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Estate of Russell v. City of Anniston

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

August 23, 2017

ESTATE OF JEFFREY K. RUSSELL, by and through personal representative Kenley R. Gardner, Plaintiff,


          VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction and Procedural Background.

         This case stems from the tragic death of Jeffery K. Russell (“Mr. Russell”), who committed suicide in a jail cell at the City of Anniston jail after being arrested on February 20, 2014.

         On June 26, 2015, the Estate of Jeffery K. Russell, by and through personal representative Kenley R. Gardner (“Plaintiff”), filed a complaint (the “Initial Complaint”) against the City of Anniston, Shane Denham (“Mr. Denham”), Greg Feazell (“Mr. Feazell”), Nick Bowles (“Mr. Bowles”), and Fictitious Defendants A, B, and C. On July 21, 2015, the Named Defendants[1] filed their answer, and on August 4, 2015, this action was reassigned to the undersigned. (Docs. 6, 9). On February 25, 2016, the Named Defendants filed an Amended Answer in order to assert new affirmative defenses. (Doc. 13).

         On February 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint (the “Amended Complaint”), which identified Fictitious Defendants A, B, and C for the first time as Defendants James Campbell (“Defendant Campbell”), Randy Garner (“Defendant Garner”), and William Wortham (“Defendant Wortham”) (together, the “Added Defendants”), respectively. (Doc. 14). Defendant Campbell was served on November 3, 2016, and Defendants Wortham and Garner were served on November 10, 2016. (Docs. 30, 33, 34).

         On November 18, 2016, the three Added Defendants filed a Motion To Dismiss the claims filed against them as time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. (Doc. 35). Plaintiff responded on November 25, 2016, and the Added Defendants replied on December 9, 2016. (Docs. 37, 40). The Motion To Dismiss is ripe for this Court's disposition.

         II. Legal Standard.

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (“[A] party may assert the following defenses by motion: (6) failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 103, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957) (footnote omitted) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (setting forth general pleading requirements for a complaint including providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”).

         While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8 does not mandate the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” within a complaint. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.Ct. at 103). However, at the same time, “it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). “[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563, 127 S.Ct. at 1969.

         “‘[A] Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal on statute of limitations grounds is appropriate only if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the claim is time-barred' because ‘[a] statute of limitations bar is an affirmative defense, and . . . plaintiff[s] [are] not required to negate an affirmative defense in [their] complaint.' Lindley v. City of Birmingham, 515 F. App'x 813, 815 (11th Cir. 2013) (quoting La Grasta v. First Union Sec., Inc., 358 F.3d 840, 845 (11th Cir. 2004)). At the motion to dismiss stage, “a complaint may be dismissed on the basis of a statute-of-limitations defense only if it appears beyond a doubt that Plaintiffs can prove no set of facts that toll the statute.” Id. (citing Tello v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 410 F.3d 1275, 1288 n.13 (11th Cir. 2005)).

         III. Factual Allegations.

         The decedent, Mr. Russell, was arrested on February 20, 2014, in Anniston, Alabama. (Doc. 14 at 6). Upon his arrest, he was booked into the City of Anniston municipal jail. Id. Prior to being placed in a jail cell, Mr. Russell's personal clothing, which included two shoes, shoestring, socks, pants, underwear, dress shirt, and a necktie, was not removed. Id.

         At approximately 9:00 a.m. on February 21, 2014, Mr. Russell was found unresponsive in his jail cell and was subsequently pronounced deceased by the Calhoun County coroner's office. Id. Plaintiff alleges, upon information and belief, that Mr. Russell's cause of death was strangulation via a noose fashioned from his necktie. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also alleges that, at the time relevant to this action, nine civilian correctional officers were employed at the City of Anniston municipal jail along with two civilian inmate supervisors. Id.

         IV. ...

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