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Johnson v. Yarbrough

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

November 13, 2019

STEVEN YARBROUGH, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is Defendants', Steven Yarbrough (“Officer Yarbrough”) and the Town of Parrish (collectively “Defendants”), motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 27.) Plaintiff Larry Donald Johnson alleges violations of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as state-law claims for false imprisonment, conversion, theft, and negligent practices. Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings regarding Plaintiff's § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim for unreasonable search and seizure and state-law claim for false imprisonment. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings is due to be granted.[1]

         I. Background[2]

         A. Facts

         Plaintiff is a resident of the Town of Parrish, which is situated in Walker County, Alabama. Walker County is a dry county. Under Alabama Code § 28-4-201, et. seq., it is unlawful to sell, offer to sell, or personally possess more than three quarts of liquor and a case of beer, or three quarts of wine and a case of beer, in such counties. On August 20, 2014, Officer Yarbrough “caused or induced” DeBrian Sudduth (“Magistrate Sudduth”), a magistrate for the Town of Parrish, to sign two warrants for Plaintiff's arrest for having unlawfully possessed and sold alcoholic beverages without a license. (Doc. 1 Ex. A at ¶¶ 11-12.) Magistrate Sudduth set bond for each violation at $500.00 cash, and then signed warrants purportedly “without a complaint, affidavit, or other written statement made under oath.” (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.)

         Officer Yarbrough then executed the warrants despite knowing that he had obtained the warrants “without a complaint, affidavit, or other written statement made under oath.” (Id. at ¶¶ 13-14.) On August 20, 2014, at 10:28 A.M., pursuant to the warrants, Officer Yarbrough stopped, detained, arrested, and transported Plaintiff to the Parrish Jail. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff paid the Parrish town clerk a $1, 000.00 cash bond to secure his release. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Afterward, Plaintiff was required to return to court to answer the charges against him to avoid suspension of his driver's license and forfeiture of his cash bond. (Id. at ¶ 16.) On October 2, 2014, the Municipal Court of Parrish acquitted Plaintiff of all charges. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Upon acquittal, Plaintiff made demand to the city clerk for the return of his $1000.00 cash bond. (Id. at ¶ 18.) However, the Town of Parrish had “impermissibly spent [Plaintiff's] money, and would need time to get the money up.” (Id.) As a result, Plaintiff was required to wait weeks before his cash bond was returned to him in full. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initially filed suit against Officer Yarbrough, the Town of Parrish, and Magistrate Sudduth in the Circuit Court of Walker County, Alabama. Magistrate Sudduth timely removed this action to federal court on April 7, 2017. (Doc. 1.) On April 14, 2017, Magistrate Sudduth filed a motion to dismiss, citing judicial immunity. (Doc. 3.) Although the Court first granted in part and denied in part Magistrate Sudduth's motion to dismiss, it later dismissed Plaintiff's claims against Magistrate Sudduth on the ground of absolute judicial immunity on August 3, 2018. (See Docs. 16 & 23.) The Court's scheduling order set a deadline for Plaintiff to add new causes of action by March 29, 2019. (Doc. 26.) On March 1, 2019, Officer Yarbrough and the Town of Parrish filed the present motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 27.) Plaintiff filed a response brief on April 4, 2019. (Doc. 30.) In his response brief, Plaintiff requested leave to amend his Complaint to state a malicious prosecution claim. (Id.)

         II. Standard

         Rule 12(c) provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where there are no material facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Cannon v. City of West Palm Beach, 250 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001). “In determining whether a party is entitled to judgment on the pleadings, [the Court] accept[s] as true all material facts alleged in the non-moving party's pleading . . . view[ing] those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Perez v. Wells Fargo, N.A., 774 F.3d 1329, 1335 (11th Cir. 2014). A motion for judgment on the pleadings is governed by the same standard as a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Carbone v. Cable News Network, Inc., 910 F.3d 1345, 1350 (11th Cir. 2018). Accordingly, to survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         III. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's Implied Motion for Leave to Amend his Complaint

         Before it can rule on Defendants' motion, the Court must first determine whether to grant leave for Plaintiff to amend his Complaint. Count One of Plaintiff's Complaint asserts a cause of action under the Fourth Amendment pursuant to § 1983 for unreasonable search and seizure. In prior submissions to this Court, Plaintiff has referred to this claim as a claim of false arrest.[3] However, the fact that Officer Yarbrough obtained two warrants prior to arresting Plaintiff belies any claim for false arrest. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 484 (1994) (“[U]nlike the related cause of action for false arrest or imprisonment, [malicious prosecution] permits damages for confinement imposed pursuant to legal process.”); Carter v. Gore, 557 Fed.Appx. 904, 906-07 (11th Cir. 2014) (“The issuance of a warrant-even an invalid one as [Plaintiff] alleges was issued here-constitutes legal process, and thus, where an individual has been arrested pursuant to a warrant, his claim is for malicious prosecution rather than false arrest.”).

         Plaintiff, in his response to Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, asks the Court either to (1) grant Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint and re-characterize his § 1983 Fourth Amendment claim as a claim for malicious prosecution; or (2) construe his unreasonable search and seizure claim under a malicious prosecution framework.

         District courts are required to enter a scheduling order that “limit[s] the time to join other parties [and] amend the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(3). The scheduling order “controls the course of the action unless the court modifies it, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(d), and “may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). This good cause standard precludes modification unless the schedule “cannot be met despite the diligence of the party seeking the extension.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16, Advisory Committee's Note to 1983 Amendment.

         According to the scheduling order in the instant case, Plaintiff could not add causes of action after March 29, 2019. (Doc. 26.) Plaintiff's response requesting leave to amend was filed on April 4, 2019. As a result, Plaintiff's request falls outside of the Court's scheduling order deadline for amendments, and Plaintiff must demonstrate good cause for his delay in seeking to amend his Complaint.

         Plaintiff has not demonstrated good cause for his delay. This case has been pending for over two years. During this time, Plaintiff has already litigated his Fourth Amendment claim under a search and seizure theory against Magistrate Sudduth, who has been dismissed on the grounds of judicial immunity. Although Magistrate Sudduth was dismissed in August 2018, Plaintiff did not request leave to amend his Complaint until April 2019, a delay of more than eight months. Plaintiff has not attempted to make any showing to this Court as to why he failed to seek leave to amend despite having ample time to do so. As a result, Plaintiff has failed to show good cause as required to amend his Complaint at this late stage.

         Furthermore, the Court notes that its decision to deny Plaintiff's requested amendment does not impact the outcome of this case. To establish a § 1983 false arrest claim, a plaintiff must show that the arrest occurred without a warrant or probable cause. See Herren v. Bowyer, 850 F.2d 1543, 1547 (11th Cir. 1988). To establish a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim, a plaintiff must prove two things: (1) the elements of the common law tort of malicious prosecution; and (2) a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unreasonable seizures. Grider v. City of Auburn, Ala., 618 F.3d 1240, 1256 (11th Cir. 2010). In Alabama, the common-law elements of malicious prosecution are: “(1) a criminal prosecution instituted or continued by the present defendant; (2) with malice and without probable cause; (3) that terminated in the plaintiff accused's favor; and (4) caused damage to the plaintiff accused.” Wood v. Kesler, 323 F.3d 872, 881-82 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Delchamps, Inc. v. Bryant, 738 So.2d 824, 831-32 (Ala. 1999) (emphasis added)).

         Regardless of whether a warrant issued, Plaintiff would need to prove that Officer Yarbrough lacked probable cause to prevail on either a false arrest or a malicious prosecution claim. As discussed below, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege facts plausibly indicating a lack of probable cause for his arrest. Plaintiff's attempt to amend his cause of action thus would have no effect on the Court's decision.

         Accordingly, Plaintiff will not be granted leave to amend his Complaint at this late stage to add factual allegations that may support a malicious prosecution claim.

         B. Plaintiff's ยง 1983 Claim Against ...

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