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Hughes v. Meadows

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

July 19, 2017

JEROME WESLEY HUGHES PLAINTIFF
v.
MIKE MEADOWS, DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss [28, 30]. After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that both motions are well taken and should be granted. Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against all Defendants shall be dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff's state law claims for negligence and conversion against Defendants Mike Meadows, Jim Smith, and the Town of Cottonwood shall be dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff's state law claim for conversion against Defendant the Humane Society of the United States shall be dismissed without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jerome Wesley Hughes (“Plaintiff”) initiated this action by filing his Complaint [1] on January 11, 2017. In response to Plaintiff's Complaint, Defendants Mike Meadows (“Meadows”), Jim Smith (“Smith”), and the Town of Cottonwood, Alabama, (“the Town”), [1] and Defendant the Humane Society of the United States (“Humane Society”) filed Motions to Dismiss [16, 19] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff then filed a Motion to Amend [20], which the Court granted. Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint [22], which the State Defendants and the Humane Society again moved to dismiss [28, 30] under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         This action arises out of the events of January 12, 2015, when, according to the Amended Complaint [22], Defendants Mike Meadows and Jim Smith (collectively the “Officer Defendants”), employees of the Town, executed a search warrant issued by the Circuit Court of Houston County, Alabama, by entering Plaintiff's property and seizing 65 dogs, which were transported from the property by the Humane Society. (Am. Compl. [22] at ¶ 13.) Out of these events, Plaintiff alleges a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against all Defendants, a negligence claim against the State Defendants, and a conversion claim against all Defendants.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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.[2]

         B. Federal Claims

         The only federal claim articulated in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [22] is a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for the alleged violation of Plaintiff's due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.[3] Specifically, Plaintiff claims that his canines were “wrongfully euthanized, g[iven] away, adopted out, or otherwise disposed of . . . without due process.”[4] (Am. Compl. [22] at ¶ 17.)

         1. Officer Defendants

         The only actions Plaintiff attributes to the Officer Defendants, Meadows and Smith, in connection with the canines are that they “under color of law pursuant to a search warrant issued by the Circuit Court of Houston County, Alabama, entered onto the Plaintiff's property and into the home of the Plaintiff, ” where they “permitted, requested and/or directed The [sic] Humane Society of the United States . . . to participate in the seizure and to take actual possession of and remove from the property” the canines. (Am. Compl. [22] at ¶ 13.) At no point in the Amended Complaint [22], though, does Plaintiff allege that Meadows and Smith's actions in the actual search and seizure violated the Constitution or any federal law.[5] The only constitutional violation Plaintiff alleges is a due process violation for the disposal of his canines. Because Meadows and Smith are not alleged to have been involved in this violation, they cannot be held individually liable for it. Therefore, the § 1983 claims against them in their individual capacities are due to be dismissed with prejudice.

         As for the § 1983 claims against Meadows and Smith in their official capacities, it is well-settled law that claims against municipal officials in their official capacities are claims against the municipality itself. See, e.g., Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985)). As such, the § 1983 claims against Meadows and Smith in their official capacities are duplicative of the claims against the Town, and should be dismissed with prejudice as redundant.

         The State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [28] will therefore be granted with respect to the § 1983 claims pending against Meadows and ...


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