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Johnson v. Jefferson County

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

August 4, 2017

MARY ANGELA JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFERSON COUNTY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on the following motions: Defendants Godwin and City of Homewood's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 33); Defendants Mike Hale and Dwight Sloan's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 36); Defendants Blackmon, Ferguson, Hampton, Newland, Ross, and Shoupe's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 51); and Defendants Mayes, Scott, and Therrell's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 52). The issues raised therein have been fully briefed by the parties (Docs. # 34, 26, 43, 44, 47, 60, 61, 63, 64), and are now ripe for decision.

         I. Background [1]

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. # 29) asserts the following causes of action: Count One[2] -- “Violation of Civil Rights” (the court has construed Plaintiff's complaint liberally, and the addresses a number of potential constitutional violations below) (Id. at 32); Count Two[3] -- “Violation of Civil Rights Through State Policy and Practice” (Id. at 33); and Count Three[4] -- “Prayer for Injunctive Relief” (Id. at 34).

         Plaintiff [5] Mary Angela Johnson (“Plaintiff”) moved to Homewood, Alabama in July of 2012. (Id. at 3). Soon after, Plaintiff began dating Alex Hirschfield (“Hirschfield”). (Id.). In the following weeks, Plaintiff's vehicle was involved in a motor vehicle accident while being driven by Hirschfield. (Id.). At Hirschfield's request, Plaintiff sent her vehicle to “Chico's Body Shop, ” which was owned by Hirschfield's friend, Monty Klanaris (“Klanaris”). (Id.). Two weeks later, upon learning that her insurance company had not received a claim from “Chico's Body Shop, ” Plaintiff met Klanaris in Montgomery to retrieve her vehicle. (Id. at 3-4). When Plaintiff received the vehicle, the repairs she requested were poorly done and there were additional repairs made that she did not request. (Id. at 4, 27). Additionally, Plaintiff discovered items were missing from her vehicle. (Id.). Plaintiff contacted Hirschfield with a new estimate for the cost of repairs and accused him of “trying to scam her.” (Id.).

         Following this encounter, Hirschfield began to harass Plaintiff, slashed the tires on her vehicle, and poured acid into her vehicle's gas tank. (Id.). Plaintiff filed a police report with the Homewood Police Department (“HWPD”) which accused Hirschfield of attempting to destroy evidence of the faulty car repairs and retaliating against Plaintiff. (Id.). The case was assigned to Detective Shoupe. (Id.). Hirschfield continued to stalk and harass Plaintiff, and made further attempts to damage her vehicle. (Id. at 4). Plaintiff reported these incidents of stalking and harassment to the HWPD, Detective Shoupe, and the Homewood Magistrate. (Id. at 4-6, 27). However, Detective Shoupe, the HWPD, and the Homewood Magistrate did not investigate the claims or otherwise protect Plaintiff from the actions of Hirschfield. (Id. at 5-6, 27).

         In 2012, Plaintiff was involved in a verbal altercation with an unknown male in the parking lot of Publix Super Market in Homewood. (Id. at 5, 27). During the altercation, the man produced a knife and threatened Plaintiff. (Id.). HWPD officers took a report of the incident and allowed the man who had threatened Plaintiff to leave. (Id.). The officers instructed Plaintiff to “see the Magistrate about it” and refused to investigate the matter. (Id.).

         Plaintiff moved to another residence within the city of Homewood in November 2012. (Id. at 6, 27). Hirschfield continued to harass and stalk Plaintiff at her new residence. (Id.). Plaintiff reported Hirschfield's actions to the HWPD; however, the responding officer refused to make a report. (Id.).

         Soon after moving to her new residence, Plaintiff began contacting the City of Homewood and the Mayor of Homewood regarding her neighbor's retention wall, which had collapsed onto her property. (Id. at 7, 27). The City (and Mayor) did not help to correct the problem. (Id.). Following Plaintiff's request, the City of Homewood began to harass her by “trespassing on her property, confronting her in a threatening manner, leaving letters . . . refusing to pick up trash, and ignoring subpoenas to appear in civil court.” (Id.). When Plaintiff attempted to correct the damage done to her property by the collapsed wall, her neighbors accused her of trespassing on their property. (Id.). Homewood police officers responded to one of Plaintiff's neighbor's calls by gathering in front of her home, which intimidated and embarrassed Plaintiff. (Id.). Plaintiff continually reported her neighbors' harassment to the HWPD, including the construction of structures on her property. (Id. at 7-8, 27). HWPD did not investigate this harassment. (Id.). Plaintiff has filed complaints with the HWPD against its officers for refusing to make reports at Plaintiff's request and threatening Plaintiff. (Id. at 8).

         Plaintiff's daughter suffered a brain injury on August 13, 2013. (Id. at 8, 28). As a result, Plaintiff's daughter was excused from participating in gym class by a doctor. (Id.). On August 27, 2013, Plaintiff was notified by her daughter's gym teacher that Plaintiff's daughter had been allowed to participate in gym class, which gave her a headache. (Id.). The gym teacher did not notify Plaintiff of her daughter's headache, and did not send Plaintiff's daughter to the school nurse for care. (Id.). Plaintiff called the HWPD to report the gym teacher for aggravating her daughter's injury and refusing to provide her appropriate medical care. (Id.). An officer responded but refused to take the report. (Id.). Plaintiff further contacted a HWPD supervisor, Jefferson County DHR, and Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls, but all refused to investigate the incident. (Id.).

         The next day, Plaintiff contacted the nurse at her daughter's school regarding actions of the gym teacher. (Id. at 9, 28). The nurse told Plaintiff that her daughter had been confined by herself in the library during recess and gym class, which made her depressed. (Id. at 9-10, 28). Plaintiff alleges that this was done to retaliate against her for reporting the gym teacher's actions to the police and DHR. (Id. at 9, 28).

         On September 5, 2013, Plaintiff received a phone call from her daughter's principal, Abbie Freeman. (Id. at 10, 28). During the call, Plaintiff threatened Abbie Freeman with legal action if the alleged abuse against Plaintiff's daughter continued. (Id. at 10, 28-29). After the phone call, Abbie Freeman retaliated against the Plaintiff by making a false police report to Officer Blackman of HWPD, claiming Plaintiff had threatened her during the call. (Id.).

         In November 2013, Plaintiff was arrested for felony animal cruelty. (Id. at 7, 11, 29). While awaiting trial on the charges, the HWPD and Jefferson County Sherriff's Office attempted to manufacture false evidence against Plaintiff. (Id. at 11).

         Following her arrest, Plaintiff's neighbors, including the alleged victims of the felony animal cruelty charge, continued to harass and threaten her. (Id. at 11, 29). Plaintiff's property was stolen and destroyed, she was threatened with physical harm both in person and via social media, and access to her driveway was blocked on multiple occasions. (Id.). Plaintiff reported these acts to the HWPD. (Id.). However, the HWPD refused to file a report, investigate the allegations, and protect Plaintiff from the harassment and threats. (Id.).

         On August 2, 2014, while Plaintiff was attempting to remove an illegal structure built on her property, Plaintiff's neighbor threw a ceramic tile at her, striking her in the arm. (Id. at 8, 29). Officer Newland of the HWPD responded to the incident. (Id.). Officer Newland refused to make a report or investigate the matter, and threatened Plaintiff with arrest if “he had to return.” (Id.).

         Plaintiff was sexually assaulted in her home by Michael Ward (“Ward”) on July 21, 2015. (Id. at 11-12, 29). Plaintiff had no memory of any sexual encounter, but Ward confirmed, via text message, that they had engaged in unprotected intercourse. (Id. at 12, 29). Plaintiff later discovered that she had become pregnant as a result of the sexual assault. (Id. at 12). After learning of the pregnancy, Ward began making threats toward Plaintiff, requesting she abort the pregnancy and telling her not to seek child support. (Id.).

         After a text conversation with Ward, which Plaintiff contends serves as proof of the sexual assault, she reported the sexual assault to the Jefferson County Sherriff's Office.[6] (Id. at 13, 29). Deputies Therrall and Mayes of the Jefferson County Sherriff's Office refused to review evidence which Plaintiff provided or investigate the sexual assault. (Id.). Instead, they told Plaintiff that she would need to file the report with the HWPD. (Id.).

         Plaintiff subsequently reported the sexual assault to the HWPD, and the case was assigned to Detective Godwin. (Id. at 13-14, 29). Detective Godwin did not view Plaintiff's evidence of the sexual assault, take Plaintiff's statement, or interview Ward. (Id. at 14, 29). Ward, along with his attorney Marcus Jones, provided false evidence, in the form of either text messages or emails, to Detective Godwin to undermine Plaintiff's sexual assault claim. (Id. at 15, 29). In July 2016, Detective Godwin closed Plaintiff's sexual assault case due to lack of evidence, Plaintiff's delay in reporting the sexual assault, and the evidence (which Plaintiff contends is false) provided by Ward and his attorney, Marcus Jones. (Id. at 15, 29-30). Ward later filed charges against Plaintiff for harassing text messages. (Id. at 16, 30). Plaintiff alleges these text messages included health updates on Ward's unborn child as well as “fake” messages. (Id.).

         In August 2016, Deputy Sloan of the Jefferson County Sherriff's Office served Plaintiff with a search warrant for her vehicle. (Id.). The search warrant was related to an animal cruelty investigation regarding the alleged poisoning of Ward's dog in March 2016. (Id. at 16-17, 30).

         Plaintiff alleges that Deputy Sloan, at the direction of Ward and his attorney Jones, delayed serving the warrant until August to prevent “tip[ping] off” Plaintiff to the case being built against her. (Id. at 17, 30). This allowed Ward and his attorney to build a stronger case against her. (Id.). After discovering evidence which she believed indicated that the steering column of her vehicle had been tampered with, Plaintiff reported that vehicle to the HWPD that her vehicle had been stolen. (Id. at 18-19, 31).

         On August 19, 2016, Plaintiff returned home from vacation to discover her home had been invaded using a spare key that she kept inside her daughter's treehouse. (Id.). Plaintiff later discovered that paperwork containing information she had gathered on Ward was missing from her home. (Id. at 18, 30). Plaintiff's home was invaded a second time on September 18, 2016. (Id. at 19-20, 31). This lead Plaintiff to discover that the locks on her home had been tampered with. (Id. at 20, 31). Plaintiff reported this tampering to Officer Kidd of the HWPD. (Id.).

         In December 2016, when reviewing video on her surveillance system, Plaintiff discovered recorded footage of the suspected home invasions and footage from the night of the vehicle theft. (Id. at 21, 32). The footage showed that the intruder “put anti-freeze in Plaintiff's coffee creamer” and left the residence with the missing paperwork which contained information on Ward. (Id. at 21, 30, 32). Plaintiff turned over a copy of the video to the HWPD, along with a photo of Ward wearing clothing similar to those worn by the suspect in the video. (Id. at 21, 32). The case was assigned to Detective Godwin. (Id. at 21).

         In January 2017, Plaintiff spoke to Detective Hampton of the HWPD requesting the home invasion case be reassigned to another detective due to Plaintiff's negative history with Detective Godwin. (Id. at 21, 32). Plaintiff further requested that Detective Hampton reopen her sexual assault case against Ward in light of Detective Godwin's mishandling of the investigation. (Id.) Detective Hampton refused both requests. (Id.).

         Plaintiff's home invasion case was assigned to Detective Furgeson of the HWPD. (Id. at 21). Detective Furgeson contacted Plaintiff and informed her that a warrant could not be served against Ward because the suspect in the video could not be identified; however, Furgeson stated that the district attorney had requested more video footage of the nights of the home invasions. (Id. at 22, 32). Plaintiff asked Detective Ferguson to contact her attorney to gather more evidence and assist in discovering the identity of a man who had messaged Plaintiff on a dating website on the night of the first home invasion. (Id. at 20, 22, 32). Detective Ferguson later contacted Plaintiff to inform her that he had not investigated the dating website and would close the case without additional evidence. (Id. at 22, 32).

         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/qualified immunity 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). 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. ...


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