McClure v. The City of Harrisburg et al
MEMORANDUM re dfts' MOTIONS TO DISMISS 15 and 17 (Order to follow as separate docket entry)Signed by Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo on 09/29/14. (ma)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
FONTAINE K. MCCLURE, SR.,
THE CITY OF HARRISBURG, et al.,
Civil No.: 1:14-CV-0958
Judge Sylvia H. Rambo
In this civil action, Plaintiff has sued Officers Rider and Fleagle in their
individual and official capacities as well as the City of Harrisburg and the Harrisburg
Police Department, asserting various civil rights violations and state tort claims.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Officer Rider maliciously prosecuted him (Count I)
and that Officers Rider and Fleagle: falsely arrested and imprisoned him (Count II);
violated his equal protection rights (Count III); violated his due process rights (Count
IV); invaded his property (Count V); and used excessive force against him (Count
VI). Plaintiff further alleges that Officer Fleagle wrongfully used civil proceedings
against him (Count VII). Finally, Plaintiff alleges that the Harrisburg Police
Department and Officers Rider and Fleagle engaged in police misconduct (Count
VIII) and that the City of Harrisburg failed to properly train its police officers (Count
Before the court are Defendants’ two motions to dismiss Plaintiff’s
complaint. (Docs. 15 & 17.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motions
will be granted.
Plaintiff, Fontaine K. McClure, Sr., (“Plaintiff”) is a citizen of the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1.) Defendants, Officers Edward Rider and
Robert Fleagle (“Defendants Rider and Fleagle”), are police officers employed by
the Harrisburg Police Department. (See id.) The Harrisburg Police Department and
the City of Harrisburg, both of which are located within the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, are also Defendants to this action. (See id.)
Two incidents are primarily at issue.1 On May 12, 2013, Natasha
McArthur (“McArthur”), Plaintiff’s then-fiancé and the mother of his three-year-old
son, had called the police after she and Plaintiff argued. (See Doc. 17-1, p. 8 of 9.)
Once Defendant Rider responded to the call, McArthur informed Defendant Rider
that Plaintiff had struck her, forcibly removed the keys to her vehicle from her hand,
taken her gun, and driven away in her vehicle. (Id.) After Plaintiff returned to
McArthur’s residence, Defendant Rider arrested Plaintiff for robbery, theft, carrying
a firearm in a vehicle without a license, and unlawful possession of a firearm,2
In addition to these two incidents, Plaintiff refers to three others. On or about November 20, 2012,
Plaintiff was arrested for urinating in public, although Plaintiff states that he does “not wish to bring any
claim against [the arresting officer].” (Doc 2, p. 7 of 13.) On two other occasions predating June 2011,
Plaintiff called the Harrisburg Police Department for assistance in domestic disputes. (Id. at pp. 7–9 of
13.) Plaintiff fails to state how these two incidents are relevant. No citations were issued or arrests
were made in either incident. (See id.) Instead, it appears that on each occasion, Plaintiff’s interactions
with the responding police officers were limited to conversations regarding identification. (See id.)
Consequently, the court will disregard these additional incidents.
Plaintiff is a type of person who is prohibited from carrying a firearm. See 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105
(2008) (declaring that a person who has been convicted of an offense under The Controlled Substance,
Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act or an equivalent federal statute “shall not possess . . . a firearm in this
Commonwealth”). The passage of time cited by Plaintiff is irrelevant to his status.
despite McArthur’s desire to not press charges. (Id. at 2–8 of 9; Doc. 1, p. 10 of 12.)
During the arrest, Defendant Rider asked Plaintiff if he had any weapons, and
Plaintiff admitted to carrying a knife. (Doc. 2, p. 3 of 13.) Defendant Rider then
“man handled [sic]” Plaintiff while searching for additional weapons. (See Doc. 1, p.
4 of 12.) During this search, Defendant Rider found McArthur’s car keys on
Plaintiff’s person, and Plaintiff confessed to taking McArthur’s gun and vehicle.
(Doc. 17-1, p. 8 of 9.) Plaintiff consented to a search of his home, and McArthur’s
gun was found inside Plaintiff’s residence. (Id. at pp. 8–9 of 9.) Although Plaintiff
“spent approximately 16 hours in jail,” the charges against Plaintiff were dismissed
when Defendant Rider failed to show at the criminal hearing. (Doc. 2, p. 4 of 13.;
Doc. 1, p. 2 of 12.)
The second incident occurred on or about September 6, 2012,3 when
Defendant Fleagle arrested Plaintiff for public drunkenness. (Doc. 17-4, p. 2 of 2.)
On this occasion, McArthur had also called the police after she and Plaintiff argued.
(See Doc. 2, p. 5 of 13.) Defendant Fleagle responded to the call and, upon arriving
at the scene, interviewed Plaintiff. (See id.) Defendant Fleagle noted that Plaintiff
was stumbling when attempting to walk on the sidewalk. (Doc. 17-4, p. 2 of 2.)
Although Plaintiff denies that he was intoxicated at the time, Plaintiff admits to
having consumed “one shot of vodka” and “a 22 ounce Budweiser to go.” (See Doc.
2, p. 6 of 13.) This charge, however, was also dismissed after Defendant Fleagle
failed to appear at the criminal hearing. (Id.)
Some dispute regarding the actual date exists. Plaintiff alleges the incident occurred on September 9,
2012 (Doc. 2, p. 5 of 13), although records indicate the incident occurred on September 6, 2012 (Doc.
17-4, p. 2 of 2). The actual date of this incident is immaterial to this lawsuit.
Plaintiff filed his complaint on May 19, 2014. (Doc. 1.) On June 12,
2014, Defendants filed the two instant motions to dismiss. (Docs. 15 & 17.) One
motion to dismiss was filed by Defendants Rider and Fleagle in their individual
capacities (Doc. 17) and the second was filed by the City of Harrisburg, the
Harrisburg Police Department, and Defendants Rider and Fleagle in their official
capacities (Doc 15). Each motion requests that Plaintiff’s complaint be dismissed in
its entirety and is accompanied by a supporting brief. (Docs. 16 & 18.) On June 25,
2014, Plaintiff, acting pro se, filed a brief in opposition to each motion to dismiss.
(Docs. 19 & 20.) Defendants filed two corresponding reply briefs on June 27, 2014.
(Docs. 23 & 24.) Finally, on July 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed a surreply opposing
Defendants’ motions to dismiss (Doc. 31).4 Thus, Defendants’ motions to dismiss
are ripe for disposition.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a plaintiff’s
complaint may be dismissed if the complaint “fails to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement . . . showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief” and provide the “defendant fair notice of what the . . .
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); Edwards v.
Borough of Dickson City, 994 F. Supp. 2d 616, 618 (M.D. Pa. 2014). Additionally,
According to Local Rule 7.7, no further briefs beyond a reply brief may be filed without leave of
court. M.D. Pa. R. 7.7. Although Plaintiff did not request or obtain leave of court before filing this
surreply, the court will show leniency and consider the brief due to Plaintiff’s pro se status.
the claim must allege sufficient facts that amount to a claim of relief that is
“plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Any
legal conclusions not supported by facts or “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of
a cause of action will not [suffice].” Id. at 555. The burden is on the defendant to
establish that the plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. Edwards, 994 F. Supp. 2d at 618.
When considering a motion to dismiss, a court engages in a three-part
(1) identifying the elements of the claim[;] (2) reviewing
the complaint to strike conclusory allegations[;] and then
(3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the
complaint and evaluat[ing] whether all of the elements
identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.
Id. at 619. In performing these tasks, the court must view all allegations contained in
the complaint as true and “construe all inferences in the light most favorable to [the]
plaintiff.” Musila v. Lock Haven Univ., 970 F. Supp. 2d 384, 388 (M.D. Pa. 2013).
In addition to the complaint, the court may also consider exhibits attached to the
complaint, matters of public record, and “undisputably authentic” documents that the
“plaintiff’s claims are based on . . . and [that] the defendant has attached . . . to the
motion to dismiss.” Edwards, 994 F. Supp. 2d at 619. If, after performing the threepart inquiry, the plaintiff has not asserted a claim that is plausible on its face, the
motion to dismiss will be sustained. See id. When sustaining a motion to dismiss, a
court has discretion as to whether the complaint should be amendable or dismissed
with prejudice, Brautigam v. Fraley, 684 F. Supp. 2d 589, 594 (M.D. Pa. 2010),
keeping in mind that a court should “liberal[ly] constru[e]” a complaint drafted by a
pro se litigant to determine whether amendment would be futile. Ruston v. Dodrill,
380 Fed. App’x 197, 197 (3d Cir. 2012).
Defendants challenge each of Plaintiffs’ claims. (See Docs. 15 & 17.)
Defendants Rider and Fleagle argue that Plaintiffs’ first seven claims must fail
because: (1) they had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff; (2) they are entitled to
qualified immunity; (3) any force used against Plaintiff was de minimis and
reasonable under the circumstances; and (4) state law bars Plaintiff’s state law
actions. (Doc. 17, p. 1 of 3.) The City of Harrisburg and the Harrisburg Police
Department argue that Plaintiffs’ eighth claim must fail because: (1) Plaintiff fails to
allege a pattern of unconstitutional activity that constitutes the force of law in
Harrisburg; (2) Defendants Rider and Fleagle both acted reasonably at all times; and
(3) Plaintiff fails to allege that Harrisburg decision-makers had knowledge of any of
the disputed situations. (Doc. 15, p. 1 of 3.) Plaintiff opposes Defendants’ motions
on the grounds that he sufficiently pleaded claims that entitle him to relief. (See
Docs. 19 & 20.)
Plaintiff’s “federal rights are enforceable against [D]efendants by way
of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Dice v. Johnson, 711 F. Supp. 2d 340, 357 (M.D. Pa. 2010).
To state a Section 1983 claim, Plaintiff must establish that: (1)“the conduct
complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) the
conduct deprived the plaintiff of a federal constitutional or statutory right.” Id. In
this case, there is no dispute that Defendants acted under color of state law. This
court will therefore focus on whether Defendants’ conduct deprived Plaintiff of a
federal constitutional or statutory right.
Plaintiff contends that Defendant Rider maliciously prosecuted him
because Defendant Rider “initiated[d] criminal proceedings [against him,] [a]cted
without probable cause[,] . . . compelled [McArthur] to press charges against
Plaintiff[,] . . . disregarded any prior relationship between Plaintiff and [McArthur,
and] . . . did not show up at the hearing.” (Doc. 1, pp. 1–2 of 12.) To:
prove malicious prosecution under [S]ection 1983 . . .
[and] the Fourth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that:
(1) the defendant initiated a criminal proceeding; (2) the
criminal proceeding ended in [the plaintiff’s] 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.
Dice, 711 F. Supp. 2d at 365–66. In this case, the only element in dispute is whether
Defendant Rider initiated the proceeding without probable cause. (Doc. 18, p. 10 of
31.) Probable cause is defined as “facts and circumstances sufficient to warrant a
prudent man in believing that the (suspect) had committed or was committing an
offense.” Freeman v. Murray, 163 F. Supp. 2d 478, 485 (M.D. Pa. 2001).
In this case, Defendant Rider had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for
robbery, theft, carrying a firearm in a vehicle without a license, and unlawful
possession of a firearm. Defendant Rider responded to McArthur’s call for police
assistance and was informed that Plaintiff had struck McArthur, forcibly removed the
keys to her vehicle from her hand, taken her gun, and driven away in her vehicle.
After Plaintiff returned to the scene, Defendant Rider searched Plaintiff’s person and
found the keys to McArthur’s vehicle. Plaintiff then confessed to taking McArthur’s
gun and vehicle and consented to a search of his residence, where the gun was
located. Considering these events, sufficient facts existed to warrant a prudent man
to believe that the Plaintiff had committed the offenses for which he was arrested,
whether or not McArthur wished to press charges.5 Plaintiff appears to mistakenly
believe that because McArthur did not wish to press charges, McArthur’s statements
to Defendant Rider could not be used to establish probable cause. This is not true.
Defendant Rider could rightfully rely on McArthur’s statement because she had
witnessed the crimes. See Merkle v. Upper Dublin Sch. Dist., 211 F.3d 782, 789–90
(3d Cir. 2000) (holding that probable cause existed as a matter of law based on an
officer’s reliance on a credible report of a single witness). Whether McArthur
wished to pursue charges against Plaintiff is irrelevant.
Plaintiff contends, however, that Defendant Rider may not argue that
probable cause existed because Defendant Rider failed to show at the criminal
hearing, precluding him from raising the argument at this time.6 For a party to assert
the doctrine of issue preclusion, the party must prove that: “(1) [t]he issue sought to
be precluded [is] the same as that involved in the prior action; (2) that issue [was]
actually litigated; (3) it [was] determined by a final and valid judgment; and (4) the
Interestingly, Plaintiff admits that Defendant Rider had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff at the time
because, prior to the incident, a warrant had been issued for Plaintiff’s arrest. Plaintiff states that the
“[w]arrant alone [gave] [Defendant] Rider cause to jail Plaintiff.” (Doc. 35, pp. 2–3 of 13.)
Plaintiff further argues that Defendant Rider is prevented from arguing the existence of probable
cause because of “[l]aches[,] ‘the omission of something of which a party might do, and might be
reasonably expected to do towards the vindication or enforcement of his rights.” (Doc. 20, p. 6 of 14.)
Plaintiff misunderstands the doctrine of laches. To assert laches, a party must have delayed asserting a
right, resulting in material prejudice to another party. Santana Prods., Inc. v. Bobrick Washroom
Equip., Inc., 401 F.3d 123, 139 (3d Cir. 2005). Plaintiff, however, fails to allege that Defendant Rider
delayed raising his argument that probable cause existed at the time of arrest or that any such delay
caused Plaintiff prejudice.
determination [was] essential to the prior judgment.”7 Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply
Intern, Inc., 702 F. Supp. 2d 465, 488–89 (M.D. Pa. 2010) (emphasis added).
Because Defendant Rider failed to appear at the hearing, the parties did not have a
full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of probable cause, and, therefore the
issue was not actually litigated or determined by a court of competent jurisdiction.8
Plaintiff’s issue preclusion argument thus fails.
Defendant Rider responded to a complaint by McArthur and
subsequently discovered evidence clearly establishing that probable cause existed to
arrest Plaintiff for several crimes. Furthermore, because the probable cause issue
was not fully litigated, Defendant Rider is not precluded from raising the existence of
probable cause in defense to Plaintiff’s claims. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to
show that Defendant Rider initiated the criminal proceedings against him without
probable cause, and Plaintiff’s malicious prosecution claim will be dismissed .
False Arrest and Imprisonment
Plaintiff contends that Defendants Rider and Fleagle falsely arrested and
imprisoned him by “willfully detain[ing] [P]laintiff without consent from [P]laintiff
and without authority.” (Doc. 1, p. 2 of 12.) To prove false arrest and imprisonment
under a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must prove: “(1) the detention of another
Another prerequisite to issue preclusion is that the “party against whom the plea is asserted was a
party or [was] in privity with a party to the prior adjudication.” Smith v. Holtz, 30 F. Supp. 2d 468, 474
(M.D. Pa. 1998). While Defendant Rider was not a party to the underlying criminal proceeding because
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania initiated the proceeding against Plaintiff, the court finds it
unnecessary to determine whether Defendant Rider was in privity with the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania. Instead, the court finds that the lack of opportunity for the parties to be heard on the issue
of probable cause is dispositive.
If a lower state court had determined whether probable cause existed, this court would be bound to its
determination because a “federal court is required to give preclusive effect . . . to the judgment of a state
court.” Smith, 30 F. Supp. 2d at 476.
person (2) that is unlawful.” Luck v. Mount Airy No. 1, LLC, 901 F. Supp. 2d 547,
555 (M.D. Pa. 2012). Defendants Rider and Fleagle contend that they had probable
cause to arrest Plaintiff, and, therefore, Plaintiff’s detention was not unlawful.
Because this court has already established that Defendant Rider had probable cause
to arrest Plaintiff, only Defendant Fleagle’s arrest of Plaintiff will be analyzed in this
In this case, Defendant Fleagle had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for
public drunkenness. Defendant Fleagle responded to a call for police assistance, and,
upon arriving at the scene, found Plaintiff stumbling while attempting to walk, which
Plaintiff does not deny. Considering Defendant Fleagle’s uncontested observations,
sufficient facts existed to warrant a prudent man to believe that Plaintiff had
committed the offense of public drunkenness. See 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5505 (2012) (“A
person is guilty of a summary offense if he appears in any public place manifestly
under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance . . . to the degree that he may
endanger himself or other persons of property, or annoy persons in his vicinity.”).
Furthermore, Plaintiff admits to having consumed one shot of vodka and “a 22 ounce
Budweiser to go” at the time. While Plaintiff attempts to argue that “there was noone [sic] outside to be a threat to except the officers” (Doc. 35, p. 4 of 13), whether
others were near Plaintiff at the time is irrelevant. Defendant Fleagle, like Defendant
Rider, had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff.9 It follows that Plaintiff’s detentions
Plaintiff further argues that “[t]here was no test for alcohol levels[,] only the officer’s words and
statements.” (Doc. 35, p. 4 of 13.) Plaintiff confuses probable cause, however, with proof beyond a
reasonable doubt. Probable cause is a relatively low standard that “does not require the same type of
specific evidence of each element of the offense as would be needed to support a conviction.” Shelley v.
Wilson, 339 Fed. App’x 136, 138 (3d Cir. 2009). In this case, Defendant Fleagle’s observation of
Plaintiff’s behavior and Plaintiff’s admission of consuming alcohol was sufficient to establish probable
cannot be deemed unlawful for lack of probable cause, and Plaintiff fails to allege any
facts to show that the detentions were unlawful for another reason. Consequently,
Plaintiff’s false arrest and imprisonment claim will be dismissed.
Violation of the Equal Protection Clause
Plaintiff contends that Defendants Rider and Fleagle violated his right to
equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment because: (1) in his
encounters with the police, Plaintiff “is automatically presumed guilty” and does not
receive the same treatment “as women receive[;]” and (2) “a white male[,]” who was
involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of Plaintiff’s daughter, “was
never arrested” or charged, but Plaintiff went “to jail for robbery” because “of his
race.” (Doc. 1, pp. 2–3 of 12.) To establish a violation of the Equal Protection
Clause under a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must show that: (1) he or she is a
member of a protected class; and (2) is similarly situated to others not within the
protected class who were not prosecuted. Strickland v. Mahoning Twp., 647 F. Supp.
2d 422, 429 (M.D. Pa. 2009).
In this case, Plaintiff’s claims of gender and racial discrimination clearly
fail. Regarding Plaintiff’s claim of gender discrimination, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants Rider and Fleagle more favorably treated McArthur when responding to
calls for police assistance because she was female. (Doc. 1, p. 3 of 12.) The court
has already determined supra, in Part. III.A.1 and Part.III.A.2, that probable cause
existed to arrest Plaintiff on each occasion that McArthur called the police. Plaintiff
does not allege that McArthur committed any crimes that would make her similarly
situated to him. Plaintiff thus fails to show women similarly situated to him that
were not prosecuted and a conclusory statement that women generally receive
preferential treatment is entirely inadequate to show an equal protection claim. As
for Plaintiff’s claim of racial discrimination, Plaintiff establishes that, as an African
American, he is a member of a protected class but again fails to show that similarly
situated persons not in his protected class were treated differently. In his complaint,
Plaintiff gives one example of a white male that allegedly was not charged or
arrested for being involved in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of a
child. In this example, however, the man who was not prosecuted is not similarly
situated to Plaintiff. Instead, the man and Plaintiff were part of entirely different
situations in which Plaintiff alleges no similar facts. Plaintiff does not raise any
other example of a non-African American, similarly situated to himself, who did not
face prosecution. Consequently, because Plaintiff has failed to show plausible
claims of gender or racial discrimination, Plaintiff’s equal protection claim will be
Violation of the Due Process Clause
Plaintiff contends that Defendants Rider and Fleagle violated his due
process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Doc. 1, p. 3 of 12.) Specifically,
Plaintiff contends that “Plaintiff was detained, arrested, and jailed without probable
cause, prima facie evidence, . . . conviction[, or consent].” (Id.) If “a constitutional
claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision, such as the Fourth . . .
Amendment, the claim must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that
specific provision, not under the rubric of substantive due process.” Torres v.
McLaughlin, 163 F.3d 169, 173 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Cnty. of Sacramento v.
Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 833 (1998)). Courts have, “general[ly] . . . always been
reluctant to expand the concept of substantive due process[,] preferring, instead, to
limit substantive due process protections to matters relating to marriage, family,
procreation, and the right to bodily integrity.” Id. at 172. In this case, Plaintiff is
contesting that his arrests were executed without probable cause, which is
specifically covered by the Fourth Amendment. Id. A substantive due process claim
based on these facts is inappropriate in this case and will be dismissed.
Plaintiff contends that Defendants Rider and Fleagle used excessive
force against Plaintiff in violation of the Fourth Amendment because “Defendants
both man handled Plaintiff with no need for force at all.” (Doc. 1, p. 4 of 12.) To
prove excessive force under a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must show that: (1) a
seizure occurred; and (2) the seizure was unreasonable. Kokinda v. Breiner, 557 F.
Supp. 2d 581, 589 (M.D. Pa. 2008). Because Defendants Rider and Fleagle do not
dispute that a seizure occurred during Plaintiff’s arrests, the only element the court
will analyze is whether the seizure was unreasonable.
A seizure is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment “if, under the
totality of the circumstances, the officers’ actions are objectively reasonable in light
of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying
intent or motivations.” Id. (quoting Graham v. Conner, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989)).
Factors a court may consider when determining reasonableness include “the severity
of the crime at issue, whether the suspect pose[d] an immediate threat to the safety of
the officers or others, . . . whether [the suspect] actively . . . resist[ed] arrest or
attempt[ed] to evade arrest by flight[,] . . . the duration of the action, whether the
action [took] place in the context of effecting an arrest, [and] the possibility that the
suspect [was] armed.” Id.
In this case, Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to show that the
seizure was unreasonable. Defendants Rider and Fleagle necessarily used some
force to effectuate Plaintiff’s arrests. Although Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Rider
“man handled [sic]” him while checking for weapons, Plaintiff was suspected of
robbery and unlawful possession of a firearm. Checking Plaintiff for weapons was
thus objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Plaintiff fails to allege how
Defendant Fleagle used excessive force, instead relying on a conclusory statement
that excessive force was used. Significantly, Plaintiff does not allege that he suffered
any injuries from either officer’s alleged use of force. In fact, Plaintiff fails to allege
facts that show more than a de minimis use of force that would make Defendant
Rider’s and Fleagle’s use of force unreasonable and therefore excessive.
Consequently, Plaintiff’s excessive force claim will be dismissed.
Plaintiff contends that the City of Harrisburg should be held liable for
its failure to properly train its police officers and deliberate indifference. (Doc. 1, p.
5 of 12.) Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the official customs of the City of
Harrisburg violate citizens’ constitutional rights as portrayed by Defendants Rider’s
and Fleagle’s treatment of Plaintiff. (Id.) To state a claim for municipal liability
under Section 1983, the plaintiff must show “a government[al] policy or custom,
whether made by . . . lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said
to represent official policy, [that] inflicts [an] injury [for which] the government as
an entity is responsible.” Simmons v. City of Phila., 947 F.2d 1042, 1059 (3d Cir.
1991). Only “when a municipality’s failure to train is tainted by a deliberate
indifference to constitutional rights can that failure rise to the level of a municipal
policy or custom—that is, ‘a deliberate choice to follow a course of action . . . made
from among various alternatives’ by city policymakers.” Id. at 1060. If a plaintiff
fails to show a violation of his or her constitutional rights, the plaintiff’s municipal
liability claim must fail.
In this case, Plaintiff fails to show that any violation of his
constitutional rights occurred. The court has already established that Defendants
Rider and Fleagle had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff. Plaintiff fails to point to any
other behavior on the part of the officers that deprived him of his constitutional
rights. Furthermore, Plaintiff fails to allege anything but conclusory language to
support his contention that the City of Harrisburg deliberately chose a course of
action from among alternatives that rose to the level of becoming a policy or custom.
The court is not required to, and will not, treat this conclusory language unsupported
by facts as true. Consequently, the court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claim of municipal
State Law Claims
Federal courts “have jurisdiction over state claims which are related to .
. . federal claims and result from a common nucleus of operative facts.” Johnson v.
Hollibaugh, No. 3:CV-11-565, 2013 WL 6450225, at *5 (M.D. Pa. 2013). When all
federal claims have been dismissed, a federal court may decline to exercise pendent
jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims. Id.; 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3) (1990).
As this court recently recognized, “[t]he Third Circuit has held that ‘where the claim
over which the district court has original jurisdiction is dismissed before trial, the
district court must decline to decide the pendent state claims unless considerations of
judicial economy, convenience, and fairness to the parties provide an affirmative
justification for doing so.’” King v. Mansfield Univ. of Pa., Civ. No. 11-cv-1112,
2014 WL 3734551, *14 (M.D. Pa. July 28, 2014) (citing Hedges v. Musco, 204 F.3d
109, 123 (3d Cir. 2000)).
In this case, all of Plaintiff’s federal claims will be dismissed. While
this may generally be a basis for declining to do so, the court will exercise
supplemental jurisdiction in the interests of judicial economy and address the
remaining state law claims, which have been fully briefed by the parties and are ripe
for disposition. For the following reasons, the asserted state law claims fail as a
matter of law and will be dismissed.
Invasion of Property
Plaintiff contends that Defendants Rider and Fleagle invaded his
property. (Doc. 1, p. 4 of 12.) To support this contention, Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants Rider and Fleagle “appropriate[d] [P]laintiff’s name for commercial
advantage, intrud[ing] upon private affairs or seclusion.” (Id.) The court believes
Plaintiff intended to assert an invasion of privacy, not property, claim. The
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B provides that “[o]ne who intentionally
intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his
private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his
privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.”
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B (1977); see also Harris v. Easton Pub. Co.,
483 A.2d 1377, 1383 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1984) (stating that “[w]e believe that the
Resatement most ably defines the elements of invasion of privacy as that tort has
developed in Pennsylvania”). It is irrelevant, however, whether Plaintiff is asserting
an invasion of property claim or an invasion of privacy claim because Plaintiff has
failed to allege any facts to support either claim. Furthermore, the statute of
limitations for an invasion of privacy claim in Pennsylvania is one year and expired
before Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit. 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5523 (1982) (declaring that an
action for invasion of privacy “must be commenced within one year”). Thus,
Plaintiff’s invasion of property/privacy claim will be dismissed.
Wrongful Use of Civil Proceedings
Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Fleagle wrongfully initiated civil
proceedings. (Doc. 1, p. 4 of 12.) Specifically, Plaintiff contends that Defendant
Fleagle “acted . . . without probable cause, when he was called for a domestic
situation, where there was no legal course to be taken, and deemed [Plaintiff] to be
drunk . . . without . . . securing proper adjudication, because [Defendant Fleagle] did
not show at the adjudication.” (Id.) Plaintiff apparently confuses civil with criminal
proceedings. While criminal hearings were initiated against Plaintiff, no civil
proceedings are mentioned anywhere in the complaint. Thus, to the extent Plaintiff
desired to assert a wrongful use of civil proceedings claim, his claim will be
Plaintiff’s claim likewise fails to the extent Plaintiff’s claim is one for
abuse of process. To establish an abuse of process claim, a plaintiff must establish
three elements: “(1) [that t]he defendant used a legal process against the plaintiff[;]
(2) [that] the defendant used the process primarily to accomplish a purpose for which
the process was not designed; and (3) [that] . . . harm has been caused to the
plaintiff.” Gebhart v. Steffen, No. 14-1055, 2014 WL 3765715, at *4 (3d Cir. 2014).
As stated supra, Part III.A.1, this court has already determined that the criminal
proceedings against Plaintiff were initiated with probable cause. Thus, even if
Plaintiff had intended to assert an abuse of process claim, the complaint still fails to
show that the criminal hearings were brought for a purpose for which they were not
designed. Consequently, Plaintiff’s wrongful use of civil proceedings claim will be
Plaintiff contends that Defendants Rider and Fleagle and the Harrisburg
Police Department engaged in police misconduct.10 (Doc. 1, pp. 4–5 of 12.)
Pennsylvania, however, does not recognize a stand-alone claim of “police
misconduct.” Instead, Pennsylvania uses misconduct on the part of the police as an
element in other causes of action. See, e.g., 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8550 (1980) (providing a
cause of action for parties injured by local agencies or employees, including local
police officers, whose willful actions result in an injury). Consequently, Plaintiff has
failed to state a valid claim for which relief can be granted. Furthermore, Plaintiff
contends that the defendants committed misconduct by engaging in “a pattern or
practice of [unconstitutional] conduct[,]” “regularly harassed Plaintiff[,]” “detained
Plaintiff [three] times within a year with self-alleged false probable cause[,]” and
failed to show at Plaintiff’s hearings “which shows that they did not serve the
purpose of securing proper adjudication.” (Id. at p. 5 of 12.) This court has already
determined that Plaintiff was arrested with probable cause, see supra Part III.A.1,
and that no wrongful use of civil proceedings occurred, see supra Part III.B.2.
Furthermore, Plaintiff fails to raise any facts that amount to a plausible inference of
Plaintiff cites to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 14141. This statute, however, does not exist. Possibly, Plaintiff
intended to assert a claim of willful misconduct. A claim of willful misconduct, however, would be
inappropriate in this case as it requires a local agency or employee to cause an injury, the act of which
“constituted a crime, actual fraud, actual malice[,] or [intentional] misconduct.” 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 8550
(1980). In the instant case, Plaintiff fails to allege any injury or intentional act on the part of Defendants
Rider, Fleagle, or the Harrisburg Police Department that would rise to the level of willful misconduct.
misconduct on the parts of Defendants Rider and Fleagle or the Harrisburg Police
Department. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s police misconduct claim will be dismissed.11
Leave to Amend
Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a court to grant
a party leave to amend its pleadings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). “The court should
freely give leave when justice so requires.” Id. As such, “if a complaint is subject to
a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must permit a curative amendment unless
such an amendment would be inequitable or futile.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny,
515 F.3d 224, 245 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir.
2004)). In this context, “‘futility’ means that the complaint, as amended, would still
fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.” Shave v. Fauver, 213 F.3d
113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d
1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997)). In this case, the deficiencies identified with regard to
Plaintiff’s federal law claims are not curable by amendment because there was
probable cause leading to a lawful detention and because Plaintiff alleged no facts
possibly giving rise to an equal protection, due process, or excessive force claim, or
any basis for imputing municipal liability. Accordingly, granting Plaintiff leave to
amend his federal claims would be futile. Therefore, Plaintiff’s claims will be
dismissed with prejudice.
Defendants Rider and Fleagle also contend that they have qualified immunity and therefore are
immune from Plaintiff’s claims. (Doc. 17, p. 1 of 3.) Because the facts alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint
are insufficient to support Plaintiff’s claims, the issue of whether the officers are protected by qualified
immunity need not be decided. Likewise, the issue of whether Plaintiff’s state tort claims are prohibited
by the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (the “PSTCA”), 42 Pa.C.S.A. §§ 8541–8564, which
provides absolute immunity to local agencies and their employees for official actions minus certain
exceptions, need not be decided.
For the foregoing reasons, and after liberally construing Plaintiff’s
claims due to his pro se status, the court finds that Plaintiff has failed to plead
plausible constitutional claims against Defendants that entitle him to relief and will
therefore dismiss Counts I, II, III, IV, VI, and IX. Furthermore, although the court
exercises its discretion in deciding to retain jurisdiction over the pendent state law
claims, it is clear that Plaintiff failed to state cognizable causes of action under
Pennsylvania law. Accordingly, the court will dismiss Counts V, VII, and VIII.
Finally, the court finds that because the facts pleaded by Plaintiff could not form the
basis of causes of action, granting Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint would be
futile. The court will, therefore, grant Defendants’ motions to dismiss and dismiss
Plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice.
An appropriate order will be issued.
s/Sylvia H. Rambo
United States District Judge
Dated: September 29, 2014.
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