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Davis v. Clayton

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

July 19, 2018



          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Carl and Janie Davis (“Plaintiffs”) brought this action against Defendant Robert Clayton (“Defendant”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama state law in Defendant's individual capacity as a police officer employed by the City of Eutaw, Alabama. Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 3.) This Motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision. For the reasons explained more fully herein, the Motion is due to be GRANTED.

         I. Background [1]

         Plaintiffs are residents of Eutaw, Alabama, and owned two German Shepards, Lady Ace and Django. On March 30, 2017, Lady Ace and Django escaped from their enclosed living area at the Plaintiffs' residence. At some point following their escape, the dogs arrived at the Eutaw Recreation Center. Plaintiffs were not aware that the dogs had escaped as they were out of town at the time.

         Defendant is a police officer employed by the City of Eutaw, Alabama. He was dispatched to the Eutaw Recreation Center in response to a report that a stray dog had been killed at that location. Upon arriving at the scene, Defendant observed Lady Ace and Django in a small, playground-type space that sits between two buildings of the recreation center. Defendant activated his bodycam which filmed his encounter.

         Defendant saw Lady Ace and Django, who were located near the dead dog. Before Defendant had fully exited his car, Plaintiffs' dogs began approaching him. Several people at the scene, Defendant included, warned others that the dogs “got that blood taste in their mouth” and would “bite somebody else.” (Doc. 7 Ex. 1 at 1:07.) Apparently, Defendant was of the belief that Lady Ace and Django had killed the stray dog. Defendant stood behind the opened door of his patrol car and observed the dogs, who remained in the playground area of the recreation center for some time.

         At one point, an employee of the street department arrived to collect the dead dog. Defendant warned the employee that Plaintiffs' dogs could be dangerous. The Defendant's bodycam recorded the employee, in his sanitation truck, driving behind the recreation center on a small road that was separated from the playground and dogs by a chain-link fence. Using a mechanical arm attached to the sanitation truck, the employee picked up the dead dog. Plaintiffs' dogs aggressively barked and jumped as the employee collected the dead dog, although after the sanitation employee left the scene, Plaintiffs' dogs stopped barking. (Id. at 9:50.)

         Defendant reported over his radio that he was worried because employees would soon start arriving at the recreation center and did not want the dogs to bite anyone. He stated that he would “lay them down” if the Plaintiffs' dogs approached him or if the Plaintiffs' dogs started going toward someone else at the scene. (Id. at 3:35, 6:33.) Defendant, apparently speaking with other members of the police department, requested that they attempt to locate equipment used by the animal control department to capture the dogs.

         Minutes after the dead dog was removed, Lady Ace and Django moved from the playground area to a field behind one of the recreation center buildings. The dogs' location prevented Defendant from observing them from his vehicle. Defendant eventually retrieved his taser. (Id. at 13:14.) Although the bodycam video does not show what happened after Defendant left his car since the device was turned off, Defendant shot Django with a taser; Django then ran away and returned to Plaintiffs' home. Defendant shot and killed Plaintiffs' other dog, Lady Ace.[2]

         Upon their return to their home, Plaintiffs found Django in his pen “in shock” and began searching for Lady Ace. They encountered a neighbor, who informed them that a dog had been killed that morning. Plaintiffs called the police department and found out that Defendant had shot and killed a dog they later identified as Lady Ace.

         Plaintiffs filed this action on November 7, 2017, in the Circuit Court of Greene County, Alabama, asserting claims of unlawful seizure in derogation of the Fourth Amendment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama state-law conversion. Defendant was served on November 13, 2017. He removed the action to this Court on December 13, 2017, and filed the pending Motion to Dismiss.

         II. Standard of Review

         In general, a pleading must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, in to withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must “plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ray v. Spirit Airlines, Inc., 836 F.3d 1340, 1347-48 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “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). Stated another way, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Edwards v. Prime, Inc., 602 F.3d 1276, 1291 (11th Cir. 2010). A complaint that “succeeds in identifying facts that are suggestive enough to render [the necessary elements of a claim] plausible” will survive a motion to dismiss. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1296 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, this Court first “identif[ies] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. This Court then “assume[s] the[] veracity” of the complaint's “well-pleaded factual allegations” and “determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Review of the complaint is “a context-specific task that requires [this Court] to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. If the pleading “contain[s] enough information regarding the material elements of a cause of action to support recovery under some ‘viable legal theory, '” it satisfies the notice pleading standard. Am. Fed'n of Labor & Cong. of Indus. Orgs. v. City of Miami, 637 F.3d 1178, 1186 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683-84 (11th Cir. 2001)).

         Generally speaking, evidence not included on the face of a complaint should not be considered in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. See Fed. R. Civ.Pro. 12(d) (“If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the ...

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