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Thorn v. City of Montgomery

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

May 5, 2017

AARON L. THORN PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF MONTGOMERY and J. R. CULLEN, in his individual capacity DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss [8] filed by Defendants City of Montgomery and J. R. Cullen. After considering the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that this motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

          I. BACKGROUND

         On February 8, 2017, Plaintiff Aaron L. Thorn (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Defendants City of Montgomery (the “City”) and J. R. Cullen (“Cullen”) (collectively “Defendants”), bringing claims for constitutional violations under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various state law claims.

         Plaintiff was arrested by Cullen on March 1, 2015, at a Waffle House located in Montgomery, Alabama, and charged with public intoxication. (See Complaint [1] at ¶¶ 6-7.) Plaintiff was then processed into the City of Montgomery Detention Facility (the “Jail”), where the personal property on his person was taken from his possession. (See Id. at ¶ 29.)

         Plaintiff alleges that his arrest and detainment were the products of “racial profiling and overt discrimination on the basis of the plaintiff's race.”[1] (Id. at ¶ 12.) He brings claims of constitutional violations under § 1983, negligence, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and conversion against both Defendants, and a claim of negligent training, hiring, and supervision against the City only.

          II. DISCUSSION

          A. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 278, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)) (internal quotations omitted). This standard “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. 1955. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

          B. Claims against the City

          1. § 1983 Claims and Municipal Liability

         Under Monell v. Department of Social Services, the City “may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.” Buckner v. Toro, 116 F.3d 450, 452 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)). Rather, to be liable under § 1983, the alleged injury must be the result of the “a government's policy or custom” as implemented by “its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy.” Id. “[T]o 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) (citing Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989)). Where liability is premised on a custom, “a plaintiff must establish a widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law.” Brown v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 923 F.2d 1474, 1481 (11th Cir. 1991) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         When municipal liability is alleged under § 1983, “rigorous standards of culpability and causation must be applied to ensure that the municipality is not held liable solely for the actions of its employees.” McDowell, 392 F.3d at 1291 (quoting Bd. of County Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 405, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 137 L.Ed.2d 626 (1997)). This requires a showing that the City's actions were “taken with deliberate indifference as to its known or obvious consequences” and that this “deliberate conduct . . . was the ‘moving force' behind [his] injury.” Id. at 1291-92 (citations omitted) (alterations and emphasis in original).

         Plaintiff's Complaint [1] asks the Court to take judicial notice of four cases in order to establish that the City has a custom of racial profiling and discrimination: the “Bernard Whitehurst case against the City of Montgomery, ”[2] the “Todd Road case”;[3]Gunn v. City of Montgomery;[4] and Cleveland v. City of Montgomery.[5] (Complaint [1] at ¶ 12.) The Whitehurst and Todd Road cases are both over thirty years old, and the Court cannot see how they show a present pattern of racial profiling or discrimination so pervasive so as to constitute a custom. See Fort Lauderdale, 923 F.2d at 1481. Furthermore, neither of the two recent cases, Gunn and Cleveland, have had any factual findings of racial profiling or discrimination.[6] However, even if fact-finders in both Gunn and Cleveland unequivocally found evidence of racial profiling and discrimination by officers and even if the Court were inclined to accept cases decades old as proof of this type of custom, four isolated instances over nearly forty years, without more, do not “establish a widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law.” See ...


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