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Tuppeny v. City of Wilmington

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 24, 2015

STEVEN TUPPENY, JENNIFER TUPPENY, A.W., a minor child, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF WILMINGTON, DETECTIVE PETER M. LECCIA, UNKNOWN OFFICERS, Defendants.

Louis J. Rizzo, Jr., Reger Rizzo Kavulich & Darnall, LLP, Wilmington, DE Attorney for Plaintiffs.

Rosemaria Tassone, City of Wilmington Law Department, Wilmington, DE Attorney for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

On September 13, 2013, Steven Tuppeny ("Mr. Tuppeny"), Jennifer Tuppeny ("Ms. Tuppeny"), and A.W., a minor child (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), filed this civil action against the City of Wilmington ("the City"), Detective Peter M. Leccia ("Detective Leccia"), and Unknown Officers ("Unknown Officers"). (D.I. 1) On November 13, 2013, Defendants filed a Joint Motion to Dismiss in Lieu of an Answer, or in the Alternative, a Motion for Summary Judgment ("Defendants' Motion"). (D.I. 6) The matter is fully briefed. (D.I. 7, 11, 12, 13)

II. BACKGROUND

For purposes of evaluating Defendants' Motion, the Court takes as true the following factual allegations contained in the complaint.

Plaintiffs reside in Middletown, Delaware in their home (hereinafter, "Home"). (D.I. 1 at 1) On the morning of October 4, 2012, at approximately 6:00 A.M., armed Unknown Officers entered Plaintiffs' Home. ( Id. at 1-3) The Unknown Officers encountered Mr. Tuppeny in the garage and restrained him with plastic handcuffs at gun point, forcing him to lie face down. ( Id. ) Other Unknown Officers, who were members of the Wilmington Police Department's ("WPD") SWAT unit, broke through the Home's front door "without knocking or ringing the doorbell, or otherwise announcing their presence using a battering device to force their way into the [H]ome." ( Id. at 3)

Once inside the Home, the SWAT unit entered a bedroom in which Ms. Tuppeny and A. W. were sleeping. ( Id. ) Authorities subsequently relocated all three Plaintiffs to the family room inside the Home. ( Id. ) Plaintiffs further allege that "[n]one of the Plaintiffs had violated any law or regulation. None were accused of any violation. [And] no explanation or apology for Defendants' conduct was offered." ( Id. at 4)

The complaint makes no mention of a search warrant ( see id. at 1), but Defendants have provided a warrant as an exhibit in connection with their motion to dismiss. ( See D.I. 8 at 1) All parties agree the Court may take notice that, on October 3, 2012, Detective Leccia had obtained from the City of Wilmington Justice of the Peace Court a warrant to search the Home.[1] ( Id. at 5) The record is silent as to whether a copy of the warrant was left with Plaintiffs.

The warrant authorized Detective Leccia, Unknown Officers, and the SWAT unit to search the Home in order to locate evidence related to a homicide investigation. (D.I. 7 at 2) The warrant additionally permitted Defendants to obtain a DNA sample from a person of interest ("POI"), as well as photograph the POI, if the POI could be located. ( Id. ; see also D.I. 14 at 2) An affidavit submitted in connection with the warrant to search the Home and gather DNA evidence describes the nature of the investigation and efforts authorities had implemented to locate the POL ( See Id. )

Specifically, according to the warrant, authorities had previously arrested the POI at a particular location in Smyrna, Delaware on August 8, 2012. ( Id. at 2) Because the incident was purported to have been a domestic dispute, the POI was not permitted to return to that Smyrna location. ( Id. ) Detective Leccia stated that the POI gave as his address the Middletown, Delaware address that turned out to be the Plaintiffs' Home. ( Id. )

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(6)

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that ...


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