United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
Scott Coogler United States District Judge
the Court is Defendant DeBran Sudduth's
(“Sudduth”) Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 3.)
Plaintiff Larry Donald Johnson (“Johnson”)
alleges violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, false imprisonment,
conversion, theft, and negligent practices against multiple
Defendants. The only claim asserted against Defendant Sudduth
is unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth
and Fourteenth Amendments. Accordingly, Sudduth's motion
and this opinion address only those claims. The motion has
been fully briefed and is now ripe for decision. For the
reasons stated below, Sudduth's motion to dismiss is due
to be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Johnson is a resident of the Town of Parrish, which is
situated in Walker County, Alabama. Walker County is a dry
county. Under Alabama Code § 28-04-201, et.
seq. it is unlawful to sell, offer to sell, or
personally possess more than three quarts of liquor and case
of beer, or three quarts of wine and a case of beer in such
counties. On August 20, 2014, Sudduth, serving as the Parrish
Municipal Court Magistrate, signed two warrants (No.
14-000000110 and No. 14-000000110) for Johnson's arrest
for allegedly having unlawfully possessed and sold alcoholic
beverages without a license in violation of Parrish Municipal
ordinance No. 96a-148, which embraces Section 28-04-201, Code
of Alabama 1975. (See Doc. 8-4.) Sudduth, who was
the Clerk of the Parrish Municipal Court at the time, set
bond for each violation at $500.00 cash, and then signed the
warrants purportedly without a complaint, affidavit, or other
written statement made under oath. Yarbrough executed the
warrants on August 20, 2014, allegedly despite knowledge that
they were unlawfully obtained. At 10:28 A.M. that same day,
pursuant to the warrant, Yarborough stopped, detained,
arrested, and transported Johnson to the Parrish Jail.
Johnson paid the Parrish town clerk a $1, 000.00 cash bond to
ensure his release, and he was required to return to court to
answer the charges against him in order to avoid suspension
of his driver license and forfeiture of his bail bond. On
October 2, 2014, the Municipal Court of Parrish acquitted
Johnson of all charges. Upon acquittal, Johnson made a
request to the city clerk for return his $1, 000.00 bond.
However, he was denied, and a delay occurred on account of
the fact that the Town of Parrish had spent the money.
Consequently, Johnson was required to wait weeks before the
bond was returned to him in full.
Standard of Review
survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a
claim, the complaint must contain “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, to satisfy
this standard, the complaint must also include
“sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state
a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
establishes a two-step process for evaluating a complaint.
First, the Court must “identify pleadings that,
because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled
to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679.
Second, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual
allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement
to relief.” Id. Factual allegations in a
complaint need not be detailed, but they “must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007).
need not specifically plead each element in his or her cause
of action, but the pleading must contain “enough
information regarding the material elements of a cause of
action to support recovery under some viable legal
theory.” Am. Fed'n of Labor & Cong. of
Indus. Orgs. v. City of Miami, Fla., 637 F.3d 1178, 1186
(11th Cir. 2011). Ultimately, the Court must be able to draw
a reasonable inference from the facts that the other party is
liable. Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams,
LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1215 (11th Cir. 2012). The Court
must construe pleadings broadly and resolve inferences in the
nonmoving party's favor. Levine v. World Fin. Network
Nat'l Bank, 437 F.3d 1118, 1120 (11th Cir. 2006).
Johnson's Complaint as against Sudduth states a claim
upon which relief can be granted.
avers that the two warrants for his arrest were obtained
unlawfully because Sudduth issued them without competent
lawful evidence, and “knew or should have known the
criminal process begins upon the making a complaint and an
arrest warrant cannot be lawfully issued without a written
statement under oath substantially in compliance with the
law.” (Doc. 1-2 at 8.) Additionally, he claims that the
complaint and the warrant for Johnson's arrest were not
within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment.
the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, a warrant may be
issued where it appears “from testimony of witnesses
that an offense has been committed and there is probable
cause to believe that the defendant committed
it.” Committee Comments, Ala. R. Crim. P. 3.1.
In addition the Committee Comments for the Alabama Rule of
Criminal Procedure explain, “[r]ule 3.1 is a
restatement of Alabama law in that a warrant for the arrest
of a defendant will issue only if it reasonably appears from
a complaint or from affidavits filed with the complaint or
from testimony of witnesses that an offense has been
committed and there is probable cause to believe that the
defendant committed it.” Committee Comments, Ala. R.
Crim. P. 3.1. Sudduth asserts that “the
[Plaintiff's] Complaint is silent as to whether the
subject warrants were issued based upon witness testimony,
but they certainly could have been pursuant to Ala.
R. Crim. P. 3.1.” (Doc. 3 at 9.) The face of the
warrants simply states, “probable cause being found on
Complaint filed in this Court against Larry Donald Johnson,
charging unlawful possession of alcoholic bevarage [sic] in
violation of City Code. . . .” (Doc. 8-4 at 2-3.)
Sudduth never states whether an oral statement or an
affidavit was received from which Sudduth made a probable
cause determination. While Johnson's claim that a warrant
cannot be issued without a written statement is inaccurate,
probable cause must have been based upon a complaint or
affidavit or the testimony of witnesses; Plaintiff avers that
none of those three requirements were met. If true, those
warrants would be defective and would have been issued in
derogation of Johnson's rights. As such, the Court finds
the Complaint sufficiently alleges facts capable of
supporting a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
extent that Johnson alleges that then Magistrate Sudduth,
acting in his official capacity as a magistrate, improperly
issued an arrest warrant, Sudduth was acting as an Alabama
state official and is entitled to the same immunity as
the state itself from any federal-court judgment imposing
money damages. Suit against Sudduth in his official capacity,
is “no different from a suit against the State [of
Alabama] itself, ” which is barred by Eleventh
Amendment immunity. Will v. Michigan Dept. of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989); see also See
Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66, (1978).
Sudduth issued the warrants for ...