United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
E. Ott Chief United States Magistrate Judge
now-governing Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Sarah Bowman Glass
(“Plaintiff”) raises claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and Alabama tort law against two Defendants: the
City of Glencoe, Alabama (the “City”), and James
Shelnutt (“Shelnutt”), a judge on the City's
municipal court (collectively “Defendants”).
(Doc. 30). Those claims all arise from a core
allegation that when Shelnutt issued an order revoking
Plaintiff's probation, he lacked a valid Alabama law
license, as required under state law to serve as a municipal
court judge. The cause comes to be heard on three motions.
The first two, filed separately by each of the Defendants,
seek dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Docs. 7, 20). In
the third motion, the City asks the court to strike two
affidavits submitted by Plaintiff in opposition to the
City's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 32). Upon consideration,
the court concludes that the City's motion to
strike is moot and that both motions to dismiss are due to be
12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., authorizes a motion to dismiss a
complaint in whole or in part on the ground that its
allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. On such a motion, the “‘issue is not
whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the
claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the
claims.'” Little v. City of North Miami,
805 F.2d 962, 965 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting Scheur v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). The court assumes the
factual allegations in the complaint are true and gives the
plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences.
Hazewood v. Foundation Financial Group, LLC, 551
F.3d 1223, 1224 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam).
12(b)(6) is read in light of Rule 8(a)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P.,
which requires only “a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ”
in order to “‘give the defendant fair notice of
what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355
U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “While a complaint attacked by a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed
factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide
the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.”
Id. (citations, brackets, and internal quotation
marks omitted). “Factual allegations must be enough to
raise a right to relief above the speculative level
....” Id. Thus, “a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,
'” i.e., its “factual content ...
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)
both the state constitution and by statute, municipal court
judges in Alabama are required to be licensed to practice law
in this state. Ala. Const. of 1901, Art. VI, § 145; Ala.
Code § 12-14-30(d). Plaintiff alleges, however, that
Defendant Shelnutt, a judge on the City of Glencoe Municipal
Court, did not have a valid law license at the time he issued
an order revoking Plaintiff's probation on January 7,
2015, whereupon she spent the next eight days in jail. (Doc.
30 ¶¶ 8-10, 14). Plaintiff also asserts that the
City's Mayor, Charles Gilchrist; the City Prosecutor; the
City Attorney “and/or other city officials knew or
should have known of Shelnutt's unlicensed status,
” having been made aware of same by Plaintiff's
counsel. (Doc. 30 ¶ 11). Despite such knowledge,
Plaintiff says, those City officials failed “to remedy
the situation or mitigate the damages caused to the
Plaintiff.” (Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff further
claims that the City failed both “to properly train and
supervise its officers, employees, against or assigns with
regard to the constitutional right to due process” and
“to implement proper policies and procedures to protect
Plaintiff's constitutional rights.” (Id.
on such allegations, Plaintiff raises claims in her Amended
Complaint under both § 1983 and Alabama tort law. (Doc.
30). First, Plaintiff maintains that Defendants are liable
under § 1983 for violating Plaintiff's rights under
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment
(id., Counts I and II) and the Fourth
Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures.
(Id., Counts III and IV). Plaintiff also contends
that Shelnutt, but not the City, is liable under § 1983
for subjecting her to cruel or unusual punishment in
violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id., Count V).
With regard to her state-law claims, Plaintiff contends that
Defendants are liable for false imprisonment and false arrest
(id., Counts VI and VII), and that the City is also
liable for negligent, reckless, “and/or” wanton
training “and/or” “monitoring.” (Doc.
30, Count VIII). In her demand for relief, Plaintiff seeks a
declaration that Defendants violated her constitutional
rights, an award of compensatory damages against both
Defendants, an award of punitive damages against Shelnutt, as
well as attorney's fees and costs. (Id. at 13).
and the City have filed separate motions to dismiss all
claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Docs. 7, 20). In support,
Shelnutt argues that he enjoys absolute judicial immunity on
all of Plaintiff's claims. (See Docs. 7, 8, 31).
The City, in turn, contends that Plaintiff has failed to
allege facts plausibly supporting that the City caused or is
otherwise legally responsible for any violation of her rights
under either federal or state law. (See Docs. 20,
21, 33; see also Docs. 8, 19).
opposes both motions to dismiss. (Docs. 26, 27, 28). Her
brief in response to the City's motion also appends two
affidavits. (Doc. 28-1). One is sworn by Justin Hayes, the
former public defender for the City. (Doc. 28-1 at 2-3
(“Hayes Aff.”)). The other is from Jonathan
Welch, an attorney Plaintiff retained after learning of
Shelnutt's unlicensed status, while she was in jail.
(Doc. 28-1 at 4-5 (“Welch Aff.”)). The City has
filed a motion to strike both affidavits (Doc. 32, 36), which
Plaintiff also opposes. (Doc. 34).
The City's Motion to Strike
threshold matter, the court considers the City's motion
to strike the affidavits of Hayes and Welch. (Doc. 32). In
the former, Hayes states that sometime “in January
2015, ” while serving as the public defender for the
City, he learned that Shelnutt's name did not appear on
the attorney membership list on the Alabama State Bar
Association (the “Bar”) website. (Hayes Aff.
¶ 3). Hayes indicates that a representative of the Bar
informed him thereafter that such an omission indicated that
Shelnutt was “not in good standing.”
(Id. ¶ 4). Hayes claims he then relayed that
fact to the Glencoe City Attorney. (Id. ¶ 5).
affidavit, Welch indicates that Plaintiff retained him as her
attorney during the eight-day period she was confined to
jail, after Shelnutt had revoked her probation. (Welch Aff.
¶¶ 2-3). Welch says he then spoke the Glencoe City
Prosecutor about Shelnutt's unlicensed status as it
related to Plaintiff's case. (Id. ¶ 4).
Apparently as a result, a “special judge” set
aside Shelnutt's order, and Plaintiff was released from
support of its motion to strike the affidavits, the City
argues, among other things, that it is inappropriate and
unnecessary as a procedural matter for Plaintiff to file them
in connection with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).
(Doc. 32, ¶ 2). The City is generally correct in that
assertion. The inquiry at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage is to
determine merely whether the plaintiff has pled sufficient
material to state a legally cognizable claim for relief. In
that undertaking, the court is must accept the
complaint's well-pled allegations as true, affording the
plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences flowing
from those allegations. So to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion,
a plaintiff need do no more than plead, i.e., allege
in her complaint, facts upon which the law would authorize
recovery. As such, it is wholly unnecessary for the plaintiff
to proffer, and generally improper for the court to consider,
extrinsic evidence on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See
Adinolfe v. United Techs. Corp., 768 F.3d 1161, 1168
(11th Cir. 2014) (“The court's function on a Rule
12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the
parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the
plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to
state a claim for which relief may be granted.”
(quoting Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1252 (10th
Cir. 2006)); Watts v. Florida Int'l Univ., 495
F.3d 1289, 1298 (11th Cir. 2007) (“The district court
dismissed Watts' complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). We are at
the pleading stage, not the proof stage.”).
responds, however, that the court may consider the affidavits
on the theory that they are “central” to her
claims. (Doc. 34 at 3). It is true that, although a court
faced with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is generally restricted to
reviewing the four corners of the complaint, it may also
consider documents that are both “central” to the
plaintiff's claim and undisputedly
authentic. See United States ex rel. Osheroff v.
Humana Inc., 776 F.3d 805, 811 (11th Cir. 2015); SFM
Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Amer. Securities, LLC, 600
F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2010); see also Rule
10(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. But the difficulty with Plaintiff's
theory is that, in this context, a document is typically
“central” to a claim only if it is a written
instrument attached to or referenced in the complaint and
itself gives rise, or is otherwise intrinsic, to the claim,
such as an insurance policy or other contract or a promissory
note; it does not encompass witness affidavits that merely
recount circumstances or information relevant to a claim.
See Adamson v. Poorter, 2007 WL 2900576, at *3 (11th
Cir. Oct. 4, 2007); Intersport, 896 F.Supp.2d at
1109; Bros. v. Saag, 2014 WL 838890, at *4-5 (N.D.
Ala. Mar. 4, 2014); Holloway v. American Media,
Inc., 947 F.Supp.2d 1252, 1262 n. 12 (N.D. Ala. 2013);
Lawrence v. Christian Mission Ctr. Inc. of Enter.,
780 F.Supp.2d 1209, 1215 (M.D. Ala. 2011). If it were
otherwise, almost all evidence would be “central”
to a claim, and the distinction between motions to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6) and motions for summary judgment under
Rule 56 would be eviscerated.
and Welch are but third-party witnesses, and their affidavits
merely recite some of their activities related to
Plaintiff's case. Moreover, the affidavits are not
referenced in the complaint; indeed, they were not created
until after Defendants filed their pending motions to
dismiss. In its discretion, see Intersport, Inc.
v. T-Town Tickets LLC, 896 F.Supp.2d 1106, 1109 (N.D.
Ala. 2012), the court concludes that the affidavits are
extrinsic evidence and are not “central” to
Plaintiff's claims so as to render them subject to
consideration on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.
nevertheless insists that her presentation of the affidavits
was “necessary” to “rebut” certain
“unsupported and speculative statements” that
went “beyond the allegations” of her complaint.
(Doc. 34 at 1-2). In particular, Plaintiff has pled that,
when Shelnutt revoked her probation and remanded her to jail
on January 7, 2015, “he was not a licensed attorney
recognized by the Alabama State Bar Association.” (Doc.
30, ¶ 10). In response, the City has argued that the
court should not credit that allegation on the ground that it
is “conclusory.” (Doc. 21 at 14). The City
contends, rather, that Plaintiff is required to plead
additional details regarding exactly why Shelnutt
allegedly was not a licensed attorney, which Plaintiff has
not done. (Id. at 14-15). The City then further
offers to dispel any such uncertainty, claiming in its brief,
“upon information and belief, ” that Shelnutt
merely did not pay his bar dues on time and that he corrected
the failure immediately once it was brought to his attention.
(Id. at 15). As such, Plaintiff argues that she
filed the affidavits of Hayes and Welch to (1) “rebut
the [City's] unsupported assertions” that Shelnutt
had merely failed to pay his bar dues on time and had
promptly corrected issue and (2) “to support the facts
pled in the complaint” with regard to the City's
argument that Plaintiff has failed to provide necessary
details underlying Shelnutt's alleged lack of a valid law
license. (Doc. 34 at 2).
however, the court concludes that it is immaterial whether it
considers the affidavits at this time because it is not
necessary to do so, and the affidavits do not materially aid
Plaintiff with respect to either purpose she now cites for
offering them. For starters, insofar as Plaintiff suggests
the affidavits “support the facts pled in her
complaint, ” it is difficult to see what she means. If
she is trying to amend or supplement her complaint by way of
third-party affidavits, that is improper. See Shah v.
Orange Park Med. Ctr., 2015 WL 1638231, at *1 (M.D. Fla.
Apr. 13, 2015). If she believes additional allegations are
necessary to adequately state her claims, then she should
seek leave to file an amended complaint. See Id.
Moreover, to the extent Plaintiff conceives the affidavits as
meeting the City's argument that the complaint is
deficient because it fails to allege enough underlying facts
regarding how or why Shelnutt lacked a valid license to
practice law, neither affidavit is up to that task. That is
to say, the only additional information referenced in the
affidavits on that front is Hayes's testimony that,
sometime in January 2015, he “learned” that
Shelnutt's name did not appear on the Bar's website
and that such meant he was “not in good standing with
the Bar.” (Hayes Aff. ¶ 4). But on its face, that
does not explain what circumstance might have led to
Shelnutt's name being omitted from the Bar's website,
and Hayes expressly admits he does not know. (See
id.) Likewise, while Plaintiff claims she filed the
affidavits to counter the City's “unsupported and
speculative” assertion that Shelnutt's name did not
appear on the Bar membership rolls simply because he did not
pay his bar dues on time, it is plain that neither
Hayes's nor Welch's affidavit offers anything
whatever to dispute that assertion.
so, the court concludes that it is bound at the Rule 12(b)(6)
stage to credit Plaintiff's pled allegation that, at the
time he issued his order revoking Plaintiff's probation
and remanding her to jail, Shelnutt “was not a licensed
attorney recognized by the Alabama State Bar
Association.” (Doc. 30, ¶ 10). On a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion, the court must credit the plaintiff's well-pled
allegations, irrespective of what evidence may support them,
either upon the filing of the action or as might be revealed
in discovery. Plaintiff herself maintains that this principle
applies to her allegation that Shelnutt was not a licensed
attorney, and the court agrees. The City disputes that,
contending that the allegation need not be accepted because
it is “conclusory, ” insofar as Plaintiff fails
to supply additional background circumstances relating to
exactly how or why Shelnutt was not licensed. However, the
City does not offer any legal authority or rationale to
support that the particular circumstances underlying
Shelnutt's lack of a valid law license at the relevant
time, whether because of a failure to pay bar dues or for
some other reason, should matter to the viability of
Plaintiff's claims. Therefore, the court will credit
Plaintiff's allegation that Shelnutt ...