United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
R. DAVID PROCTOR, District Judge.
This case is before the court on the following motions: Defendants John Conger, Steven Westbrook, and Anthony Parker's (collectively "Defendant Officers") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 17), filed February 17, 2015; Defendants Kenneth Abrams, Raymond Anderson, and Patrick Collard's (collectively "Defendant Sheriffs") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 20); and Plaintiff's Motion for Judge's Rule (Doc. 28), filed April 23, 2015. The issues raised therein have been fully briefed by the parties and are now ripe for decision. (Docs. 23, 26, 27).
This case arises from the March 8, 2014, arrest and subsequent detainment of Plaintiff Freshun Flowers Bey. Essentially, Plaintiff brings two separate actions. First, Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendant Officers based upon his arrest at his home. Second, Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendant Sheriffs for abusive treatment during his subsequent detention at the Tuscaloosa County Jail. Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and has asserted numerous state and federal law claims. After careful review, the court finds Defendants' motions to dismiss are due to be granted in part and denied in part.
Construed liberally, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 13) asserts the following causes of action in connection with his arrest and detention: Count One - state and federal law false arrest and false imprisonment claims against all Defendants (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 27-29); Count Two - Fourth Amendment unreasonable search and seizure claims against Defendant Officers ( id. at ¶¶ 30-37); Count Three - Fifth Amendment just compensation and due process claims against all Defendants ( id. at ¶¶ 38-39); Count Four - Seventh Amendment excessive force claims against Defendant Sheriffs ( id. at ¶¶ 40-41); Count Five - Eighth Amendment excessive bail claims against Defendant Officers and Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment claims against all Defendants ( id. at ¶¶ 42-47); Count Six - state law assault and battery claims against Defendant Sheriffs ( id. at ¶¶ 48-51); Count Seven - a generic 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force claim against Defendant Officers ( id. at ¶¶ 52-56); Count Eight - claims for various unspecified human rights violations against Defendant Sheriffs ( id. at ¶¶ 57-58); Count Nine - a state law negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against all Defendants ( id. at ¶¶ 59-63); and Count Ten - a claim for violation of the "Minimum Contact Doctrine" against Defendant Officers ( id. at ¶¶ 64-65).
On March 8, 2014, Defendant Officers, who were employed with the City of Northport, arrested Plaintiff Freshun Flowers Bey at his home at 1702 Martin Luther King Blvd. ( Id. at ¶ 10; see also Doc. 13, Ex. A). Two police officers knocked loudly on his front door, and Plaintiff answered, "who is it?" ( Id. at ¶¶ 11-13). Plaintiff alleges the officers yelled "open the fucking door." ( Id. at ¶ 13). Plaintiff opened the door, and the officers stated they had an arrest warrant for "Tammie Smith, " known by Plaintiff as Tammie Smith Bey ("Tammie" or "Tammie Smith Bey"). ( Id. at ¶¶ 14-15). Plaintiff claims he asked for the officers to identify themselves and to show him the warrant, but the Defendant Officers refused to do so. ( Id. at ¶ 16). Plaintiff then presented the officers with his and Tammie's "American National I.D.'s authenticated by the department of state." ( Id. at ¶ 17). He contends that, without warning or explanation, Defendant Officers pulled Plaintiff out of his home and wrestled him to the ground. ( Id. at ¶ 18).
On the other hand, Defendants Officers argue that "Plaintiff refused to allow the Police Officer Defendants to arrest Tammie Smith Bey, clearly present at the time, by closing the door on them and by repeatedly asserting they had no authority to detain her." (Doc. 17, at 7). Officer Westbrooks' Deposition and Charge Sheet, submitted as Exhibit D to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, confirms that Defendant Officers initiated contact with Plaintiff as he attempted to close his door. ( See Doc. 13-4, at 6 ("Officers kept asking [Plaintiff] to tell Ms. Smith to come outside to serve her writ; however, [Plaintiff] refused and attempted to close the door. Officer Parker stopped the door from shutting and grabbed [Plaintiff] to put him into custody for Obstructing Governmental Operations.")).
Plaintiff and Tammie were then arrested by the Defendant Officers, and Plaintiff was taken to the Tuscaloosa County Jail, where Plaintiff was transferred into the custody of Defendant Sheriffs. ( Id. at ¶ 18). While at the Tuscaloosa County Jail, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant Sheriffs handcuffed Plaintiff and then tased, assaulted, and "tortured" him several times for refusing to give certain identifying information. ( Id. at ¶¶ 22, 41). Plaintiff alleges that due to this confrontation he suffered a torn tendon in his right shoulder, along with swelling in his knee, back, and wrist. ( Id. at ¶¶ 23, 41). Plaintiff was incarcerated for three days and claims his bail was set at $25, 000 dollars. ( Id. at ¶ 24). Although Plaintiff was initially charged with resisting arrest and second degree assault, his charges were subsequently revised to allege that he resisted arrest and obstructed governmental operations. ( Id. at ¶¶ 25-26).
II. Standard of Review
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Still, the complaint must include enough facts "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Pleadings that contain nothing more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" do not meet Rule 8 standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon "labels and conclusions" or "naked assertion[s]" without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, '" the complaint must demonstrate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A plausible claim for relief requires "enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" to support the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. After Iqbal, which applied the Twombly pleading standard in a civil rights/qualified immunity context, "there is no longer a heightened pleading' standard in cases governed by Rule 8(a)(2), including civil rights [cases]' under § 1983." Saunders v. Duke, 766 F.3d 1262, 1266 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 710 (11th Cir. 2010)). The Supreme Court has recently identified "two working principles" for a district court to use in applying the facial plausibility standard. First, in evaluating motions to dismiss, the court must assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations; however, the court does not have to accept as true legal conclusions when they are "couched as... factual allegation[s]." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 679.
Application of the facial plausibility standard involves two steps. Under prong one, the court must determine the scope and nature of the factual allegations that are well-pleaded and assume their veracity; and under prong two, the court must proceed to determine the claim's plausibility given the well-pleaded facts. That task is context specific and, to survive the motion, the allegations must permit the court based on its "judicial experience and common sense... to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Id. If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claims are due to be dismissed. Id.
Nevertheless, " pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys, and will, therefore, be liberally construed." Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003). Therefore, "wildly implausible allegations in the complaint should not be taken to be true, but the court ought not penalize the litigant for linguistic imprecision in the more plausible allegations." Miller v. Donald, 541 F.3d 1091 (11th Cir. 2008).
Plaintiff has asserted a number of federal and state law claims against Defendant Officers and Defendant Sheriffs based on their involvement in Plaintiff's March 2014 arrest and confinement. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons outlined below, the court concludes that Defendants' Motions (Docs. 17, 20) are due to be granted in part and denied in part.
A. Plaintiff's Federal Claims Against Defendant Officers
Counts One, Two, Three, Five, and Seven of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint assert a number of federal law claims against Defendant Officers, including claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, just compensation, violations of due process, excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishment, and excessive force. ( See Doc. 13, ¶¶ 27-39, 42-47, 52-56). After analyzing Plaintiff's official capacity claims, the court addresses each federal, individual capacity claim in the context of the qualified immunity defenses raised by Defendant Officers.
1. Plaintiff's Official Capacity Claims
Plaintiff attempts to bring claims against Defendant Officers, "individually as well as in their official capacity." (Doc. 13 at ¶ 53). Plaintiff's "official capacity" section 1983 claims are actually claims against City of Northport. See Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 472 n.21 (1985) ("[O]fficial capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against the entity of which an officer is an agent."); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (official capacity suits are, "in all respects other than name... treated as a suit against the entity."); Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (holding "a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office, " and as such, "it is no different from a suit against the State itself"). Suits against an individual acting in his official capacity impose liability on the governmental entity the official represents. See Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991) ("Because suits against a municipal officer sued in his official capacity and direct suits are functionally equivalent, there no longer exists a need to bring official-capacity actions against local government officials, because local government units can be sued directly....").
Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendant Officers are really claims against the City of Northport. But to hold the City of Northport liable, Plaintiff is required to make a colorable showing of some basis for municipal liability. He has not done so.
To sustain a section 1983 claim against a municipality, a plaintiff must identify an official policy or custom that caused the constitutional injury alleged. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978) (holding municipalities could not be held liable under section 1983 under a respondeat superior theory alone).
Plaintiff does not plead, nor attempt to plead, any official policy or custom stating a cause of action against the City of Newport (the "City") under section 1983. There is no suggestion in his Amended Complaint or the record to support a contention that any official policy or custom of the City was the impetus behind any alleged unconstitutional actions of the individual officers. In addition to the fact that Plaintiff has failed to identify any unconstitutional policy of the City, there has also been no showing that Plaintiff's claims can be connected to any policy attributable to a final policymaker for the City.
Therefore, Plaintiff cannot sustain a claim against Defendant Officers in their official capacity. Accordingly, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendant Officers are due to be dismissed.
2. Plaintiff's Individual Capacity Claims
The court reads Plaintiff's Amended Complaint to raise four separate claims implicating federal, individual capacity claims against Defendant Officers: (1) Fourth Amendment unreasonable seizure claims (Doc. 13, at ¶¶ 30-37 (Count Two)); (2) Fifth Amendment just compensation and due process claims ( id. at ¶¶ 38-39 (Count Three)); (3) Eighth Amendment excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment claims ( id. at ¶¶ 42-47 (Count Five)); and (4) a stand alone 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for generic "civil rights violations" ( id. at ¶¶ 52-56 (Count Seven)). Defendant Officers have asserted qualified immunity as a defense to all of Plaintiff's federal, individual capacity claims, and the court addresses each alleged violation within the qualified immunity framework.
Qualified immunity shields "government officials performing discretionary functions... from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). While qualified immunity is typically addressed at summary judgment, it may be "raised and considered on a motion to dismiss." St. George v. Pinellas County, 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002). Indeed, the "driving force" behind the creation of the qualified immunity doctrine was a desire to ensure that "insubstantial claims' against government officials [will] be resolved prior to discovery." Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 n.2 (1987). Accordingly, the Supreme Court "repeatedly ha[s] stressed the importance of resolving immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation." Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per curiam).
Qualified immunity utilizes an "objective reasonableness standard, giving a government agent the benefit of the doubt unless her actions were so obviously illegal in the light of then-existing law that only an official who was incompetent or who knowingly was violating the law would have committed them." GJR Investments, Inc. v. County of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1366 (11th Cir. 1998). The Eleventh Circuit has cautioned that, "[b]ecause qualified immunity shields government actors in all but exceptional cases, courts should think long and hard before stripping defendants of immunity." Lassiter v. Ala. A&M Univ., Bd. of Trustees, 28 F.3d 1146, 1149 (11th Cir. 1994). "We generally accord... official conduct a presumption of legitimacy." U.S. Dep't of State v. Ray, 502 U.S. 164, 179 (1991).
The court determines whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity by engaging in a three-step analysis. See Skop v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1136-37 (11th Cir. 2007). The initial burden is on the official claiming qualified immunity to establish that he was acting within his discretionary authority. Id. Upon that initial showing, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the "defendant's conduct violated a statutory or constitutional right." Id. at 1136-37 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). Finally, "the plaintiff must show that the violation was clearly established.'" Id. at 1137; Snider v. Jefferson State Cmty. Coll., 344 F.3d 1325, 1328 (11th Cir. 2003) ("When case law is needed to clearly establish' the law applicable to the pertinent circumstances, we look to decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the highest court of the pertinent state." (citing Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1032-33 n.10 (11th Cir. 2001) (en banc))). If Defendant Officers can establish that they are entitled to qualified immunity, then the federal, individual capacity claims will be dismissed. See Randall, 610 F.3d at 714.
(a) Discretionary Function Analysis
As a threshold matter, the court readily concludes that the well plead facts, i.e., those facts alleged in the Amended Complaint and indicated by Plaintiff's video recording attached to that pleading, show plainly that Defendant Officers were, at all relevant times, on duty at the time of Plaintiff's arrest. "A government official proves that he acted within the purview of his discretionary authority by showing objective circumstances which would compel the conclusion that his actions were undertaken pursuant to the performance of his duties and within the scope of his authority." Sims v. Metro. Dade County, 972 F.2d 1230, 1236 (11th Cir. 1992) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). In determining whether this test is met, the court does not analyze whether the official actually acted lawfully. See id. Rather, the issue is whether "the act complained of, if done for a proper purpose, would be within, or reasonably related to, the outer perimeter of [the governmental officer's] discretionary duties." Harbert Int'l, Inc. v. James, 157 F.3d 1271, 1282 (11th Cir. 1998); see also Godby v. Montgomery Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 996 F.Supp. 1390, 1401 (M.D. Ala. 1998) ("It is perfectly logical for a court to find that someone who was acting illegally was acting within his discretionary authority.").
Looking objectively at the circumstances described in the Amended Complaint, and notwithstanding Plaintiff's arbitrary "nondiscretionary" label repeated throughout his opposition brief ( see Doc. 23, at 2-5),  it is clear that the Defendant Officers' arrest of Plaintiff was undertaken pursuant to their official duties stemming from the execution of the Tammie Smith Bey arrest warrant. According to Plaintiff, Defendant Officers arrived at Plaintiff's residence in uniform stating that they had an arrest warrant for Tammie. (Doc. 13, ¶¶ 14-15). At some time after Plaintiff asked the officers to identify themselves and to see their warrant, Defendant Officers pulled Plaintiff out of his house and threw him on the ground. ( Id. at ¶¶ 16-18). Defendant Officers then arrested Plaintiff for his alleged interference. ( See id. at ¶¶ 25-26). Executing on an arrest warrant (in the manner in which Defendant Officers are alleged to have done) cannot plausibly be argued to be unrelated to, or beyond the outer perimeter of, an officer's discretionary duties.
The court concludes that Defendant Officers were, without question, acting within the scope of their discretionary authority. Therefore, the burden shifts to Plaintiff to show that the officers' conduct violated a clearly established statutory or constitutional right. See Skop, 485 F.3d at 1136-37. For the reasons outlined below, Plaintiff has not stated claims for violations of the Fifth Amendment, or Eighth Amendment, or for generic "civil rights claims." However, at this stage, the court finds that absent some limited and targeted discovery, a qualified immunity decision on certain of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claims would be premature.
(b) Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment Claims
i. Plaintiff's False Arrest Claims
The Fourth Amendment, which is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, guarantees the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV; see Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 578 (11th Cir. 1990). Whether a warrantless arrest of a person, which is a seizure, is reasonable depends on a finding of probable cause. Kingsland v. City of Miami, 382 F.3d 1220, 1226 (11th Cir. 2004). That is, an arrest without a warrant and lacking probable cause violates the Constitution and can underpin a section 1983 claim, but the existence of probable cause at the time of arrest is an absolute bar to a subsequent constitutional challenge to the arrest. Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., 608 F.3d 724, 734 (11th Cir. 2010); Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1326-27 (11th Cir. 2009).
Even without probable cause, an arresting officer may still be shielded from individual liability pursuant to the doctrine of qualified immunity if his "actions did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Case, 555 F.3d at 1327 (emphasis added) (quoting Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002)). In wrongful arrest cases, the Eleventh Circuit has defined the "clearly-established" prong as requiring an "arguable probable cause" inquiry. Case, 555 F.3d at 1327 ("Absent probable cause, an officer is still entitled to qualified immunity if arguable probable cause existed.") (quoting Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1195 (11th Cir. 2002)). "Arguable probable cause exists where reasonable officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as the Defendants could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest." Lee, 284 F.3d at 1195 (quoting Scarbrough v. Myles, 245 F.3d 1299, 1302 (11th Cir. 2001)).
Thus, the qualified immunity inquiry in the context of an arrest focuses on whether or not the officer reasonably, although perhaps mistakenly, believed that probable cause existed. Id. The facts of the case and the elements of the crime dictate whether or not probable cause, or arguable probable cause, existed for an arrest. Skop, 485 F.3d at 1137-38; Crosby v. Monroe County, 394 F.3d 1328, 1333 (11th Cir. 2004) ("Whether a particular set of facts gives rise to probable cause or arguable probable cause to justify an arrest for a particular crime depends, of course, on the elements of the crime.").
Because the police had no warrant for Plaintiff's arrest, Defendant Officers must show that Plaintiff's arrest, at least, was based on arguable probable cause. Here, Plaintiff was reportedly arrested because he acted in a manner which interfered with law enforcement's attempts to arrest Tammie Smith Bey. Under Alabama law, "[a] person commits the crime of resisting arrest if he intentionally prevents or attempts to prevent a peace officer from affecting a lawful arrest of himself or of another person." Ala. Code § 13A-10-41(a) (emphasis added). Defendant Officers argue they had at least arguable probable cause to believe that Plaintiff was unlawfully resisting the arrest of Tammie Smith Bey "by closing the door on them and by repeatedly asserting they had no authority to detain her." (Doc. 17, at 7).
Generally, under the Fourth Amendment, police with a valid arrest warrant for a suspect are permitted to enter the suspect's home to arrest her absent a search warrant, so long as the police have a reasonable belief that she will be there. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 603 (1980) ("[F]or Fourth Amendment purposes, an arrest warrant founded on probable cause implicitly carries with it the limited authority to enter a dwelling in which the suspect lives when there is reason to believe the suspect is within."); see also Steagald v. United States, 451 U.S. 204, 214-15, n.7 (1981) ("Because an arrest warrant authorizes the police to deprive a person of his liberty, it necessarily also authorizes a limited invasion of that person's privacy interest when it is necessary to arrest him in his home."). However, "[i]f the person is in a third party's home, absent consent to enter, a search warrant for the residence must be obtained in addition to the arrest warrant." Steagald, 451 U.S. at 211-22.
Taken as true, Plaintiff's factual allegations suggest that he was within his Fourth Amendment rights to refuse Defendant Officers' entry into his home. This raises an important question - how could Plaintiff be unlawfully resisting Tammie's arrest at the same time that he was lawfully exercising his Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that Defendant Officers forced their way into his house and forcibly arresting him without a search warrant, his consent, or exigent circumstances. If that is actually what ...