United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the court on Plaintiff's Response to the
Court's Show Cause Order. (Doc. # 49). On July 16, 2018,
the court directed Plaintiff to show cause in writing as to
why it has standing to assert the claims alleged in its
amended complaint. (Doc. # 48). For the reasons explained
below, the court finds that Plaintiff lacks standing to
assert its 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for a state-created
danger (Count II in the amended complaint, Doc. # 19).
Accordingly, that claim is due to be dismissed. However, the
court is satisfied that Plaintiff has standing to assert the
remaining claims in this action (Counts I, III, and IV in the
amended complaint, Doc. # 19). The court expresses no view on
the merits of those claims and hereby notifies Defendants
that they may refile their motions to dismiss the remaining
February 19, 2017, the City of Adamsville received a 911 call
from Jaamal Thomas stating that Phillip James Binn had
allegedly shot himself. (Doc. # 19 at ¶ 20). Later,
Binn, a former United States Army Ranger who had served tours
of duty in various war zones, was found deceased inside his
home in Adamsville, Alabama. (Id. at ¶¶
15-16). Thomas allegedly was present at the time of
Binn's death. (Id. at ¶ 21). When first
responders arrived, Binn was found to have sustained a
gunshot wound to the back of his head. (Id. at
¶ 17). The bullet allegedly exited through the front of
Binn's head and through the roof of Binn's residence.
(Id. at ¶ 18). The bullet that killed Binn has
not been found. (Id. at ¶ 19).
body was found positioned with his head underneath a chair
and table in his residence. (Id. at ¶ 24). The
weapon allegedly used in Binn's death was found several
feet above and away from Binn's body on the countertop of
an island in Binn's residence. (Id. at ¶
25). The weapon was in a de-cocked condition, a condition
that requires deliberate manipulation of the weapon.
(Id. at ¶ 26). A few hours after Binn's
death, Defendants concluded it was a suicide. (Id.
at ¶ 31).
body was transported to the Jefferson County, Alabama
Coroner's Office, which later examined his body.
(Id. at ¶¶ 27-28). The Jefferson County
Coroner allegedly noted that no gunshot residue was found on
Binn's hands or clothing. (Id. at ¶ 29).
Based upon information obtained from Defendants, the
Jefferson County Coroner's Office ruled Binn's death
a suicide. (Id. at ¶ 33).
November 29, 2017, the estate of Phillip James Binn
(“Plaintiff”), by and through its personal
representative, Vivian Odom, filed this action in federal
court. (Doc. # 1). Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on
February 9, 2018 against Defendants Warren Cotton, Rick
Whitfield, William Dougherty, R.W. Carter, and the City of
Adamsville, Alabama. (Doc. # 19). In the amended complaint,
Plaintiff alleges that the position of Binn's body, the
location of the gun, and the condition of the gun are all
inconsistent with the conclusions reached by Defendants.
(Id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff further alleges that
Defendants failed to conduct an investigation into Binn's
death, and certainly not an investigation consistent with the
prevailing standards and practices used by similarly situated
law enforcement agencies. (Id. at ¶ 30). The
amended complaint contains several claims for relief.
Plaintiff asserted various claims against Defendants under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, including (1) denying Plaintiff's
right of access to the courts by failing to perform a proper
investigation, preserve evidence, and share the details of
the investigation with Plaintiff; (2) taking actions that
resulted in a state-created danger to Plaintiff and other
residents; and (3) as to Defendants Adamsville, Carter, and
Cotton, failing to implement appropriate policies, training
methods, and practices. (Id. at 6-16). Plaintiff
also asserted a claim for civil conspiracy and claims for
wrongful death and negligence against Binn's unknown
killer. (Id. at 16-18).
moved to dismiss the amended complaint. (Doc. # 33; Doc. #
34; Doc. # 40). On July 16, 2018, the court dismissed the
wrongful death and negligence claims against fictitious party
“Killer John Doe.” (Doc. # 48). At that time, the
court also administratively terminated Defendants'
pending motions to dismiss and ordered Plaintiff to show
cause why it has standing to assert the remaining claims in
its amended complaint.
Standard of Review
purposes of assessing standing, the court assumes the
allegations contained in the amended complaint are true.
See Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561
(1992) (“At the pleading stage, general factual
allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's
conduct may suffice [to establish standing], for on a motion
to dismiss we presum[e] that general allegations embrace
those specific facts that are necessary to support the
claim.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal
courts to “Cases” and
“Controversies.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2.
Having said that, not all disputes that might be termed
“cases” or “controversies” in the
colloquial sense count as Article III cases and
controversies. The doctrine of standing serves to identify
those disputes that qualify as Article III cases and
controversies-that is, “those disputes which are
appropriately resolved through the judicial process.”
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560
(1992). Standing is “perhaps the most important of [the
jurisdictional] doctrines, ” and federal courts are
under an independent obligation to ensure standing is
present, even if the parties have not raised it. United
States v. Hays, 515 U.S. 737, 742 (1995) (alteration in
original). Because the court concludes that Plaintiff lacks
Article III standing to assert its § 1983 state-created
danger claim, the claim is due to be dismissed. However, the
court is satisfied that Plaintiff has standing to assert its
Plaintiff's § 1983 State-Created Danger
irreducible constitutional minimum of standing contains three
elements.” Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560. First, the
plaintiff must have suffered an “injury in fact.”
Id. An injury in fact is “an invasion of a
legally protected interest” which is both
“concrete and particularized” and “actual
or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.”
Id. (internal quotation marks removed). Second, the
conduct complained of must have caused the plaintiff's
injury-that is, the injury must be fairly traceable to the
defendant's conduct, not the conduct of some
third party not before the court. Id. Third,