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Burns v. City of Alexander City

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

June 5, 2015

KOLEA BURNS, Personal Representative of the Estate of Emerson Crayton, Jr., Deceased, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF ALEXANDER CITY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL W. GREENE, Magistrate Judge.

This case arises from events related to the shooting death of Mr. Emerson Crayton, Jr., who was allegedly shot and killed by Defendant Tommy Maness, a police officer employed by Defendant the City of Alexander City, Alabama. The Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Maness shot Mr. Crayton five or six times while Crayton was in his car outside of a Huddle House restaurant.

This lawsuit is brought by two individuals: Kolea Burns, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Emerson Crayton, Jr., deceased, and G.C., Mr. Crayton's minor child. There are six counts set out in the Second Amended Complaint: Counts One and Two are for constitutional violations, asserted through the remedial vehicle of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, of the Fourth Amendment (Count One; "pattern and practice" failure to train and excessive force) and Fourteenth Amendment (Count Two; unlawful search and seizure by excessive force) against Defendants the City of Alexander City and Tommy Maness (collectively "Alexander City Defendants"). Count Three is a state law claim for wrongful death against all Defendants. Count Four asserts a claim race discrimination in a place of public accommodation under 42 U.S.C. § 2000a against Defendants D&L Foods, Inc., Huddle House, Inc., Lynn Patterson, LeGina Watson, and Daniel Yates (collectively "Huddle House Defendants"). Count Five is a race discrimination claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, asserted through § 1983, against the Huddle House Defendants. Count Six contains a state law claim for negligent failure to train against all Defendants. The claims are brought jointly by both Plaintiffs.

Before the court are the following motions: (1) a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint filed by the Huddle House Defendants (Doc. 49); (2) a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint filed by the Alexander City Defendants (Doc. 52); (3) separate motions to strike Plaintiffs' exhibits and affidavits filed in opposition to the motions to dismiss by the Alexander City Defendants (Doc. 60) and the Huddle House Defendants (Doc. 63); and Plaintiffs' motion for discovery (Doc. 65). On April 1, 2015, this matter was referred to the undersigned by U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson for disposition or recommendation on all pretrial matters. (Doc. 71). See also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b); Rule 72, Fed. R. Civ. P.; United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667 (1980); Jeffrey S. v. State Board of Education of State of Georgia, 896 F.2d 507 (11th Cir. 1990). As memorialized in the Scheduling Order entered on May 1, 2015, "[t]he parties have consented to the undersigned Magistrate Judge entering a dispositive order on currently pending motions to dismiss." (Doc. 76 at p. 1). The parties reserve consent on other matters.

For the reasons stated herein, the motions to dismiss will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motions to strike will be GRANTED, and the motion for discovery is MOOT.

I. BACKGROUND AND FACTS[1]

"[I]n the early morning hours" of Saturday, March 8, 2014, Mr. Crayton patronized a Huddle House restaurant in Alexander City, Alabama. (Doc. 50 at p. 2). He ordered food to-go. While waiting for his meal, Mr. Crayton was confronted by a waitress. She accused Mr. Crayton of being too loud and demanded that he keep his voice down. Mr. Crayton disagreed with her assessment, but lowered his voice nonetheless. Another waitress said "something rude" to Mr. Crayton, to which he replied, "Y'all can keep my money, and keep my food; I'm leaving." (Doc. 48 at p. 4, ¶ 13). As he left the restaurant, one waitress said, "F___ you." (Doc. 48 at p. 4, ¶ 14) (deleted letters and redacted word in original). Mr. Crayton responded with, "F___ you, back, " before a Huddle House employee handed him his food and he exited the restaurant. (Id. ).

Several things then happened within a short time frame. Mr. Crayton walked from the restaurant to his car, got into the automobile, started the car, and backed up as though to exit the parking lot adjacent to the Huddle House. While he was doing those things, a Huddle House employee contacted the Alexander City Police Department. Defendant Maness, who at that time was a police officer, was on foot and in very close proximity to the restaurant. He ran to the Huddle House whereupon "certain representatives" of the restaurant informed Maness that Crayton "had a gun on him, and had threatened to shoot someone and/or blow up the Huddle House restaurant." (Doc. 48 at p. 5, ¶ 18). Plaintiffs aver that information was false. Maness then killed Crayton by firing five or six bullets into Crayton's car. Plaintiffs very carefully allege that Mr. Crayton posed no threat to Maness and that Crayton was not moving so as to strike Maness with his car.

II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD OF REVIEW

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the Complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).[2] Additionally, "[e]xhibits attached to the complaint are treated as part of the complaint for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes. Page v. Postmaster Gen. & Chief Exec. Officer of U.S. Postal Serv., 493 F.Appx. 994, 995 (11th Cir. 2012). Accord Berry v. Keller, 157 F.Appx. 227, 228 (11th Cir. 2005) ("Documents attached to the complaint are treated as part of the allegations." (citation omitted)). Considering these exhibits does not require a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss to be converted to a Rule 56 motion for summary judgement. See id. Only when "matters outside the pleadings are presented by the parties and district court" must the motion be converted. Id. (quoting Speaker v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Servs. Ctr. for Disease Control & Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371, 1379 (11th Cir. 2010)). In the present case and in response to a court order, Plaintiffs submitted evidence outside of the pleadings in opposition to the motions to dismiss; however, that evidence has not been considered by the court and does not inform this decision in any way whatsoever.

When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take "the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008). However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

"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 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 663 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). "[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 standard also "calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" of the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. While the complaint need not set out "detailed factual allegations, " it must provide sufficient factual amplification "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555.

"So, when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, this basic deficiency should... be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. 558 (quoting 5 Wight & Miller § 1216, at 233-34 (quoting in turn Daves v. Hawaiian Dredging Co., 114 F.Supp. 643, 645 (D. Haw. 1953)) (alteration original). "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs' State Law Claims are Subsumed by Alabama's Wrongful Death Statute and Plaintiff G.C. Lacks Standing to Pursue State Law Claims.

All Defendants argue that Plaintiff G.C. lacks standing to pursue either the state or federal claims asserted in this case. The Defendants also collectively argue that, as a matter of law, all state law claims are subsumed by Alabama's wrongful death statute, Ala. Code § 6-5-462.

Defendants correctly argue that, under Alabama law, "only the personal representative of the decedent's estate has standing to pursue" the sole state law claim that survived Mr. Crayton's death, that for wrongful death. (Doc. 53 at p. 5; see also Doc. 49 at pp. 5-6). Alabama law is clear that, when an individual dies before bringing a lawsuit, all state law claims that individual could have asserted prior to his demise are subsumed by a claim for wrongful death. See Bassie v. Obstetrics & Gynecology Assocs. of Northwest Ala., P.C., 828 So.2d 280, 282 (Ala. 2002) ("a deceased's unfiled tort claims do not survive ...


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