNSHIP, OFFICER
HITTLE and TREDYFFRIN TWP
This case arises out of an encounter between Plaintiff Mark Mazza and a Tredyffrin
Township police officer, in which Plaintiff was arrested for allegedly violating a civil court
order. Plaintiff brings this suit against Officer Russell Hittle ("Officer Hittle") alleging claims
for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and
related state-law claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, abuse of process, excessive force,
unlawful detention and malicious prosecution. Plaintiff also sues Officer Hittle's employer,
Tredyffrin Township Police, and Tredyffrin Township, asserting a claim under Monell v. City of
NY. Dept. ofSocial Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Before the Court is Defendants' motion to
dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure
to state a claim, in which defendants also assert qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow,
Defendants' motion is granted as to Counts I (Fourth Amendment false arrest), II (Fourth
Amendment false imprisonment), III (Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution), IV (Fourth
Amendment false imprisonment), and V (Monell); Counts VI and VII (state law claims) shall be
dismissed as a matter of discretion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c).
On July 30, 2013, Plaintiff Mark Mazza ("Mazza") was inside his residence in Chester
County, Pennsylvania, when police officer Russell Hittle ("Officer Hittle") rang the doorbell.
8, 14. Upon Mazza's opening the door, Officer Hittle ordered Mazza out of the
house at gunpoint and informed him that he was being placed under arrest for indirect criminal
contempt of a court order. Am. Compl. ~ 15. Mazza responded that he had not yet received a
court order, but Officer Hittle persisted and placed Mazza under arrest without incident. Id. at ~~
Mazza was subsequently incarcerated in Chester County Prison on a charge of indirect
criminal contempt and held until August 2, 2013, when he was able to post bail. Id.
The case was later withdrawn or dismissed by the district attorney. Id. Mazza maintains that the
order that served as the basis for his arrest originated from a civil case, and that there were no
outstanding contempt orders or warrants at the time of his arrest. Id. at~ 28.
The amended complaint further alleges that Officer Hittle "knew or should have known"
that he lacked probable cause to arrest Mazza, that Officer Hittle falsely imprisoned him, and
that Officer Hittle subsequently initiated a malicious prosecution against him. Am. Compl.
20-22. Mazza claims that as a result of his arrest and prosecution, he suffered lost income,
physical pain, mental anguish, damage to his personal and business reputations, and other
mJunes. Am. Compl.
23-24. This suit followed.
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations,
"accepted as true," to state a claim for relief "that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell At/. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim
has facial plausibility when the factual content allows the court to draw ''the reasonable inference
that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Where a complaint pleads facts that
are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it falls short of "the line between possibility
and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). Thus, "it
is no longer sufficient to allege mere elements of a cause of action; instead a complaint must
allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed conduct]." Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox
Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 177 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Phillips v. County ofAllegheny, 515
F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008)). "In other words, 'there must be some showing sufficient to justify
moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation."' Id. (quoting Phillips, 515
F.3d at 234-35).
Determining whether a complaint meets the pleading standard involves a three-step
analysis: (1) "outline the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim for relief'; (2) "peel
away those allegations that are no more than conclusions and thus not entitled to the assumption
of truth"; and (3) "look for well-pled factual allegations, assume their veracity, and then
'determine whether they plausibly rise to an entitlement to relief."' Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d
352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679) (citations omitted).
The merits of a plaintiffs Section 1983 claim are "conceptually distinct" from the merits
of a defendant's assertion of qualified immunity. Thomas v. Independence Twp., 463 F .3d 285,
293 (3d Cir. 2006). Neither "the language of Section 1983 nor its legislative history suggest that
a plaintiff has the duty to plead facts relevant to a qualified immunity defense in order to state a
claim." Id. at 292. However, a defendant may succeed in claiming qualified immunity at the
motion to dismiss phase so long as there are sufficient facts for the court to complete the
requisite analysis. Id. After all, qualified immunity represents "immunity from suit rather than a
mere defense to liability," Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 237 (2009), and the Supreme
Court has repeatedly stressed "the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest
possible stage in litigation." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991).
The doctrine of qualified immunity shields government officials from civil damages
liability unless the official: (1) violated a statutory or constitutional right; and (2) the right was
clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct. See e.g., Reichle v. Howards, 132 S.Ct.
2088, 2093 (2012); Taylor v. Barkes, 135 S.Ct. 2042 (2015). District courts have discretion as to
the order in which to address the two-part test. Egolfv. Witmer, 526 F.3d 104, 110 (3d Cir.
2008); see also Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 731 (2011 ). If the plaintiff fails to satisfy
either prong of the test, the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. James v. City of
Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675 (2012).
In this case, the Amended Complaint alleges, inter alia, that Mazza was subjected to false
arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. Am. Compl. ~~ 15, 25-35. Defendants
argue that Mazza has failed to state a viable cause of action and that defendants are immune from
suit. The Court addresses each claim in tum.
A. False Arrest
The first question in determining whether a plaintiff has plead sufficient facts to survive a
motion to dismiss is whether constitutional violation occurred, i.e., "whether there is any wrong
to address." Ray v. Twp. of Warren, 626 F.3d 170, 174 (3d Cir. 2010)(citing Curley v. Klem,
499 F.3d 199, 207 (3d Cir. 2007)). To state a claim for false arrest under the Fourth
Amendment, a plaintiff must establish: (1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest was
made without probable cause. James, 700 F.3d at 680. It is axiomatic that an arrest based on
probable cause cannot be the source of a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment. Groman v.
Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995).
In alleging that Mazza was arrested without probable cause, the Amended Complaint
asserts that Mazza was innocent of the alleged conduct, that the order that served as the basis for
the arrest was "from a civil case," and that there were no outstanding contempt orders or
warrants relating to Mazza's alleged conduct. Am.
15, 28. There are no other facts
offered as to the parameters of the court order, the source of the complaint, the basis for Officer
Hittle's belief that Mazza had violated the order, or the exact conduct Mazza was alleged to have
In Pennsylvania, "there is nothing inherent in a particular contemptuous act that classifies
such act as either criminal or civil contempt;" even consent-based orders are enforceable by
criminal contempt proceedings. In re Contempt of Cullen, 849 A.2d 1207 (Pa.Super. 2004);
Com. v. Nelson, 690 A.2d 728 (Pa.Super. 1997). Moreover, police officers generally are
permitted to effectuate warrantless arrests for criminal contempt committed outside of their
presence. See Valentine v. Wroten, 580 A.3 757, 761 (Pa.Super. 1990) (criminal contempt
penalties provide for "arrest upon probable cause, without warrant, whether or not the violation
is committed in the presence of the police officer"). While Mazza claimed not to have received
the underlying order and protested his innocence at the time of his arrest, "an officer's failure to
investigate an arrestee's protestations of innocence generally does not vitiate probable cause."
Panetta v. Crowley, 460 F.3d 388, 395-96 (2d Cir. 2006); see also Radich v. Goode, 886 F.2d
1391, 1397 (3d Cir. 1989) ("the standard for probable cause turns not on the actual guilt or
innocence of the arrestee, but rather, whether the arresting officer reasonably believed that the
arrestee had committed the crime") (emphasis in original).
After stripping away the Amended Complaint's conclusory legal statements concerning
probable cause, Mazza has alleged only that Officer Hittle was in possession of a court order that
Mazza was accused of violating, and for which he was arrested. These facts, on their own, do
not show that Officer Hittle lacked probable cause to make an arrest and, accordingly, Mazza has
failed to plead that he was subjected to false arrest. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (a pleading that
"tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" will not suffice) (internal
citation and quotation omitted). Similarly, Mazza having failed to satisfy the first prong of the
qualified immunity test by demonstrating that his constitutional rights were violated, Officer
Hittle is entitled to qualified immunity on Count I (false arrest). Egolf, 526 F.3d at 110; see also
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001).
B. False Imprisonment
To state a claim for false imprisonment, Mazza must establish that he was arrested
without probable cause and was subsequently detained pursuant to that unlawful arrest. See e.g.,
James, 700 F.3d at 680. As discussed supra, Mazza has not alleged any facts that would support
his claim that he was arrested without probable cause. Wallace, 549 U.S. at 388 ("[f]alse arrest
and false imprisonment overlap; the former is a species of the latter"). Thus, Mazza has failed to
plead a claim of false imprisonment. And, given that Mazza's Complaint contains insufficient
allegations of fact to demonstrate that Officer Hittle violated his constitutional rights, Officer
Hittle is entitled to qualified immunity on Counts II and IV (false imprisonment). Saucier, 533
U.S. at 199.
C. Malicious Prosecution
A claim for malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment requires that the plaintiff
show: (1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the proceeding ended in the
plaintiffs favor; (3) the defendant initiated the proceeding without probable cause; (4) the
defendant acted maliciously or for a purpose other than bringing the plaintiff to justice; and (5)
the plaintiff suffered deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of seizure as a
consequence of a legal proceeding. Johnson v. Knorr, 477 F.3d 75, 82 (3d Cir. 2007). Mazza
claims that he was subjected to malicious prosecution when Officer Hittle knowingly initiated
criminal charges against him without probable cause.
Of primary concern is the lack of factual allegations that would establish that criminal
proceedings were ever initiated. The Amended Complaint asserts that Mazza was arrested,
incarcerated, and "scheduled for prosecution," but does not allege that a criminal complaint was
filed or identify the specific charges he faced. Am. Compl.
18. As discussed supra, Mazza has
not alleged facts showing that Officer Hittle lacked probable to arrest him for contempt; having
failed to identify any other charges which may have lacked probable cause, Mazza has failed to
plead a cause of action for malicious prosecution. Cf Johnson, 477 F.3d at 83 ("probable cause
on one charge does not foreclose a malicious prosecution cause of action against a defendant for
having brought criminal charges involving different elements").
Similarly, Mazza has not demonstrated that a constitutional right was violated; therefore,
Officer Hittle is entitled to qualified immunity on Count III (malicious prosecution). Saucier,
533 U.S. at 199.
D. Monell Claim
Mazza's allegations regarding Tredyffrin Township and the Tredyffrin Township Police
Department are also deficient. Mazza's claim against Tredyffrin Township Police Department
fails because "[i]n Section 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with
municipalities, because the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local
municipality, and is not a separate judicial entity." Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 F. App'x
272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing DeBellis v. Kulp, 166 F.Supp.2d 255, 264 (E.D.Pa.2001)). Thus,
in this context, only Mazza's claim against Tredyffrin Township is arguably tenable on a
municipal liability theory. However, for the following reasons that theory must fail.
Generally, a municipal entity "cannot be held responsible for the acts of its employees
under a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability." Natale v. Camden Cnty. Corr.
Facility, 318 F.3d 575, 583 (3d Cir. 2003)(citing Monell v. N Y.C. Dep't. ofSoc. Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). Rather, there is a "two-path track" to municipal liability, depending on
whether a Section 1983 claim is premised on municipal policy or custom:
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. A
course of conduct is considered to be a "custom" when, though not authorized by law,
such practices of state officials [are] so permanently and well-settled as to virtually
Mulhollandv. Gov't Cnty. of Berks, Pa., 706 FJd 227, 237 (3d Cir. 2013) (citations omitted).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) "requires a 'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of
entitlement to relief' that rises "above the speculative level." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n.3). Thus, to establish Tredyffrin Township's liability under
Section 1983, Mazza must show that he was deprived of"rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws," and that an official government policy or custom caused
his injury. Mulholland, 106 F.3d at 238.
Mazza' s Monell claim rests on conclusory allegations of the "unadorned, the-defendantwrongfully-harmed-me accusation" type specifically disallowed under Twombly and Iqbal, and
of the type the Court is required to "peel away" under Third Circuit precedent. See Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678; Bistrian, 696 F.3d at 365. Despite three pages of allegations dedicated to his Monell
claim, Mazza has failed to identify any relevant "custom" or "policy." See McTernan v. City of
York, Pa, 564 F.3d 636, 658-59 (3d Cir. 2009). Indeed, Mazza has not presented "any facts
regarding an official policy or custom on the part of the ... [Township] that caused civil rights
violations to be made against him. Instead, he offers only bald assertions that such policies or
customs existed without any support that would suggest that what happened to him ... were not
idiosyncratic actions of individual public actors." Burke v. Township of Cheltenham, 742 F.
Supp. 2d 660, 675 (E.D.Pa. 2010) (emphasis in original) (citing Hall v. Raech, No. 08-5020,
2009 WL 811503, at *5 (E.D.Pa. Mar. 25, 2009) (refusing to dismiss Monell claims where the
plaintiff identified a specific training deficiency, explained why prior events should have
demonstrated the need for training, and established that the deficiency caused the constitutional
The Supreme Court has mandated that "rigorous standards of culpability and causation"
must be satisfied to impose municipal liability. Bd of Comm 'r v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 405
(1997). Even at the motion to dismiss stage, where all inferences are drawn in Mazza's favor,
the allegations in the Amended Complaint fail to meet these standards. Accordingly, defendants'
motion to dismiss Count V (Monell) is granted.
E. State Tort Claims
Mazza's remaining claims arise under state tort law. A district court may decline to
exercise pendent jurisdiction if it has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c); Carnegie-Mellon Univ. v. Cohill, 484 U.S. 343, 357 (1988) ("wide
discretion to remand rather than to dismiss ... best serves the principles of judicial economy,
procedural convenience, fairness to litigants, and comity to the States"); United Mine Workers of
America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966) (pendent jurisdiction "is a doctrine of discretion, not
of plaintiffs right"). Where, as here, all federal claims have been dismissed, the Court should
"properly declin[e] to exercise supplemental jurisdiction." Roe v. Diamond, 519 F.App'x 752,
759 (3d Cir. 2013); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) C'The district courts may decline to exercise
supplemental jurisdiction ... [if] the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has
Accordingly, the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and dismisses
Counts VI and VII without prejudice to those claims being asserted in state court. 1
WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.
"When a District Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims, the statute of
limitations is tolled while the federal suit is pending and for a period of 30 days after the suit is dismissed."
Petrossian v. Cole, 613 F. App'x 109 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d) ("The period oflimitations for
any claim asserted under subsection (a) ... shall be tolled while the claim is pending and for a period of30 days
after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period")).
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?