OPINION OF THE COURT
JORDAN, Circuit Judge.
Gloria Santiago appeals from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissing her claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Warminster Township ("Warminster" or the "Township") and three of its senior police officers, including the police chief. Santiago claims that she suffered a heart attack after being subjected to excessive force during a raid on her home. Her claims against the officers who conducted the raid were earlier dismissed as untimely, and she has not appealed that order. We thus consider only her claims against the three senior officers, who she alleges planned or acquiesced in the use of excessive force, and against the Township, which she alleges is liable for the police chief's plan because he is a final policymaker for the Township.
We conclude that, under the pleading standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct.1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009), Santiago has failed to plead sufficient factual matter to give rise to a plausible claim for relief against the senior police officers. Her claim against Warminster also must fail because Santiago has failed to plausibly plead that the police chief's conduct caused her any injury. Accordingly, we will affirm.
A. Warminster Conducts the "Surround and Call Out" Operation
On the morning of May 13, 2006, Warminster conducted a "surround and call out" operation at the home of Santiago, a sixty-year-old resident of Warminster. The purpose of the operation was to apprehend Steve Miranda, one of Santiago's grandsons.
Santiago was the first to come out and was commanded, at gun point, to raise her hands and walk toward the officers. When she did not raise her hands as high as an officer wanted, she was ordered to raise them higher or else be shot. When Santiago reached the officers, Officer Ogborn conducted a pat down search, which revealed no weapons but, humiliating though it was for Santiago, included touching her breasts and crotch. He then restrained her hands behind her back with a plastic zip-tie and seated her on the ground next to the police vehicle. Santiago was frightened and complained of chest pain.
After Santiago left the house, she was followed by Steve Miranda and Jonathan Miranda (her two grandsons), Herminia Miranda (her granddaughter), and Cotte (her daughter). Her two grandsons were patted down, handcuffed, and seated on the ground near Santiago. Her daughter and granddaughter were patted down but not handcuffed or seated.
Even after the police had arrested Steve Miranda—the only occupant for whom they had a warrant—Santiago remained seated and restrained. The officers instructed her and Cotte to sign a consent form allowing a search of the home. Santiago, who speaks no English and cannot read or write, did not sign and, of course, could not have unless they unbound her hands. Cotte, who later said she "felt coerced," did sign.
Santiago sat with her hands tied for approximately thirty minutes as her home was searched. Throughout that time, she was unable to interfere, was not a flight risk, and presented no danger. She continued to complain of pain and eventually told Jonathan Miranda that she felt pain in her heart. Jonathan Miranda told the officers that his grandmother was having a heart attack, and an ambulance was summoned to take her to the hospital.
B. Santiago's Complaints are Filed and Dismissed
On May 12, 2008—one day before the expiration of the statute of limitations— Santiago filed her initial complaint in the District Court, citing constitutional violations and state law tort claims and naming Warminster, Warminster's police department, John Doe police officers, and CBSRT as defendants. For reasons not pertinent here, the bulk of that complaint was dismissed, including all counts against the Warminster police department (because it was not a separate legal entity from Warminster) and CBSRT (for insufficient service of process), and, after a series of amended complaints and further dismissals, the operative pleading left in the case is Santiago's Third Amended Complaint. That complaint is framed in two counts: (1) a §§ 1983 and 1988 claim against Warminster and the individual defendants for violation of the Fourth Amendment; and (2) state law claims against the individual defendants for assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, and harm resulting from a state created danger. Unlike earlier versions of the complaint, the Third Amended Complaint replaced "John Does" with the names of the officers on the scene, identifying
The entirety of the allegations against the Supervising Officers were contained in three paragraphs:
(Third Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 21-23.)
Both Warminster and the individual defendants moved to dismiss and on December 23, 2009, the District Court issued an opinion granting the motion. First, the Court dismissed the claims against the officers of Alpha Team as barred by the statute of limitations.
On appeal, Santiago argues that the District Court erred by dismissing the claims against the Supervising Officers and Warminster. Our review of the District Court's decision to grant the motions to dismiss is plenary. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 206 (3d Cir.2009). We take as true all the factual allegations of the Third Amended Complaint and the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 262 n. 27 (2010), but we disregard legal conclusions and "recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "To survive a motion to dismiss, `a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Sheridan, 609 F.3d at 262 n. 27 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). "`A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Id.
A. Santiago's Claims Against the Supervising Officers
We address first the dismissal of Santiago's claims against the Supervising Officers. The District Court dismissed those claims because it held that Santiago had not pled any basis of liability in the Supervising Officers' own acts but, instead, had alleged only a theory of respondeat superior liability, which cannot serve as the basis of a claim for constitutional violations. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948 ("Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior."). While we conclude that the Third Amended Complaint can be read as alleging liability based on the Supervising Officers' own acts, we will nevertheless affirm the District Court's ruling because those allegations fail to meet the pleading requirements set forth by the Supreme Court in Twombly and Iqbal.
1. The Nature of Santiago's Claims
Liability based on respondeat superior arises "solely on the basis of the existence of an employer-employee relationship," regardless of whether the employer had any part in causing harm. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 692, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Contrary to the District
2. The Sufficiency of Santiago's Pleadings
That Santiago has alleged supervisory liability claims does not mean that she has supported those allegations with "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to `state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,'" Sheridan, 609 F.3d at 262 n. 27 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949), as is
a) The elements of Santiago's claims
Our initial task is to "tak[e] note of the elements [Santiago] must plead" in order to state a claim of § 1983 liability. See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947-48 (identifying "[t]he factors necessary to establish a Bivens violation" in order to determine what "the plaintiff must plead and prove").
To state a claim of supervisory liability against Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly, at least of the kind that it appears Santiago is advancing, she must plead that they "directed others to violate [her rights]," A.M., 372 F.3d at 586. Of course, Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly could only be liable if the people they supposedly directed to violate her rights actually did so; otherwise, "the fact that [Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly] might have [directed] the use of constitutionally excessive force is quite beside the point." City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799, 106 S.Ct. 1571, 89 L.Ed.2d 806 (1986). Thus, any claim that supervisors directed others to violate constitutional rights necessarily includes as an element an actual violation at the hands of subordinates. In addition, a plaintiff must allege a causal connection between the supervisor's direction and that violation, or, in other words, proximate causation.
Proximate causation is established where the supervisor gave directions that the supervisor "knew or should reasonably have known would cause others to deprive the plaintiff of her constitutional rights." Conner v. Reinhard, 847 F.2d 384, 397 (7th Cir.1988); see also Snell v. Tunnell, 920 F.2d 673, 700 (10th Cir. 1990). Particularly after Iqbal, the connection between the supervisor's directions and the constitutional deprivation must be sufficient to "demonstrate a `plausible nexus' or `affirmative link' between the [directions] and the specific deprivation of constitutional rights at issue." Hedges v. Musco, 204 F.3d 109, 121 (3d Cir.2000) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, to state her claim against Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly, Santiago needs to have pled facts plausibly demonstrating that they directed Alpha Team to conduct the operation in a manner that they "knew or should reasonably have known would cause [Alpha Team] to deprive [Santiago] of her constitutional rights." Conner, 847 F.2d at 397.
As to her claim against Lt. Springfield, Santiago must allege facts making it plausible that "he had knowledge of [Alpha Team's use of excessive force during the raid]" and "acquiesced in [Alpha Team's] violations."
b) The allegations that are not entitled to the assumption of truth
Having identified the elements of Santiago's claims, Iqbal directs that the next step is to identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. In other words, "[we] must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11. We also disregard "naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" and "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.
Santiago alleges that the plan developed and authorized by Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly "specifically sought to have all occupants exit the Plaintiff's home, one at a time, with hands raised under threat of fire, patted down for weapons, and then handcuffed until the home had been cleared and searched." Because this is nothing more than a recitation of what Santiago says the Alpha Team members did to her, it amounts to a conclusory assertion that what happened at the scene was ordered by the supervisors. While the allegations regarding Alpha Team's conduct are factual and more than merely the recitation of the elements of a cause of action, the allegation of supervisory liability is, in essence, that "Murphy and Donnelly told Alpha team to do what they did" and is thus a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a [supervisory liability] claim," Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1951 (internal quotation marks omitted)—namely that Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly directed others in the violation of Santiago's rights. Saying that Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly "specifically sought" to have happen what allegedly happened does not alter the fundamentally conclusory character of the allegation.
Our conclusion in this regard is dictated by the Supreme Court's decision in Iqbal. The plaintiff's claim in that case required proving that the defendants, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller, had "adopted a policy because of, not merely in spite of, its adverse effects upon an identifiable group." 129 S.Ct. at 1951. The Court disregarded allegations that "petitioners knew of, condoned, and willfully and maliciously agreed to subject [respondent] to harsh conditions of confinement as a matter of policy, solely
In short, Santiago's allegations are "naked assertion[s]" that Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly directed Alpha Team to conduct the operation in the allegedly excessive manner that they did and that Lt. Springfield acquiesced in Alpha Team's acts. As mere restatements of the elements of her supervisory liability claims, they are not entitled to the assumption of truth. However, it is crucial to recognize that our determination that these particular allegations do not deserve an assumption of truth does not end the analysis. It may still be that Santiago's supervisory liability claims are plausible in light of the non-conclusory factual allegations in the complaint. We therefore turn to those allegations to determine whether the claims are plausible.
c) The plausibility of Santiago's claims
"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. Other than the conclusory allegations just discussed, the remaining allegations regarding the Supervising Officers are as follows:
(Third Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 21-23.)
For purposes of analyzing the motions to dismiss, we take those factual allegations as true and also accept as accurate the factual allegations regarding Alpha Team's execution of the operation. In summary, the allegations against Alpha
The question then becomes whether those allegations make it plausible that Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly directed Alpha Team to conduct the operation in a manner that they "knew or should reasonably have known would cause [Alpha Team] to deprive [Santiago] of her constitutional rights," Conner, 847 F.2d at 397, or that Lt. Springfield "had knowledge [that Alpha Team was using excessive force during the raid]" and "acquiesced in [Alpha Team's] violations." A.M., 372 F.3d at 586.
(1) The plausibility of the claims against Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly
First, with respect to Chief Murphy and Lt. Donnelly, we consider whether the fact that they planned the operation coupled with the fact that the operation resulted in excessive force against Santiago makes it plausible that the plan called for the use of excessive force. We conclude that it does not. Santiago has only alleged that excessive force was used against her. The complaint does not allege that any other occupant was threatened with fire. It specifically states that the other women were not handcuffed. It does allege that the two grandsons were handcuffed, but one of them was the subject of the arrest warrant and there are no allegations stating whether the other was found to be armed or a risk of flight. Consequently, there is no basis in the complaint to conclude that excessive force was used on anyone except Santiago. Even if someone else had been subjected to excessive force, it is clear that the occupants were not being treated uniformly. Thus, Santiago's allegations undercut the notion of a plan for all occupants to be threatened with fire and handcuffed. While it is possible that there was such a plan, and that Alpha Team simply chose not to follow it, "possibility" is no longer the touchstone for pleading sufficiency after Twombly and Iqbal. Plausibility is what matters. Allegations that are "merely consistent with a defendant's liability" or show the "mere possibility of misconduct" are not enough. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, given the disparate treatment of the occupants of the home, one plausible explanation is that the officers simply used their own discretion in determining how to treat each occupant. In contrast with that "obvious alternative explanation" for the allegedly excessive use of force, the inference that the force was planned is not plausible. Id. at 1951-52 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 567, 127 S.Ct. 1955).
Where, as here, an operation results in the use of allegedly excessive force against only one of several people, that use of force does not, by itself, give rise to a plausible claim for supervisory liability against those who planned the operation. To hold otherwise would allow a plaintiff to pursue a supervisory liability claim anytime a planned operation resulted in excessive force, merely by describing the force used and appending the phrase "and the Chief told them to do it." Iqbal requires more.
(2) The plausibility of the claim against Lt. Springfield
We next ask whether the allegation that Lt. Springfield was placed in charge of the operation, coupled with what happened during the operation, makes it plausible that Lt. Springfield knew of and acquiesced in the use of excessive force against Santiago. Again, we conclude that it does not. The complaint implies but does not allege that Lt. Springfield was present during the operation. Assuming he was present, however, the complaint still does not aver that he knew of the allegedly excessive force, nor does it give rise to the reasonable inference that he was aware of the level of force used against one individual. See McKenna v. City of Philadelphia, 582 F.3d 447, 460 (3rd Cir.2009) (holding that a supervisor's presence "in the vicinity of the arrest at some point after [plaintiff] was handcuffed... is not a legally sufficient evidentiary basis" to find knowledge and acquiescence). Consequently, the allegations are insufficient to "nudge [Santiago's] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955.
In sum, while Santiago's complaint contains sufficient allegations to show that the Supervising Officers planned and supervised the operation and that, during the operation, Alpha Team used arguably excessive force, her allegations do nothing more than assert the element of liability that the Supervising Officers specifically called for or acquiesced in that use of force. As a result, her allegations may "get the complaint close to stating a claim, but without further factual enhancement [they] stop short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). Because the Third Amended Complaint does not give rise to a plausible claim for relief against the Supervising Officers, the District Court did not err in dismissing the claims against them.
B. Santiago's Claim Against Warminster
We now turn to the dismissal of Santiago's claim against Warminster. The District Court dismissed that claim because Santiago had failed to allege that Chief Murphy was a final policymaker, which, under Monell, was necessary to the survival of her claim against the Township. Santiago offers two arguments for why the dismissal was improper. First, she argues that, while she may not have used the words "final policymaker," "the factual averments of the complaint are more than sufficient to show that Chief Murphy was the `final policymaker' with respect to the
Under Monell, for municipal liability to attach, any injury must be inflicted by "execution of a government's policy or custom." 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018. Drawing all factual inferences in favor of Santiago, as is required at this juncture, we nevertheless cannot conclude that the Third Amended Complaint alleges municipal liability. The complaint does not allege that Chief Murphy had policymaking authority,
For the foregoing reasons, we will affirm the District Court's order dismissing Santiago's claims.
While a claim of "failure to train and supervise" was asserted in and dismissed from Santiago's Second Amended Complaint, that claim was brought only against Warminster, and its dismissal does not foreclose the claims brought against the Supervising Officers. Furthermore, as we have noted elsewhere, "[t]here are two theories of supervisory liability," one under which supervisors can be liable if they "established and maintained a policy, practice or custom which directly caused [the] constitutional harm," and another under which they can be liable if they "participated in violating plaintiff's rights, directed others to violate them, or, as the person[s] in charge, had knowledge of and acquiesced in [their] subordinates' violations." A.M. ex rel. J.M.K. v. Luzerne Cnty. Juvenile Det. Ctr., 372 F.3d 572, 586 (3d Cir.2004) (second alteration in original). The claim against Warminster that was dismissed from the Second Amended Complaint pertained only to the first theory of supervisory liability, while the claim at issue against the Supervising Officers pertains primarily to the second. Accordingly, the dismissal of the "failure to train and supervise" claim against Warminster is not of significance to our review of the present supervisory liability claim against the Supervising Officers.