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Thomley v. City of Daleville

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 3, 2020

CITY OF DALEVILLE, et al., Defendants.



         Now pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by the Defendant City of Daleville, the Daleville Police Department, and Officer Ryan Phillips on December 19, 2017. (Doc. 7).

         The Plaintiff, Joseph Thomley (“Thomley”), filed a complaint bringing 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for unlawful search and seizure (count one), for excessive force (count two), and for false arrest/false imprisonment (count three), a state-law false arrest/false imprisonment claim (count four), a state-law assault and battery claim (count five), and a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the City of Daleville and the Daleville Police Department for failure to supervise and failure to train (count six).

         Upon consideration of the complaint, the motion, and the briefs of the parties, and for the reasons that follow, the Defendants' motion to dismiss is due to be GRANTED as to the federal claims, and the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims.

         I. FACTS

         The facts alleged by the Plaintiff in the complaint are as follows:[1]

         On or about October 16, 2016, Thomley was driving his vehicle home to get a tow strap and stopped at a stop sign. A girl ran in front of his vehicle and then jumped into the passenger seat of his vehicle. The girl was screaming, “please get me away from him, ” and Thomley observed a shirtless man running down the street. Thomley also observed that the girl “was red all over and covered in scratches.” (Doc. 1 at ¶8). Thomley drove a distance of one mile to his home. When he stopped the vehicle at his house, the girl jumped out and ran across Thomley's neighbor's yard. Thomley began walking to obtain the tow strap when a silver SUV pulled into the driveway. Defendant Ryan Phillips (“Phillips”) got out of his vehicle and drew his gun. The complaint alleges that “Officer Ryan Phillips began asking the Plaintiff questions about the female who had just got[ten] out of his vehicle.” (Doc. 1 at ¶11). Thomley said that he did not know who the female was. Phillips then asked Thomley to take his knife out of his pocket. Thomley did so. Phillips then asked him to move to the back of his truck and Phillips handcuffed Thomley. Phillips then began “jabbing his hands in the Plaintiff's pockets” while Thomley was sitting on the tailgate and Thomley told him he did not have permission to search him. Thomley asked that Dale County officers be called to the scene. Thomley then told Phillips that he was trespassing and in response Phillips took Thomley off of the tailgate of his truck by his pocket. (Doc. 1 at ¶17). Thomley told Phillips to keep his hands off him and then “Phillips began to use force on the Plaintiff.” (Doc. 1 at ¶17).

         Phillips put Thomley in a choke hold, kneed Thomley, strangled him, slammed him to the ground face first, and started asking questions about the unknown girl again. Phillips “stated that he was trying to get the Plaintiff's identification and that the Plaintiff pulled away from him.” (Doc. 1 at ¶19). “The Plaintiff responded with ‘I am not resisting. My name is Joseph Thomley.'” (Doc. 1 at ¶19). Phillips asked the neighbor if she knew Thomley and she said that she did, but she did not know the girl who ran across her yard.

         Thomley sat in handcuffs in his front yard for 45 minutes until Dale County officers arrived and released him. He asked Phillips if he was going to jail and Phillips asked if Thomley was going to sue him. Thomley alleges that he suffered “bodily injury, ” but pleads no facts about any injuries sustained.


         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “To survive a motion to dismiss, 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] ... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 663 (alteration in original) (citation omitted). The plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory allegations that are merely “conceivable” and fail to rise “above the speculative level” are insufficient to meet the plausibility standard. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. This pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. at 678. Indeed, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id.


         The Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. In their initial brief, the Defendants pointed to several claims as being due to be dismissed and Thomley either explicitly conceded the point or did not respond to those arguments. Specifically, Thomley concedes that the punitive damages claims against the City are due to be dismissed, (doc. 7 at 13), and has not responded to arguments that the claims against the Daleville Police Department are not cognizable because it is not a suable entity, see Howard v. City of Demopolis, Ala., 984 F.Supp.2d 1245, 1253 (S.D. Ala. 2013) (finding police departments are not a proper legal entity capable of being sued); that claims against Phillips in his official capacity as redundant of claims against the City of Daleville, see Barnes v. City of Dothan, 795 F.Supp.2d 1276, 1283 (M.D. Ala. 2011)(dismissing claims against the individual defendants in their official capacities because the city had been joined as a defendant); and that any Eighth Amendment claim is due to be dismissed because Thomley was not in prison. See Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1328 (11th Cir. 2015) (stating the Eighth Amendment only applies after a citizen has been convicted of a crime). The grounds pointed to by the Defendants establish cause for dismissal of those federal claims and, furthermore, by failing to respond, Thomley has abandoned those claims. See Smith v. Secretary Dep't of Corr., 572 F.3d 1327, 1342 (11th Cir. 2009). The motion to dismiss is, therefore, due to be GRANTED as to the federal claims for punitive damages against the City of Daleville, the federal claims against the Daleville Police Department, the federal claims against Phillips in his official capacity, and the Eighth Amendment claim.[2]

         The Court now addresses the grounds for dismissal asserted as to the federal claims brought against Phillips individually and against the City of Daleville, as well as the state-law claims.

         A. Federal Claims Against Phillips Individually

         Phillips has invoked the defense of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects government officials from suit if they are “performing discretionary functions” and “their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).

         There is no dispute that Phillips was acting within his discretionary authority. See Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002) (stating, ‚Äúthere can be no doubt that Ferraro was acting ...

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