Hughes v. The City of Montgomery, Alabama
OPINION. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 1/14/2013. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(jg, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION
CITY OF MONTGOMERY, et al., )
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Plaintiff Terry Hughes brings this lawsuit, naming as
defendants private citizens Derrick and Debora Sanders
along with the City of Montgomery, Police Chief Kevin J.
Murphy, and Police Officer R. C. Daniels.1 Hughes asserts
in this litigation violations of his rights under the
Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, as enforced
through 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
He further asserts claims
Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331
(federal question) and § 1367(a) (supplemental).
1. In his complaint, Hughes
Sanders’s first name as “Deborah.”
This case is now before the court on the Sanderses’
motion to dismiss.
The Sanderses argue that the only
claim against them-–that they have committed the tort of
outrage–-is due to be dismissed because Hughes has failed
to state a claim against them upon which relief can be
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
For the reasons
I. MOTION-TO-DISMISS STANDARD
In considering a defendant's motion to dismiss filed
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the
court accepts the plaintiff's allegations as true and
construes the complaint in the plaintiff's favor.
Generally, to survive a motion to dismiss and meet the
2. The complaint is unclear as to which claims are
against which defendants.
However, Hughes’s counsel
clarified in a telephone conference with the court on
January 9, 2013, that the only claim against the
Sanderses is for the state-law tort of outrage.
requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2),
allegations,” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555 (2007), but rather “only enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face,” id. at
“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff
pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937,
“The plausibility standard is not akin to
a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a
sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”
Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.
The allegations in Hughes’s complaint are as follows:
On August 29, 2011, he was stopped by Officer Daniels,
purportedly for speeding.
However, instead of ticketing
Hughes for speeding, Daniels demanded that he repay a
civil debt in the amount of $ 650 that Daniels insisted
Hughes owed to the Sanderses.
Hughes denied that he owed
the Sanderses money, but his protestations failed to move
Daniels, who threatened him with prison if he did not
Daniels then ordered Hughes to enter a local bank;
he turned over Hughes’s driver’s license to the bank
personnel; and he further ordered Hughes to withdraw the
amount he allegedly owed.
Hughes complied and handed the
cash to Daniels, who returned Hughes’s driver’s license
and allowed him to leave.
Hughes alleges that this
Compl. (Doc. No. 1) at 4.3
3. However, in their dismissal motion, the Sanderses
tell a different story.
By their account, they hired
Hughes to perform some work on their home. After they
had paid him in advance for a portion of this work,
Hughes failed to complete it. Hoping for some redress,
the Sanderses say they asked the advice of Daniels, an
acquaintance from their church. Daniels told them that
their only option was to sue Hughes in civil court. The
Sanderses, wary of undertaking such a cumbersome effort,
state that they decided to drop the issue. Over a year
later, Debora Sanders received an unexpected call from
Daniels, who had stopped Hughes and wished to know how
much he owed them. She estimated that Hughes owed them
Daniels, Police Chief Murphy, and the City of Montgomery.
His only claim against the Sanderses is that they have
committed the Alabama tort of outrage.
The tort of outrage under Alabama law “is essentially
equivalent to what many states refer to as ‘intentional
infliction of emotional distress.’” K.M. v. Alabama Dept.
of Youth Services, 360 F. Supp. 2d 1253, 1259 n.4 (M.D.
Ala. 2005) (Thompson, J.).
To prove a claim of outrage,
intended to inflict emotional distress, or should have
known that his or her acts would result in emotional
distress; (2) the act [was] extreme and outrageous; (3)
plaintiff[‘s] emotional distress [was] so severe that no
$ 650, and Daniels delivered that amount to their home
later that day.
Palmer v. Infosys Technologies Ltd., Inc., ____ F.Supp.2d
____, ____, 2012 WL 3583025, at *3 (Aug. 20, 2012)
(Thompson, J.) (quotations and citations omitted).
Alabama’s outrage tort is considered an “extremely
limited cause of action,” Potts v. Hayes, 771 So. 2d 462,
“conduct so outrageous in character and so extreme in
degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency,
and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable
in a civilized society.”
American Rd. Serv. Co. v.
Inmon, 394 So. 2d 361, 365 (Ala. 1980).
the murky threshold for this claim, Alabama courts have
specific sets of circumstances: “(1) cases involving
wrongful conduct in the context of family burials; (2)
cases in whuch insurance agents employ heavy-handed,
barbaric means to coerce insureds into settling insurance
claims[;] and (3) cases involving particularly egregious
Tinker v. Beasley, 429 F. 3d 1324,
With the facts viewed in the light most favorable to
Hughes, the Sanderses’ conduct does not meet the very
high bar imposed by Alabama law for establishing a claim
categories of behavior the Alabama Supreme Court has so
far used to cabin the outrage claim.
Nor is this conduct
so outrageous that this court is compelled to depart from
allegations that the Sanderses asked Daniels to harass
him, and, while Daniels’s behavior certainly constituted
a misuse of his own power, the Sanderses, as private
citizens, do not occupy the same position of public trust
and authority that Daniels does as a police officer.
Woodley v. City of Jemison, 770 So. 2d 1093, 1096 (Ala.
Civ. App. 1999) (denying summary judgment on outrage
claim where police officer used information available in
that capacity to commit harassment, noting that “the
public places its trust in [police officers] to an extent
far greater and far more easily than it does in almost
any other individuals in any profession.”).
Even if Daniels’s conduct were sufficiently egregious
to support a claim of outrage, Hughes’s claim against the
Sanderses would still fail because he has not provided
sufficient facts about the Sanderses’ conduct to state a
plausible claim for relief.
Hughes’s only statements
about the involvement of the Sanderses in this case are
that they are his former customers and that Daniels
undertook his actions at their “behest.”
No. 1) at 2, 4.
However, Hughes does not specify whether
the Sanderses asked Daniels to pursue this matter in the
way that he did.
Therefore, Hughes has not pleaded
reasonable inference that the [Sanderses are] liable for
the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009).4
Accordingly, for the above reasons, the Sanderses’
motion to dismiss will be granted, and the one claim
against them, the outrage claim, will be dismissed.
appropriate judgment will be entered.
DONE, this the 14th day of January, 2013.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
4. In Hughes’s objection to the Sanderses’ motion to
dismiss, he notes that, as described in the Sanderses’
motion, the Sanderses asked Daniels for advice about how
to get their money back and Daniels conferred with Debora
Sanders by telephone during the traffic stop. Obj. (Doc.
No. 16) at 2. Hughes also states that the Sanderses have
not returned or offered to return the money. Id. at 1.
These additional details shed no further light on the
Sanderses’ instructions to Daniels or on their intent to
cause emotional distress; they are insufficient to
elevate Hughes’s outrage claim to the level of
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