MINOR et al v. CUMBERLAND TOWNSHIP et al
ORDER. For the reasons stated in the Memorandum Order filed herewith, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 17 ) is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Count XV is hereby DISMISSED, and Defendants' Motion is DENIED in all other respects. IT IS SO ORDERED. Signed by Judge Cathy Bissoon on 9/28/15. (jwr)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
STEPHANIE RENEE MINOR, et al,
CUMBERLAND TOWNSHIP, et al,
Civil Action No. 13-1821
Judge Cathy Bissoon
For the reasons stated below, Defendants’ second partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 17)
will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
This civil rights law suit stems from events that occurred on October 19, 2012, when
Officers Russell Paul Miller, Jr. (“Officer Miller”) and Garrett Toothman (“Officer Toothman”),
(collectively, the “Officer Defendants”), police officers of the Cumberland Township Police
Department, allegedly unlawfully entered the home of Plaintiffs Stephanie Renee Minor (“Ms.
Minor”) and her three minor children, L.M., B.J., and J.M. See generally Am. Compl. (Doc. 16).
This entry led to Ms. Minor being handcuffed, arrested and charged with various crimes, which
ultimately were dismissed. 1
Defendants filed their first Motion to Dismiss on March 10, 2014, which the Court
granted in part, dismissing various claims without prejudice to Plaintiffs filing an Amended
Complaint. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint bringing various claims against the Officer
The facts of this case are set forth in detail in the Court’s December 10, 2014 Memorandum
and Order. See Doc. 14. Accordingly, the Court will only address the facts to the extent that
they are relevant to resolve the outstanding Motion to Dismiss.
Defendants in their individual capacities, as well as Cumberland Township (the “Township”),
(collectively, “Defendants”). Defendants then filed their second partial Motion to Dismiss,
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which is currently pending
before the Court. In their Motion, Defendants assert several arguments as to why certain of
Plaintiffs’ claims must be dismissed for failure to state a claim. The Court will address these
arguments in the order they were raised by Defendants.
A. Certain Claims as to Defendant Officer Toothman
First, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against Officer
Toothman for Excessive Force (Count IV), False Arrest (Counts V and X), Malicious
Prosecution (Count VII), Assault (Count VIII) or Battery (Count IX). Specifically, as
Defendants argued in their original Motion to Dismiss, they assert that all of the facts relating to
these claims stem from Officer Miller’s conduct, not Officer Toothman’s, and as such, Officer
Toothman cannot be held liable. See Defs.’ Brief in Supp. (Doc. 18) at 6-10.
The Amended Complaint clearly alleges Officer Toothman was involved in this incident.
Therein Plaintiffs allege: (1) Officer Toothman pursued Mr. Jurzcak toward the residence with
Officer Miller; (2) Officer Toothman guarded the back door as Officer Miller approached the
front door; (3) Officer Toothman entered the home with Officer Miller; (4) Officer Toothman
searched the home; (5) Officer Toothman threatened Ms. Minor with an electro-shock device;
and (6) Officer Toothman caused minor child, B.J., to come out of hiding in her bedroom. Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 13-14, 26-27, 31, 74. Questions regarding Defendant Officer Toothman’s precise
level of involvement and whether each element of the individual counts have been satisfied are
best addressed at the summary judgment stage after the parties have had an opportunity to
engage in discovery.
Defendants also argue that Plaintiffs’ claim for Assault against Officer Toothman is
barred by the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (“PSTCA”). Defs.’ Br. at 10-11. As
Plaintiffs point out in their opposition brief, the case law that Defendants rely on to support the
proposition that the liability provision of the PSTCA applies to intentional torts is misplaced.
Pl.’s Br. at 9. As noted in King v. Breach, “willful misconduct is synonymous with the term
intentional tort.” 540 A.2d 976, 981 (Pa.Cmwlth. Ct. 1988) (internal quotations omitted).
Therefore, because Plaintiffs’ claims against Officer Toothman include a variety of intentional
torts, those claims are not barred by the PSTCA.
Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Counts IV, V, VII, VIII, IX, and X, as they
pertain to Officer Toothman is DENIED.
B. Civil Conspiracy (Count XVI)
Next, Defendants argue that Ms. Minor has failed to state a claim for civil conspiracy,
because such claim is barred by the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine. Defs.’ Br. at 10-12.
However, the Court explicitly rejected this argument in its December 10, 2014 Order. See Doc.
10. (holding that the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine does not prevent police officers from
conspiring with one another in their individual capacities), and so will not address it again here.
Under the law of the case doctrine, this issue will not be relitigated. See Hayman Cash Register
Co. v. Sarokin, 669 F.2d 162, 165 (3d Cir. 1982) (stating absent unusual circumstances the law
of the case doctrine prevents relitigation of already decided issues).
Alternatively, Defendants argue that Ms. Minor has not stated sufficient facts to establish
a plausible claim. Defs.’ Br. at 10-12. The Court disagrees. Given that the Amended Complaint
more specifically alleges Officer Toothman’s involvement in the incident at issue, the Court
finds Ms. Minor has alleged sufficient facts to establish a conspiracy. Defendants’ Motion to
Dismiss Count XVI is DENIED.
C. Invasion of Privacy – False Light (Count XV)
Defendants next argue that Ms. Minor has failed to state a claim for invasion of privacy
(false light), because there is no allegation that Defendants ever disseminated a false statement
about Plaintiffs, and regardless, such claim is barred by the PSTCA. Defs.’ Br. at 14.
The elements of a false light claim under Pennsylvania law are: “(1) publicity, (2) given
to private facts, (3) which could be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (4) which are not
of legitimate concern to the public.” Smith v. Borough of Dunmore, 633 F.3d 176, 182 (3d Cir.
2011) (citing Strickland v. Univ. of Scranton, 700 A.2d 979, 987 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1997)).
Contrary to Defendants’ assertions, a defendant does not need to make a false statement in order
to be liable for a false light invasion of privacy claim. See Graboff v. Colleran Firm, 744 F.3d
128, 137 (3d Cir. 2014). Instead, a defendant can be liable for a false light claim if he selectively
printed or broadcasted true statements or pictures in a manner that created a false impression.
Larsen v. Phila. Newspapers, Inc., 543 A.2d 1181, 1189 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1988). Accordingly,
when a publication is literally true, “discrete presentation of information in a fashion which
renders the publication susceptible to inferences casting one in a false light entitles the grievant
to recompense.” Larsen, 543 A.2d at 1189.
While the circumstances alleged in the Amended Complaint describing how Ms. Minor
was escorted to the patrol car seem extreme, and the publication of facts of her arrest and charges
against her may incorrectly imply she is a criminal, the Court nonetheless finds that Ms. Minor
has not stated a plausible claim for false light. Despite Ms. Minor’s attempt to categorize
Defendants’ conduct as tortious, and despite being given a second attempt to flesh out her claim,
she has offered no information on how Defendants caused such publication to occur andhas
offered no information regarding the specifics of the publication. Nor does Plaintiff allege
sufficient facts that Defendants selectively printed or broadcasted true statements in a manner
creating a false impression. Instead, Plaintiff appears to believe that because she ultimately was
exonerated, the mere report of her arrest puts her in a “false light.” That cannot be the law.
Indeed, to permit such a claim would prevent any reports of an arrest, regardless of whether the
suspect is subsequently exonerated, and would allow anyone who is arrested in front of others to
bring such a claim.
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Count XV is GRANTED.
D. Claim for Deprivation of Due Process (Count III)
Defendants further argue that Plaintiffs’ Claim for Deprivation of Due Process (Count
III) is barred by the statute of limitations because it was not brought in the original Complaint.
Defs.’ Br. at 14-15. Defendants’ argument fails not only because it is factually false but also
because it ignores Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs’ original
Complaint does allege violations of Plaintiffs’ due process rights. Compl. at ¶45. Even had it
not, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that “[a]n amendment to a pleading relates
back to the date of the original pleading when an amendment asserts a claim or defense that
arose out of the conduct, transaction, or occurrence set out – or attempts to be set out – in the
original pleading.” F.R.C.P. 15(C)(1)(B). There is no question that the due process claim
alleged at Count III of the Amended Complaint arose out of the conduct set out in the original
Complaint. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Count III is DENIED.
E. Claims on behalf of Minor Children
Defendants again argue that the Amended Complaint is lacking any cognizable claims on
behalf of Ms. Minor’s three minor children, and as such, the children should be stricken as
parties to this matter. Defs.’ Br. at 14. In response, Plaintiffs argue that the Amended Complaint
“states many claims on behalf of the children,” and goes on to reference particular factual
allegations regarding the minor children. Pl.’s Br. at 12. As instructed in the Court’s previous
Order, the Amended Complaint clearly indicates which causes of action are brought on behalf of
which Plaintiffs and provides additional factual allegations supporting the minor children’s
entitlement to relief on their claims. Once again, questions regarding the specifics of the
Defendant Officers conduct as it relates to each of the three minor children are best addressed at
the summary judgment stage after the parties have had an opportunity to engage in discovery.
Defendants additionally argue that the PSTCA should bar the minor Plaintiffs’ claims.
The Court’s conclusion as to the applicability of the PSTCA to this case as to Ms. Minor applies
equally to her minor children. The PSTCA does not serve as a bar to this action.
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Counts I, II, III, IV, VIII, IX, XII, and XIV on behalf of
the minor children is DENIED.
Consistent with the foregoing, Defendants’ partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 9) will be
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, Count XV is hereby
DISMISSED, and Defendants’ Motion is DENIED in all other respects.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
September 28, 2015
United States District Judge
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