Hadesty v. Rush Twp. Police Dep't

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14-2319
Decision Date15 March 2016


CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14-2319


March 15, 2016



Pending before the court is a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint, filed on behalf of defendants Ryan Township, Officer Adam Sinton, and Officer Thomas Fort, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 21). For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


According to the Amended Complaint, this action relates to events that took place on the night of March 5, 2014. At approximately 11:30pm on that evening, the plaintiff, Ms. Jeanette Hadesty, was driving in her step-father's vehicle on Bernhard Road in Rush Township. (Doc. 12, ¶ 14). Officer Sinton and Officer Fort, Ryan Township police officers who are defendants in this case, followed the plaintiff's vehicle for "an extended period of time," and then initiated a traffic stop. Id. ¶¶ 15, 16. Defendants Sinton and Fort claimed that

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they stopped the vehicle because it had a "loud exhaust." Id. As the officers approached the plaintiff's vehicle, they recognized her and stated, "Oh its[sic] Ms. Hadesty." Id. ¶ 17. They then requested her license and the vehicle registration, which she provided. Id. ¶ 18. The officers then saw a pill bottle in the center console of the car and asked the plaintiff if they could inspect the bottle, and the plaintiff "cooperated with the Officer's request." Id. ¶ 19. After inspecting this pill bottle, the officers asked to and then searched the plaintiff's purse. (Doc. 12, ¶ 20).

The plaintiff was then told that she needed to remain in the car, which she did for about thirty (30) minutes until Sergeant Frederick, a police officer for Rush Township and defendant in this case, arrived. (Doc. 12, ¶¶ 21-22). The Sergeant personally knew the plaintiff because he and the father of plaintiff's children (now deceased) worked together on the Rush Township Police force prior to the father's death. Id. ¶ 24. The Sergeant insulted and made derogatory comments to the plaintiff. Id. ¶ 25. The plaintiff was then asked to step out of the vehicle so that the officers could search the vehicle for "drugs and other paraphernalia"; she complied with the request, and Officers Sinton and Fort searched the entire vehicle. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. During this time, Sergeant Frederick subjected the plaintiff to a field sobriety test while continuing to insult and yell at her. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. At some point during this incident, Officer Sinton shined a flash light into the plaintiff's nose and made a comment to her about snorting drugs. Id. ¶ 30. After the search of the

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vehicle, the Officers began questioning the plaintiff about the prescription medicine bottle that they found under the passenger side seat in the car, and she explained that the pill bottle belonged to her step-father. (Doc. 12, ¶ 31). Her step-father eventually arrived at the scene and confirmed that the medicine bottle found under the passenger seat was, indeed, his. Id. ¶ 32. Plaintiff was finally released, after two (2) hours of detainment, but she was not cited for having a "loud exhaust" or for any traffic violation. Id. ¶¶ 33, 34, 35.

Sergeant Frederick later filed a criminal complaint against the plaintiff for placing controlled substances in unmarked or fraudulently marked containers and for knowingly and intentionally having possession of controlled substances without a prescription for such substances. 35 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 780-113(a)(7), (16); (Doc. 12, ¶ 34); Commonwealth v. Hadesty, MJ-21306-cr-0000128-2014 (Magis. Dist. Ct. filed Mar. 27, 2014). The charges were later dropped. Commonwealth v. Hadesty, MJ-21306-cr-0000128-2014 (Magis. Dist. Ct. filed Mar. 27, 2014).

Due to the stated events, the plaintiff commenced the instant action by filing an initial complaint on December 5, 2014, naming John Doe, Rush Township Police Department, and Adam Sinton as defendants. (Doc. 1). Then, on February 18, 2015, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint ("complaint"), naming Duane Frederick, Rush Township o/a Rush Township Police Department, Ryan Township o/a Ryan Township Police Department,

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Adam Sinton, and Thomas Fort as defendants. (Doc. 12) Defendants Duane Frederick and Rush Township filed an answer to the complaint on March 4, 2015. (Doc. 20). Defendants Sinton, Fort, and Ryan Township ("defendants") filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on April 20, 2015, (Doc. 21), and then timely filed their Brief in Support of the motion on May 4, 2015. (Doc. 23). Defendants Frederick and Rush Township "take no position" with regard to the motion to dismiss. (Doc. 21, Ex. 1). The plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition to the motion on May 21, 2015, (Doc. 27), and the defendants filed a Reply Brief on June 5, 2015. (Doc. 28). Having received briefs from both the moving defendants and the plaintiff, the court deems the motion ripe for review.


The defendants' motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (abrogating "no set of facts" language

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found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. at 1965. This requirement "calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief," which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. at 1964-65).

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. See Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to

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dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

Generally, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).


The defendants move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim on numerous grounds. First, they claim that the stop of the plaintiff's vehicle and the resulting search and seizure were reasonable and did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The defendants also claim they cannot be held liable under a theory of malicious prosecution because Officers Fort and Sinton did not initiate the prosecution. In addition, the defendants argue that Ryan Township may not be held liable because its officers (Fort and Sinton) are not liable and because the plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts to support a claim for municipal or supervisory liability. The defendants further seek dismissal of all state law and constitutional claims because Pennsylvania's Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act ("PSTCA") bars all state

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claims and Pennsylvania's constitution does not provide a claim in these circumstances. The defendants also claim that the plaintiff cannot bring a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim alongside a Fourth Amendment Claim. And, finally, the defendants seek dismissal of any claim for punitive damages against Ryan Township because federal law bars such relief. The court will address each ground for dismissal separately, below.

A. Consideration of Documents Outside the Pleadings

As a preliminary matter, the court will address whether the documents attached to the defendants' motion to dismiss may be considered when they were not included or incorporated into the complaint. As mentioned above, when determining a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules, the court must "generally 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, 222 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)), abrogated...

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