United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. BRASHER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the court on Defendants Kenneth Harmon
and Corry McCartney's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint.
Orrilyn Stallworth, an African-American woman, filed this
suit against four police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
for false arrest and malicious prosecution. The Complaint
alleges that Defendant Rodney Hurst, a Chilton County
Sheriff's Deputy, stopped Plaintiff's car one night
without a legitimate justification. (Doc. 1 ¶¶
10-13). He was soon joined on the side of the road by
Defendant Matt Foshee, a Clanton police officer, and another
unknown deputy. Id. ¶¶ 12-14. According to
the Complaint, the officers detained Plaintiff on the ground
that Hurst “smelled alcohol” and “smelled
marijuana” in Plaintiff's car, even though
Plaintiff had not consumed alcohol or used marijuana.
Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Plaintiff allowed these
three officers to search her vehicle, but they found nothing.
Id. ¶ 18. Nonetheless, these three officers
arrested the Plaintiff, impounded her vehicle, tested her for
alcohol and/or drugs, and charged her with driving under the
influence. Id. ¶¶ 15-26. Plaintiff was
released from jail when she made bail, and the criminal
charge was later dismissed with prejudice on the
government's motion. Id. ¶¶ 27-30.
Plaintiff contends that this unjustified arrest and
prosecution was caused, at least in part, by racial animus.
Id. ¶ 31.
time of Plaintiff's arrest, Defendant Kenneth Harmon was
the shift or watch commander and Defendant Corry McCartney
was the Sheriff's supervisor. (Doc. 1 ¶ 22). The
Complaint alleges that these supervisors “caused or
contributed to cause the unlawful, wrongful, and malicious
arrest, imprisonment, and prosecution of plaintiff in that,
despite a clear duty and obligation to do so, they culpably
and deliberately failed or refused to review the
evidence concerning plaintiff s arrest and detention, [and]
culpably failed to supervise the actions of [the other]
defendants.” Doc. 1 ¶ 28
police officers who allegedly stopped and arrested Plaintiff
filed Answers to the Complaint (Docs. 14 & 21). But
Defendants Harmon and McCartney moved to dismiss the
Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., for failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 15).
Specifically, they argue that supervising officers do not
have a duty to investigate the basis of an arrest based on
conduct that they did not witness or observe.
brings § 1983 claims against all Defendants for unlawful
arrest (Count 1 of the Complaint) and malicious prosecution
(Count 2 of the Complaint). An arrest made without probable
cause is a violation of an arrestee's clearly established
Fourth Amendment rights and a tort under § 1983. See
Redd v. City of Enterprise, 140 F.3d 1378, 1382 (11th
Cir. 1998). Similarly, our Circuit has identified malicious
prosecution as a violation of the Fourth Amendment and a
viable constitutional tort cognizable under § 1983.
See Uboh v. Reno, 141 F.3d 1000, 1002-04 (11th Cir.
1998). See also Delchamps, Inc. v. Bryant, 738 So.2d
824, 831- 32 (Ala. 1999) (malicious prosecution is also
“[i]t is well established in this Circuit that
supervisory officials are not liable under § 1983 for
the unconstitutional acts of their subordinates on the basis
of respondeat superior or vicarious liability.”
Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360 (11th Cir.
2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Instead, for a
supervisor to be liable for the acts of his or her
subordinate, a § 1983 plaintiff must show that
“the supervisor either directly participated in the
unconstitutional conduct or that a causal connection exists
between the supervisor's actions and the alleged
constitutional violation.” Keith v. DeKalb Cty.,
Georgia, 749 F.3d 1034, 1047-48 (11th Cir. 2014).
“The necessary causal connection can be established
when  a history of widespread abuse puts the responsible
supervisor on notice of the need to correct the alleged
deprivation, ”  “when a supervisor's
custom or policy” caused the deprivation of
constitutional rights, or  “when facts support an
inference that the supervisor directed the subordinates to
act unlawfully or knew that the subordinates would act
unlawfully and failed to stop them from doing so.”
Cottone, 326 F.3d at 1360. In short, “the
standard by which a supervisor is held liable in [his]
individual capacity for the actions of a subordinate is
extremely rigorous.” Id.
Complaint does not allege facts that fit any of these three
bases for supervisor liability. It does not allege that
Defendants ordered their subordinates to arrest or press
charges without probable cause. It does not complain about a
policy of doing so. And it does not assert any facts that
would suggest widespread abuse such that these supervisors
would be on notice of the need for corrective action.
the Complaint alleges that Defendants Harmon and McCartney
are liable for what they failed to do, not for what they did.
Specifically, the Complaint alleges that Harmon and McCartney
failed “to review the evidence concerning
plaintiff's arrest and detention.” (Doc. 1 ¶
28). The problem is that the Eleventh Circuit has already
held that such allegations are insufficient to establish
supervisor liability in a § 1983 case like this one. In
no uncertain terms, the Eleventh Circuit has held that
“[t]here is no constitutional requirement for a
supervising officer to complete a full on-scene investigation
of the basis for an arrest for conduct he did not
observe.” Wilkerson v. Seymour, 736 F.3d 974,
980 (11th Cir. 2013). Here, Defendants Harmon and McCartney
were not present during Plaintiff's arrest when Defendant
Hurst claimed to smell alcohol and marijuana. The Complaint
also does not allege that Defendants Harmon or McCartney had
any knowledge of why Plaintiff was arrested or whether
Defendant Hurst's statements were pretext for
discrimination. Without something more, Defendants Harmon and
McCartney had no duty to investigate the basis of an arrest
that they did not observe or participate in. See id.
from the allegation that Defendants Harmon and McCartney did
not investigate the evidence underlying the Plaintiff's
arrest and detention, the Complaint says very little about
them. The Complaint includes boilerplate language asserting
that each supervisor was “deliberately indifferent to
the impropriety of the detention and arrest of plaintiff and
the lack of probable merit of the case against plaintiff, and
they deliberately failed to intervene in the process of
plaintiff's detention to prevent her incarceration and
imprisonment.” (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 34, 39). But these
statements are nothing more than bare, conclusory
allegations. There are no plausible facts to support them.
Such “labels and conclusions” are nothing more
than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action” and are insufficient to survive a motion to
dismiss. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
short, the Complaint fails to state a claim against
Defendants Harmon and McCartney. However, it is possible that
Plaintiff may be able to allege additional facts that go
beyond the Complaint's present allegations. Accordingly,
the Complaint will be dismissed without prejudice and the
Plaintiff will be given 21 days to amend.
foregoing reasons, the court ORDERS as
Defendants Harmon and McCartney's Motion to Dismiss (Doc.
15) is GRANTED
Counts One and Two of the Plaintiffs Complaint (Doc. 1)
against Harmon and McCartney ...