Knick v. Scott Twp., CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14- CV-2223

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
Writing for the CourtJUDGE CAPUTO
PartiesROSE MARY KNICK, Plaintiff, v. SCOTT TOWNSHIP, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date28 October 2015
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14- CV-2223

SCOTT TOWNSHIP, et al., Defendants.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:14- CV-2223


October 28, 2015



Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 10.) filed by Defendants Scott Township and Carl Ferraro ("Ferraro"), individually and in his official capacity as Code Enforcement Officer of Scott Township. According to Plaintiff, Ms. Rose Mary Knick ("Ms. Knick"), Scott Township and Ferraro violated her constitutional rights through enactment and enforcement of a township ordinance addressing the operation and maintenance of cemeteries and burial grounds within Scott Township. As such, Plaintiff commenced this action asserting four (4) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and one (1) claim for relief pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, seeking both declarative and injunctive relief. Defendants seek dismissal of the Amended Complaint in its entirety under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Because Plaintiff has failed to adequately state claims for violations of her constitutional rights under § 1983, the motion to dismiss Counts I through IV shall be granted. Because Ms. Knick's request for a declaratory judgment would serve no purpose in the current action, the motion to dismiss Count V will be granted.

I. Background

The facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint (Doc. 9.) are as follows:

Rose Mary Knick is a resident of Scott Township, Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl., ¶ 5.) Scott Township is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, organized

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and designated as a Township of the Second Class. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Carl Ferraro was the Code Enforcement Officer of Scott Township and a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8.)

Ms. Knick owns approximately 90 acres of real estate, comprised of two parcels, located at 49 Country Club Road, in Scott Township, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 9.) The property has been continuously owned and occupied by Ms. Knick and her family members since 1970. (Id.) The property has been used as a primary residence, as well as farmland and grazing areas for horses, cattle and other farm animals. (Id.) There are "No Trespassing" signs placed at regular intervals and the property is bounded by stonewalls, fences and other boundary markers. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

Ms. Knick frequently attends meetings of the Scott Township Board of Supervisors ("Supervisors") and regularly confronts the Supervisors and administrative officials with respect to the expenditure of funds, tax revenue issues, and municipal decisions. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

In September 2008, at several public meetings and in response to a citizen inquiry, the Supervisors and the Township Solicitor discussed the alleged existence of an ancient burial ground on Ms. Knick's property. (Id. at ¶ 12.) In 2008 and early 2009, Ms. Knick, as well as her counsel at the time, made a Right-to-Know request of the Supervisors. (Id. at ¶ 13.) The request sought particulars regarding the suggestion that an ancient burial ground was on her property. (Id.) Ms. Knick and her counsel also advised the Supervisors that there was no designation in the chain of title to her property regarding a burial ground or cemetery and also that there was no physical evidence of the existence of a burial ground or cemetery. (Id.) Ms. Knick's attorney provided Scott Township, through their solicitor, a correspondence dated October 23, 2008, reiterating that there was no designation of a burial ground or cemetery in the chain of title nor any evidence of such on Ms. Knick's

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property. (Id. at ¶ 14.)

From October 2008 through October 2012, Ms. Knick continued to attend Supervisor meetings and regularly confronted the Supervisors and administrative officials about the expenditure of funds, tax revenue issues, and various municipal decisions. (Id. at ¶ 15.) The Supervisors and administrative officials, including Ferraro, expressed their annoyance, aggravation, and displeasure, both publicly and privately, regarding Ms. Knick's exercise of her First Amendment Rights. (Id.)

In December 2012, the Supervisors enacted an ordinance, specifically Ordinance 12-12-20-001 ("Ordinance"). (Id. at ¶ 16.) The Ordinance addresses the operation and maintenance of cemeteries and burial grounds within Scott Township. (Id.) There were no complaints at the time with regard to any cemeteries in Scott Township. (Id.) The Supervisors determined the Ordinance would be applied to Ms. Knick and her property. (Id.)

On April 10, 2013, after a collective determination by the Supervisors, Ferraro entered on to Ms. Knick's property without permission and without an administrative warrant. (Id. at ¶ 18.) On April 11, 2013, Scott Township issued a Notice of Violation alleging that Ms. Knick's property existed in violation of the Ordinance. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

On May 7, 2013, Ms. Knick filed a complaint in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and requested that the court take the following actions: declare the Ordinance unconstitutional, void, ineffective and without force of law; declare that Scott Township is precluded from enforcing the Ordinance against Ms. Knick and decree the Notice of Violation nullified; grant equitable relief in the form of a Special Injunction preliminarily following a hearing, and permanently thereafter to preclude and enjoin Scott Township from enforcing the Ordinance; and grant other and appropriate relief, including awarding attorney's fees. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Ms. Knick, through counsel, provided Scott Township with notice regarding the presentation of an Emergency Motion for

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Injunctive Relief on or about May 7, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 21.) In response, the parties agreed and stipulated to an order as follows:


AND NOW, this 9th day of May, 2013, upon consideration of the Plaintiff's Emergency Motion for Injunctive Relief, Defendant Scott Township's agreement to withdraw its Notice of Violation dated April 11, 2013, and in accordance with a Stipulation of Counsel for the Parties, it is Hereby Ordered that all proceedings by Defendant Scott Township to enforce Ordinance No. 12-12-20-001 against Plaintiff Rose Mary Knick are stayed pending the resolution of the issues raised in the underlying Complaint seeking Declaratory and Injunctive Relief.

/s/ Nealon, J.

(Id.) A hearing was held on October 8, 2014 in the Lackawanna County Court. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Following the hearing, Judge John Braxton issued the following Order:

AND NOW, this 21st day of October 2014, upon consideration of the Plaintiff's Motion for Injunctive Relief/Declaratory Judgment, the applicable law, and argument before this court on the matter, it is hereby ORDERED AND DECREED that this court will render no decision on the matter.
This court finds that it is not the proper venue for this matter, since the case is not in the proper posture for a decision to be rendered on the Plaintiff's requested forms of relief.

Braxton , SJ.
John Braxton

(Id.) On October 31, 2014, the Supervisors and Ferraro issued another Notice of Violation alleging Ms. Knick's noncompliance with the Ordinance. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Ms. Knick filed a Petition for Contempt of Court in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas. (Id at ¶ 24.) After a hearing, Judge Terrance Nealon denied the Petition for Contempt and entered a Memorandum and Order. (Id.) The Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas has not addressed Ms. Knick's request for Declaratory Relief. (Id.)

Ms. Knick initiated this action on November 20, 2014. (Doc. 1.) In the original complaint, Ms. Knick alleged violations, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, of her Fourth Amendment rights against Scott Township, both for maintaining a policy, practice, custom or procedure and for failing to or for inadequately training, or failing to adequately supervise or discipline

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the Code Official. (Counts One and Two) She also alleged violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by Ferraro in his official and individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Count Three) Ms. Knick alleged violations of her First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 through Scott Township's enactment of the Ordinance (Count Four). Defendants Scott Township and Ferraro filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 8.) Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint asserting the four causes of action above with an additional claim. (Doc. 9.) Ms. Knick additionally requests relief pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act (Count Five). Ms. Knick requests a declaratory judgment deeming the Ordinance unconstitutional. She also seeks a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary and Permanent Injunctive relief. On March 2, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 10.) On March 20, 2015, Ms. Knick filed a motion for an order for dismissal of Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to file a brief in support within twenty (20) days. (Doc. 11.) On March 20, 2015, Defendants filed a motion for leave to file a reply brief nunc pro tunc. (Doc. 12.) An order was issued granting leave to file nunc pro tunc. (Doc. 13.) Defendants filed a brief in support of their motion to dismiss on March 31, 2015. (Doc. 14.) Ms. Knick filed a brief in opposition on April 14, 2015. (Doc. 15.) Defendants filed a reply brief on April 28, 2015. (Doc. 16.) The motion has been briefed and is ripe for review.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not...

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