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Snow v. King

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

February 1, 2018

HENRY SNOW, Plaintiff,
THOMAS A. KING, individually and officially as municipal court judge for the City of Gadsden, GARY TUCKER, individually and officially as prosecutor for the City of Gadsden, and the CITY OF GADSDEN, Defendants.



         The Plaintiff, Henry Snow, has sued Thomas A. King, individually, and in his official capacity as the municipal court judge for the City of Gadsden, Alabama (the “City”), for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts One, Two, Three, Four, and Five) and various state law claims (Counts Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine).[1] All Counts arise out of the City's prosecution of the Plaintiff for violation of the City's “Nuisance Abatement Ordinance.” The case comes before the Court on Defendant King's Motion to Dismiss (doc. 13), and the Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. 16). For the reasons stated herein, the Motion To Dismiss will be GRANTED, and the Motion for Summary Judgment will be TERMED as MOOT.


         A. Standard

         In Defendant King's motion, filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, he claims that the Amended Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Generally, 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). However, to survive a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (“Twombly”).

         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) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (“Iqbal”). That is, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation and footnote omitted). 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 or conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Id. at 555, 557 (citation omitted).

         Once a claim has been stated adequately, however, “it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. at 563 (citation omitted). Further, when ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must “take the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Glover v. Liggett Group, Inc., 459 F.3d 1304, 1308 (11th Cir. 2006)).

         B. Allegations in the Amended Complaint

         The Amended Complaint states as follows:

9. The City of Gadsden has a Nuisance Abatement Ordinance that governs its efforts to regulate junk cars.
10. Section 86-1(2)(c) of the statute excepts and removes registered antique wagons from regulation.
11. At the time of his junk car conviction, the plaintiff's vintage Impala wagon (“wagon”) was a registered antique wagon and, therefore, exempt from regulation by the ordinance.
12. The initial notice regarding the plaintiff's wagon was issued on 8/19/15 by defendant Greer without probable cause as it failed to specify the vehicle or specific nuisance violation.
13. The plaintiff tried to appeal this notice to no avail as the nuisance enforcement officer failed to afford the plaintiff the right to appeal the same and failed to provide info regarding the manner to appeal said finding.
14. The plaintiff was issued a defective citation by the nuisance enforcement officer on January 27, 2016[, ] regarding an unidentified wagon and an initial court appearance was set for 3/3/16. The citation failed to state the facts that were the basis for the violation and was otherwise vague and unconstitutional.
15. At all times relevant hereto, the wagon was covered and/or parked in a way that defendants could not have been able to ascertain whether the wagon did or did not have a valid tag.
16. On 3/3/17 and prior to any conviction or trial on the merits, the Judge ordered the plaintiff to get rid of the wagon and then generally re-set the case for May 12, 2016. After court on the same day, enforcement Officer Brian Green apologetically advised the plaintiff that all he needed to do was secure an antique registration and that such registration would void this prosecution.
17. On the same day, the plaintiff registered the wagon as an antique wagon.
18. The plaintiff returned to court on 5/12/16, objected to the charge and produced his antique car registration. In retaliation for the plaintiff's speech and presentation of the registration at the court setting, which otherwise warranted dismissal of charges and full exoneration, the Judge and prosecutor commenced an unnoticed and unscheduled “trial” and convicted the plaintiff of the junk car charges including a fine of $250.00 and court costs of $47.00.
19. The plaintiff filed a timely appeal. Pursuant to this appeal, defendant Owens caused a new citation to be generated that was deficient and otherwise unlawful as said vehicle was exempt at the time of said citation and said citation failed to adequately allege with specificity the nuisance charge. Defendant Tucker participated in its creation and prosecuted said appeal in spite of said deficiency. The prosecutors later nol prossed and otherwise dismissed the charges pursuant to the City of Gadsden's policy of dismissing charges against defendants who produce valid antique car or other registration. This policy was in effect prior to the plaintiff's conviction but was selectively ignored.
20. The City of Gadsden cedes an unreasonable amount of authority to the Judge and prosecutor. The Judge and prosecutor routinely conspire to ignore city policy and violate the civil rights of defendants. Hence, said conduct is rendered the official policy of the City.
21. White, insider neighbors of the plaintiff [sic] have maintained junk cars for decades without citation. As such, the defendants are motivated by unlawful prejudice to selectively not enforce the junk car ordinance against certain residents because of their race and/or political affiliation.
22. At all times relevant hereto, the prosecutor had evidence that the charges against the plaintiff were due to be dismissed but failed to nol pross the action or take measures necessary to avoid the unlawful junk car conviction of the plaintiff.

(Doc. 9 at 7-10, ¶¶9-22).

         C. Analysis

         In his response to the Motion To Dismiss, the Plaintiff states that he “waives any request for money damages and/or injunctive relief . . . against defendant King, ” and “seeks declaratory relief only.” (Doc. 16 at 12). Only the following declaratory relief is set out in the Amended Complaint:

That this Court enter a declaratory judgment finding that the defendants wrongfully convicted and/or failed to set aside the conviction of the plaintiff and that the Court engages in a pattern and practice of such conduct in violation of the Due Process, Takings Clauses of the 14th and 5th Amendments, 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1st and 6th Amendments, the Alabama Constitutional corresponding provisions and state common law and statutes.

(Doc. 9 at 22). Although not specifically labeled as a request for declaratory relief, the Amended Complaint also asks this Court to “[f]ind [the nuisance] ordinance unconstitutional to the extent it does not require a description of said alleged inoperable vehicle and nuisance.” (Doc. 9 at 22). Keeping in mind the exact nature of the relief requested, the Court now moves into a discussion of Judge King's liability.

         1. Judicial Immunity

         This Fifth Circuit has said that confusion comes when “[c]ourts discuss immunity defenses without clearly articulating to whom and in which capacity those defenses apply.” Turner v. Houma Mun. Fire & Police Civil Serv. Bd., 229 F.3d 478, 485 (5th Cir. 2000); see also, VanHorn v. Oelschlager, 502 F.3d 775, 779 (8th Cir. 2007) (citing and agreeing with the proposition stated in Turner). This Court agrees. Judicial immunity, to the extent that it applies in this case, is a defense to claims brought against Judge King in his individual capacity. Sibley v. Lando, 437 F.3d 1067, 1074 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Finally, to the extent Sibley sought to amend his complaint to clarify that he wished to sue Judges Schwartz and Goderich in their individual capacities, such an amendment would also be futile, as both judges were entitled to judicial immunity from suit in their individual capacities.”); see also, Andrews v. Hens-Greco, 641 Fed.Appx. 176, 180 (3d Cir. 2016) (“We therefore hold that Judge Hens-Greco is entitled to absolute judicial immunity from Andrews's individual capacity claim for money damages.”); Davis v. Tarrant Cty., Tex., 565 F.3d 214, 228 (5th Cir. 2009) (“[The] claims against the defendant judges in their individual capacities are barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity.”); Aron v. Becker, 48 F.Supp.3d 347, 363 (N.D.N.Y. 2014) (McAvoy, J.) (dismissing on the basis of judicial immunity “all claims brought against Judge Becker in his individual capacity”); Mills v. City of Shreveport, 58 F.Supp.3d 677, 687 (W.D. La. 2014) (Hicks, J.) ...

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