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Johnson v. City of Homewood

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

January 22, 2018

MARY JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
CITY OF HOMEWOOD, et al., Defendants.



         This case is before the court on: (1) the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint filed by Defendants City of Homewood, Doug Finch, and Ted Springfield (Doc. # 46), (2) the Motion to Strike filed by the City, Finch, and Springfield, (3) the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Jefferson County District Attorney's Office (Doc. # 60), and (4) Plaintiff's Motion for Ex Parte Hearing (Doc. # 64). The motions are fully briefed and under submission. (See Docs. # 47, 51, 53, 76-77, 79).

         I. Background

         A. Allegations in the First Amended Complaint

         According to Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, on October 26, 2013, Defendant Springfield, an officer of the Homewood Police Department, knocked on her door and questioned her about complaints she had made to the Homewood Police Department about a dog. (Doc. # 45 at ¶¶ 4, 15). Plaintiff confirmed that she had complained about the dog, after which Springfield informed her that someone had attempted to kill the dog. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-16). Springfield told Plaintiff that she was his “only suspect” and that he had found “a bowl full of rat poison by your tree in plain view in your yard.” (Id. at ¶ 16). Springfield then seized a bowl in Plaintiff's front yard, which was situated above the line of sight from the street and approximately 27 feet from the street. (Id. at ¶ 18). As Springfield seized the bowl, Plaintiff observed that the bowl was clean and shiny. (Id. at ¶ 19). Plaintiff searched her property and found no traces of poison in the yard. (Id. at ¶ 20). But, she discovered that Springfield had searched her back porch and moved many items on the porch. (Id.).

         Plaintiff reported the search of her back porch and Springfield's “other inappropriate behavior” to the Homewood Police Department, but claims the Police Department refused to investigate her complaint against Springfield. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). According to Plaintiff, the Police Department also refused to investigate her complaint that someone attempted to poison her dog by placing the bowl in her yard. (Id. at ¶ 22). On October 26, 2013, Defendant Springfield submitted a report averring that Plaintiff had complained about the dog that had been poisoned. (Id. at ¶ 23). Springfield reported that he saw a bowl on Plaintiff's property in plain sight from the road that contained “a green pellet which resembles rat poison.” (Id. at ¶ 28). Springfield also described the contents of the bowl as an “anti-freeze, rat poison and dog food mixture.” (Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff alleges that Springfield failed to canvass the neighborhood to determine whether other neighbors had used rat poison or whether other neighbors had spilled antifreeze. (Id. at ¶¶ 32-33).

         On November 6, 2013, Defendant Finch, an officer of the Homewood Police Department, wrote a supplemental police report of the poisoning incident. (Id. at ¶¶ 5, 34). Plaintiff claims that Finch's report was inconsistent with Springfield's report because it recounted that the bowl contained “green residue similar to anti-freeze and a pellet similar to rat poison.” (Id. at ¶ 35). Moreover, Plaintiff claims that the officers lacked “clear substantive evidence” that the dog had been poisoned because no autopsy was performed after the dog had been euthanized. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-44).

         On November 8, 2013, Homewood police officers attempted to arrest Plaintiff pursuant to an arrest warrant. (Id. at ¶ 45). On November 9, 2013, Defendant Springfield interviewed Plaintiff's neighbors about the incident, during which Plaintiff alleges that Springfield slandered and defamed her. (Id. at ¶ 47). That same day, Springfield stopped Plaintiff's friend after she travelled to Plaintiff's home and told that friend that he intended to prosecute Plaintiff because “she tried to get me in trouble.” (Id. at ¶¶ 50-51). On November 12, 2013, Plaintiff turned herself in to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. (Id. at ¶ 46).

         Plaintiff alleges that the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office assisted in the malicious prosecution against her. (Id. at ¶ 52). She claims that the District Attorney's Office delayed her prosecution by delaying testing of the bowl for more than three years. (Id. at ¶¶ 53-56). She characterizes the delay as “a direct indication that the District Attorney's [O]ffice delayed the prosecution of the Plaintiff in order to manufacture evidence against her.” (Id. at ¶ 56).

         On March 11, 2014, Defendant Springfield testified that he did not investigate other suspects for the poisoning because no one was home. (Id. at ¶ 26). He also testified that he seized the bowl because it was in plain view and eight to ten feet away from the road. (Id. at ¶ 27). In March 2017, Plaintiff was acquitted of animal cruelty. (Id. at ¶ 58).

         B. Procedural History

         In November 2015, Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants Finch, City of Homewood, and the Homewood Police Department. (Doc. # 1). In April 2016, the court stayed this action pending Plaintiff's state-court trial for animal cruelty. (Doc. # 26). In March 2017, following Plaintiff's acquittal the court lifted its stay of the case. (Doc. # 42). When the court lifted the stay of this case, it also granted Plaintiff leave to amend her complaint. (Id.).

         In March 2017, Plaintiff filed the First Amended Complaint currently before the court. (Doc. # 45). The First Amended Complaint presents several claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by conducting unreasonable searches and seizures on October 26, 2013. (Id. at ¶¶ 62, 66). Plaintiff also contends that the incident on October 26, 2013 violated her procedural due process and equal protection rights, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at ¶ 66). Second, Plaintiff claims that the Homewood Police Department failed to properly train and supervise officers in “the making of proper arrests and the lawful use of force employed during the course of an arrest.” (Id. at ¶ 71). Third, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant City of Homewood's custom and policy of training officers “to properly make arrests and to use a reasonable amount of force in the course of effecting an arrest” proximately caused officers to use excessive force against her. (Id. at ¶¶ 77-78). Fourth, Plaintiff alleges that the City of Homewood's policy described above proximately caused her false arrest.[1] (Id. at ¶ 80). Fifth, Plaintiff claims that Defendants falsely imprisoned her in violation of § 1983. (Id. at ¶ 82).

         Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint contains four additional counts that fail to specify whether they are brought under state law or federal law. In her “Sixth Claim”, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants abused the judicial process and maliciously prosecuted her. (Id. at ¶ 84). Her “Seventh Claim” appears to allege that Defendants committed the tort of outrage. (Id. at ¶ 86). Plaintiff's “Eighth Claim” alleges that Defendants City of Homewood, Jefferson County District Attorney's Office, and Jefferson County committed a variety of torts, including abuse of process, false arrest, failure to train, false imprisonment, and slander. (Id. at ¶ 88). Finally, in the “Ninth Claim, ” Plaintiff claims that “Defendants” failed to properly train and supervise their employees. (Id. at ¶¶ 90-91).

         Defendants City of Homewood, Finch, and Springfield have moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 46). Alongside her opposition brief, Plaintiff filed a report from the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, a transcript from a probable cause hearing in her state-court criminal action, and a transcript from a motion hearing in that criminal action. (Docs. # 50-1, 50-2, 50-3). Defendants have asked the court to strike those exhibits. (Doc. # 52). Defendant Jefferson County District Attorney's Office also seeks dismissal of the First Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 60). In September 2017, Plaintiff requested leave to submit late briefs, and the court granted her leave to do so. (Docs. # 74, 78).

         II. Analysis of the ...

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