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Lowe v. Scott

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

June 21, 2018




         This case is before the court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 12). The parties have fully briefed the Motion (see Docs. # 12, 15-16), and it is ripe for decision. After careful review, and for the reasons explained below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is due to be granted.

         I. Background

         On August 16, 2016, Plaintiff and Hoyt Lowe (“Hoyt”) finalized their divorce. (Doc. # 11 at ¶ 8). Their divorce agreement granted Hoyt sole and exclusive use and occupancy of the marital residence. (Id. at ¶ 8). Nevertheless, after an Alabama circuit court entered a divorce judgment, Plaintiff and Hoyt entered into a verbal agreement whereby “Plaintiff and their three children were to stay at the marital residence until they were able to find a place to live.” (Id. at ¶ 9). According to the Amended Complaint, this agreement created a tenancy at will between Plaintiff and Hoyt. (Id.).

         On the evening of August 24, 2016, Hoyt called the police to his residence. (Id. at ¶ 10). Defendant, a sergeant with the Warrior Police Department, responded to the “domestic call.” (See Id. at ¶¶ 6, 10-11). Hoyt insisted that Plaintiff and their three children -- ages 2, 7, and 10 -- be removed from the residence.[1] (Id. at ¶ 10). Defendant allegedly instructed Plaintiff to leave the residence or she would be taken to jail. (Id. at ¶ 11). When Plaintiff attempted to explain the situation and her oral agreement with Hoyt, Defendant interrupted her and reiterated that she would be taken to jail if she did not leave the residence. (Id.). Defendant instructed Plaintiff to gather her belongings and leave the residence. (Id. at ¶ 12). Ultimately, Plaintiff left the residence with her three children. (Id. at ¶ 13).

         II. Standard of Review

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). 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 and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Id. at 555, 557. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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). Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A plausible claim for relief requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” to support the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “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.'” Kivisto v. Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, PLC, 413 Fed.Appx. 136, 138 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010)). That task is context specific and, to survive the motion, the allegations must permit the court based on its “judicial experience and common sense . . . to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. If the court determines that all of the well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claims are due to be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

         III. Analysis

         In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff raises one 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Defendant in his individual and official capacities. (Doc. # 11 at ¶¶ 14-18). Plaintiff claims that Defendant deprived her of her due process rights by removing her children and her from the residence despite her valid oral lease. (Id. at ¶ 17). Defendant argues that Plaintiff's procedural due process claim fails as a matter of law because: (1) Plaintiff has not pled a Monell policy or custom to justify an official capacity claim; (2) Plaintiff had no property interest in the residence under a tenancy at will; (3) Plaintiff could have obtained an adequate post-deprivation remedy through a wrongful eviction suit in Alabama state court; and (4) Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. The court begins its analysis by discussing the official capacity claim remaining in this action. Then, the court proceeds to address whether Defendant is entitled to qualified immunity for the procedural due process claim. Because the court concludes that the claims against Defendant are due to be dismissed based on those arguments, the court does not address Defendant's other contentions.

         A. Plaintiff's Official Capacity Claim is Due to be Dismissed

         Plaintiff has sued Defendant in his individual and official capacities. (Doc. # 11 at p. 1). A suit against a municipal officer in his official capacity is functionally equivalent to a suit against the municipality itself. Snow ex rel. Snow v. City of Citronelle, Ala., 420 F.3d 1262, 1270 (11th Cir. 2005). It is axiomatic that a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 under a respondeat superior theory. Id. Instead, to hold a municipality liable, a plaintiff “must show: (1) that his constitutional rights were violated; (2) that the municipality had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy or custom caused the constitutional violation.” McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). Here, Plaintiff's Amended Complaint contains no factual allegations whatsoever to support the existence of a municipal policy or custom that caused the alleged constitutional violation. (See generally Doc. # 11). Nor has Plaintiff argued in support of an official capacity claim in her opposition brief. (See generally Doc. # 15). Accordingly, the court agrees with Defendant that any official capacity § 1983 claim remaining in this action is due to be dismissed.

         B. Defendant is Entitled to Qualified Immunity with Regard to Plaintiff'sPro ...

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