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Carroll v. Horne

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

April 26, 2018

JOHN CARROLL, Plaintiff,
v.
MATT HORNE, in his official and individual capacities, Defendant.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Susan Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff John Carroll brings this action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief and money damages. Plaintiff sues Defendant Matt Horne, a district court judge in Barbour County, Alabama, in both his official and individual capacities, alleging that Horne violated Carroll's rights to free speech and equal protection under the law by filing a state court action against him for defamation. Specifically, in the state court action, which was removed to this Court and subsequently remanded, Horne alleged that Carroll published false statements against him, including statements that he was involved in the “blackmail” of witnesses to get them to “lie in Court, ” and that Carroll also interfered with police investigations. See Doc. 1-1, Horne v. Carroll, 2:17-cv-564-MHT-TFM (M.D. Ala. 2017) (remanded to state court January 31, 2018).[1]In the instant case, Carroll claims that Defendant Horne brought the defamation action against him as a journalist for the purpose of “silenc[ing] this view point” and “intimidat[ing] victims into not coming forward in violation of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.” (See Complaint, Doc. 1 at ¶ 12). Plaintiff further claims that this speech restriction violates his equal protection rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment by “preventing Plaintiff from expressing a victim's account of their experiences and viewpoint, thereby denying the use of a forum and press to those whose views Defendant find [sic] unacceptable and not flattering.” (See Complaint, Doc. 1 at ¶ 13). Carroll seeks nominal damages and asks this Court to “issue an order enjoining Defendants from prosecuting the Plaintiff herein or further harassment that is designed to impede constitutionally protected free speech.” (See Complaint, Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 23, 30).

         The defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss, and/or in the Alternative Motion for More Definite Statement (Doc. 8) in which he argues that this complaint is due to be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) because the Court has no subject matter jurisdiction and the plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim for relief.[2] The plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 12), and the defendant filed a Reply to Plaintiff's Response. (Doc. 14). This action was referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 for consideration and disposition or recommendation on all pretrial matters as may be appropriate. (Doc. 4). For the reasons stated herein, it is the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge that the defendant's motion to dismiss (Doc. 8) be granted.

         II. Standard of Review

         A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) -Failure to State a Claim

         In order to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp., v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007). The standard for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) was explained in Twombly and refined in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct.1937, 1949 (2009), as follows:

Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hypertechnical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will … be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But 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 shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-679 (citations and internal edits omitted).

         The Twombly-Iqbal two-step analysis begins “by identifying the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth” because they are conclusory. Id., at 195; Mamani v. Berzain, 654 F.3d 1148, 1153 (11th Cir. 2011) (“Following the Supreme Court's approach in Iqbal, we begin by identifying conclusory allegations in the Complaint.”). After conclusory statements are set aside, the Twombly-Iqbal analysis requires the Court to assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations, and then to determine whether they “possess enough heft to set forth ‘a plausible entitlement to relief.'” Mack v. City of High Springs, 486 Fed.Appx. 3, 6 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation omitted.) “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint need not contain ‘detailed factual allegations' but instead the complaint must contain ‘only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Maddox v. Auburn Univ. Fed. Credit Union, 441 B.R. 149, 151 (M.D. Ala. 2010) (Citation omitted). Establishing facial plausibility, however, requires more than stating facts that establish mere possibility. Mamani, 654 F.3d at 1156 (“The possibility that - if even a possibility has been alleged effectively - these defendants acted unlawfully is not enough for a plausible claim.”). (Emphasis in original). Plaintiff is required to “allege more by way of factual content to nudge [her] claim … across the line from conceivable to plausible.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1952 (internal editing and citation omitted.)

         B. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) -- Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion directly challenges the district court's subject matter jurisdiction. McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cnty, 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007); Gilmore v. Day, 125 F.Supp.2d 468, 470 (M.D. Ala. 2000). The burden of proof on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is on the party averring jurisdiction. Gilmore, 125 F.Supp.2d at 471 (citing Thomson v. Gaskill, 315 U.S. 442, 446, 62 S.Ct. 673, 86 L.Ed. 951 (1942)). A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be either facial or factual. Makro v. Capital of America, Inc. v. UBS AG, 543 F.3d 1254, 1258 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Morrison v. Amway Corp., 323 F.3d 920, 925 n.5 (11th Cir. 2003)); Stalley v. Orlando Regional Healthcare Sys., Inc., 524 F.3d 1229, 1232 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing McElmurray, 501 F.3d at 1251).

         A “facial attack” is based solely on the pleadings and requires the court to assess whether the plaintiff has alleged a sufficient basis for subject matter jurisdiction. Stalley, 524 F.3d at 1232-33; Morrison, 323 F.3d at 925 n. 5; Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). “On a facial attack, a plaintiff is afforded safeguards similar to those provided in opposing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion - the court must consider the allegations of the complaint to be true.” Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529 (citing Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 412 (5th Cir. 1981)); see also Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, 733 F.3d 1323, 1335 (11th Cir. 2013) (The Court evaluates whether the plaintiff “has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction” in the complaint and employs standards similar to those governing a Rule 12(b)(6) review.). The Court is “not required to accept mere conclusory allegations as true, nor are we required to accept as true allegations in the complaint that are contrary to factual details presented in the exhibits.” Griffin Indus., Inc. v. Irvin, 496 F.3d 1189, 1205-06 (11th Cir. 2007). “[W]hen the exhibits contradict the general and conclusory allegations of the pleading, the exhibits govern.” Id. at 1206. In discussing exhibits on a facial attack, the Court may consider exhibits attached to the complaint as well as those attached to a motion to dismiss. Lawrence v. United States, 597 Fed.Appx. 599, 602 (11th Cir. 2015). Exhibits attached to the complaint are considered part of the complaint for all purposes. Id. Further, exhibits attached to a motion to dismiss may be considered for a facial attack if the documents are central to the plaintiff's claim and their authenticity is not disputed. Id.

         On the other hand, a “factual attack” challenges “subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings.” Morrison, 323 F.3d at 925. On a Rule 12(b)(1) factual attack, the court “may proceed as it never could under 12(b)(6) or Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529. Further, in resolving a factual attack, the court “may consider extrinsic evidence such as testimony and affidavits.” Makro, 543 F.3d at 1258 (quoting Morrison, 323 F.3d at 925 n. 5); accord Stalley, 524 F.3d at 1233; Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida v. U.S., E.P.A., 105 F.3d 599, 603 (11th Cir. 1997). The trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case without presuming the truthfulness of the plaintiff's allegations.” Makro, 543 F.3d at 1528 (internal quotations omitted); see also Willett v. United States, 24 F.Supp.3d 1167, 1173 (M.D. Ala. 2014) (stating ...


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