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Jackson v. City of Argo

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

January 22, 2019

JASON M. JACKSON, Plaintiff,
CITY OF ARGO, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Jason M. Jackson (“Jackson” or “Plaintiff”) initiated this action on July 25, 2017, against Defendants the City of Argo, Alabama (“the City” or “Argo”) and Officer Glenn Wells, (“Captain Wells, ” and together with the City, the “Defendants”). (Doc. 1). On August 18, 2017, Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, (doc. 5), and to strike portions of it, (doc. 6). On August 31, 2017, Jackson amended his complaint, (doc. 12), and the undersigned found both of Defendants' motions moot in light of the amended complaint, (doc. 17). As with the original complaint, Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, [2] (docs. 13 & 13-1), and to strike portions of it, (doc. 14). These motions are fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 13, 14, 19 & 22). For the reasons stated more fully below, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED, and the motion to strike is DENIED AS MOOT

         I. Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “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) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id; accord Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         To that end, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citing Bell Atl Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).

         IT. Background[3]

         The City of Argo is an Alabama municipality located partially in Jefferson County and partially in St. Clair County. (Doc. 12 at ¶ 2). It has fewer than 19, 000 inhabitants. (Id. at ¶ 30).

         On the morning of August 8, 2015 - a clear, dry, sunny day - Jackson was travelling northbound on Interstate 59. (Id. at ¶¶ 29 & 31). Captain Wells, an Argo police officer and the city's only officer on duty that day, was running radar on Interstate 59. (Id. at ¶¶ 3 & 29). Wells believed Jackson was travelling at twenty-six miles per hour in excess of the speed limit. (Id. at ¶ 31). Based on that belief, Captain Wells pursued Jackson in his patrol car and, using his emergency equipment, stopped Jackson. (Id.). Captain Wells issued Jackson a citation for reckless driving. (Id.).

         Jackson hired counsel to defend against the reckless driving charge, and, after the City refused to dismiss the charge, the matter proceeded to trial in Argo Municipal Court on November 6, 2015. (Id. at ¶¶ 36-37). Captain Wells testified that he has worked at the Argo Police department since 2006 and runs radar on I-59 “pretty much every Saturday and Sunday” from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Id. at ¶ 37). Captain Wells also testified that his only probable cause in pulling Jackson over was his speed. (Id.). Captain Wells further testified that he is aware of Alabama Code § 32-5A-171(8), which prohibits a municipality or town with fewer than 19, 000 inhabitants from enforcing the general prohibition on driving in excess of the maximum speed limit on an interstate highway. (Id. at ¶¶ 17 & 37).

         Following Captain Wells's testimony, Jackson moved for an acquittal on the reckless driving charge, arguing reckless driving requires the presence of another factor in addition to speeding, but the municipal court denied the motion. (Id. at ¶¶ 21 & 39). Jackson was found guilty of reckless driving and was assessed a fine and court costs totaling $362.00. (Id. at ¶¶ 39-40). Jackson then appealed to the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, posting a $250.00 appeal bond with the City. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41). A year after receiving the citation, Jackson was acquitted of the reckless driving charge; however, the City did not refund Jackson's appeal bond. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43).

         III. Analysis

         Jackson's amended complaint asserts the following claims: (1) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 count against the City for illegal seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, (doc. 12 at ¶¶ 45-62); (2) a § 1983 count against Captain Wells in his individual capacity, also for illegal seizure, (id. at ¶¶ 63-68); (3) a § 1983 count against the City for excessive fines in violation of the Eighth Amendment, (id. at ¶¶ 69-74); (4) a § 1983 count against the City for negligent training, (id. at ¶¶ 75-79); (5) a § 1983 count for inadequate policies against the City, (id. at ¶¶ 80-87); (6) a § 1983 count against the City, asserted in the alternative to his fourth count, for customs and policies encouraging Argo officers to violate motorists' constitutional rights, (id. at ¶¶ 88-99); (7) a § 1983 count against the City for malicious prosecution, (id. at ¶¶ 100-12); (8) a state law unjust enrichment claim against the City, (id. at ¶¶ 113-17); (9) a state law conversion claim against the City, (id. at ¶¶ 118-21); and (10) a state law fraudulent inducement claim against the City, (id. at ¶¶ 122-24). Jackson also includes a number of class action allegations. (Id. at ¶¶ 9-14).

         A. Section 1983 Claims

         Defendants argue Jackson's illegal seizure claims fail against both the City and Captain Wells because Captain Wells had probable cause to stop Jackson. (Doc. 13-1 at 19-21). Consequently, they contend Captain Wells is shielded by qualified immunity. (Id. at 27-31). Defendants also argue Jackson's claims against the City are fatally flawed by Jackson's failure to plead specific facts that would support municipal liability under § 1983 and because actions Jackson attributes to the City were actually undertaken by the city's municipal court. (Id. at 22-26).

         1. Count II - Captain Wells

         “Qualified immunity protects government officials who were sued individually ‘unless the law preexisting the defendant official's supposedly wrongful act was already established to such a high degree that every objectively reasonable official standing in the defendant's place would be on notice that what the defendant official was doing would be clearly unlawful given the circumstances.'” Morton v. Kirkwood, 707 F.3d 1276, 1280 (11th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). To receive the protection of qualified immunity, the government official must first prove that he was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred. Kesinger v. Herrington, 381 F.3d 1243, 1248 (11th Cir. 2004). Once an official establishes he is acting within his discretionary authority, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate qualified immunity is inappropriate. White v. City of Birmingham, 96 F.Supp.3d 1260, 1285 (N.D. Ala. 2015). To determine whether qualified immunity is appropriate, the court asks two questions: (1) “Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?” (2) “If a violation ...

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