Sibille v. Davis et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER re 26 Motion to Dismiss the counterclaims pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(6) or for More Definite Statement pursuant to FRCP 12(e): Plaintiff's 26 Rule 26(b)(6) motion to dismiss is GRANTED as further set out in the opinion and order. It is ORDERED that Defendants' counterclaims are DISMISSED with prejudice. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 3/31/2014. (Attachments: # 1 Civil Appeals Checklist)(dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ARLYN RICE SIBILLE,
T.K. DAVIS, III and PATRICIA Y.
CASE NO. 3:13-CV-566-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This action arises under the Alabama Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act,
Alabama Code §§ 8-9A-1, et seq.
Before the court is Plaintiff/Counterclaim
Defendant Arlyn Rice Sibille’s motion to dismiss the counterclaims pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or for more definite statement pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). (Doc. # 26.) Defendants/Counterclaim
Plaintiffs T.K. Davis, III and Patricia Davis have failed to respond to the motion.
For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion is due to be granted.
I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE
The court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1332. Personal jurisdiction and venue are uncontested.
II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW
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] . . . 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 facts 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.
Under Rule 12(b)(6), “it is generally true that the ‘scope of the review must
be limited to the four corners of the complaint.’” Speaker v. U.S. Dep’t of Health
& Human Servs. Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371, 1379
(11th Cir. 2010) (quoting St. George v. Pinellas Cnty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th
A party may move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) when a
pleading is “so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a
response.” Fed. R. Civ. P 12(e). District courts also have the “inherent authority
to require the [plaintiff] to file a more definite statement” if not by Rule 12(e), then
by their authority “to narrow the issues in the case in order to speed its orderly,
efficient, and economic disposition.” Fikes v. City of Daphne, 79 F.3d 1079, 1083
n.6 (11th Cir. 1996).
On August 8, 2013, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant Arlyn Rice Sibille
(hereinafter, “Plaintiff”) filed this action against Defendants/Counterclaim
Plaintiffs T.K. Davis, III and Patricia Y. Davis (hereinafter, “Defendants”)
pursuant to the Alabama Fraudulent Transfer Act, Alabama Code §§ 8-9A-1, et
seq., after discovering that Mr. Davis conveyed an undivided one-half interest in
one of his real property assets, which he solely owned, to his wife, Mrs. Davis.
Plaintiff alleges that Mr. Davis fraudulently conveyed the property in an effort to
avoid collection as a result of a pending action in Lee County Circuit Court against
Mr. Davis and others. Plaintiff asks this court to set aside the allegedly fraudulent
conveyance. On November 1, 2013, the state court entered a judgment in favor of
Plaintiff in the amount of $369,000.1
In this action, Defendants filed an Answer and Counterclaim Complaint
against Plaintiff on December 11, 2013, alleging intentional interference with
business and/or contractual relations (Count I) and abuse of process (Count II).
(Doc. # 24.) Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss and supporting brief on December
18, 2013. (Docs. # 26, 27.) Defendants have not responded, notwithstanding
having had the opportunity to do so. (Doc. # 23.)
Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ counterclaims alleging tortious interference
with business and/or contractual relations (Count I) and abuse of process (Count II)
are due to be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Alternatively, Plaintiff argues
Defendants make this representation in their Answer and Counterclaim. (Doc. # 24.)
that the court should enter an order requiring Defendants to provide a more definite
statement as to Count I pursuant to Rule 12(e).
Tortious Interference Claim – Count I
Plaintiff contends that Defendants base their claims on the premise that
Plaintiff’s signature on the deed at issue was a forgery, but that the state court
action resolved the forgery issue in Plaintiff’s favor. Hence, Plaintiff contends that
the claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata, collateral estoppel, and
judicial estoppel. Specifically as to Count I, Plaintiff argues that Defendants “have
failed to plead a particular valid contract with anyone about anything that existed
and therefore said cause is due to be dismissed.” (Doc. # 27, at 2.)
Under Alabama law, to state a claim for tortious interference with business
or contractual relations, Defendants must allege the following elements: (1) the
existence of a protectable business relationship; (2) of which Plaintiff was aware;
(3) with which Plaintiff intentionally interfered; (4) the absence of justification for
Plaintiff’s interference; and (5) damage to Defendants. White Sands Group, LLC v.
PRS II, LLC, 32 So. 3d 5, 14 (Ala. 2009); see also Parsons v. Aaron, 849 So. 2d
932, 946 (Ala. 2002). The fourth element has been recognized as both an element
to be proved by the plaintiff and as an affirmative defense to be pleaded by the
defendant. Parsons, 849 So. 2d at 946. “The tort of intentional interference with
business relations was intended to provide a remedy for situations where a third
party intentionally interferes with the relationship of two contracting parties, not as
a remedy for situations where an allegedly breached contract between two parties
. . . affects the relationship of one of the parties with a third party.” Cahaba
Seafood, Inc. v. Central Bank of the South, 567 So. 2d 1304, 1306 (Ala. 1990).
Defendants fail to plead sufficient factual matter as to elements one and
three such that the claim for relief in Count I is not plausible on its face.
Defendants generally allege that they “were involved in and/or a party to various
business or contractual relationships.” (Doc. # 24, ¶ 21.) Defendants do not allege
what contract or contracts with which Plaintiff interfered, nor do Defendants allege
who the other involved parties are. Further, Defendants fail to allege the subject
matter of these contracts or what intentional action Plaintiff took to interfere with
them. (Doc. # 24.) Defendants’ “obligation to provide the grounds of [their]
entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555 (citation and quotations omitted). Because Defendants’ claim fails to allege
any substantive facts to support the elements necessary to state a claim for
intentional interference with business relations, Defendants cannot plead a claim
for relief.2 Accordingly, Plaintiff’s motion to dismiss this claim is due to be
Abuse of Process Claim – Count II
Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ abuse of process claim is due to be
dismissed because Plaintiff has a legal right to protect her rights of collection
through the present cause of action because she is a creditor of Defendant T.K.
Davis, III. Defendants allege that “[b]y initiating this cause of action, [Plaintiff]
maliciously and/or wrongfully used the legal and judicial processes to accomplish
an ulterior and/or unlawful purpose,” that Plaintiff’s claims in this action are
“groundless,” and that Plaintiff’s ulterior purpose is “the coercion of forcing Greg
to satisfy [her] judgment.”3 (Doc. # 24, ¶¶ 28, 29.)
“A complaint may be dismissed if the facts as pled do not state a claim for
relief that is plausible on its face.” Edwards v. Prime, Inc., 602 F.3d 1276, 1291
(11th Cir. 2010) (citing Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th
Cir. 2009)) (quotations omitted). “[T]he factual allegations in the complaint must
‘possess enough heft’ to set forth ‘a plausible entitlement to relief.’” Id. (citing
Fin. Sec. Assurance, Inc. v. Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276, 1282 (11th Cir.2007))
The tort of abuse of process, the theory of recovery
Because the Rule 12(b)(6) inquiry is dispositive, it is unnecessary to address the res
judicata and estoppel arguments or the alternative Rule 12(e) motion.
The record is unclear as to who “Greg” is.
Defendants allege in asserting their claim for relief, is defined as “the perversion of
a regular and valid process, which has been duly and properly issued, whereby a
result not lawfully or properly attainable under it is secured.”
Denman, 442 So. 2d 63, 65 (Ala. 1983) (citing Duncan v. Kent, 370 So. 2d 288,
290 (Ala. 1979), and Dickerson v. Schwabacher, 58 So. 986, 988 (Ala. 1912)).
Alabama courts have held that in order to prove the tort of abuse of process,
a plaintiff must prove: (1) the existence of an ulterior purpose; (2) a wrongful use
of process; and (3) malice. Preskitt v. Lyons, 865 So. 2d 424, 430 (Ala. 2003)
(citing Willis v. Parker, 814 So. 2d 857, 865 (Ala. 2001)) (quotations omitted).
Furthermore, “[i]f the action is confined to its regular and legitimate function in
relation to the cause of action stated in the complaint there is no abuse . . . . ” See 1
Am. Jur. 2d Abuse of Process § 13 (1962); see also Duncan, 370 So. 2d at 290.
Viewing the facts as alleged in the light most favorable to Defendants and in
view of the principles set out above, even if the first element – the existence of an
ulterior purpose – might be inferred from the evidence, the allegations do not
establish the second and third elements. Defendants’ recitation of the elements of
the claim alone are not sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Twomby, 550 U.S. at 556. “[W]hen on the basis of a dispositive issue of
law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action,”
dismissal is deemed appropriate. Glover v. Liggett Group, Inc., 459 F.3d 1304,
1308 (11th Cir. 2006).
An abuse of process claim cannot survive because
Defendants have failed to allege any facts to support their claim that Plaintiff
wrongfully used the process maliciously.
Consequently, Plaintiff’s motion to
dismiss the abuse of process claim is due to be granted.
Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss
GRANTED. It is ORDERED that Defendants’ counterclaims are DISMISSED
DONE this 31st day of March, 2014.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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