Garrett v. Talladega County Drug And Violent Crime Task Force et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 11/19/2013. (JLC)
2013 Nov-19 AM 10:57
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
TALLADEGA COUNTY DRUG
AND VIOLENT CRIME TASK
FORCE, et al.,
) Case No.: 1:12-CV-618-VEH
This is a civil action filed by the plaintiff, John Garrett, against the defendants,
the Talladega County Drug and Violent Crime Task Force (“Task Force”) and Jim
Pritchett. The complaint alleges, against the Task Force only, a claim for violation
of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count One), and, against both the Task Force and Jim Pritchett,
Alabama state law claims of conversion (Count Two) and replevin (Count Three).
(Doc. 1). All counts arise out of the seizure by the Task Force of the plaintiff’s
vehicle and subsequent sale of that vehicle to Jim Pritchett.
This case comes before the court on the Task Force’s motion to dismiss or, in
the alternative, for summary judgment. (Doc. 37). For the reasons stated herein, the
motion will be GRANTED. Further, the court will decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims and the case will be DISMISSED.
The motion does not actually state under which rule it is brought. In this case,
the standard the court uses changes depending upon the defendant’s argument being
The Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 56 Analysis
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a claim
may be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. That
rule applies to the defendant’s claim that it is not an entity which can be sued under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, both parties have submitted evidence on the motion.
(Docs. 37-1, 39). In such a situation, the rules provide:
If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) . . . matters outside the pleadings are
presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated
as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. All parties must be given
a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). The motion was filed on September 9, 2013. (Doc. 37). All
parties have now been given a reasonable opportunity to present all material that is
pertinent to the motion.1 Accordingly, as to the argument that the defendant is not an
Pursuant to this court’s uniform initial order, the response to the motion was due within
14 days, if the motion is treated as a motion to dismiss (doc. 2 at 22), or within 21 days, if the
motion is treated as a motion for summary judgment (doc. 2 at 13). For motions to dismiss, reply
entity which can be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the motion is converted to a motion
for summary judgment.
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is proper if there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (“[S]ummary judgment is proper if the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). The party requesting summary judgment always bears
the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and
identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings that it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the
moving party has met its burden, Rule 56(e) requires the non-moving party to go
beyond the pleadings in answering the movant. Id. at 324. By its own affidavits – or
by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file – it must
designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.
briefs are due within 7 days after the due date of the response brief. (Doc. 2 at 22). For motions
for summary judgment, reply briefs are due within 14 days. (Doc. 2 at 13). Under all possibly
applicable time frames, the motion is now under submission.
The underlying substantive law identifies which facts are material and which
are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). All
reasonable doubts about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor
of the non-movant. Chapman, 229 F.3d at 1023. Only disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the
entry of summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. A dispute is genuine “if the
evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.” Id. If the evidence presented by the non-movant to rebut the moving party’s
evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment
may still be granted. Id. at 249.
The Rule 12(b)(1) Analysis
The motion also contains an Eleventh Amendment immunity argument.
Eleventh Amendment immunity is a jurisdictional issue. Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S.
651, 678, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 39 L.Ed.2d 662 (1974) (holding that the Eleventh
Amendment immunity defense “partakes of the nature of a jurisdictional bar”
sufficient that it may be raised for the first time on appeal). This court has found that
an Eleventh Amendment immunity argument is generally more properly made under
Rule 12(b)(1), where, as here, the argument “does not implicate the merits.” Harris
v. Bd. of Trustees Univ. of Alabama, 846 F. Supp. 2d 1223, 1231 (N.D. Ala. 2012)
(Hopkins, J.) (citing Thomas v. U.S. Postal Service, 364 Fed.Appx. 600, 601 (11th
Cir.2010)). As this court has noted:
A motion to dismiss based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction
should be granted “only if it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot
prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle plaintiff
to relief.” Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161. Lack of subject-matter jurisdiction
may be found through an examination of: (1) the complaint alone; (2)
the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record;
or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts and the court's
resolution of disputed facts. Id. Because the burden of proof on a motion
to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting
jurisdiction, the plaintiff “constantly bears the burden of proof that
jurisdiction does in fact exist.” Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161 (citing
McDaniel v. United States, 899 F.Supp. 305, 307 (E.D.Tex.1995) and
Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir.1980)).
Attacks on subject-matter jurisdiction take two forms: (1) facial
attacks, and (2) factual attacks. Scarfo v. Ginsberg, 175 F.3d 957, 960
(11th Cir.1999) (citing Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th
Cir.1990)). Facial attacks on a complaint “require the court merely to
look and see if the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject
matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in [plaintiff's] complaint are
taken as true for the purposes of the motion.” Lawrence, 919 F.2d at
1529 (quoting Menchaca, 613 F.2d at 511). Factual attacks challenge
“the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the
pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and
affidavits, are considered.” Id. (same).
If a defendant makes a factual attack upon the court’s subject
matter jurisdiction, submitting evidentiary materials, the plaintiff is “also
required to submit facts through some evidentiary method and has the
burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the trial court
does have subject matter jurisdiction.” Paterson v. Weinberger, 644 F.2d
521, 523 (5th Cir.1981).
“[A] plaintiff must have ample opportunity to present evidence
bearing on the existence of jurisdiction.” Morrison v. Allstate Indem.
Co., 228 F.3d 1255, 1273 (11th Cir.2000) (quoting Colonial Pipeline
Co. v. Collins, 921 F.2d 1237, 1243 (11th Cir.1991)). “Although the
plaintiff bears the burden of proving the court's jurisdiction, the plaintiff
should be given the opportunity to discover facts that would support his
allegations of jurisdiction.” Morrison, 228 F.3d at 1273 (quoting
Majd–Pour v. Georgiana Cmty. Hosp., Inc., 724 F.2d 901, 903 (11th
Harris, 846 F. Supp. 2d at 1232.
The court treats the instant motion as a factual attack on its jurisdiction, since
the defendant provides evidence that it is an agent of the state and argues that it is
therefore immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment. As shown above, the
plaintiff has had ample opportunity to submit evidence in response to the motion, and
has done so.
The plaintiff has submitted his uncontested affidavit, which states:
I purchased one 1990 Dodge Ram Wagon Van VIN#
2B4HB25YOLK773607, (hereinafter referred to as Dodge Van).
During the month of February 2010 the Plaintiff allowed Mr.
Patrick Cross to repair the . . . vehicle at an auto repair shop
owned and operated by Mr. Larry Swain.
The van was seized by the Defendant Talladega County Drug and
Violent Crime Task Force during an arrest which occurred at Mr.
Swain's auto repair shop.
I remained without transportation for a significant period. I have
during the month of August 2013 purchased a vehicle to replace
the Dodge Van.
I was never given notice of the taking of my van by the
The Dodge Van has not been returned to me and I am by the
complaint filed in the instant case seeking equitable relief in the
form of the return of my personal property, to wit: my Dodge
(Doc. 39 at 1-2).
The defendant submits the undisputed affidavit of Jason Murray, the
Commander of the Task Force. (Doc. 37-1 at 1). Murray states:
I am the Commander of the [Task Force] and have been the
commander of the [Task Force] at all times relevant to this case. As the
commander of the [Task Force], I am a state employee employed by the
District Attorney of Talladega County, Alabama.
Talladega County’s District Attorney is [the Task Force’s]
governing head. He is my immediate supervisor who I answer to directly
on a day-to-day basis.
The [Task Force] was created by the District Attorney's Office
and participating municipal and county governmental bodies around
2002. It is governed by a Board of Directors.
The district attorney, who as noted above is the head of the [Task
Force], is also the chairman of the [Task Force’s] Board of Directors.
The Board of Directors is also made up of the Chief Deputy district
attorney of Talledega County; the Talledega County Sheriff; and Police
Chiefs from municipal law enforcement departments.
The [Task Force] is a multi-jurisdictional team of APOST
certified law enforcement officers who work to address criminal activity
– particularly drug-related crime – in the Talladega County area. All law
enforcement members of the Talledega County task force are sworn in
by the district attorney, as agents of the [Task Force] with full law
The [Task Force] is made up of several employees of the District
Attorney’s office, including, but not limited to, agents and me, as the
Commander of the Task Force. Other members of the [Task Force]
include a deputy sheriff and officers from participating police
The [Task Force] is funded through a grant disbursed through the
Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (“ADECA”).
It is also funded through appropriations from area municipalities and the
county. In addition, the [Task Force] operations are funded by
forfeitures as directed and approved by Court Order.
(Doc. 37-1 at 1-4).
Eleventh Amendment Immunity
The Task Force seeks dismissal pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment of the
United States Constitution. (Doc. 37, at 5-7). The Eleventh Amendment provides
[t]he judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend
to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the
United States by citizens of another State, or by citizens or subjects of
any foreign state.
U.S. Const. amend. XI. “[A]n unconsenting2 State is immune from suits brought in
federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another state.” Pennhurst
State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S. Ct. 900, 908, 79 L. Ed.
2d 67 (1984) (internal citations omitted). A state’s Eleventh Amendment immunity
also extends to statewide agencies. Id. The immunity applies to both federal and
state claims. See, Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 1063; Young v. Hosemann, 598 F.3d 184,
189 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Pennhurst); Kostok v. Thomas, 105 F.3d 65, 68 (2d Cir.
1997) (“Kostok’s state law claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment because such
a claim cannot be brought against a state even when it has been appended to a federal
Constitutional claim.”); Gamboa v. Rubin, 80 F.3d 1338, 1350 opinion vacated on
other grounds on reh'g en banc sub nom. Gamboa v. Chandler, 101 F.3d 90 (9th Cir.
1996) (“The Eleventh Amendment, as interpreted, generally acts to bar plaintiffs from
suing state governments in federal court for violations of state law.”) (citing
No argument has been made that the state has consented to suit. Indeed, Article I, § 14
of the Alabama Constitution provides generally that: “the State of Alabama shall never be made a
defendant in any court of law or equity.” Ala. Const. Art. I, § 14. This constitutional provision
“has been described as a ‘nearly impregnable’ and ‘almost invincible’ ‘wall’ that provides the
State an unwaivable, absolute immunity from suit in any court.” Ex parte Town of Lowndesboro,
950 So. 2d 1203, 1206 (Ala. 2006). Additionally, under § 14, state agencies are “absolutely
immune from suit.” Lyons v. River Road Constr., Inc., 858 So. 2d 257, 261 (Ala. 2003).
The Pennhurst case, at this page, explains that a federal court lacks the authority to grant
relief of any kind against a state official based on a violation of state law. As shown in other
citations that follow, however, Pennhurst is regularly cited for the proposition that the “state”
itself is also entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity for state law claims brought in federal
court against it.
Pennhurst); Atl. States Legal Found. v. Babbit, 83 F. Supp. 2d 344, 346-47
(N.D.N.Y. 2000) (“[A]bsent waiver, the Eleventh Amendment also bars suit against
state defendants for violations of state law—even if supplemental or pendent
jurisdiction exists.”); Rainey v. Wayne State Univ., 26 F. Supp. 2d 973, 976 (E.D.
Mich. 1998) (“When a state instrumentality or official is sued in federal court for a
violation of state law, the Eleventh Amendment acts as a jurisdictional bar to suit.”).
Finally, “neither pendent jurisdiction nor any other basis of jurisdiction may override
the Eleventh Amendment. A federal court must examine each claim in a case to see
if the court’s jurisdiction over that claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.”
Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 121 (footnotes omitted).
A court faced with a claim of Eleventh Amendment immunity must first
determine whether the plaintiff is suing the state. This often involves deciding
whether the entity raising the defense can be considered an “agency or
instrumentality” of the state. State law guides this determination. Mt. Healthy City
Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280 (1977); Sessions v. Rusk State
Hosp., 648 F.2d 1066, 1069 (5th Cir. Unit A June 1981).
In this case, the evidence clearly shows that the Task Force is created by, and
controlled by, the office of the Talladega County District Attorney. It is a subdivision
of that office. All District Attorney’s offices are deemed to be agencies of the State
of Alabama. Hooks v. Hitt, 539 So.2d 157, 159 (Ala.1988) (holding that the district
attorneys and their employees are “state employees whose salaries are funded by the
state”) (citing Ala. Code § 12–7–182 (1975)); McMillian v. Monroe County, Ala., 520
U.S. 781, 790, 117 S.Ct. 1734, 1739, 138 L.Ed.2d 1 (1997) (citing Hooks and
observing that an Alabama district attorney is a state official). Accordingly Eleventh
Amendment immunity applies to deprive this court of jurisdiction over the claims
against the Task Force.
The plaintiff actually states that he “concedes that the State law immunity bars
the [p]laintiff from monetary recovery[, but he] does not concede immunity
concerning equitable relief sought.” (Doc. 38 at 2) (emphasis added).4 “Under the
doctrine of Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S.Ct. 441, 52 L.Ed. 714 (1908), there
is a long and well-recognized exception to [Eleventh Amendment immunity] for suits
against state officers seeking prospective equitable relief to end continuing violations
of federal law.” Florida Ass'n of Rehab. Facilities, Inc. v. State of Fla. Dep't of
Health & Rehabilitative Servs., 225 F.3d 1208, 1219 (11th Cir. 2000) (emphasis
The use of the phrase “state law immunity” seems at first glance to be a reference to the
Alabama Constitution’s immunity provision found at Article I, § 14. However, the plaintiff cites
to Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 28 S. Ct. 441, 52 L. Ed. 714 (1908), which discusses an
exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Because Eleventh Amendment immunity applies
to both the state and federal law claims, and the court has already found that it would apply in
this case, there is no need to address state sovereign immunity, or any exceptions thereto.
Accordingly, the court will examine only the Young exception to Eleventh Amendment
added). “This doctrine has . . . been described as a legal ‘fiction’ because it creates
an imaginary distinction between the state and its officers, deeming the officers to act
without the state’s authority, and, hence, without immunity protection, when they
enforce state laws in derogation of the Constitution.” Summit Med. Associates, P.C.
v. Pryor, 180 F.3d 1326, 1336-37 (11th Cir. 1999); see also, Scott v. Taylor, 405 F.3d
1251, 1255 (11th Cir. 2005) (“Young held that official capacity suits for prospective
relief to enjoin state officials from enforcing unconstitutional acts are not deemed to
be suits against the state and thus are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.”)
(emphasis added). “In such cases, it is the individual and not the state which is being
sued, and when a state official acts unconstitutionally, he is stripped of his official or
representative character and Eleventh Amendment protection.” Williams v. Ala. State
Univ., 865 F. Supp. 789, 792 (M.D. Ala. 1994) (emphasis added) (citing Ex parte
Young, 209 U.S. at 159–60), rev’d on other grounds, 102 F.3d 1179 (11th Cir. 1997).
First, the Young exception does not apply to the plaintiff’s state law claims.
Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 106 (“A federal court’s grant of relief against state officials
on the basis of state law, whether prospective or retroactive, does not vindicate the
supreme authority of federal law. . . . We conclude that Young . . . [is] inapplicable
in a suit against state officials on the basis of state law.”).
Next, as to all of the plaintiff’s claims (whether brought under Alabama or
federal law), the exception does not apply because the instant case does not involve
an “official capacity” suit, but rather a suit directly against the state itself (the Task
Force as an agency of the district attorney). The Eleventh Amendment bars such
suits, whether they be for money damages or injunctive relief. See, id. at 101-02
(“And, as when the State itself is named as the defendant, a suit against state officials
that is in fact a suit against a State is barred regardless of whether it seeks damages
or injunctive relief.”).
In Williams, Judge Albritton found that the Board of Trustees of Alabama State
University was immunized by Eleventh Amendment immunity even against the
plaintiff’s claims for prospective injunctive relief. Williams, 865 F. Supp. at 793. In
that case, the plaintiff sued the Board of Trustees (a state agency) as an entity without
naming the individual members of the Board in their official capacities. In dismissing
the Board of Trustees, the court stated:
The Eleventh Circuit has repeatedly held that even though the Eleventh
Amendment does not bar suits against state officials in their official
capacities for injunctive relief, the Eleventh Amendment does bar suits
against the state entity of which the state official is employed. See, e.g.,
Stevens v. Gay, 864 F.2d 113, 114–15 (11th Cir. 1989) (Eleventh
Amendment bars suits against a State and its Board of Corrections even
though officials of the Board could have been sued for prospective
injunctive relief.); United States v. State of Alabama, 791 F.2d 1450,
1457 (11th Cir. 1986) (Eleventh Amendment barred suit against the
State Board of Education, but not against the individual members).
Id. Consistent with this approach, and the Supreme Court’s statement in Pennhurst,
the court concludes that the Eleventh Amendment serves to immunize the Task Force
from the plaintiff’s claims, even to the extent they may arguably seek a form of
prospective injunctive relief.
The Task Force Is Not a Legal Entity Subject to Suit Under Section
Further, the section 1983 claims are also due to be dismissed because the Task
Force is not a legal entity subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendant
notes that “[u]nder Alabama law, it is well settled that neither a district attorney’s
office; a sheriff's department; nor a police department is a legal entity subject to suit
or liability under §1983.” (Doc. 37 at 4) (citing Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1214
(11th Cir. 1992)(“the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department is not a legal entity and,
therefore, is not subject to suit or liability under section 1983"); Harris v. Elmore
County D.A. Office, No. 2:13–CV–41–TMH, 2013 WL 1084294 at *1 (M.D. Ala Jan.
30, 2013) (neither the Elmore County District Attorney’s Office nor the Elmore
County Sheriff Department are legal entities subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983);
Russell v. Mobile County, Sheriff, 2000 WL 1848470 at *3 (S.D. Ala. Nov. 20,
2000)(the “Mobile County Jail Medical Staff is a subdivision of the sheriff's
department and is not a legal entity that is subject to being sued”)). As an agency of
the Talladega County District Attorney, the Task Force “is not a legal entity subject
to being sued” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Russell, 2000 WL 1848470 at *3.
Accordingly, the section 1983 claims are due to be dismissed for this alternative
reason as well.
The Court Declines to Exercise Supplemental Jurisdiction Over the
Remaining State Law Claims
As noted above, this case has been brought against both the Task Force and Jim
Pritchett. The only claim over which this court had original jurisdiction is the section
1983 claim against the Task Force. The remaining Alabama state law claims of
conversion (Count Two) and replevin (Count Three), brought against the Task Force
and Jim Pritchett, are before the court on the basis of this court’s supplemental
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). That title also provides that “[t]he district
courts may decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over a claim under
subsection (a) if . . . the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has
original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). This court has already held that the
state law claims against the Task Force are barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity.
However, even if they were not, upon dismissal of the section 1983 claims against the
Task Force, the court can, and does, decline to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction
over the remaining state law claims.
For the reasons stated herein, the defendant’s motion will be GRANTED by
separate order. Further, as the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over plaintiff’s remaining claims (conversion and replevin) against the sole remaining
defendant, Jim Pritchett, the court will dismiss those claims, without prejudice.5
DONE and ORDERED this 19th day of November, 2013.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
The court’s decision to decline supplemental jurisdiction over these claims will not
adversely effect the time the plaintiff has to file them in state court. Title 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d)
provides: “The period of limitations for any claim asserted under subsection (a), and for any
other claim in the same action that is voluntarily dismissed at the same time as or after the
dismissal of the claim under subsection (a), shall be tolled while the claim is pending and for a
period of 30 days after it is dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.” 28
U.S.C.A. § 1367(d). The Alabama Supreme Court has noted that “[u]nder 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d),
the statute of limitations for state-law claims is tolled . . . when a party seeks to refile in the state
court the same state-law claims the party asserted in the federal court.” Rester v. McWane, Inc.,
962 So. 2d 183, 186 (Ala. 2007).
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