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Waters v. City of Geneva

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

September 19, 2014

TAMMY WATERS, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF GENEVA, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Tammy Waters, individually and as next of kin of N.C., a minor, Plaintiff: David Jerome Harrison, LEAD ATTORNEY, David J. Harrison, Attorney at Law, Geneva, AL.

For The City of Geneva, a municipal corporation, Defendant: James Hillary Pike, LEAD ATTORNEY, Shealy, Crum & Pike, P.C., Dothan, AL; Jeffery Dewayne Hatcher, Jeffery D. Hatcher, Attorney, Geneva, AL.

For Michael Hughes, an individual, Defendant: April Willis McKay, Ricky Allen Howard, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Holtsford Gilliland Higgins Hitson & Howard, P.C., Montgomery, AL.

For Stephanie Smith, an individual, Defendant: James Hillary Pike, LEAD ATTORNEY, Shealy, Crum & Pike, P.C., Dothan, AL.

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" Let there be no noise made, my gentle friends; Unless some dull and favourable hand. Will whisper music to my weary spirit." [1] This lawsuit is about the havoc that a " few seconds" [2] of loud music from a car stereo system wreaked for Plaintiff Tammy Waters and her minor son when their neighbor, an off-duty police officer, called his department to lodge a noise complaint against Plaintiff. Had no noise been made at all -- or only a whisper of music -- on November 21, 2013, in a neighborhood in the small town of Geneva, Alabama, things no doubt would have played out differently. But the events on November 21 have brought the parties here to federal court on a lawsuit replete with numerous causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law arising from that night and Plaintiff's subsequent failed attempt to file a criminal complaint against the officer.

Before the court is a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 15), filed by Defendants City of Geneva and Magistrate Stephanie Smith.[3] Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and (b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, with their grounds fully briefed in a memorandum. (Doc. # 16.) Plaintiff, individually and as next of kin of her minor son, N.C., filed a response in opposition (Doc. # 19), to which Defendants filed a reply brief (Doc. # 24). After careful consideration of the arguments of counsel, the appropriate law, and the allegations set forth in the Complaint, the court finds that the Motion to Dismiss is due to be granted.


Subject-matter jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331, 1343, and 1367. Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.


A. Rule 12(b)(1)

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges the court's subject-matter jurisdiction. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). On a Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack, the court evaluates whether the plaintiff " has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction" in the complaint and employs a standard that is similar to that one governing Rule 12(b)(6) review. Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, Inc., 733 F.3d 1323, 1335 (11th Cir. 2013).

B. Rule 12(b)(6)

When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, " a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570,

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127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). " [F]acial plausibility" exists " 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


The facts essential to resolution of the motion to dismiss, construed in Plaintiff's favor, are as follows.[4] On November 21, 2013, Plaintiff's son, N.C., and his friend were in the driveway of Plaintiff's home in Geneva installing a stereo system in N.C.'s truck. When N.C. connected the speakers to the stereo system, the " stereo blared for a few seconds" until he " could get to the stereo and turn it off." (Compl. ¶ 13.)

Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, who was at home in the yard at the time, Plaintiff's neighbor, Geneva Police Officer Michael Hughes, who was off-duty, called the Geneva Police Department and complained about the blast of loud music. Geneva Police Officers, identified in the Complaint only as Fink and Mock, responded to Plaintiff's home in response to Officer Hughes's complaint. The officers informed Plaintiff that a neighbor had complained about the loud music. Plaintiff explained to the officers that her son had been " making sure his stereo worked for a few seconds," but then had " turned it off." (Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff asked the officers, " What kind of idiot calls the police when the stereo was only on for a few seconds?" (Compl. ¶ 22.) The officers left Plaintiff's residence and promptly relayed Plaintiff's comment to Officer Hughes.

A " short time later," Officer Hughes went to Plaintiff's home and confronted Plaintiff in the yard. Officer Hughes, who was " loud and angry" (Compl. ¶ 16), identified himself as a Geneva police officer, and reported that he was the one who had lodged the noise complaint. He then threatened to arrest Plaintiff or issue her a citation. Plaintiff asked Officer Hughes to leave numerous times, but he refused and continued to yell that he could " arrest" her. (Compl. ¶ 17.) At one point, Plaintiff pointed her finger at Officer Hughes. In response to Plaintiff's finger-pointing, Officer Hughes grabbed Plaintiff and threw her into N.C.'s truck some five feet away. When Plaintiff got up and tried to " defend[ ] herself," Officer Hughes " grabbed [her] again and began hitting her violently on the arms." (Compl. ¶ 17.)

Armed with a sugar cane stick, Plaintiff's son attempted to intervene in the altercation. Officer Hughes threatened to shoot N.C., and N.C. threatened to " beat the hell" out of Officer Hughes if he did not release Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 17.) At that time, the on-duty officers, Fink and Mock, returned to Plaintiff's residence and persuaded Officer Hughes to leave.

Sometime " after the incident," Plaintiff tried to file a criminal complaint against Officer Hughes with Defendant Stephanie Smith, the City of Geneva's magistrate. (Compl. ¶ 18.) Magistrate Smith refused to accept Plaintiff's criminal complaint, stating that Plaintiff first had to " clear[ ] it" with the city prosecutor. (Compl. ¶ 18.) Eventually, several months later in March 2014, Plaintiff was informed that she could file a criminal complaint against Officer Hughes with the magistrate of the City of Hartford.[5]

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On April 2, 2014, Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit against the City of Geneva, Officer Hughes, and Magistrate Smith. The Complaint embodies thirteen counts. Five counts -- Counts I, II, III, VIII, and IX -- are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging both municipal and individual liability for violations of the First Amendment (Count I), the Eighth Amendment (Count II), the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses (Count III, VIII, and IX). Eight counts -- Counts IV, V, VI, VII, X, XI, XII, and XIII -- assert state-law claims for assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress/outrage, abuse of process, wanton supervision and retention of Officer Hughes, invasion of privacy, and negligent training and supervision of Officer Hughes.

The Complaint names Magistrate Smith and Officer Hughes in their individual and official capacities. The City is named in all thirteen counts. Magistrate Smith is named in Counts II, VII, and IX, and Officer Hughes is named in Counts I, II, IV, V, VI, XI, and XII. The Complaint requests compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief aimed at preventing officer violence towards the City's citizens, as well as costs and attorney's fees.

The City and Magistrate Smith responded to the Complaint with a motion to dismiss. In lieu of an answer, Officer Hughes filed a motion to stay the action against him pending resolution of charges against him in the City of Geneva for harassment of Plaintiff. An Order was entered granting Officer Hughes's motion to stay as to Plaintiff's action against him, but denying the motion as to Plaintiff's action against the City and Magistrate Smith.


The City and Magistrate Smith move to dismiss all claims against them with prejudice for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6). Defendants raise numerous arguments, including lack of Article III standing, judicial immunity under federal and state law, municipal immunity under state law, and failure to plead a plausible claim for relief. Plaintiff's response is unresponsive to the majority of the argument raised by the City.

A. Preliminary Matters[6]

At the outset, there are three pleading matters that require only short discussion for resolution. These matters relate to the official-capacity claims against Magistrate Smith, the fictitious-party claims, and the claims that request punitive damages awards against the City. Defendants present arguments and authority as to why Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is appropriate as to these claims, and Plaintiff has not demonstrated the contrary.

1. Official-Capacity Claims

Defendants argue that dismissal of the official-capacity claims against Magistrate Smith is appropriate because those claims are " redundant to the claims against the City." (Doc. # 16, at 25.) Eleventh Circuit case law backs up this argument.

In Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764 (11th Cir. 1991), the Eleventh Circuit explained why a suit against a municipal officer is redundant of a suit against ...

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