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Sims v. Marion County

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

April 30, 2019

MELISSA ANN SIMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
MARION COUNTY, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.


          L. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendants' First Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint in part. (Doc. 27.) Plaintiffs have filed a timely response. (Doc. 30.) After the parties had fully briefed the motion, the Court held oral argument on Defendants' Motion. The motion is now ripe for review. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' Motion (doc. 27) is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background[1]

         On December 13, 2017, Sheriff's Deputies Jared Tidwell and Terry Rich as well as City of Hamilton Police Officers Jorden Carter and Trey Webb (collectively “Defendants”) were mistakenly sent to the home of Billy Ray Sims (“Sims”) in the early hours of the morning. When Defendants arrived at Sims's home, they did not identify themselves to Sims. Instead, Defendants walked onto Sims's property and shined their flashlights into his home. Sims, believing the Defendants were intruders, grabbed his firearm and held it in his hand. Sims confronted the Defendants, but did not raise his weapon. Trey Webb fired his service weapon at Sims. The other Defendants then fired at Sims. Sims was shot several times. Sims died while awaiting medical care.

         II. Standard

         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 order 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)).

         III. Discussion

         a. Section 1983 Claims

         Section 1983 provides a remedy for violations of protected constitutional rights. Rushing v. Parker, 599 F.3d 1263, 1265 (11th Cir. 2010). “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Defendants argue that Counts I-IV of Sims's amended complaint, i.e. his § 1983 claims, are due to be dismissed because they do not indicate what federal or constitutional right was alleged to be violated by Defendants' actions. Plaintiffs in response assert that they have provided Defendants with sufficient notice of the underlying constitutional rights alleged to be violated in each Count, but request leave to amend their amended complaint if the Court finds that Defendants do not have sufficient notice as to the Constitutional basis for their claims. While the Court agrees with Plaintiffs' general proposition that they need not plead their exact legal theories to survive a motion to dismiss, the Court does note that Plaintiffs are required to provide some notice to Defendants as to the Constitutional or Federal statutory rights alleged to be violated to support a § 1983 claim. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (“As we have said many times, § 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights. . . .”). Defendants, and this Court for that matter, should not have to hypothesize as to the Constitutional basis for Plaintiffs' claims. Accordingly, Plaintiffs are granted leave to amend their amended complaint to state the underlying constitutional basis for their § 1983 claims. Plaintiffs will have ten (10) days from the date of this order to amend their amended complaint.

         b. Unlawful Search and Seizure

          Defendants assert that Plaintiffs have not plead a plausible claim for unlawful search and seizure, presuming such a claim is brought under the Fourth Amendment, because the actions alleged do not plausibly constitute a search and seizure. Defendants then argue that even if Plaintiffs stated a claim for unlawful search and seizure Sims's death abated the claim.

         1. ...

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