Cooper v. Smith, et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that Defendants' 13 Motion for Partial Dismissal is DENIED, and their 13 Motion to Strike Fictitious Parties is GRANTED; further ORDERED that Unnamed Defendants 15 are STRICKEN from the complaint. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 1/23/13. (scn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
JACKIE SMITH, et al.,
) CASE NO. 1:12-CV-889-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the court on Defendants’ motions to dismiss the statelaw claim against them and to strike fictitious parties. (Doc. # 13.) Although Plaintiff
Kahlif Cooper quibbles with Defendants on the propriety of unnamed parties in
federal court, he concedes that he “does not intend to substitute any additional
individuals” as defendants in this action. (Doc. # 24, at 1.) Accordingly, Defendants’
motion to strike fictitious parties is due to be granted as unopposed.
Mr. Cooper does, however, oppose Defendants’ motion to dismiss his state-law
battery claim. (Doc. # 24.) For the reasons discussed below, Defendants’ motion to
dismiss that claim is due to be denied.
Plaintiff Kahlif Cooper was driving his car in Dothan one summer day when the
Defendants, who are all deputies of the Houston County Sheriff,2 fell upon him in an
attack. The episode began when a law-enforcement SUV pulled in behind Mr. Cooper
and started ramming his vehicle. Mr. Cooper kept driving (because no one signaled
him to pull over). He was forced to stop when another car joined the assault and
smashed into Mr. Cooper’s car from the other direction, sandwiching him between his
When the chase ended, Defendants physically beat Mr. Cooper. According to
Mr. Cooper, there was no reason for Defendants to do what they did other than an
alleged “personal animus” Defendant Jackie Smith harbors against him. The record
contains no other explanation for the attack on Mr. Cooper.
On October 11, 2012, Mr. Cooper filed this suit against Defendants Houston
County, Alabama, Jackie Smith, Josh Robertson, R. Clemmons, and five unnamed
defendants. Houston County filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted. (See
Of course, these facts are Mr. Cooper’s allegations from the complaint, which are
deemed true for present purposes.
This point is not entirely clear in the record. But Defendants all claim to work for the
Sheriff, and Plaintiff accuses them all of being members of a “city–county drug task force” that
is supervised by Houston County (see Doc. # 1 ¶¶ 6, 10, 12). Because there is no indication in
the record that any of the Defendants are city police officers, the court assumes they are all
deputy sheriffs for the purposes of this opinion.
Doc. # 25). The matter comes before the court on the motion to dismiss the state-law
claim against the remaining Defendants.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW3
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). When
evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take “the
factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.” Pielage v. McConnell, 516 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir.
2008). However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 663 (2009).
“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.’” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).
“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]
Although Defendants move to dismiss the state-law battery claim under Rule 12(b)(1),
this court’s subject-matter jurisdiction is not at issue. Instead, the question is whether Mr.
Cooper’s complaint states a claim for relief against the individual Defendants under Alabama
law, so the motion is considered under Rule 12(b)(6). LeFrere v. Quezada, 582 F.3d 1260, 1263
(11th Cir. 2009) (“If the complaint contains a claim that is facially subject to an affirmative
defense, that claim may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).”).
. . . 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).
“[F]acial plausibility” exists “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The standard also “calls for enough
fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” of the claim.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. While the complaint need not set out “detailed factual
allegations,” it must provide sufficient factual amplification “to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level.” Id. at 555; see also James River Ins. Co. v. Ground
Down Eng’g, Inc., 540 F.3d 1270, 1274 (11th Cir. 2008) (Twombly formally retired
“the often-criticized ‘no set of facts’ language previously used to describe the motion
to dismiss standard.”) (citation omitted)).
Under § 14 of the Alabama Constitution, deputy sheriffs, as alter egos to the
Sheriff, are absolutely immune from state-law claims for damages “whenever the acts
that are the basis of the alleged liability were performed within the course and scope
of the officer's employment.” Ex parte Davis, 930 So. 2d 497, 500–01 (Ala. 2005).
The key question, then, is whether Defendants were acting in the course and scope of
their employment. Defendants, of course, claim they “were on duty at all relevant
times and were performing tasks falling within the line and scope of a deputy sheriff’s
duties, i.e., searching and detaining persons.” (Doc. # 13, at 3.) To support that
contention, they cite a portion of the Alabama Code that outlines the duties of the
sheriff, which include the duty “[t]o, with the assistance of deputies as necessary,
ferret out crime, apprehend and arrest criminals and, insofar as within their power,
secure evidence of crimes . . . .” Ala. Code § 36-22-3.
The problem is that although the Defendants submitted evidence they were
attempting apprehend Mr. Cooper, they do not suggest they even suspected he was a
criminal. Nor does the record indicate they were attempting to secure evidence.
Instead, the only allegation is that Defendants crashed Mr. Cooper’s car and savagely
beat him “in a manifestation of personal animus.” (Doc. # 1, ¶ 4.) Further, although
Defendants have cited a number of Alabama cases in which deputy sheriffs were
entitled to State immunity, none of those cases involved deputies who offered no
legitimate explanation for their actions.4 Defendants have cited no authority for the
proposition that deputies who savagely beat a man for no reason other than a personal
grudge are acting within the line and scope of their employment, and the court is
See Ex parte Fielding, 86 So. 3d 354, 356 (deputy was acting within line and scope of
his employment when he shot a neighbor’s dog to “protect the public and preserve the peace”);
Ex parte Donaldson, 80 So. 3d 895, 899 (Ala. 2011) (plaintiff admitted deputy sheriff was acting
in the line and scope of his employment when he hit her with his patrol car); Alexander v.
Hatfield, 652 So. 2d 1142, 1143 (Ala. 1994) (deputy was acting within line and scope of
employment when she negligently served process on plaintiff).
aware of none. To the contrary, one decision of the Alabama Supreme Court suggests
deputies are liable for such actions. See Ex parte Davis, 930 So. 2d at 501 (granting
State immunity to deputy who allegedly committed battery during an arrest when the
plaintiff did not allege “[the deputy’s] actions were undertaken for some personal
motive to further some personal interest and not as a part of his duties as a deputy
On a motion to dismiss, the allegations of the complaint must be accepted as
true. The complaint alleges that Defendants did not attack Mr. Cooper within the
course and scope of their employment, but were acting out of “personal animus.”
(Doc. # 1 ¶ 4.) Accepting that allegation as true, Defendants are not immune from Mr.
Cooper’s battery claim at this juncture.
It is therefore ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Partial Dismissal (Doc
# 13) is DENIED, and their Motion to Strike Fictitious Parties is GRANTED (Doc.
# 13). It is further ORDERED that Unnamed Defendants 1–5 are STRICKEN from
DONE this 23rd day of January, 2013.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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