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Hails v. Dennis

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

February 14, 2018

TIMOTHY TRENT DENNIS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Timothy Trent Dennis and Kimberly D. Wasdin[1] (Doc. 32-33), pro se Plaintiff Daniel Hails' (“Plaintiff”) Response (Doc. 46), and Defendants Officer Dennis and Chief Wasdin's Reply. (Doc. 48), and Defendants Michael Shawn Gaull, Lonny Shane McKinney, David Austin Jones, Matthew Warner Morrison, Robert S. Correa, Donnie Ray Payne, Michael Wayne Walker, Robert Gregory Lindell, Andre Lawrence Reid, and Nathanial Douglas Lamplugh's Motion to Dismiss[2] (Doc. 29-30), Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 36), and Defendants' Reply (Doc. 41). These motions have been referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and S.D. Ala. GenLR 72(b). Upon consideration, and for the reasons stated herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that Defendants Gaull, McKinney, Jones, Morrison, Correa, Payne, Walker, Lindell, Reid, and Lamplugh's Motion to Dismiss (Docs. 29, 32) be GRANTED and that all claims against these Defendants be DISMISSED. The undersigned further RECOMMENDS that the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Chief Wasdin be GRANTED, and that all claims against her be DISMISSED. (Docs. 32-33). The undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Officer Dennis be DENIED, and that Plaintiff be permitted an opportunity to amend his complaint as to his claims against Defendant Officer Dennis. (Docs. 32-33).


         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint[3] (Doc. 23) raises a number of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against thirteen defendants, including Officer Dennis and Chief Wasdin, who are officers from the Silverhill, Alabama Police Department, ten deputies from the Baldwin County, Alabama Police Department (Gaull, McKinney, Jones, Morrison, Correa, Payne, Walker, Lindell, Reid, and Lamplugh), and Baldwin County, Alabama Sheriff Huey Mack. All Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims (See Docs. 27, 29, and 32). This Report and Recommendation addresses only the claims against the Silverhill and BCSO defendants. (Doc. 27). The Claims against Sheriff Huey Mack will be addressed by a separate Report and Recommendation.

         The Amended Complaint provides minimal detail with regard to the counts alleged, but raises claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution against Officer Dennis and Chief Wasdin, who are members of the City of Silverhill Police Department. (Doc. 23 at 8). As best the Court can determine from the contents of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on June 9, 2015, Officer Dennis responded to a call for emergency assistance that led him to Plaintiff's home, and Officer Dennis was the first officer to arrive on scene. According to Officer Dennis' statements, which Plaintiff contends are false, Officer Dennis observed Plaintiff on his front porch. Officer Dennis climbed onto Plaintiff's fence, identified himself as a police officer, and informed Plaintiff that he needed to speak with him. Plaintiff then waved at Officer Dennis, produced a rifle, and fired a shot at Officer Dennis.

         After the weapon was discharged, it appears that the Officer Dennis or someone within the Silverhill Police Department called the sheriff's office to request assistance at Plaintiff's home. Soon after, members of the Baldwin County Sheriff's Department SWAT[4] team and/or deputies (the BCSO Defendants) arrived at the home and breached the gate.[5] Plaintiff was taken into custody at the scene. Later that day, a state court judge issued a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest for attempted murder. According to the BCSO Defendants' brief, “On October 11, 2016, the Circuit Court of Baldwin County, Alabama issued an order dismissing Plaintiff's criminal proceeding for want of prosecution due to the State's witness failing to appear.” (Doc. 30 at 4).

         Plaintiff contends that all of Officer Dennis' statements are false, but provides no alternative version of events. Plaintiff claims that as a result of these false statements he was falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned, and maliciously prosecuted by the Silverhill and BSCO Defendants.

         The majority of the Amended Complaint quotes statements from police reports, and claims they are false. There are no allegations indicating what Plaintiff claims actually did happen. Rather, Plaintiff contends that all of Officer Dennis' statements about the events that took place at Plaintiff's home on June 9, 2015 are false. Additionally, Plaintiff claims that the BCSO Defendants and Chief Wasdin should have engaged in “due diligence” by verifying the claims made by the Officer Dennis before taking any action at Plaintiff's home.


         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, ” the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, “accepting all well-pleaded facts that are alleged therein to be true.” E.g., Miyahira v., Inc., 715 F.3d 1257, 1265 (11th Cir. 2013). “Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2010) (quotation omitted). “ ‘While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' “ Id. at 1289 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A complaint's “ ‘[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).' “ Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must now contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' “ Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While this “plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement' at the pleading stage, … the standard ‘calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence' of the claim.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Moreover, “ ‘the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.' “ Id. at 1290 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Under the plausibility standard, “ ‘where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not “show [n]”-”that the pleader is entitled to relief.” ‘ “ Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2))). Iqbal “suggested that courts considering motions to dismiss adopt a ‘two-pronged approach' in applying these principles: 1) eliminate any allegations in the complaint that are merely legal conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, ‘assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.' “ Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). “Importantly, … courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint ‘obvious alternative explanation[s], ' which suggest lawful conduct rather than the unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 567)).

         “[G]enerally, the existence of an affirmative defense will not support a rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. A district court, however, may dismiss a complaint on a rule 12(b)(6) motion when its own allegations indicate the existence of an affirmative defense, so long as the defense clearly appears on the face of the complaint.” Fortner v. Thomas, 983 F.2d 1024, 1028 (11th Cir. 1993) (quotation omitted)).

         “A document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam) ((citation and quotations omitted)). “Yet even in the case of pro se litigants this leniency does not give a court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party, or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.” Campbell v. Air Jamaica Ltd., 760 F.3d 1165, 1168-69 (11th Cir. 2014) (quotation omitted).


         A. Capacity in Which Defendants are Being Sued

         The Amended Complaint fails to specify whether suit is being brought against Defendants in their official or individual capacities. As the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has observed:

The main concern of a court in determining whether a plaintiff is suing defendants in their official or individual capacity is to ensure the defendants in question receive sufficient notice with respect to the capacity in which they are being sued. In general, plaintiffs have a duty to make plain who they are suing and to do so well before trial. However, plaintiffs are not required to designate with specific words in the pleadings that they are bringing a claim against defendants in their individual or official capacities, or both. When it is not clear in which capacity the defendants are sued, the course of proceedings typically indicates the nature of the liability sought to be imposed. Thus, while it is clearly preferable that a plaintiff state explicitly in what capacity defendants are being sued, failure to do so is not fatal if the course of proceedings otherwise indicates that the defendant received sufficient notice.

Young Apartments, Inc. v. Town of Jupiter, FL, 529 F.3d 1027, 1047 (11th Cir. 2008)(internal citations and quotations omitted). Upon review of the Amended Complaint, the Court concludes that Plaintiff is suing Defendants only in their individual capacities. First, “[i]n a § 1983 action, punitive damages are only available from government officials when they are sued in their individual capacities.” Young, 529 F.3d at 1047 (internal citations omitted). Though Plaintiff has identified Defendants by their official titles, in the “Relief” section of the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff demands punitive damages from each Defendant, indicating that he is suing them in their individual capacities. Second, all Defendants have argued that they are entitled to qualified immunity. In a § 1983 action, “[i]t is well-settled that qualified immunity only protects public officials from lawsuits brought against them in their individual capacity.” Hill v. Dekalb Reg'l Youth Det. Ctr., 40 F.3d 1176, 1184 n. 16 (11th Cir.1994). This defense is evidence that the Defendants believe they were being sued in their individual capacities. See Tapley v. Collins, 211 F.3d 1210, 1211 n. 2 (11th Cir. 2000) (treating suit as against defendants in their individual capacities where the complaint was silent but the parties briefed the issue of qualified immunity).

         B. Qualified Immunity

         All Defendants have raised the defense of qualified immunity. In Harlow v. Fitzgerald, the Supreme Court held that “government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Later, in Mitchell v. Forsyth the Supreme Court reiterated that “[u]nless the plaintiff's allegations state a claim of violation of clearly established law, a defendant pleading qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal before the commencement of discovery.” 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985), citing Harlow, supra, 457 U.S. at 818; see also Gonzalez v. Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1233 (11th Cir. 2003) (“It is [ ] appropriate for a district court to grant the defense of qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss stage if the complaint ‘fails to allege the violation of a clearly established constitutional right.' “). It is undisputed that the Defendants, all law enforcement officers responding to a call for assistance, were at all times relevant hereto, acting within their discretionary authority.

         The United States Supreme Court “has repeatedly stressed the importance of resolving qualified immunity questions at the earliest possible stage in litigation.” Bloom v. Alvereze, 498 F. App'x. 867, 878 (11th Cir. 2012) (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)).[6] While qualified immunity is typically addressed at summary judgment, it may be raised on a motion to dismiss and granted if the plaintiff's complaint fails to allege the violation of a clearly established constitutional right. St. George v. Pinellas Cty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002); Marsh v. Butler Cty., 268 F.3d 1014, 1023 (11th Cir. 2001) (en banc) (“We apply the qualified immunity defense to dismiss a complaint at the 12(b)(6) stage where, (1) from the face of the complaint, (2) we must conclude that (even if a claim is otherwise sufficiently stated), (3) the law supporting the existence of that claim-given the alleged circumstances-was not already clearly established, (4) to prohibit what the government-official defendant is alleged to have done, (5) before the defendant acted.”). “At the motion to dismiss stage in the litigation, the qualified immunity inquiry and the Rule 12(b)(6) standard become intertwined. Whether a particular complaint sufficiently alleges a clearly established violation of law cannot be decided in isolation from the facts pleaded.” Keating v. City of Miami, 598 F.3d 753, 760 (11th Cir. 2010)(internal quotations omitted)(citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and GJR Invs., Inc. v. County of Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1366 (11th Cir.1998).

         The Supreme Court has mandated a two-step analysis for resolving qualified immunity claims. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). First, a court must decide whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged “show the [defendant's] conduct violated a constitutional right.” Id. Second, the court must decide “whether the right was clearly established.” Id. The lower courts have discretion whether to address first the existence of a constitutional violation or the clearly established nature of the right allegedly violated. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009); accord Reichle v. Howards, 132 S.Ct. 2088, 2093 (2012).

         C. Claims Against the Defendants

         The undersigned first addresses the claims against the BCSO Defendants, recommending that the BCSO Defendants' motion to dismiss be GRANTED as these Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and all claims against them are due to be dismissed. Next, the undersigned recommends that the motion to dismiss filed on behalf of the Silverhill Defendants be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, it is RECOMMENDED that the motion to dismiss (Doc. 32) be GRANTED as to all claims against Defendant Chief Wasdin, DENIED as to all claims against Defendant Officer Dennis, and that the Plaintiff be permitted to amend his complaint as to his claims against Defendant Officer Dennis ONLY.

         1. Claims Against BCSO Defendants

         Plaintiff alleges that the BCSO Defendants made false statements in offense reports and failed to use due diligence to verify that Officer Dennis' claims about Plaintiff's conduct were plausible. (See Doc. 23 at 9-14, generally). The Amended Complaint contains sparse facts and vague allegations but it is clear that Plaintiff is attempting to raise claims for false arrest, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution against each BCSO defendant. (See Doc. 23 at 15-16).

         a. False Arrest and False ...

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