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Armstrong v. City of Boaz

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

July 24, 2017

ROBIN ZAK ARMSTRONG; TIMOTHY-BRIAN ARMSTRONG, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF BOAZ, ET AL. ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiffs Robin Zak Armstrong and Timothy-Brian Armstrong (together, “the Armstrongs”), who are proceeding pro se, initiated this action on June 30, 2016, asserting numerous state and federal claims relating to their arrests and subsequent detentions after being stopped at a driver's license checkpoint. Currently pending before the Court is Defendants'[1] Motion To Dismiss (doc. 51, the “Motion”) the claims asserted by Plaintiffs in their Third Amended Complaint (doc. 46, the “Amended Complaint”). On April 10, 2017, the Armstrongs responded, and on April 19, 2017, the Defendants filed their reply. (Docs. 64, 66).

         The Motion is now ripe for the Court's disposition, and after careful review, the Court finds that it is due to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the 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). Still, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic 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. Twombly, 550 U.S. 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 nonmoving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).

         To 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.

         After Iqbal, which applied the Twombly pleading standard in a civil rights context, “there is no longer a ‘heightened pleading' standard in ‘cases governed by Rule 8(a)(2), including civil rights [cases]' under § 1983.” Saunders v. Duke, 766 F.3d 1262, 1266 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 710 (11th Cir. 2010)). The Supreme Court has recently identified “two working principles” for a district court to use in applying the facial plausibility standard. First, in evaluating motions to dismiss, the Court must assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations; however, the Court does not have to accept as true legal conclusions when they are “couched as . . . factual allegation[s].” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679.

         Application of the facial plausibility standard involves two steps. Under prong one, the Court must determine the scope and nature of the factual allegations that are well-pleaded and assume their veracity; and under prong two, the Court must proceed to determine the claim's plausibility given the well- pleaded facts. 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.” Id. 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. Id.

         Nevertheless, “pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys, and will, therefore, be liberally construed.” Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Therefore, “wildly implausible allegations in the complaint should not be taken to be true, but the court ought not penalize the litigant for linguistic imprecision in the more plausible allegations.” Miller v. Donald, 541 F.3d 1091 (11th Cir. 2008).

         III. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Because Defendants argue at least in part for dismissal based on the legal insufficiency of the Armstrongs' factual allegations, the Court sets out those allegations in their entirety rather than providing a summary of the facts pled.[2] The Armstrongs set out the following individual sets of factual allegations in their Amended Complaint:

         A. Robin Zak Armstrong's Allegations

         1. On or about the twenty eighth day of May, the year two thousand sixteen, i Robin was [traveling] in my property along the public way when we stopped so as not to cause harm to fellow-man who was standing in the roadway;

         2. i Robin, heard the man Michael [Hempel] say he stopped us to check the “driver license” of the man (Timothy-Brian) who was in control of the property;

         3. i Robin, heard the man Timothy-Brian did say that he was man in his private capacity and that he was not using the public roads for any commercial activity;

         4. during the event, i Robin activated a video recorder to record the events;

         5. i Robin believe that i acted as [a member of the independent] press by recording and reporting “public officials” engaged in “public duties”;

         6. At NO time was i Robin or [my] property engaged in any “regulable activity” and no evidence to the contrary has been presented;

         7. At NO time was private property (farm truck) used as a “motor vehicle”;

         8. At NO time did i, Robin, act as a “passenger” and no evidence has been presented to the contrary;

         9. At NO time did i Robin, knowingly or willingly waive any right;

         10. i Robin witnessed Michael [Hempel] threaten (promise) the man Timothy-Brian with arrest if he did not provide [commercial] documents.

         11. i saw several man in uniform near our property, two of which identified themselves (upon my request) as “Dake” and “Scott”;

         12. i witnessed Timothy-Brian tell Michael that he was reaching into his back pocket [to get a driver license out of his wallet], but Michael refused to allow Timothy-Brian to fulfill the order;

         13. i witnessed Michael [Hempel] open the door of the truck, without consent, unbuckle Timothy-Brian's seatbelt, and force him out of the property by twisting his arm and pulling him out;

         14. At NO time did Michael [Hempel] provide for inspection, a warrant granting him access to private property;

         15. After Timothy-Brian was taken, Michael began to interrogate me, to which i replied that i reserve my right to remain silent;

         16. Michael said my property (truck) was being towed and ordered me to get out;

         17. Michael [Hempel] told me that it was “too late” for me to show a driver license and he ordered i to abandon my truck (property);

         18. out of concern for my safety, i said i will comply with all orders;

         19. i gathered my belongings into my handbag (including the video camera) and exited the property;

         20. After i fulfilled Michael's order to abandon my property (truck), i was grabbed by another man acting as officer (Dake) and was told that i was under arrest;

         21. The man Justin [Dake] grabbed my arms and put my hands behind my back and put handcuffs around my wrists, causing pain and injury;

         22. i told Michael [Hempel] that my property (handbag) is private;

         23. Michael [Hempel] did arrest/punish me AFTER i reserved my right to remain silent;

         24. At no time did Michael [Hempel] (or any man who acted as ‘officer') advise i of rights [cf Miranda v. Arizona];

         25. At no time was i informed by Michael what “government operation” i allegedly obstructed;

         26. i and my property (handbag) were taken by the man Jeff [Pitts] to the BOAZ Police station. Jeff said I satisfactorily fulfilled his orders;

         27. While at the BOAZ jail, i did reserve all rights in the presence of the man Brandon [Hester] and said it is not my wish to answer questions or provide identification property (photos, fingerprints);

         28. i said to Brandon [Hester] that i require to go immediately to a magistrate, however Brandon did deny that right and said that i would have to wait until Tuesday (approximately 72 hours) until i would be taken before a magistrate.

         29. At BOAZ jail, Michael [Hempel] did search my property (handbag) and did take my property (camera with video evidence of the events and medication) without [my] consent and without warrant.

         30. Said property has not been restored to this day;

         31. i said to Brandon [Hester] that i wished to speak with Timothy-Brian (the man i appointed as counsel), but this right to counsel was also denied;

         32. i was locked in a room for about two hours, then Brandon [Hester] came to the room and did say to me, that he would allow [my] freedom only AFTER taking identity property (photos, fingerprints, health information) AND [ransom] payment of five hundred thirty five dollars;

         33. Brandon [Hester] did interrogate i Robin, without presence of counsel; 34. under threat and duress i did submit to Brandon's questions;

         35. under threat and duress i Robin did pay the [ransom] fee in order to [re]gain freedom.

         (Doc. 46 at 11-14) (quotations, emphasis, brackets, and alterations in original).

         B. Timothy-Brian Armstrong's Allegations

         1. On or about 28 May, 2016 i, Timothy-Brian, was moving my property (farm truck) upon the common way;

         2. At no time during this event was i or my property engaged in any regulable activity and no evidence to the contrary has ever been presented;

         3. At no time during this event was my property used as a “Motor Vehicle” and no evidence to the contrary has ever been presented;

         4. i did ask Michael [Hempel] if he understood the distinction between the private use of the public roads and the commercial use of the public roads, he was unable to respond;

         5. Michael stated that while operating a Motor Vehicle on public roads, you must have your drivers license with you; i instructed Michael that those are commercial terms that he is using and the drivers license is a commercial document;

         6. At no time leading up to this event was i or my property engaged in any activity that rose to the level of “crime” and no evidence to the contrary has ever been presented;

         7. At no time during this event did Michael present any lawful requiring i to give enough identifying information so it could be determined if i had a valid drivers license;

         8. At no time during this event did Michael present any lawful requirement requiring i to step out of my Vehicle;

         9. At no time did i knowingly or willingly waive any right;;

         10. Michael stated that i was being detained to verify that i had a Drivers License;

         11. Michael [Hempel] returned with Quentin [Scott] and Justin [Dake] to surround the left door of the truck in a threatening show of force and stated - that if i did not wish to give him my information for the citation, i would be arrested and would have to bond out on the charge;

         12. After turning to consult with Robin and out of concern for my safety i instructed Michael that i was reaching into my back pocket to get my wallet to retrieve a drivers license; Michael did refuse my offer to show a drivers license and stated - its too late for that, now you need to get out of the truck;

         13. Michael, without presenting a warrant and without my consent, did open the truck door, put hands on my left arm or wrist and twisted my arm to force compliance with his request while i was still belted into truck;

         14. i stated to all present that i had an injured, left, shoulder and i wished easy treatment;

         15. Michael, assisted by Quentin and Justin pulled me from my property (truck), placed me in handcuffs, searched my body and seized property without a warrant and without my consent;

         16. Michael placed me in arrest for the alleged offense of Obstructing a Governmental Operation; i immediately instructed Robin to go home, then come get me;

         17. upon hearing my instructions to Robin, Michael immediately stated that the truck was to be towed;

         18. at no point during or after the arrest was i advised of my right(s); at no point after the arrest was i given an election to go directly to a magistrate;

         19. Michael directed Quentin to take charge of my arrest and place me on the back seat of a police vehicle;

         20. i observed Robin exit the far side of my truck, have her property placed on the bed of my truck, get handcuffed and walk to a police vehicle;

         21. Quentin, continued with my arrest and transported i to CITY OF BOAZ jail;

         22. during the transport i instructed Quentin that i require to go directly to a magistrate; Quentin replied, that would likely not be possible before Tuesday (3 days future), i questioned, are not the courts of Alabama open to the people 24/7?, that is my requirement;

         23. i was held at CITY OF BOAZ jail some amount of time in a cage, then in another room where Brandon Hester and Justin Dunn threatened to continue the restraint of my liberty (harm) unless i agreed to further “takings” of my property (personal information, finger prints, photographic images) and payment (financial property) for my release;

         24. i said to Brandon Hester that i require the charging instrument that was issued to effect my arrest Brandon Hester replied that no warrant issued, the arrest was on Complaint;

         25. under continued duress and threat of continued harm, without a hearing, without due process and without my consent a further “takings” (robbery) was effected;

         26. i was relocated back to a cage until such time as payment was made in exchange for my freedom.

         (Doc. 46 at 15-17) (quotations, brackets, and alterations in original).

         C. Arrest Narrative

         In addition to pleading the above factual allegations, the Armstrongs attached an arrest narrative, written by Captain Hempel subsequent to their arrests, to the body of the Amended Complaint. (Id. at 34-35). The arrest narrative states as follows:

I Capt. Hempel, along with Sgt. Dake, Ptl. Pitts, Ptl. Scott and Dekalb County Deputy Andy [illegible] were conducting a driver's license checkpoint on Double Bridges Rd at the intersection of County Rd 1 in the city limits of Boaz. I observed a white Ford truck traveling east on Double Bridges Rd approaching our checkpoint. The truck stopped and I initiated contact with the driver, later identified as Brian Timothy Armstrong. I informed Brian Armstrong that we were conducting a driver's license checkpoint and that I needed to see his driver's license. He responded something to the affect [sic] of “I only carry that for commercial purposes”. I asked him again for his license and he repeated a statement similar to the first. At that point I realized that I may be dealing with a sovereign citizen and activated my body-worn camera.
I asked Brian Armstrong if he would give me his Social Security number and he stated that he did not have one. I then asked him what his name was. He responded “Armstrong”. I asked him what his first name was and he replied “Timothy”. I asked him for his date of birth and he stated that he would rather not give me that information. At that point I walked to the rear of the truck to retrieve the tag number. At this time I also noticed an equipment violation on the vehicle. One of the 2 right rear tires was slick, not meeting the tread depth requirements. When I did, I re-approached the driver and informed him that I was detaining him until I could verify that he had a valid driver's license. I went back to my vehicle and ran the tag number hoping that it would come back registered to a “Timothy Armstrong” so that I could go ahead and verify the driver's license status. It was registered under the name Robert Williams.
I then re-approached the driver and informed him that based on the information that he had provided to me, I could not confirm that he had a valid Alabama driver's license and I asked him how we were going to rectify that situation and he began to tell me that his license was for “commercial use of the roadway” and that he did not want to give me any false information. He then stated again that he was not using the roadway in a “commercial capacity.” I informed him that while operating a motor vehicle on the roadway he was required to have his driver's license. Then he stated “this was private property.” He then said the “truck was private ...

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