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Castro v. Delaware River Port Authority

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 26, 2014

JORGE CASTRO, Plaintiff,
v.
DELAWARE RIVER PORT AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

Francis Joseph Masciocchi, Esquire, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, Attorney for Plaintiff Jorge Castro.

Lynne E. Evans, Esquire, Duane Morris LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Attorney for Defendants Delaware River Port Authority, Port, Authority Transit Corporation, P/O Mark Pawloski, Sgt., Raia, and P/O Jones.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendants' motion [Doc. No. 9] to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides this matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. JURISDICTION

In the complaint [Doc. No. 1], Plaintiff asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights as well as state law claims for negligence, assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff names the following entities and individuals as Defendants in this action: (1) the Delaware River Port Authority (hereinafter, "DRPA");[1] (2) the Port Authority Transit Corporation (hereinafter, "PATCO"); (3) Mark Pawloski, a police officer employed by the DRPA; (4) Sergeant Raia, a police officer employed by the DRPA, first name unknown; and (5) an third police officer employed by the DRPA and identified in the complaint as "P/O Jones, first name unknown[.]"[2] (Pl.'s Compl. [Doc. No. 1] ¶¶ 3-7.)

As set forth in the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the incident giving rise to his claims occurred on July 26, 2011, "at approximately 2:53 in the afternoon[.]" (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff represents that according to "the National Weather Service, the temperature on July 26, 2011 at 2:53 PM had reached 92° Fahrenheit[.]" (Id. ¶ 10.) At that time, Plaintiff alleges that he was "lawfully on DRPA property... in a panic and in fear[, ] believing that someone was trying to do him harm[.]"[3] (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff asserts that he was "seeking police assistance" and apparently approached Defendant Pawloski for that purpose. (Id.) Upon approaching Defendant Pawloski, Plaintiff claims that "Defendant Pawloski knocked [Plaintiff] to the ground and kept him pinned on the extremely hot asphalt surface." (Id.) Plaintiff contends that "the surface temperature of the asphalt surface [at the time] was in excess of 130° Fahrenheit."[4] (Id. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff further claims that Defendants "Sgt. Raia and Officer Jones" assisted Defendant Pawloski. (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff contends that these Defendants "were acting in their capacitates [sic] as police officers of [D]efendant DRPA" at the time of this incident. (Id. ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff claims that he "was left exposed with a significant portion of his body in contact with the heated asphalt surface" for an unspecified period of time, which ultimately resulted in him suffering "second degree burns to 24.4 percent of his total body surface[, ]" including portions of his abdomen, chest, chin, and legs. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff also asserts that he "suffered [r]espiratory failure; [a]cute kidney injury, i.e. renal failure secondary to rhabdomyolysis requiring dialysis; [and] [h]eatstroke."[5] (Id. ¶ 12.) As a result of this incident, Plaintiff contends that he is now "permanently scarred and disabled." (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants "knew or should have known that their actions were causing harm to [P]laintiff; that [P]laintiff was in obvious pain and discomfort and that unless [P]laintiff was immediately removed from contact with the surface of the heated ground[, ] he would suffer serious and permanent injury." (Id. ¶ 13.)

Based on the facts alleged in the complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (1) a Section 1983 claim for violations of Plaintiffs federal civil rights in Count I; (2) negligence in Count II; and (3) assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in Count III. (Id. ¶¶ 16-34.) Although the complaint is not a model of clarity, it appears that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim is based upon purported violations of his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id. ¶ 20.) In particular, Plaintiff asserts that he was "deprived of his right to be free from unreasonable and excessive force; free from unnecessary harm and danger; to be secure in [his] person and property and to due process of law." (Id.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Defendants now move for dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all wellpleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher , 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for all civil actions'...."); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) ("Iqbal... provides the final nail-in-the-coffin for the no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.").

Following the Twombly/Iqbal standard, the Third Circuit has instructed a two-part analysis in reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; a district court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief.'" Id . (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).

"[A] complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler , 578 F.3d at 211; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the "Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: stating... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element"). That is, the "complaint has to show' such an entitlement [to relief] with its facts." Fowler , 578 F.3d at 211. A court need not credit either "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig. , 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. U.S. , 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc. , 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

Finally, a court in reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion must only consider the facts alleged in the pleadings, the documents attached thereto as exhibits, and matters of judicial notice. S. Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Kwong Shipping Grp. Ltd. , 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999). A court may consider, however, "an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). If any other matters outside the pleadings are presented to the court, and the court does not exclude those matters, a Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be treated as a summary judgment motion pursuant to Rule 56. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b).

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

In asserting that his federal civil rights were violated,

Plaintiff seeks to bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 primarily for the use of excessive force against him in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.[6] To be clear, Section 1983 is not a source of substantive rights, but provides a vehicle for vindicating the violation of other federal rights. Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989). Section 1983 provides in pertinent part that "[e]very 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 ...


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