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McClendon v. City of Sumiton

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

May 15, 2015

MITCHELL McCLENDON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF SUMITON, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ABDUL K. KALLON, District Judge.

This lawsuit arises from an encounter Plaintiffs Mitchell McClendon, Billy McClendon, and Cody Williams had with City of Sumiton, Alabama police officers. Basically, Plaintiffs contend that the officers subjected them to excessive force, false arrest, and violations of their rights under the Constitution and Alabama law. As a result, Plaintiffs assert claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deliberate indifference (Count I), "Unlawful Arrest-Excessive Force" (Count II), unlawful arrest (Count III), failure to prevent excessive and unreasonable force and unlawful arrest, and deliberate indifference (Count IV), policymaker ratification (Count V), inadequate training (Count VI), custom and practice municipal liability (Count VII), and supervisor liability (Count VIII). Doc. 1. Plaintiffs also pursue state law claims for assault and battery (Count IX), conspiracy (Count X), abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment (Count XI), and respondeat superior (Count XII). See doc. 1. The court has for consideration the City of Sumiton, Alabama ("the City"), Chief of Police T.J. Burnett, Officer David Waid, Officer Patrick Ragsdale, and the Estate of Christopher Daugherty's[1] (collectively "Defendants") motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment, doc. 42, as well as Plaintiffs' motion to strike and motion to stay Defendants' motion for summary judgment, docs. 49, 50. These motions are fully briefed and ripe for review, see docs. 51, 53, 54.

For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss the claims against the City, Chief Burnett, Officer Waid, and Officer Ragsdale (whom Plaintiffs concede was not present during the incident at issue, see doc. 51 at 2) is due to be granted. As it relates to Officer Daugherty, the motion is also due to be granted with respect to the excessive force claim alleged by Williams and B. McClendon in Counts II and IX, the conspiracy claim (Count X), and the abuse of process claim alleged in Count XI. In all other respects, the motion is due to be denied. In other words, Plaintiffs may proceed solely with respect to their claims against the Estate of Officer Daugherty for § 1983 excessive force against M. McClendon and the unlawful arrest of all Plaintiffs, and state law assault and battery of M. McClendon, and malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment against all Plaintiffs. Finally, because the court finds that Defendants' motion is due to be granted in part on 12(b)(6) grounds, Plaintiffs' motion to strike and motion to stay, which were premised on Defendants' alternative request for summary judgment under Rule 56, are MOOT.

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard of Review

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement.'" Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief "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. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.; see also Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 ("Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."). Ultimately, this inquiry is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

III. Factual Background[2]

This action arises from an incident that occurred when M. McClendon purportedly suffered an epileptic seizure inside his home. Doc. 1 at ¶ 14. Williams, one of M. McClendon's companions, called 911 and requested medical assistance. Id. at ¶ 15. When Officer Daugherty, a Sumiton police officer, responded to the call, he found M. McClendon in the bathroom shower and exclaimed that M. McClendon was "on drugs." Id. at ¶¶ 16-17. Officer Daugherty then "tried to force handcuffs on [M. McClendon] by hitting and beating him about the head and body and using a tazer on him." Id. at ¶ 17. M. McClendon allegedly "did not fight with Officer Daugherty[, ] but tried to get away..., " but "Officer Daugherty began kicking [him] about the face and body, using his tazer, and handcuffing him..." Id. As a result of the altercation, M. McClendon sustained a broken lip, lacerations, "bruises, contusions, and abrasions, " and the exacerbation of a then-existing medical condition. Id. at ¶ 19.

During Officer Daugherty's encounter with M. McClendon, Williams and B. McClendon informed Officer Daugherty of M. McClendon's epileptic episode. Id. at 20. After asking Officer Daugherty not to handcuff M. McClendon, Williams and B. McClendon grabbed Officer Daugherty and tried to intervene. Id. at ¶ 20. A fight ensued, and Officer Daugherty called the dispatcher to ask for "some goddamn backup." Id. at ¶ 21. Eventually, several emergency medical technicians arrived. Id. at ¶ 24. After the paramedics transported M. McClendon to U.A.B. hospital, Officer Waid arrived and, along with Officer Daugherty, arrested Williams and B. McClendon for "obstruct[ion of] government operations, " and Officer Daugherty charged M. McClendon with assault in the second degree. Id. at ¶¶ 24-25, 27, 29. The City eventually dismissed all charges. Id. at ¶¶ 27, 29.

IV. ANALYSIS

Defendants raise multiple grounds in support of their motion to dismiss, which the court will address below, beginning with the claims against the City in Section A, followed by the claims against Chief Burnett in Section B, and finally, the claims against Officer Daugherty and Officer Waid in Section C.

A. Claims against the City (Counts I, V, VI, VII and XII)[3]

The § 1983 claims against the City consist of (1) deliberate indifference (Count I), (2) policymaker ratification (Count V), (3) inadequate training (Count VI), and (4) "custom and practice liability" (Count VII). See doc. 1. Like Plaintiffs' state law claim, these claims are also due to be dismissed.

1. Deliberate Indifference, Policymaker Ratification and "Custom and Practice Liability" Claims (Counts I, V, and VII)

To hold a municipality liable for a constitutional deprivation under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish that the officers committed the violation pursuant to a governmental "policy" or "custom." Griffin v. City of Opa-Loka, 261 F.3d 1295, 1307 (11th Cir. 2001). Consequently, a plaintiff must plead specific facts to "identify either (1) an officially promulgated [municipal] policy or (2) an unofficial custom or practice of the [municipality] shown through repeated acts of a final policy maker for the [municipality]." Grech v. Clayton County, 335 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th Cir. 2003). Relevant here, when a plaintiff alleges that a municipality has adopted a policy of deliberate indifference, see doc. 1 at 9-10, 15, the plaintiff must plead facts indicating that the municipality had some knowledge of the risk of constitutional violations. See Board of County Com'rs of Bryan County, Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04 (1997) ("deliberate indifference' is a stringent standard of fault, requiring proof that a municipal actor disregarded a known or obvious consequence of his action."). Next, to show ...


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