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Shotwell v. Middletown Police Department

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 4, 2017

MARK J. SHOTWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MIDDLETOWN POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants,

          Mark J. Shotwell, Newark, Delaware. Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Herbert Weiswasser Mondros, Esquire, and Sarah Michelle Ennis, Esquire, Margolis Edelstein, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Mark J. Shotwell, who appears pro se and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, filed this action on June 15, 2016, followed by an amended complaint on October 31, 2016. (D.I. 2, 11). Defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (D.I. 21). Plaintiff opposes. (D.I. 23). Briefing on the motion is complete.

         BACKGROUND

         Named as Defendants are Middletown Police Department, Officer Jordan Douglass, Officer Michele Wharton, and Detective Stafford.[1] Plaintiff alleges violations of his Fourth Amendment rights by reason of an unlawful search and seizure. Plaintiff was arrested on October 16, 2015 for violating a protection from abuse order that had been entered in mid-August 2015. (D.I. 11 at p.3). Wharton went to the residence of the complainant on October 13, 2015, who alleged that Plaintiff had violated the protection from abuse order when Plaintiff both telephoned the complainant and had his mother telephone the complainant, (id. at pp.1-2). Wharton applied for, and obtained a search warrant for the forensic examination of Plaintiff's cell phone to obtain the phone call history from October 13, 2015. (D.I. 11-1 at pp.1-4).

         When Plaintiff turned himself in on October 16, 2015, he advised Douglass that he owned multiple cell phones and they were in his vehicle. (Id. at pp.5-8). In turn, Douglass sought, and obtained, a search warrant for Plaintiffs car to retrieve any cell phones located in the vehicle in order to execute the forensic examination search warrant on the phones. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Detective Stafford performed a Cellebrite extraction report on three of Plaintiff's cell phones in a manner that exceeded the warrant when information from August 14, 2015 until October 15, 2015 was extracted, instead of only October 13, 2015 as set forth in the warrant. (D.I. 11 at 3). The matter was set for trial on March 14, 2016. (D.I. 11-1 at p.28). Plaintiff alleges that the charges were nolle prossed later that month. (Id. at p.29). He seeks $825, 000 in compensatory damages and the return of his property.

         Plaintiff raises claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his constitutional rights. The Court screened his claims on November 22, 2016, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), and found that Plaintiff alleged what to appear to be cognizable and non-frivolous claims against Middletown Police Department, Officer Jordan Douglass, Officer Michele Wharton, and Detective Stafford. (D.I. 12, 13). Defendants move for dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) on the grounds that: (1) Plaintiff fails to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) the Middletown Police Department is an improperly named defendant; (3) Wharton, Douglass, and Stafford are protected from liability by reason of qualified immunity from suit; and (4) Plaintiff fails to state claims under Delaware law for defamation and infliction of emotional distress.

         STANDARDS OF LAW

         Plaintiff proceeds pro se and, therefore, his pleadings are liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting the well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court concludes that those allegations "could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). The legal standard when ruling on Rule 12(b)(6) motions is identical to the standard used when screening a complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). See Tourscherv. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999) (applying Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard to dismissal for failure to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)).

         "Though 'detailed factual allegations' are not required, a complaint must do more than simply provide 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action."' Davis v. Abington Mem'l Hosp., 765 F.3d 236, 241 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In addition, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to show that a claim has substantive plausibility. See Johnson v. City of Shelby, __U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014). A complaint may not dismissed, however, for imperfect statements of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted. See Id. at 346.

         When reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, a court should follow a three-step process: (1) consider the elements necessary to state a claim; (2) identify allegations that are merely conclusions and therefore are not well-pleaded factual allegations; and (3) accept any well-pleaded factual allegations as true and determine whether they plausibly state a claim. See Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016); Williams v. BASF Catalysts LLC, 765 F.3d 306, 315 (3d Cir. 2014). Deciding whether a claim is plausible will be a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         DISCUSSION

         The Court previously reviewed Plaintiff's allegations and found that he stated what appear to be cognizable and non-frivolous claims. (See D.I. 12). Nothing has changed since that ruling. The Court has revisited the allegations, liberally construes them, as it must, and finds that Plaintiff adequately alleges Fourth Amendment claims. Therefore, the Court will deny that portion of the motion to dismiss that ...


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