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Patel v. City of Madison

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

February 1, 2017

SURESHBHAI PATEL, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF MADISON, ALABAMA, and ERIC SLOAN PARKER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Sureshbhai Patel's (“Mr. Patel”) initiated this civil rights action on February 12, 2015 (Doc. 1) and most recently amended his complaint on October 3, 2016. (Doc. 58). Pending before the court is the Renewed Motion To Dismiss Fourth Amended Complaint of Defendant City of Madison, Alabama (the “City”) (Doc. 60) (the “Motion”) filed on October 21, 2016. In light of Mr. Patel's failure to oppose the Motion under the schedule contained in Appendix III to the court's uniform initial order (Doc. 20), the court entered an order (Doc. 62) directing Mr. Patel to show cause why the Motion should not be granted. On January 4, 2017, Mr. Patel filed his response. (Doc. 63). The City filed its reply (Doc. 64) on January 11, 2017. For the reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED IN PART and otherwise is DENIED.

         II. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (“[A] party may assert the following defenses by motion: (6) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957) (footnote omitted) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (setting forth general pleading requirements for a complaint including providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”).

         While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8 does not mandate the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” within a complaint. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.Ct. at 103). However, at the same time, “it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). “[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563, 127 S.Ct. at 1969.

         “[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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. “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.” Id. (emphasis added). “Under Twombly's construction of Rule 8 . . . [a plaintiff's] complaint [must] ‘nudge[] [any] claims' . . . ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible.' Ibid.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680, 129 S.Ct. at 1950-51.

         A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

         III. Analysis

         A. Background

         This case involves a law enforcement incident occurring on February 6, 2015, when Mr. Patel-a 57-year-old citizen of India who was visiting Alabama so that he could assist his son and daughter-in-law in the care of their 17-month-old son-encountered Defendant Eric Parker (“Officer Parker”), an officer with the Madison Police Department during a walk in Mr. Patel's son's neighborhood. (Doc. 58 at 1 ¶ 4). Earlier that morning, a neighbor had reported Mr. Patel as a suspicious person to the Madison Police Department. (Doc. 58 at 2 ¶ 10). Officer Parker first “searched [Mr.] Patel for weapons” and found him to be unarmed. (Doc. 58 at 3 ¶¶ 17-18). “After the search, without provocation, [Officer] Parker restrained [Mr.] Patel's arms and slammed [Mr.] Patel face first into the ground using a leg sweep.” (Doc. 58 at 3 ¶ 19). Mr. Patel was seriously injured as a result of this use of force and “immediately became paralyzed in his arms and legs” due to “significant trauma” impacting his spinal cord. (Doc. 58 at 3 ¶ 21). Mr. Patel was hospitalized and has been through a long period of rehabilitation. (Doc. 58 at 3-4 ¶¶ 24-25). Mr. Patel alleges that, had he not been seriously injured, Officer Parker would have charged him with obstructing governmental operations and resisting arrest. (Doc. 58 at 9 ¶ 52).

         Mr. Patel's Fourth Amended Complaint (Doc. 58) contains six counts. Three of these allege federal constitutional violations and are brought against the City and Officer Parker jointly pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count I is for illegal seizure; Count II is for unlawful search; and Count III is for excessive force. (Doc. 58 at 13-15 ¶¶ 73-84). The remaining counts are state law claims alleged against Officer Parker only.

         The City's Motion seeks a dismissal of all three claims brought against it. (Doc. 60 at 2). However, rather than dealing with the elements of each specific count, the City's briefing addresses Mr. Patel's claims collectively. More specifically, the City challenges whether Mr. Patel's allegations plausibly meet the Monell standard governing municipal liability for constitutional violations.[1] Under Monell, “a local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.” 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2037. Instead, for liability beyond respondeat superior to plausibly attach, a municipality's official policy or custom (including, under certain circumstances, the absence of any policy when policymakers have been deliberately indifferent about the need to have one) must be the “moving force [behind] the constitutional violation[.]” 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. at 2038.

         In each of the three counts involving the City, Mr. Patel makes a Monell-based reference that contains almost identical (i.e., when comparing Counts I and II) and/or partially overlapping language (i.e., when comparing Count III with Counts I and II):

● Count I: “The City's policies and customs, including those regarding necessary training, stops, abusive charges, investigations of citizen complaints, and tolerance for constitutional violations in general, were the moving force behind [Officer] Parker's violation of [Mr.] Patel's Fourth Amendment rights.” (Doc. 58 at 13 ¶ 75);
● Count II: “The City's policies and customs, including those regarding necessary training, weapons patdowns, investigations of citizen complaints, and tolerance for constitutional violations in general, were the moving force behind [Officer] Parker's violation of [Mr.] Patel's Fourth Amendment rights.” (Doc. 58 at 14 ¶ 79); and
● Count III: “The City's policies and customs, including those regarding investigations of citizen complaints, and tolerance for constitutional violations in general, were the moving force behind [Officer] Parker's violation of [Mr.] Patel's Fourth Amendment rights.” (Doc. 58 at 15 ¶ 83).

         Here, the City primarily asserts that Mr. Patel has alleged merely conclusory and, therefore, legally insufficient facts to show that “the City's failure to train its officers on the constitutional limits in investigatory stops and its alleged failure to investigate officer misconduct or to discipline officers” (Doc. 61 at 3)[2] were the “moving force” behind Mr. Patel's injuries.

         The City also challenges Mr. Patel's reliance upon a ratification theory based upon the reinstatement of Office Parker to show that it is liable for Mr. Patel's alleged injuries. Id. Against this backdrop, the court analyzes the plausibility of Mr. Patel's Monell-based theories and the merits of the City's Motion.

         B. Failure To Train

         One way to establish official municipal policy in the context of challenged police action is through deficient officer training. In City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989), the Supreme Court acknowledged that “there are limited circumstances in which an allegation of a ‘failure to train' can be the basis for liability in § 1983[, ]” and held that “the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact.” 489 U.S. at 387, 388, 109 S.Ct. at 1204. In other words, the deliberate indifference standard requires a conscious choice on the part of a municipality before it “can . . . properly be thought of as a ‘policy or custom' that is actionable under § 1983.” 489 U.S. at 389, 109 S.Ct. at ...


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