United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before the court on the Magistrate Judge's Report
and Recommendation (Doc. # 16) and the Defendant's
Response to Court's Order (Doc. # 23). The court directed
Defendant Michael Miller (“Defendant”) to appear
and respond to the Magistrate Judge's recommendation
against dismissing Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983
claim for an unlawful seizure of a urine sample. (Doc. # 18
at 2). Defendant argues that the court should overrule the
Magistrate Judge's recommendation because he is entitled
to qualified immunity for the unlawful-seizure claim. (Doc. #
23 at 5). The court has granted Plaintiff an opportunity to
respond to Defendant's assertion of qualified immunity;
no response has been filed. (Doc. # 18 at 2). After careful
review, and for the reasons explained below, the court
concludes Defendant is due to be granted qualified immunity
for the unlawful-seizure claim because Plaintiff's
allegations about the seizure do not present a violation of
clearly established law.
Background Facts and Procedural History
Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has alleged, among other
charges, that Defendant violated his Fourth Amendment rights
by performing an unreasonable search or seizure.
(See Doc. # 12-1 at 8-9) (claiming that Defendant
directed others to unlawfully seize a sample). Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant, an officer employed by the
Russellville Police Department, arrested him around midnight
on October 26, 2013 following an auto accident. (Id.
at 7). Defendant did not transport Plaintiff to a hospital,
despite Plaintiff's complaints of back and neck injuries.
(Id. at 8). Instead, Defendant transported Plaintiff
to a jail. (Id.). Plaintiff remained at the jail for
two or three hours before losing consciousness. (Id.
at 11). After Plaintiff lost consciousness, he was
transported to a Russellville hospital. (Id. at 8).
allegedly directed two hospital employees, Peggy Williams and
Kellon White, to obtain a urine sample from Plaintiff so that
a drug test could be performed. (Id.). Williams and
White then told Plaintiff that they would forcibly obtain a
urine sample from him unless he peed into a jar.
(Id.). The amended complaint does not assert that
Defendant obtained a warrant for the seizure before
instructing the hospital staff to get a urine sample.
Magistrate Judge determined that Plaintiff's allegations
of an unlawful seizure stated a claim for relief against
Defendant. (Doc. # 16 at 9-15). He noted that a warrantless
seizure is per se unreasonable unless justified by a
specifically established and delineated exception to the
Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement. (Id. at
9). The Magistrate Judge found that Plaintiff did not
voluntarily consent to the seizure. (Id. at 12).
Moreover, he found that exigent circumstances did not justify
the seizure because Defendant could have sought a warrant
during the two or three hours that Plaintiff allegedly spent
in jail before travelling to the hospital. (Id. at
court raised some concerns about Plaintiff's
unlawful-seizure claim against Defendant when it partially
adopted the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation.
(See Doc. # 17 at 5-7). The court queried whether
Defendant could have timely obtained a warrant to seize
evidence from Plaintiff at the time the seizure occurred.
(Id. at 6). Because some of the claims against
Defendant survived the court's initial screening, the
court decided to allow Defendant to respond to the
unlawful-seizure claim. (Id. at 6).
Standard of Review
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a 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). However, the complaint must include
enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Bell Atl. 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.
Id. 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 non-moving party. Watts
v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir.
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.
considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “1)
eliminate any allegations in the complaint that are merely
legal conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, ‘assume their veracity and then
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement
to relief.'” Kivisto v. Miller, Canfield,
Paddock & Stone, PLC, 413 F.Appx. 136, 138 (11th
Cir. 2011) (unpublished) (quoting Am. Dental Assn. v.
Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010)). 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.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. 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. Twomb ly, 550 U.S. at 570.
qualified immunity defense can be reviewed at the Rule
12(b)(6) stage of litigation. Epps v. Watson, 492
F.3d 1240, 1243 (11th Cir. 2007). Indeed, the Supreme Court
has recognized that a plaintiff must allege a
“violation of clearly established law” before he
or she is entitled to discovery from a defendant eligible for
qualified immunity. Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S.
511, 526 (1985). See also Williams v. Bd. of Regents of
Univ. Sys. of Ga., 477 F.3d 1282, 1300 (11th Cir. 2007)
(“If a defendant asserts a qualified immunity defense
in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court should grant
qualified immunity if the plaintiff's complaint fails to
allege a violation of a clearly established constitutional or
Analysis of Plaintiff's Unreasonable-Seizure
provides two grounds on which the court could find that the
warrantless urine seizure did not violate clearly established
law. First, Defendant contends that the seizure could have
been justified by exigent circumstances under binding
precedent existing in October 2013. (Doc. # 23 at 9-16).
Second, he claims that the seizure could have been justified
as a search incident to a lawful arrest. (Id. at
17-24). The court ...