Williams et al v. City of Harrisburg et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER - IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Dfts' 9 MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM is GRANTED and Counts II and V of Pltf's complaint are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Pltfs are granted leave to amd their complt within 14 days. If pltfs do not amd their complt, the Clerk of Court is directed to terminate Dft City of Hbg. The Clerk of Court shall DEFER entering judgment until all claims have been adjudicated. Signed by Chief Judge Yvette Kane on 1/17/13. (sc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TERA WILLIAMS and
CITY OF HARRISBURG, et al.,
(Chief Judge Kane)
Presently pending before the Court is Defendant City of Harrisburg’s motion to dismiss
Plaintiffs Tera Williams and T’Juanne Williams’s complaint in part. (Doc. No. 9.) For the
reasons that follow, the Court will grant the motion and dismiss Counts II and V of the complaint
On August 10, 2012, Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a complaint against the City
of Harrisburg, Officer Matthew Haflett, and four unnamed police officers. (Doc. No. 1.)
Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges four claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and two state-law claims,
arising out of an August 3, 2011 altercation between Plaintiff Tera Williams and five members
of the Harrisburg Police Department. (Id. ¶ 8.) According to their complaint, Ms. Williams and
her daughter, T’Juanne Williams, were sitting outside their home when they witnessed a group
of armed teenagers approaching another neighborhood youth in, what she believed, was an
In reviewing the motion to dismiss, the Court will accept Plaintiffs’ factual allegations
as true and will “consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the
complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.” Lum v. Bank
of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 221 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004); see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d
224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008).
attempt to incite a fight. (Id. ¶¶ 8-10.) Plaintiff Tera Williams immediately went inside her
home to report the incident to the police. (Id. ¶ 11.) Thereafter, she discovered that a neighbor
had successfully dispersed the teenagers and warded off a fight. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Ms. Williams
then approached her neighbor to calm her down, when police officers arrived on the scene. (Id.
While Ms. Williams descended her steps to console her distraught neighbor, Plaintiffs
allege that Officer Matthew Haflett grabbed her by the arm and demanded to speak with her. (Id.
¶ 17.) After she asked Officer Haflett to let go of her arm, he again grabbed her and demanded
to speak with her. Plaintiffs allege that the officer then “slammed her to the ground, face and
chest facing the ground.” (Id. ¶ 21.) Once on the ground, Plaintiffs allege that at least five
police officers held Ms. Williams down “with an officer’s foot on her neck, another drove his
knee into [her] back and others held down her feet and lower torso, while they handcuffed her.”
(Id. ¶ 22.) Once she was restrained, Plaintiffs allege that Ms. Williams was placed into a police
cruiser and driven to a local convenience store where she was released and left to “limp back” to
her home in a great deal of pain while “bleeding profusely.” (Id. ¶¶ 22-40.) Plaintiffs allege that
the “assault on Plaintiff Tera Williams took place within inches of the horrified Plaintiff
T’Juanne Williams.” (Id. ¶ 26.)
As a result of the incident, Plaintiff Tera Williams alleges that she “suffered a bruised rib
cage, torn ACL, a pinched nerve in lower back, and other serious physical injuries.” (Id. ¶ 44.)
She further alleges that, as a result of those injuries, she is in constant pain, unable to return to
work, and unable to financially provide for herself and her daughter, Plaintiff T’Juanne
Williams. (Id. ¶¶ 45-49.)
Plaintiffs allege that the police officers violated their constitutional rights, and are liable
under state and federal law. On October 8, 2012, Defendant City of Harrisburg moved to
dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint against it. (Doc. No. 9.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the
complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In reviewing a motion to
dismiss, a court may “consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the
complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim.” Lum, 361
F.3d at 221 n.3. The motion will only be properly granted when, taking all factual allegations
and inferences drawn therefrom as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. Markowitz v. Ne. Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the
moving party to show that no claim has been stated. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir.
1980). Thus, the moving party must show that Plaintiff has failed to “set forth sufficient
information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those
elements exist.” Kost, 1 F.3d at 183 (citations omitted). A court, however, “need not credit a
complaint’s ‘bald assertions’ or ‘legal conclusions’ when deciding a motion to dismiss.” Morse
v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906, 908 (3d Cir. 1997). While the 12(b)(6) standard
does not require “detailed factual allegations,” there must be a “‘showing,’ rather than a blanket
assertion of entitlement to relief. . . . ‘[F]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.’” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Put otherwise, a civil complaint must “set out ‘sufficient
factual matter’ to show that the claim is facially plausible.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578
F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1955 (2009)).
In their complaint, Plaintiffs have asserted the following six causes of action: (1) a
Section 1983 claim, alleging several constitutional violations, brought by Plaintiff Tera Williams
against the individual Defendants (Count I); (2) a Monell claim brought by Plaintiff Tera
Williams against Defendant City of Harrisburg (Count II); (3) supplemental state-law claims
brought by Defendant Tera Williams against the individual Defendants (Count III); (4) a Section
1983 claim brought by Plaintiff T’Juanne Williams against the individual Defendants (Count
IV); (5) a Monell claim brought by Plaintiff T’Juanne Williams against Defendant City of
Harrisburg (Count V); and (6) supplemental state-law claims brought by T’Juanne Williams
against the individual Defendants (Counts VI). (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant City of Harrisburg
moved to dismiss Counts II and V of the complaint, the only counts that are raised against it.
(Doc. No. 9 ¶¶ 6-8.) First, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages must be
dismissed because federal law does not authorize the imposition of punitive damages in this
case. Next, Defendant City of Harrisburg argues that the Section 1983 claims raised against it
for failure to train its employees must be dismissed because Plaintiffs have failed to plead a valid
Monell claim. Finally, Defendant City of Harrisburg argues that all claims against it by Plaintiff
T’Juanne Williams must be dismissed because she has failed to sufficiently plead an underlying
constitutional violation. The Court will address each argument in turn.
First, Defendant City of Harrisburg argues that punitive damages are not recoverable
against it. (Doc. No. 10 at 3.) Plaintiffs responded that they do not seek punitive damages
against the City of Harrisburg. (Doc. No. 14 at 3.) Indeed, “the United States Supreme Court
has unambiguously held that punitive damages may not be recovered against a municipal
defendant” in a Section 1983 claim. Lakits v. York, 258 F. Supp. 2d 401, 408 (E.D. Pa. 2003)
(citing City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981)). Accordingly, to the
extent that Plaintiffs’ complaint can be construed as seeking punitive damages against the City of
Harrisburg, that claim is dismissed with prejudice.
Second, Defendant City of Harrisburg moved to dismiss all claims against it, for failure
to state a claim. (Doc. No. 10 at 3-6.) Plaintiffs Tera and T’Juanne Williams both assert Section
1983 claims against Defendant City of Harrisburg for failing to adequately train its employees,
resulting in constitutional violations. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the City of Harrisburg
failed to provide its officers with sensitivity training in race relations, and that the City knew or
should have known that the interaction between white officers and residents of predominantly
black communities “creates a risk of harm for all in emotionally charged and volatile situations.”
(Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 55-56, 79-80.) Plaintiffs further allege that the lack of proper race relations
training caused the constitutional violations lodged against the individual Defendants, arising
from the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Id. ¶¶
57, 81.) In its motion to dismiss, Defendant City of Harrisburg argues that these claims must be
dismissed because they have not been pleaded with the specificity necessary to demonstrate an
entitlement to relief. (Doc. No. 9 ¶ 8.)
As a general rule, “a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 solely because it
employs a tortfeasor.” Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). However,
“there are limited circumstances in which an allegation for a ‘failure to train’ can be the basis for
[municipal] liability under § 1983.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 387 (1989). To
state a claim for failure to train, a plaintiff must establish that the supervising defendant’s
“failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police
come into contact.” Id. at 388. The standard of deliberate indifference is, however, a “stringent
standard of fault,” which requires proof that the supervisor “disregarded a known or obvious
consequence of his action.” Bryan Cnty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 410 (1997). “A pattern of
similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ‘ordinarily necessary’ to demonstrate
deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train.” Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350,
1359 (2011) (citing Bryan Cnty., 520 U.S. at 409). Additionally, a “continued adherence to an
approach that they know or should know has failed to prevent tortious conduct by employees”
may constitute deliberate indifference. Id. (quoting Bryan Cnty., 520 U.S. at 409).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted the difficulty of
establishing a constitutional violation for failure to train:
To succeed on a § 1983 claim, the party must prove that the training
deficiency actually caused the injury . . . . Establishing m unicipal
liability on a failure to train claim under § 1983 is difficult. A
plaintiff pressing a § 1983 claim must identify a failure to provide
specific training that has a causal nexus with their injuries and must
demonstrate that the absence of that specific training can reasonably
be sai d to reflect a deliberate i ndifference to whether the alleged
constitutional deprivations occurred.
Reitz v. Cnty. of Bucks, 125 F.3d 139, 145 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing City of Canton, 489 U.S. 378;
Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 946 F.2d 1017 (3d Cir. 1991)).
The crux of Plaintiffs’ arguments is that, because the City of Harrisburg failed to provide
its police officers with racial sensitivity training, the City “knew or should have known” that
there was a risk of harm when white police officers interacted with residents of predominantly
black neighborhoods. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 55-56, 79-80.) Based on the pleadings, Plaintiffs have not
raised a viable constitutional claim against Defendant City of Harrisburg because they have not
alleged sufficient facts to support a finding that the failure to train the police officers constituted
deliberate indifference. City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 388. Plaintiffs have not alleged that an
increased risk of harm was an obvious consequence of the lack of racial sensitivity training, nor
have they alleged a pattern of similar constitutional violations by members of the Harrisburg
Police Department. See Bryan Cnty., 520 U.S. at 409-10. Moreover, Plaintiffs have not
demonstrated a “causal nexus” between the purported failure to train and the injuries alleged in
the complaint. Reitz, 125 F.3d at 145. Plaintiffs merely assert that, “[t]he failure of the
Defendant City of Harrisburg to provide the necessary training for its police officers was the
proximate cause of the [injuries].” Such an averment of causation is no more than a “bald
assertion” or “legal conclusion,” which the Court need not credit when ruling on a motion to
dismiss. See Morse, 132 F.3d at 906. Plaintiffs’ failure to train claims are insufficiently pleaded
and do not raise the “right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Accordingly, Counts II and V of the complaint are dismissed without prejudice.
Third, Defendant City of Harrisburg also moves to dismiss all claims raised against it by
Plaintiff T’Juanne Williams, arguing that she has failed to identify an actionable constitutional
violation against her. (Doc. No. 10 at 5-6.) Count V is the only claim that Plaintiff T’Juanne
Williams brought against the City of Harrisburg. Because the Court will dismiss Count V for
failure to state a Monell claim, the Court need not determine whether Plaintiff has failed to
identify an underlying constitutional violation.
Because Plaintiffs have failed to allege sufficient facts to support a claim against
Defendant City of Harrisburg for failing to train its police officers, the Court will dismiss Counts
II and V of Plaintiffs’ complaint. The Court will, however, grant Plaintiffs leave to amend their
complaint within 14 days of the date of this order, in order to correct the defects noted herein.
An order consistent with this memorandum follows.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TERA WILLIAMS and
CITY OF HARRISBURG, et al.,
(Chief Judge Kane)
AND NOW, on this 17th day of January 2013, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT
Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 9) is GRANTED, and Counts II and V of Plaintiffs’
complaint are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
Plaintiffs are granted leave to amend their complaint within 14 days of the date of this
order, in order to correct the defects noted herein.
If Plaintiffs do not amend their complaint within 14 days, the Clerk of Court is directed to
terminate Defendant City of Harrisburg from this action.
The Clerk of Court shall defer entering judgment until all claims have been adjudicated.
S/ Yvette Kane
Yvette Kane, Chief Judge
United States District Court
Middle District of Pennsylvania
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?