Knight v. Pugh et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that Defendants Culbreath and the City of Ozark's 38 Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint is GRANTED with respect to the federal claims (Counts 1 & 2) and DENIED with respect to the state-law claims (Count s 7, 8, 11, & 12); that that Defendants Culbreath and the City of Ozark's 44 Motion for Leave to File Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint is DENIED. Signed by Hon. Chief Judge Mark E. Fuller on 11/22/2010. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(br, )
Knight v. Pugh et al
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA S O U T H E R N DIVISION J A N IC E KNIGHT, as Administratrix o f the Estate of Charles Knight, deceased, P la in tif f , v. R O N A L D CHARLES PUGH, et al., D e f e n d a n ts. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )
C A S E NO. 1:09-cv-1148-MEF (W O ¯ P u b lis h )
M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER T h is cause is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint, (D o c . # 38), filed by two of the defendants, Ozark Police Sergeant Jimmy Culbreath (" C u lb re a th " ) and his employer, the City of Ozark, on July 20, 2010, as well as their M o tio n for Leave to File Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss F irs t Amendment Complaint filed on September 29, 2010. (Doc. # 44). For the f o llo w in g reasons, the Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. # 38), is due to be GRANTED as to the f e d e ra l claims and DENIED as to the state-law claims, and the Motion for Leave to File, (D o c . # 44), is due to be DENIED. I. FACTS1 AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY O n or about July 29, 2009, Culbreath and Dothan Police Officer Taiwan Truitt
This recitation of "facts" is based upon the Amended Complaint. (Doc. # 37). 1
("Truitt")--members of "some type of law enforcement joint drug task force"--attempted to "execute a warrantless search and seizure" on Ronald Charles Pugh ("Pugh"), an " u n a rm e d and non-violent offender who did not pose an imminent threat to the public at th e time." (Doc. # 37, at 3, ¶ 9). Culbreath and Truitt's "actions" during the search and s e iz u re "caused" Pugh "to attempt to flee from" them. Id. Pugh drove north on the s o u th b o u n d lanes of U.S. Highway 231, and Culbreath and Truitt pursued him in their p o lic e cars, also traveling the wrong way in the southbound lanes. Id. The Amended C o m p la in t describes this pursuit as "a wanton and reckless high speed chase traveling in th e wrong direction . . . without due care for the safety of other motorists." Id. at 4, ¶ 10. The pursuit ended when Pugh "negligently and wantonly collided head-on" with a c a r driven by the plaintiff's decedent, Charles Edward Knight ("Knight"). Id. Tragically, K n ig h t died from the injuries he sustained in the crash. Id. According to the Amended C o m p la in t, D e f e n d a n t Culbreath and/or Defendant Truitt directly caused Defendant P u g h 's vehicle to come into contact with the vehicle operated by Plaintiff's d e c e d e n t, Charles Knight, by preventing Defendant Pugh's vehicle from ree n te rin g the correct lane of travel, by applying or attempting to apply direct f o rc e to Defendant Pugh's vehicle, and/or by using unreasonable and deadly f o rc e upon Defendant Pugh's vehicle, thereby causing the fatal collision b e tw e e n Defendant Pugh and Plaintiff's decedent, Charles Knight. Id. (emphasis added). T h e Amended Complaint alleges that Culbreath and Truitt were acting as agents of th e ir respective employers and within the course and scope of their employment. Id. at
45, ¶¶ 1112. Further, it alleges that the City of Ozark and the City of Dothan had p o lic ie s or customs that (1) "allow[ed] reckless or dangerous pursuits of suspects by [ th e ir] officers"; (2) "did not provide for calling off of such pursuits when [they] posed u n re a s o n a b le danger to the public"; (3) "fail[ed] to properly and adequately train [their] la w enforcement employees and agents in the proper and safe procedures in dealing with a fleeing suspect and when to abandon a high speed chase." Id. at 5, ¶¶ 1314. O n December 18, 2009, the plaintiff, as the administratrix of Knight's estate, filed th is suit against five defendants, including Culbreath and the City of Ozark. Brought u n d e r 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Count I alleges that Culbreath violated Knight's Fourth 2 and F o u rte e n th Amendment rights. Id. at 67, ¶¶ 1517. Also brought pursuant to § 1983, C o u n t 2 alleges that the City of Ozark's policies and customs caused Culbreath to violate K n ig h t's constitutional rights. Id. at 78, ¶¶ 1820. Counts 7, 8, 11, and 12 allege that C u lb re a th and the City of Ozark committed various state-law torts. Id. at 1215, 1719. Culbreath and the City of Ozark now move for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of th e Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be g ra n te d . (Doc. # 38). Specifically, Culbreath asserts qualified immunity. II. LEGAL STANDARD A rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint against the
Although the plaintiff does not expressly mention the Fourth Amendment, as this Court asked her to do in the Order entered on June 17, 2010, (Doc. # 33), she raises a Fourth Amendment claim nonetheless by complaining that Culbreath "used excessive and unreasonably deadly force." (Doc. # 37, at 6, ¶ 17). 3
standard set out in Rule 8: "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the p le a d e r is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). In evaluating the legal sufficiency of a complaint, this Court must accept the factual allegations in the complaint as true and c o n s tru e them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1 2 8 2 , 1284 (11th Cir. 2008). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a c o m p la in t must contain enough factual matter, accepted as true, to `state a claim to relief th a t is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (quoting B e ll Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility w h e n the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable in f e re n c e that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The plaintiff must p ro v id e "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a c a u s e of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 559.3 I I I . DISCUSSION A . Section 1983 Claims Against Culbreath (Count 1) C o u n t 1 of the Amended Complaint alleges that Culbreath violated Knight's F o u rth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Doc. # 37, at 67, ¶¶ 1517). Culbreath
In her response to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff cites to Conley v. Gibson for the proposition that "[a] district court should not dismiss a complaint unless it appears, [sic] `beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" (Doc. # 42, at 1). This is simply the wrong standard. See Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1288 (11th Cir. 2010) ("In Twombly, the Supreme Court expressly `retired' the `no set of facts' pleading standard under Rule 8(a)(2) that the Court had previously established in Conley v. Gibson."). 4
claims qualified immunity. (Doc. # 39, at 8). Qualified immunity protects police officers a c tin g within their discretionary authority from civil liability in § 1983 actions so long as th e ir conduct does not violate "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of w h ic h a reasonable person would have known." Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2 0 0 2 ) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). To receive qualified immunity, a police officer must first prove that he was acting w ith in his discretionary authority. Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d 1340, 1346 (11th Cir. 2 0 0 2 ). A police officer acts within his discretionary authority when "the acts the [officer] u n d e rto o k [were] `of a type that fell within the employee's job responsibilities.'" Crosby v . Monroe County, 394 F.3d 1328, 1332 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Holloman v. Harland, 3 7 0 F.3d 1252, 1265 (11th Cir. 2004), reh'g en banc denied, 116 Fed. Appx. 254 (11th C ir. 2004)). The Amended Complaint clearly admits that "[a]t all times relevant to this C o m p la in t, Culbreath was acting as an agent of and within the course and scope of his e m p lo ym e n t with the City of Ozark Police Department." (Doc. # 37, at 4, ¶ 11). Therefore, based on the allegations in the complaint, Culbreath was acting within his d is c re tio n a ry authority.4 B e c a u s e Culbreath has established that he was acting within his discretionary
"[I]n determining `whether a police officer may assert qualified immunity against a Fourth Amendment claim, we do not ask whether he has the right to engage in unconstitutional searches, but whether engaging in searches and seizures in general is a part of his job-related powers and responsibilities.'" O'Rourke v. Hayes, 378 F.3d 1201, 1205 (11th Cir. 2004) (quoting Holloman, 370 F.2d at 1266). 5
authority, "the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that qualified immunity is not a p p ro p ria te ." Vinyard, 311 F.3d at 1346. Where, as here, qualified immunity is raised in a motion to dismiss, this Court must "look to the pleadings to see if the plaintiff has s u c c e s s f u lly alleged the violation of a clearly established right." O'Rourke, 378 F.3d at 1 2 0 6 . Thus, the plaintiff's complaint must allege facts sufficient to plausibly support two f in d in g s : "(1) that the defendant has committed a constitutional violation and (2) that the c o n s titu tio n a l right the defendant violated was `clearly established' at the time he did it." Crosby, 394 F.3d at 1332 (citing Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001); Holloman. 3 7 0 F.3d at 1264). i. The Fourteenth Amendment Claim T o protect a Fourteenth Amendment substantive-due-process claim from a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts in her complaint to s u p p o rt a plausible claim that the defendant's conduct "shock[ed] the conscience." County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 84647 (1998). In Lewis, the Supreme C o u rt significantly restricted the right to recover damages for constitutional violations s te m m in g from police pursuits. Regarding Fourteenth Amendment substantive-duep ro c e s s claims, the Court set forth the following standard: T h e issue in this case is whether a police officer violates the Fourteenth A m e n d m e n t's guarantee of substantive due process by causing death through d e lib e ra te or reckless indifference to life in a high-speed automobile chase a im e d at apprehending a suspected offender. We answer no, and hold that in s u c h circumstances only a purpose to cause harm unrelated to the legitimate o b je c t of arrest will satisfy the element of arbitrary conduct shocking to the 6
conscience, necessary for a due process violation. Id . at 836 (emphasis added). "[H]igh speed chases with no intent to harm suspects p h ys ic a lly or to worsen their legal plight do not give rise to liability under the Fourteenth A m e n d m e n t, redressible by action under § 1983." Id. at 854; see also Levy v. City of H o lly w o o d , 90 F. Supp. 2d 1344, 1347 (S.D. Fla. 2000) ("[I]n order for police conduct d u rin g a high-speed pursuit to rise to the level of a constitutional deprivation [under the F o u rte e n th Amendment], the actions of the officers must be completely unrelated to the le g itim a te exercise of executing an arrest and must be done with the purpose to cause h a rm ." ) (emphasis added). In this case, the Amended Complaint fails to allege that Culbreath was motivated b y anything other than the desire to arrest Pugh. Even assuming that the officers "applied . . . direct force" to Pugh's vehicle, (Doc. # 37, at 4, ¶ 10), no facts in the Amended C o m p la in t support the proposition that this action was taken for some purpose other than a rre s tin g Pugh. In fact, the Amended Complaint specifically alleges that the officers were s e e k in g to arrest Pugh. Id. at 3, ¶ 9 (alleging that the officers were "attempting to execute a warrantless search and seizure on Defendant Pugh"). Thus, the complaint does not m a k e out a legally cognizable substantive-due-process claim under the Lewis standard. See Levy, 90 F. Supp. 2d at 1346 (dismissing, under 12(b)(6), a substantive-due-process c la im based upon a police high-speed pursuit because the plaintiff's complaint failed to a lle g e facts sufficient to support the allegation that the police officers actions were
"completely unrelated to the legitimate exercise of executing an arrest"); see also Sanders v . City of Union Springs, 207 F. App'x 960, 965 (11th Cir. 2006) (affirming the ruling th a t a police officer had not violated the substantive-due-process rights of several in n o c e n t third parties who were injured during the officer's pursuit of a fleeing suspect b e c a u s e there was no evidence that the officer acted with an intent to cause harm u n re la te d to the legitimate pursuit of a fleeing suspect); Vaughan v. Cox, 343 F.3d 1323, 1 3 3 3 (11th Cir. 2003) (holding that a substantive-due-process claim, which concerned a p o lic e officer shooting at a fleeing vehicle, blocking its path, and causing it to ram into a p o lic e cruiser, lacked merit where the plaintiff failed to present "any evidence to suggest th a t [the defendant's] actions were motivated by anything but the desire to arrest" the p la in tif f and another), reh'g denied, 88 Fed. Appx. 394 (11th Cir. 2003). ii. The Fourth Amendment Claim A plaintiff cannot maintain an excessive-force claim under the Fourth Amendment u n le s s he has alleged a legally cognizable "seizure." Troupe v. Sarasota County, 419 F .3 d 1160, 1166 (11th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 547 U.S. 1112 (2006). When considering a Fourth Amendment claim based upon a police chase in Brower v. County of Inyo, the S u p re m e Court explained that "violation of the Fourth Amendment requires an intentional a c q u is itio n of physical control." 489 U.S. 593, 596 (1989). Thus, a `seizure' under the F o u rth Amendment occurs only "when there is a government termination of freedom of m o v e m e n t through means intentionally applied." Lewis, 523 U.S. at 844 (emphasis in
original). A lth o u g h Brower states that "[a] seizure occurs even when an unintended person o r thing is the object of the detention or taking," 489 U.S. at 596 (citing Hill v. California, 4 0 1 U.S. 797, 8005 (1971); Maryland v. Garrison, 480 U.S. 79, 8590 (1987)), the c a s e s cited in support of this proposition concern situations where the police, based upon m ista k e n beliefs, intentionally directed their actions at the person asserting a Fourth A m e n d m e n t violation. For instance, in Hill, the police intentionally seized and searched th e person claiming a Fourth Amendment violation, mistakenly believing him to be a d if f e re n t person for whom they had an arrest warrant. 401 U.S. at 80205. In Garrison, th e police intentionally searched the apartment of the person claiming a Fourth A m e n d m e n t violation. 480 U.S. at 85. However, that apartment was not the intended o b je c t of the search, which was done pursuant to a search warrant that had been issued u n d e r the mistaken belief that there was only one apartment on that floor of the building. Id. at 8586. This Court has explained: T h e Fourth Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and s e iz u re s . The rights it bestows are personal, and must be invoked by the p e rs o n who experienced the allegedly unlawful search or seizure. . . . Since B ro w e r , lower courts addressing the issue of when a `seizure' has occurred h a v e distinguished between situations where officers' actions are directed to w a rd the particular individual alleging the Fourth Amendment violation, and th o s e in which an injury is instead the `unintended consequence of government a c tio n .' Ansley v. Heinrich, 925 F.2d 1154 (11th Cir. 1991). These courts h a v e consistently held that an injury sustained under the former circumstances c o n s titu te s a Fourth Amendment seizure, but that one suffered under the latter d o e s not.
Green v. Freeman, 434 F. Supp. 2d 1172, 117475 (M.D. Ala. 2005) (Thompson, J.) (e m p h a s is in original). T h u s , even when a person is the unintended object of the seizure, they must still be th e intended object of some government action or physical restraint. See Ansley, 925 F .2 d at 1344 ("[U]nintended consequences of government action [can] not form the basis f o r a fourth amendment violaton."); see also Medeiros v. O'Connell, 150 F.3d 164, 169 (2 d Cir. 1998) (finding no Fourth Amendment seizure where a "hostage is hit by a bullet in te n d e d for the hostage-taker" because "the mishap is the `unintended consequence of g o v e rn m e n t action,' and the governing principle is that such consequences cannot `form th e basis for a fourth amendment violation'") (citing Ansley, 925 F.2d at 1344); Rucker v. H a r fo r d County, 946 F.2d 278, (4th Cir. 1991) ("One is `seized' within the fourth a m e n d m e n t's meaning only when one is the intended object of a physical restraint by an a g e n t . . . notwithstanding that the person restrained was mistakenly thought to be a n o th e r, because he nevertheless is the intended object of a specific act of physical re s tra in t." ), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1097 (1992); Landol-Rivera v. Cosme. 906 F.2d 791, 7 9 5 (1st Cir. 1990) ("The Supreme Court in Brower, carefully distinguished between p o lic e action directed toward producing a particular result in Fourth Amendment p a rla n c e , "an intentional acquisition of physical control" and police action that simply c a u s e s a particular result."). H e re , the Amended Complaint fails to allege any facts to support the proposition
that Knight, as opposed to Pugh, was the intended object of any governmental action or p h ys ic a l restraint. The Amended Complaint fails to allege that the officers directed any a c tio n at Knight intentionally, only that the officers acted "without due care for the safety o f other motorists" by "engaging in [a] reckless high speed pursuit." Id. at 6, ¶ 17. Even if , as the Amended Complaint alleges, Culbreath "forced . . . Defendant Pugh's vehicle to c o m e into contact with the vehicle operated by [Knight]," nothing in the Amended C o m p la in t suggests that this intentional action was directed towards Knight. In fact, the A m e n d e d Complaint alleges that Culbreath and Truitt were directing their action only to w a rd s Pugh and the vehicle driven by him. (Doc. # 37, at 2, ¶ 9) (alleging that the o f f ic e rs were "in reckless pursuit of the vehicle driven by Defendant Pugh" in an " a tte m p t[ ] to execute a warrantless search and seizure on Defendant Pugh") (emphasis a d d e d ); see also id. at 3, ¶ 10 (alleging that the officers directly caused the accident "by p re v e n tin g Defendant Pugh's vehicle from re-entering the correct lane of travel, by a p p lyin g or attempting to apply direct force to Defendant Pugh's vehicle, and/or by using u n re a s o n a b le and deadly force upon Defendant Pugh's vehicle") (emphasis added). Thus, th e Amended Complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to support a finding that Knight w a s seized by the police, an essential element to the excessive-force claim. The plaintiff's F o u rth Amendment claim fails as a matter of law. In sum, the plaintiff has failed to allege in her complaint that Culbreath violated a c o n s titu tio n a l right under either the Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment, let alone a clearly
established constitutional right. As a result, Culbreath is entitled to qualified immunity on C o u n t 1. B . Section 1983 Claims Against City of Ozark (Count 2) T h e plaintiff cannot maintain her § 1983 claims against the City of Ozark because th e facts alleged in her complaint do not demonstrate an underlying constitutional v io la tio n . See Rooney v. Watson, 101 F.3d 1378, 1381 (11th Cir. 1996) ("[A]n inquiry in to a governmental entity's custom or policy is relevant only when a constitutional d e p riv a tio n has occurred.") (citing Vineyard v. County of Murray, Ga., 990 F.2d 1207, 1 2 1 1 (11th Cir. 1993)), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 966 (1997). Therefore, this Court will d is m is s Count 2. C. State-Law Claims (Counts 7, 8, 11, & 12) A s long as there are federal claims in this case (the Amended Complaint makes id e n tic a l federal claims against Truitt and the City of Dothan), this Court believes that the re m a in in g state-law claims against Culbreath and the City of Ozark are best resolved at s u m m a ry judgment or trial. Therefore, the Court will not dismiss Counts 7, 8, 11, and 12. Similarly, this Court will deny the Motion for Leave to File, (Doc. # 44), which seeks to in tro d u c e a supplemental memorandum relating to alleged state-law immunity for the s ta te -la w claims.
IV. CONCLUSION A c c o rd in g ly, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendants Culbreath and the City of Ozark's Motion to Dismiss th e First Amended Complaint, (Doc. # 38), filed on July 20, 2010, is GRANTED with re s p e c t to the federal claims (Counts 1 & 2) and DENIED with respect to the state-law c la im s (Counts 7, 8, 11, & 12). O R D E R E D that Defendants Culbreath and the City of Ozark's Motion for Leave to File Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss First Amended C o m p la in t, (Doc. # 44), is DENIED. DONE this the 22
day of November, 2010.
/s/ Mark E. Fuller CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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