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Hagood v. Morgan County Alabama

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

November 10, 2014


Rodney Hagood, Plaintiff, Pro se, Decatur, AL.


JOHN E. OTT, Chief United States Magistrate Judge.

Rodney Hagood, hereinafter referred to as the plaintiff, has filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that rights, privileges, or immunities afforded him under the Constitution or laws of the United States have been abridged during his incarceration at Morgan County Jail in Decatur, Alabama. The plaintiff names Morgan County, Alabama, as the sole defendant and seeks monetary damages. In accordance with the usual practices of this court and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the complaint was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for a preliminary report and recommendation. See McCarthy v. Bronson, 500 U.S. 136, 111 S.Ct. 1737, 114 L.Ed.2d 194 (1991).

I. Standard of Review

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Pub. L. No. 104-134, § 804, 110 Stat. 1321, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, requires the court to screen complaints filed by prisoners against officers or employees of governmental entities and to dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint it determines is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. Where practicable, the court may sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's complaint prior to service. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).

A dismissal pursuant to § 1915A(b)(1) for failure to state a claim is governed by the same standards as dismissals for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 215, 127 S.Ct. 910, 166 L.Ed.2d 798 (2007). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, " 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) (internal quotation omitted). A plaintiff must assert " more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not" suffice. Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Because " [p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys[, ]" they are liberally construed. Boxer X v. Harris, 437 F.3d 1107, 1110 (11th Cir. 2006).

II. Factual Allegations

The plaintiff had " someone bring" him to the Morgan County Sheriff's Department on February 14, 2013, when a warrant was issued for his arrest. (Doc. 1 at 3).[1] After turning himself in, the Sheriff's Department " impounded [his] truck from [a] friend's house[] for evidence for the Morgan County District Attorney." (Id.). Three months later, the plaintiff was " asked [if he] could . . . have someone pick up [the] truck." (Id.).

The plaintiff secured someone to pick up his truck from an investigator " at Morgan County's shop on Highway 67, " but " she was told [the truck had been] moved to an impound lot." (Id.). The impound lot " demanded $1400" to retrieve the vehicle. (Id.). The plaintiff did not have the money and " lost [his] truck and work tools." (Id.).

He alleges " [t]here was no need" for Morgan County to confiscate his Atruck in [the] first place[.]" (Id. at 4). Moreover, " [i]nstead of releasing [the] truck immediately after searching [it, the County] waited months" and then " want[ed] to charge" him for " impounding it." (Id.).

The plaintiff demands Morgan County be " held responsible, " and seeks reimbursement for his truck and work tools. (Id.).

III. Constitutional Analysis

The plaintiff does not set out any readily discernible legal basis -- state or federal - for the monetary relief he seeks for his lost property. He filed his complaint, however, on a form designated for claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This statute provides the mechanism through which causes of action may be brought for the " deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by" the United States Constitution. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Therefore, this court first shall examine the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant(s) from a federal constitutional standpoint.

A. Defendant(s)

1. Morgan County, Alabama

In Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), the United States Supreme Court held that municipalities and other local bodies could be treated as persons for purposes of a § 1983 action. In addition, the court held that local bodies could be sued directly for constitutional violations caused by " a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers." Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. However, an Alabama County, as a matter of law, cannot be held liable on a theory of respondeat superior for the acts or omissions of a Sheriff or his deputies. McMillian v. Monroe County, Ala., 520 U.S. 781, 117 S.Ct. 1734, 138 L.Ed.2d 1 (1997); Turquitt v. Jefferson County, Ala., 137 F.3d 1285 (11th Cir. 1998). The plaintiff does not allege any facts to indicate that he suffered any constitutional deprivation due to a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision adopted by Morgan County, Alabama. Therefore, he has failed to state any constitutional claims against the county.

2. Morgan County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office or official capacity claims against their members

The plaintiff may be attempting to name the Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office of Morgan County, Alabama as defendants. The " capacity to sue or be sued [must be] determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held." Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b)) (footnote omitted). " Under Alabama law, a county sheriff's department lacks the capacity to be sued." Id. at 1215 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing White v. Birch, 582 So.2d 1085, 1087 (Ala. 1991)). A County District Attorney's Office lacks that capacity as well. See Garrett v. Talladega County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, 983 F.Supp.2d 1369, 1378 (N.D. Ala. Nov. 19, 2013). Since the Morgan County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office are not legal entities " subject to suit or liability" the plaintiff's claims against those defendants are due to be dismissed. Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d at 1214.

Moreover, a law " suit against the State [of Alabama] and its [agencies are] barred by the Eleventh Amendment, unless Alabama has consented to the filing of such a suit." Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782, 98 S.Ct. 3057, 57 L.Ed.2d 1114 (1978) (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974); Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459, 65 S.Ct. 347, 89 L.Ed. 389 (1945); Worcester County Trust Co. v. Riley, 302 U.S. 292, 58 S.Ct. 185, 82 L.Ed. 268 (1937)). No such consent can " be given under Art. I, Sec. 14, of the Alabama Constitution, which provides that " the State of Alabama shall never be made a defendant in any court of law or equity." Id.; see also, Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984). It is well established that

[a]ll District Attorney's offices are deemed to be agencies of the State of Alabama. Hooks v. Hitt, 539 So.2d 157, 159 (Ala. 1988) (holding that the district attorneys and their employees are " state employees whose salaries are funded by the state") (citing Ala. Code § 12-7-182 (1975)); McMillian v. Monroe County, Ala., 520 U.S. 781, 790, 117 S.Ct. 1734, 1739, 138 L.Ed.2d 1 (1997) (citing Hooks and observing that an Alabama district attorney is a state official).

Garrett v. Talladega County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, 983 F.Supp.2d at 1376. A county " 'sheriff [and his deputies also are] employee[s] of the state, rather than the county.'" Haywood v. Alexander, 121 So.3d 972, 978 (Ala. 2013) (quoting Hereford v. Jefferson County, 586 So.2d 209, 210 (Ala.1991) (additional internal quotation omitted)); Ex parte Walker, 97 So.3d 747, 749 (Ala. 2012). Accordingly, Eleventh Amendment immunity prohibits the plaintiff's suit for monetary damages against the Morgan County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office. Eleventh Amendment immunity also applies to an employee of the Sheriff's Department or District Attorney's Office (including an investigator) to the extent he is sued in his official capacity for damages. This immunity does not protect an employee to the extent he may be sued in his individual capacity. However, for the reasons set out in the next section, the plaintiff cannot state a constitutional claim against an employee of the Sheriff's Department or District Attorney's Office in his individual capacity.

B. Suit against an employee of the Sheriff's Department or District Attorney's Office in his individual capacity.

As set out above, the plaintiff does not identify any constitutional amendment upon which his claims rest. Nonetheless, a liberal reading of his complaint implicates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

1. Fourth Amendment

The plaintiff alleges he turned himself in on an arrest warrant, and after he surrendered at the jail, his vehicle and its contents were impounded by someone at the Sheriff's Department " for evidence for the District Attorney." (Doc. 1 at 3). " A 'seizure' of property . . . occurs when 'there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interests in that property.'" Soldal v. Cook County, Ill., 506 U.S. 56, 60-61, 113 S.Ct. 538, 121 L.Ed.2d 450 (1992) (quoting United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113, 104 S.Ct. 1652, 80 L.Ed.2d 85 (1984)). " The Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth, Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 30, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 1628, 10 L.Ed.2d 726 (1963), provides in pertinent part that the 'right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated....'" Id. (emphasis supplied).

Although the plaintiff states that there was no need to confiscate the vehicle in the first place (doc. 1 at 4), he provides no facts from which it can be determined this " initial seizure" was unreasonable or " illegal" such that his Fourth Amendment constitutional rights were violated. See Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1330 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Byrd v. Stewart, 811 F.2d 554, 554-55 (11th Cir. 1987) (distinguishing " a complaint under the Fourth Amendment " that the search and seizure itself was unlawful, " from a complaint " that the officers have failed to return the items seized without due process of law, " which is a cause of action under the Fourteenth Amendment.)).

The plaintiff does not reveal the nature of the criminal act that precipitated the arrest warrant, or the date(s), place(s) and circumstances under which the purported crime allegedly took place. He does not dispute the validity of the arrest warrant from the standpoint of probable cause, and does not state whether he agreed to the initial seizure or whether the issuance of a warrant was involved in the matter. He does not explain the relationship between the initial seizure and investigation of the crime(s) for which he had been arrested, if any. The claim is so devoid of facts, even when construed liberally, that the court is unable to discern whether probable cause to seize the vehicle is relevant to the inquiry, or if so, whether " under the totality of circumstances, there [was no] fair probability that . . . evidence of a crime [would] be found in the vehicle.'" U.S. v. Lindsay, 482 F.3d 1285, 1293 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting United States v. Tamari, 454 F.3d 1259, 1264 (11th Cir. 2006).[2] Therefore, the plaintiff cannot state a colorable Fourth Amendment claim based on the unreasonableness of the initial seizure -- i.e., that the seizure was illegal.

2. Fourteenth Amendment

The plaintiff also alleges that " [i]nstead of releasing [the] truck immediately after" the search, it was " months" before he was asked to retrieve it. (Doc. 1 at 4). This action caused him to lose his truck and tools when he could not pay the impound fee. (Id.). " A complaint of continued retention of legally seized property raises an issue of procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment." Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1330-1331 (11th Cir. 2009). Even so,

" no procedural due process violation has occurred if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy for the loss is available." Lindsey [v. Storey, ] 936 F.2d [554] at 561 [(11th Cir. 1991)] (internal quotation marks omitted); see Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 104 S.Ct. 3194, 82 L.Ed.2d 393 (1984); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1981). " Hudson made clear that as long as some adequate postdeprivation remedy is available, no due process violation has occurred." Lindsey, 936 F.2d at 561.

Id. at 1331. Stated another way,

an unauthorized, intentional deprivation of property by a state employee does not constitute a violation of the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful post deprivation remedy for the loss is available.

Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. at 533. Additionally,

the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is not implicated by the lack of due care of an official causing unintended injury to life, liberty, or property. Where a government official is merely negligent in causing the injury, no procedure for compensation is constitutionally required.

Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347-48, 106 S.Ct. 668, 88 L.Ed.2d 677 (1986) (citing Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328, 106 S.Ct. 662, 88 L.Ed.2d 662 (1986). Moreover,

The continued retention of the plaintiff's truck did not result in deprivation of property without due process of law. Section 41-9-60 of the Code of Alabama provides for the State Board of Adjustment to consider claims against the state or its agents. Because any potential individual defendant is an employee of the Sheriff's Office or District Attorney's Office, and an agent of the State of Alabama, an available post-deprivation remedy exists under the state statute. If the Board of Adjustment denies a claim, then an action may be brought in an Alabama state court for redress. See Carmichael v. State Board of Adjustment, 249 Ala. 542, 32 So.2d 216 (Ala. 1947).

The post-deprivation remedies available under Alabama tort law satisfy due process. Regardless of whether the alleged deprivation (continued retention) was unintentional or intentional, the plaintiff has not been deprived of property without due process of law because he had a legal means whereby he could have been heard on this claim for compensation, and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is not implicated by the lack of due care of an official allegedly causing unintended injury to life, liberty, or property. As such, the plaintiff's due process claim regarding his alleged lost property is due to be dismissed under § 1915A (b)(1) for failure to state a claim.

2. State law claims

Although no state law claims are identified with particularity, because the plaintiff has failed to state a claim regarding violation of his rights under the United States Constitution, supplemental jurisdiction over any state law claims is due to be declined.

IV. Recommendation

Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, the magistrate judge RECOMMENDS that this action be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) and/or (2). The magistrate judge further RECOMMENDS that this court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims.

V. Notice Of Right To Object

The plaintiff may file specific written objections to this report and recommendation within fourteen (14) days from the date it is filed in the office of the Clerk. Failure to file written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations contained in this report and recommendation within fourteen (14) days from the date it is filed shall bar an aggrieved party from attacking the factual findings on appeal. Written objections shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings and recommendation to which objection is made and the specific basis for objection. Any objections to the failure of the magistrate judge to address any contention raised in the petition also must be included. Objections not meeting the specificity requirement set out above will not be considered by a district judge. The filing of objections is not a proper vehicle to make new allegations or present additional evidence.

A party may not appeal a magistrate judge's recommendation directly to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Appeals may be made only from a final judgment entered by or at the direction of a district judge.

The Clerk is DIRECTED to serve a copy of this report and recommendation upon the plaintiff.

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