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Houghton v. Ryan

October 5, 2010

DAVID V. HOUGHTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LT. ROBERT RYAN AND SGT. CHRISTOPHER BULGER, IN THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, OF THE RIVER VALE POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Lt. Robert Ryan and Sgt. Christopher Bulger's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). There was no oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED and Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case arises out of actions leading up to Plaintiff David Houghton's ten-day stay for psychiatric treatment at the Hackensack University Medical Center ("Medical Center"). On March 21, 2008, Defendants arrived at Plaintiff's house, where he lives with his parents, in response to a noise disturbance call from a neighbor. (Compl. at 2.) They were let in by Plaintiff's father, and Lt. Ryan went upstairs to where Plaintiff was standing next to the doorway of his bedroom. (Id.; Pl.'s Mov. Br. at 3.) Through the doorway, Lt. Ryan saw numerous bottles of medication in Plaintiff's room. (Compl. at 2.) Defendants then spoke with Plaintiff's parents about the noise disturbance call, after which they called 262-HELP to seek a mental health assessment of Plaintiff. (Id.) After speaking with Defendants and the counselor from 262-HELP, Plaintiff's parents and Plaintiff decided that a voluntary mental health evaluation was the best option. (Id.) Defendants then escorted Plaintiff to The Medical Center, where, after a mental health screening, Plaintiff stayed for ten days for treatment. (Id.)

As a result of the events stated above, Plaintiff Houghton brings three civil rights claims against Defendants Lt. Ryan and Sgt. Bulger under Sections 1983 and 1985. Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss and Plaintiff filed a cross motion to strike a portion of Defendant's supporting brief, and these motions are presently before the Court.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) 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,*fn1 the plaintiff has failed to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). The factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, such that the court may "draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Furthermore, 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." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement' ... it asks for more than a sheer possibility..." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009).

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (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] document[s]." 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 Coll. Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002).

B. Section 1985 -- Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights Claim

Section 1985 permits an action to be brought by one injured by a conspiracy formed "for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). The Supreme Court has made clear that in order to state a claim under § 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege: "(1) a conspiracy; (2) for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; and (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; (4) whereby a person is injured in his person or property or deprived of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States." United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners v. Scott, 463 U.S. 825, 828-29 (1983) (citing Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102-03 (1971)).

As Defendants' motion points out, Plaintiff does not allege any actual conspiracy. Instead, he only alleges that Lt. Ryan, on his own, "conspired to interfere" with his rights. (Compl. at 3.) In his Opposition Brief, Plaintiff does not address this deficiency. Even if Plaintiff did allege that Lt. Ryan conspired with someone, he still fails to state a claim under Section 1985. A Section 1985(3) claimant must also allege "some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirators' action" in order to state a ยง 1985(3) claim, Griffin, 403 U.S. ...


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