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Fuqua v. Hess

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

January 18, 2017

CHRISTOPHER FUQUA, Plaintiff
v.
R. MARSHALL HESS, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND PARTIAL DISMISSAL ORDER

          HARWELL G. DAVIS, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The above-entitled civil action is before the court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by defendants City of Sheffield, Alabama, and the Sheffield Police Department (Doc. 11) and the Motion to Dismiss filed by defendant R. Marshall Hess (Doc. 17). Plaintiff has filed a response to each motion (Docs. 19 & 22), and defendants have filed replies (Docs 21 & 23).

         Motion to Dismiss Standard

         When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accepts all well-pled facts alleged by in the complaint as true. Although it must accept well-pled facts as true, the court is not required to accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (noting “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions”). In evaluating the sufficiency of a plaintiff's pleadings, a court can make reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor, “but we are not required to draw plaintiff's inference.” Aldana v. Del Monte Fresh Produce, N.A., Inc., 416 F.3d 1242, 1248 (11th Cir. 2005). Similarly, “unwarranted deductions of fact” in a complaint are not admitted as true for the purpose of testing the sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations. Id.; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681, 129 S.Ct. at 1951 (stating conclusory allegations are “not entitled to be assumed true”).

         A complaint may be dismissed if the facts as pled do not state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (explaining “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss”); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561-62, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1968-69, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (retiring the prior “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts” standard). In Twombly, the Supreme Court emphasized a complaint “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, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Factual allegations in a complaint need not be detailed but “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65 (internal citations and emphasis omitted).

         In Iqbal, the Supreme Court reiterated that although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure does not require detailed factual allegations, it does demand “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. A complaint must state a plausible claim for relief, and “[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.” Id. The mere possibility the defendant acted unlawfully is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. The well-pled allegations must nudge the claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. at 1974.

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that on September 13, 2014, he was at his residence, unloading groceries from his car with the help of his children. Defendant Hess stopped his vehicle at plaintiff's house and told plaintiff he was responding to a domestic disturbance call. Plaintiff said he did not know what Hess was talking about and turned to go into the house. Plaintiff alleges that Hess followed him, tripped him from behind, and grabbed his arm. The children ran into the house, and plaintiff called for his wife and everyone in the residence to come out. Plaintiff's wife asked Hess what was going on. Plaintiff told his sister to record what was happening, so the family members on the porch went into the house to get a recording device. While the family members were inside, Hess deployed his taser on plaintiff and told him to lie on the ground. Plaintiff told Hess he could not lie on the ground because the taser wires were in his chest. Plaintiff put his hands behind his back, and Hess again deployed his taser, pulled plaintiff off the ground, placed handcuffs on him, and placed plaintiff in the back of his patrol car. Plaintiff was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Plaintiff went to trial, but the charges were dismissed on the prosecutor's motion.

         Plaintiff also includes allegations about incidents which occurred on December 19, 2014, between William Gibbs and Sergeant Ray Terry of the Sheffield Police Department, and on April 18, 2016, between Cheryl Jarmon-Goodman and unnamed police officers from the Sheffield and Muscle Shoals police departments. Plaintiff alleges that the officers involved in these incidents unlawfully arrested and used excessive force on Gibbs and Jarmon-Goodman.

         Plaintiff asserts causes of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Hess, the City of Sheffield and the Sheffield Police Department for violation of the Fourth Amendment by an unlawful search and seizure (Count One), violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by the use of excessive force (Count Two), and violation of the Fourth Amendment and due process by false arrest (Count Three).[1] Plaintiff asserts state law causes of action against Hess in his individual capacity pursuant to Ala. Code § 6-5-170 for false arrest (Count Four) and false imprisonment (Count Five), as well as claims for assault and battery (Count Six) and outrage (Count Seven). Finally, plaintiff asserts a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (apparently invoking the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments) against the City of Sheffield and the Sheffield Police Department for failure to supervise and failure to train (Count Eight).[2][3]

         Discussion I. Sheffield Police Department

         The motion to dismiss this action as to defendant Sheffield Police Department is well taken and due to be granted. The law is clear that a police department is not a legal entity subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and therefore is not a proper defendant in this action. Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir. 1992); Howard v. City of Demopolis, 984 F.Supp.2d 1245, 1253 (S.D.Ala. 2013) (holding that the municipality, and not its police department, was the proper party to the lawsuit); Hawkins v. City of Greenville, 101 F.Supp.2d 1356, 1363 (M.D.Ala. 2000) (same).

         II. City of Sheffield A.Punitive Damages

         The City of Sheffield is immune from liability for punitive damages for any claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts One, Two, Three and Eight). See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981). Therefore, any claims against the City of Sheffield for punitive damages are due to be dismissed.

         B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims 1.Counts One, Two and Three

         The City has argued that Counts One, Two and Three are due to be dismissed as against it because plaintiff has not pled sufficient facts to impose liability on the municipality under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

         Under § 1983, “a municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor-or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 691. Instead, “it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983.” Id. at 694. Accordingly, “to impose § 1983 liability on a municipality, a plaintiff must show: (1) that his constitutional rights were violated; (2) that the municipality had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy or custom caused the violation.” McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004).

         In an attempt to allege a municipal policy or custom, plaintiff has included allegations about two other incidents involving other persons' encounters with members of the Sheffield Police Department. (Doc. 1 at 3-6). In addition, within Count One, plaintiff alleges:

21. As described above in the numerous instances involving the Sheffield Police Department, the City of Sheffield has a long-held custom of and has long been deliberately indifferent to violating its citizens' rights. The Sheffield Police Department has long been improperly managed, and the direct result of the intentional failure to address any of the department's shortcomings with regard to police misconduct are the numerous and well-documented violations of Constitutional rights. The Sheffield Police Department has known of these civil rights violations for years. The long-held custom of violating the civil rights of citizens and the failure to remedy these violations directly resulted in the wrongful arrest of Mr. Fuqua.
24. The effect of the illegal search and seizure, the failure of the Sheffield Police Department to quickly remedy the situation as outlined above, the Sheffield Police Department's longstanding custom of violating citizens' Constitutional rights, and the Sheffield Police Department's deliberate indifference in violating citizens' Constitutional rights all deprived the Plaintiff of his statutory and constitutional rights granted by ...

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