Camden to not maintain, tear down, or seal and secure abandoned houses owned or controlled by Camden. This policy "create[d] an invitation to persons to use said houses for unlawful and unauthorized purposes, a foreseeable consequence of which [was] the ignition in said houses of an uncontrolled fire" (para. 49 Am. Complaint). This allegation, we shall see, is the heart of the complaint.
Plaintiffs further allege that defendants Leonard J. DiMedio, Walter Richardson and John/Jane Doe 1 through 10 are the Camden officials with legal authority to administer and enforce Camden's Building and Housing Codes, and to maintain vacant properties, and that these officials established a policy or custom to not maintain such properties. Mr. DiMedio is the Chief Building Inspector for Camden and is "responsible for formulating policies of enforcement of the building codes and ordinances. . . including the identification, demolition or securing of abandoned, derelict or unoccupied houses" (para. 11 Am. Complaint). Mr. Richardson is the Director of Public Works in Camden and is alleged to have authority identical with Mr. DiMedio's. These officials are named in their official capacities only.
Plaintiff class consists of "all homeowners in the City of Camden whose homes have been, or have the potential of being, damaged by fires starting in and spreading from abandoned, derelict houses owned by" Camden (para. 42 Amended Complaint). The class is alleged to consist of "dozens or hundreds of persons" who "have been damaged by defendants' unconstitutional policy or custom" (para. 43 Am. Complaint).
In addition, plaintiffs allege that Camden has ordered them to repair or demolish their homes at their own expense and has threatened to attach liens against their properties if they do not comply and instead the City must pay to repair or demolish their homes. This result of the policy or custom to not maintain abandoned houses further deprives plaintiffs of their property without due process.
I. The 12(b)(6) Standard.
In reviewing a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, "we must take all allegations and reasonable inferences which can be drawn [from the complaint] as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[s]." Dist. Council 47, American Federation v. Bradley, 795 F.2d 310, 313 (3d Cir. 1986). We may dismiss the complaint only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff[s] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim which would entitle them to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957) (footnote omitted).
II. Section 1983 Pleading Requirements.
a) Factual Specificity
Defendants allege that plaintiffs' complaint fails to meet the threshold of factual specificity required of civil rights complaints under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although this Circuit has a "heightened specificity requirement for section 1983 claims, [this] does not alter the general standard for ruling on motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." Colburn v. Upper Darby Tp., 838 F.2d 663, 666 (3d Cir. 1988). "Sufficient facts [must be] pleaded to determine that the complaint is not frivolous, and to provide defendants with adequate notice to frame an answer." Frazier v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 785 F.2d 65, 68 (3d Cir. 1986). To satisfy this standard, a complaint must allege four things: (1) the "specific conduct" that violated plaintiffs' rights; (2) the time; (3) the place of that conduct; and (4) the "identity of the responsible officials." District Council 47, 795 F.2d at 314.
Plaintiffs allege the four required elements of specificity. The "specific conduct" plaintiffs allege is that Camden, through its officials, established a policy to not maintain abandoned houses it owned or controlled. That policy violated plaintiffs' property rights because it was foreseeable that the policy would result in uncontrolled fires being set in the abandoned houses. Two such fires destroyed or severely damaged homes owned by the named plaintiffs. To the extent the policy led directly to the fires, and thus to the deprivation of their property, plaintiffs have alleged the specific conduct that violated their rights. Plaintiffs allege the time and place of the conduct to be the fires at their homes on March 17, 1987 and July 6, 1988. The responsible officials are defendant Camden officials Leonard J. DiMedio, Walter Richardson and John/Jane Doe 1 through 10.
As the Frazier court noted, we must be cautious in dismissing civil rights complaints for lack of specificity:
In civil rights cases, especially class actions, much of the evidence can be developed only through discovery. While plaintiffs may be expected to know the injuries they allegedly have suffered, it is not reasonable to expect them to be familiar at the complaint stage with the full range of the defendants' practices under challenge.
785 F.2d at 68. Whatever the merits of plaintiffs' claims, their complaint is specific enough to avoid dismissal because of the lack of specificity, even under the "heightened specificity" standard we must apply in civil rights cases.
Plaintiffs bring suit under Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides, in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . ., subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .