Doe et al v. City of Alabaster, Alabama et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 8/1/2012. (JLC)
2012 Aug-01 PM 05:14
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CITY OF LEEDS, ALABAMA,
) Case No.: 2:11-CV-3448-VEH
Before the court is the Defendants’ Motion To Dismiss Plaintiffs’ First
Amended Complaint (the “Motion”) (doc. 33), filed on May 29, 2012, by Defendants
City of Alabaster, Alabama, City of Irondale, Alabama, and City of Leeds, Alabama.1
The Motion has been fully briefed by the parties (see docs. 38, 42). Additionally, the
court heard oral argument on the Motion on July 10, 2012. Therefore, the Motion is
under submission and ripe for the court’s decision.
This putative class action lawsuit was initially filed by multiple plaintiffs against
multiple municipal defendants. However, on July 17, 2012, the court ordered that this case be
severed into individual lawsuits, and directed that the claims of the first-named plaintiff, Cecilia
Cano-Diaz, would proceed individually in this action, Case No. 2:11-CV-3448-VEH, against the
City of Leeds, Alabama. (Doc. 45). Consistent with the court’s order, the City of Alabaster, City
of Pelham, and City of Irondale have been terminated as defendants. Accordingly, the court
considers the Motion To Dismiss (doc. 33) only insofar as it pertains to the City of Leeds. To the
extent the Motion To Dismiss pertains to the City of Alabaster and City of Irondale, it is hereby
TERMED as moot.
Originally, there were eleven (11) individual plaintiffs who jointly filed a
Complaint (doc. 1) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of
Alabama on September 23, 2011, along with a Motion for Leave to Proceed
Anonymously (doc. 3), which the court ultimately denied. (See Order dated April 26,
2012, Doc. 28). The court required repleader, ordering the previously unnamed
plaintiffs to file an Amended Complaint that “must set out each Plaintiff’s name and
provide the necessary facts to meet notice pleading standards as to each claim against
each Defendant,” no later than May 14, 2012. (Id. at 16). More specifically, this
court stated the following with respect to the Amended Complaint:
As the Plaintiffs will be required to replead to provide their names, the
court finds that judicial efficiency dictates that they will also be
required, under Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to
re-plead each claim as to each Plaintiff separately against each
Defendant, setting out as to each claim with the requisite specificity the
allegations upon which it is based. At a minimum as to each Plaintiff’s
traffic stop claim, in addition to the name of the plaintiff, this means the
approximate date on which and place where the traffic stop occurred.
The First Amended Complaint was filed on May 14, 2012. (Doc. 29). Several
motions to dismiss followed. Defendant City of Pelham, Alabama, filed its Motion
To Dismiss First Amended Complaint on May 29, 2012. (Doc. 30).2 Defendants
City of Alabaster, Alabama, City of Irondale, Alabama, and City of Leeds, Alabama,
filed their Motion To Dismiss First Amended Complaint—the Motion presently
pending before the court—on May 29, 2012. (Doc. 33). At the request of the parties
(doc. 34), the court heard oral argument on the pending Motions To Dismiss.
Counsel for the City of Pelham argued on behalf of all municipal defendants in light
of the overlapping issues raised and arguments made in the defendants’ briefing.
After hearing oral argument and putting the parties on notice of the court’s
views on the proper party-alignment of this case, the court entered an order sua
sponte severing the claims of the individually named plaintiffs against the various
municipal defendants. (Doc. 45). In its opinion and order, the court directed that
“[t]he claim(s) of Plaintiff Cecilia Cano-Diaz will proceed in this action, numbered
2:11-cv-03448-VEH, against the City of Leeds, Alabama.” (Id. at 8). Therefore, the
court’s analysis in this opinion concerns only the claims of Plaintiff Cano-Diaz
against the City of Leeds, and the court will evaluate the pending Motion from that
By separate order, the court has termed the City of Pelham’s Motion To Dismiss in this
case as moot because that defendant is no longer a party to this case.
In light of the foregoing procedural history, the court focuses its statement of
the facts solely on the claims of Plaintiff Cano-Diaz against the City of Leeds.
In the First Amended Complaint, Cano-Diaz is described as “a 22-year-old
Hispanic woman who resides in Moody, Alabama in Jefferson County.” (Doc. 29 ¶
13). She “frequently visits or travels through municipalities where officers of the
Defendant’s police departments have been deployed and conduct traffic stops, frisks
and make arrests.” (Id.). Defendant City of Leeds is described as a “municipal
corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Alabama” that is
“authorized under the State of Alabama to maintain a police department, which act[s]
as [its] agent in the area of law enforcement and for which [the City of Leeds] is
ultimately responsible.” (Id. ¶ 20).
[Cano-Diaz] aver[s] that the Defendant [City of Leeds] ha[s]
implemented, enforced, encouraged and sanctioned a policy, practice
and/or custom of suspicionless traffic stops and/or frisks in violation of
the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. This unconstitutional conduct is a direct and
The court accepts the allegations of the complaint as true, and presents the facts in the
light most favorable to Cano-Diaz, for the purposes of its motion to dismiss analysis. See
Fassina v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 2:11-CV-2901-RDP, 2012 WL 2577608, at *5 (N.D. Ala. July 2,
2012) (“In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the
complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d
1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).”).
proximate result of policies, practices and/or customs of supervisory
personnel within the Defendant[’s] respective police department as
well as the elected Mayor and City Council of the [City of Leeds].
These individuals have acted with deliberate indifference to the
constitutional rights of those who would come into contact with police
officers by: (a) failing to properly screen, train, and supervise police
officers, (b) inadequately monitoring such officers and their stop and
frisk practices, (c) failing to sufficiently discipline officers who engage
in constitutional abuses, and (d) encouraging, sanctioning and failing to
rectify the unconstitutional practices, (e) the explicit and tacit
encouragement, sanctioning and ratification of and failure to rectify their
respective police department[’s] rampant unconstitutional practices.
Defendant knew or should have known that as a direct and proximate
consequence of the policies, practices and/or customs described herein,
the constitutional rights of thousands of individuals, particularly Black
and Latino individuals, would be violated. Despite this knowledge, and
with deliberate indifference to and reckless disregard for the
constitutional rights of such individuals, Defendant [City of Leeds] ha[s]
implemented, enforced, encouraged, sanctioned and failed to rectify
such policies, practices and/or customs.
(Id. ¶ 28).
The allegations specific to Cano-Diaz are stated as follows:
On or about the 21st day of February, 2012[,] Plaintiff Cecilia Cano-Diaz
was driving through the City of Leeds, Alabama[,] and was stopped by
an officer of the Leeds Police Department for allegedly crossing outside
the fog line multiple times. She was asked for a driver’s license and
when she could not produce one, was arrested and incarcerated for some
hours. She was charged with the offenses of driving without first
obtaining a driver[’]s license and “failure to maintain lane”, but was
required to post a bond for “Violation of Immigration Act”. She has not
been convicted of any of the offenses for which she was charged as of
the date of filing hereof. Plaintiff’s traffic stop was pretextual and was
effected solely in order to harass or intimidate the Plaintiff because of
her ethnicity, Hispanic, and improperly to enforce Alabama’s
(Id. ¶ 21).
Based on these alleged facts, Cano-Diaz asserts five claims against the City of
Leeds: Fourth Amendment violations brought by and through 42 U.S.C. § 1983
(Count I); Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause violations brought by and
through 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II); discrimination claims brought under Title VI
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000(d), et seq. (Count III); claims for
remedial relief predicated upon Defendants’ past practices (Count IV); and claims for
money damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count V).
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the
complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim’ that will give the
defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).
While a plaintiff must provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, Rule 8
does not mandate the inclusion of “detailed factual allegations” within a complaint.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). However at the same
time, “it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). “[O]nce a claim has
been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent
with the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.
“[A] court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying
pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. “While legal conclusions can
provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.”
Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court
should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to
an entitlement to relief.” Id. (emphasis added). “Under Twombly’s construction of
Rule 8 . . . [a plaintiff’s] complaint [must] ‘nudge [any] claims’ . . . ‘across the line
from conceivable to plausible.’ Ibid.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950-51.
A claim is plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that
allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. “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 issues raised in this case have been thoroughly briefed. (See Docs. 33, 38,
42; see also Docs. 30, 31, 43).4 Moreover, the court held an extensive hearing on the
pending Motion and issues raised therein. For the reasons that follow, the court
concludes that the Motion is due to be granted.
Fourth Amendment Claim
In Count I of the First Amended Complaint, Cano-Diaz asserts that the City of
Leeds violated her Fourth Amendment rights.5 She brings her Fourth Amendment
claim by and through 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The City of Leeds contends that Cano-Diaz’s fails to state a claim under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 for any alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment. More specifically,
the City of Leeds argues that the Fourth Amendment claim is due to be dismissed
City of Leeds thoroughly develops the argument that Plaintiff has failed to comply with
the court’s specific repleader requirements and with the federal pleading standards generally.
While the court agrees that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint, as drafted, contains certain
deficiencies, the court has addressed its primary concerns by ordering that this case be severed
into multiple lawsuits. (See Doc. 45). Thus, the court focuses its analysis on the substantive
issues raised in the Motion To Dismiss.
The Fourth Amendment states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants
shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be
U.S. Const. amend. IV.
under the Younger abstention doctrine to the extent that her underlying charges are
pending, as alleged in her First Amended Complaint; alternatively, to the extent that
she has already been convicted of the underlying charges, it argues that the claim is
due to be dismissed under the Heck bar because she has not shown that the
convictions have been invalidated. The court agrees.
Application of the Younger abstention doctrine
Cano-Diaz avers that she was pulled over by a City of Leeds police officer and
cited with two offenses: driving without a driver’s license and failure to maintain her
lane. (Doc. 29 ¶ 21). She further avers that she “has not been convicted of any of the
offenses for which she was charged as of the date of filing hereof.” (Id.). Thus, the
clear implication of Cano-Diaz’s complaint is that her charges are still pending.
The City of Leeds rightly observes that a district court may properly abstain
from exercising jurisdiction and avoid interfering with pending state-level
proceedings based on the Younger abstention doctrine. See Younger v. Harris, 401
U.S. 37 (1971). The Supreme Court in Younger held that the “state criminal
proceeding offered a sufficient forum for the plaintiff to raise his constitutional
defense, abstained from hearing the plaintiff’s claim and stated the general rule that
a federal district court must refrain from enjoining pending criminal state court
proceedings except under special circumstances.” Green v. Jefferson Cnty Comm’n,
563 F.3d 1243, 1250 (11th Cir. 2009); see Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 85 (1971)
(“The propriety of arrests and the admissibility of evidence in state criminal
prosecutions are ordinarily matters to be resolved by state tribunals, subject, of
course, to review by certiorari or appeal in this Court or, in a proper case, on federal
habeas corpus.” (internal citation omitted)).
“In order to decide whether the federal proceeding would interfere with the
state proceeding, [the court] look[s] to the relief requested and the effect it would
have on the state proceedings. The relief sought need not directly interfere with an
ongoing proceeding or terminate an ongoing proceeding in order for Younger
abstention to be required.” 31 Foster Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1276 (11th
Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). As the Eleventh Circuit has put it: “The question . . .
is threefold: first, do [the proceedings] constitute an ongoing state judicial
proceeding; second, do the proceedings implicate important state interests; and third,
is there an adequate opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional
challenges.” Id. at 1274 (quotation omitted).
Looking to the relief requested by Cano-Diaz, the court finds that the three
elements are easily met based on the apparent pendency of the underlying state
proceedings concerning the charged traffic offenses. Accordingly, this case presents
an appropriate occasion for the court to apply the Younger doctrine, which raises
ripeness as well as abstention concerns. See Gilam v. Harris, No. 4:11-cv-1005VEH, 2012 WL 1568676, at *4 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 26, 2012) (“[Plaintiff] has not
adequately shown how his federal lawsuit is fit for a judicial decision in light of the
incompleteness of his criminal case. In particular, to proceed with evaluating
[plaintiff]'s constitutional claims, the court would have to speculate as to the outcome
of the state criminal proceedings against him and offer an impermissible advisory
opinion about the merits of his federal case.”); id. at *5 (“Because of the still pending
nature of the state criminal case against [plaintiff], his request for a federal court to
review it for constitutionally deficiencies is premature. Additionally, any hardship
that [plaintiff] may suffer in withholding review is outweighed by the unfitness of this
case for a judicial decision at this juncture.”). Specifically, Cano-Diaz’s Fourth
Amendment challenge to the constitutionality of her stop can adequately be addressed
in municipal court or in any appeal thereafter through the circuit court of the county.
Accordingly, Cano-Diaz’s Fourth Amendment claim is premature to the extent that
it is still pending in state proceedings. Therefore, it is due to be dismissed without
prejudice on this jurisdictional ground.
Application of the Heck bar
Even if Cano-Diaz’s underlying charges are not still pending as alleged,6 they
are still due to be dismissed. The City of Leeds persuasively argues that, to the extent
Cano-Diaz’s underlying charges have resulted in convictions, they are due to be
dismissed under Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 486–87 (1994) because they are
not ripe for adjudication.
The Heck bar is implicated when a plaintiff seeks damages7 under § 1983 for
alleged constitutional harms, such as Cano-Diaz’s claim for an unlawful stop under
the Fourth Amendment, brought by and through 42 U.S.C. § 1983.8 See 1 Nahmod,
Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Litigation: The Law of Section 1983 § 5:22 (2011)
(“[T]he Supreme Court's 1994 decision in Heck v. Humphrey has deep implications
Despite the allegation in Cano-Diaz’s complaint that she was “charged” but “not . . .
convicted,” she indicates in her briefing responsive to the Motion To Dismiss that her charge is
not currently pending. (Compare Doc. 29 ¶ 21, with Doc. 38 at 2 (“The Plaintiffs do not allege
that any of the complaints with which they were charged are still pending.”)). In light of this
ambiguity, the court analyzes Cano-Diaz’s claim from both perspectives.
Although Heck involved a claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for money damages,
Heck’s holding has been extended to claims seeking declaratory or injunctive relief as well as
money damages. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005); Abella v. Rubino, 63 F. 3d
1063, 1066 (11th Cir. 1995).
Count I of Cano-Diaz’s complaint alleges that the City of Leeds has “implemented,
enforced, encouraged, and sanctioned a policy, practice and/or custom of stopping individuals
without reasonable articulable suspicion of criminality required by the Fourth Amendment,”
(Doc. 29 ¶ 30), and further alleges that the City of Leeds police department “target[s] Latino
individuals for illegal stops” (id. ¶ 33).
for those § 1983 damages actions that may implicate the validity of an existing
criminal conviction.” (emphasis in original) (footnote omitted)). In Heck, the
Supreme Court held as follows:
We hold that, in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional
conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose
unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983
plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on
direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state
tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question
by a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. §
2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or
sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.
Thus, when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district
court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would
necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it
would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can
demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been
invalidated. But if the district court determines that the plaintiff's action,
even if successful, will not demonstrate the invalidity of any outstanding
criminal judgment against the plaintiff, the action should be allowed to
proceed, in the absence of some other bar to the suit.
Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87 (italics in original; underline added) (footnotes omitted).
In Heck, therefore, “the Supreme Court held that § 1983 actions that necessarily
call into question the validity of a conviction or sentence do not accrue until the
plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has been reversed, expunged,
or otherwise declared invalid by a tribunal authorized to make such a finding.” Uboh
v. Reno, 141 F.3d 1000, 1006 (11th Cir. 1998) (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 487).
Accordingly, if a plaintiff files a claim related to rulings that will likely be made in
a pending or anticipated criminal trial, then “it is within the power of the district
court, and in accord with common practice, to stay the civil action until the criminal
case or the likelihood of a criminal case is ended.” Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384,
393-94 (2007). “If the plaintiff is ultimately convicted, and if the stayed civil suit
would impugn that conviction, Heck will require dismissal.” Id. at 394; see Edwards
v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 649 (1997); Heck, 512 U.S. at 487.
As applied to a § 1983 claim for a Fourth Amendment search and seizure
violation, the Heck bar would not necessarily be invoked in every case. For instance,
the Eleventh Circuit has noted that “[b]ecause an illegal search or arrest may be
followed by a valid conviction, a successful § 1983 action for Fourth Amendment
search and seizure violations does not necessarily imply the validity of a conviction.
As a result, Heck does not generally bar such claims.” Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157,
1160 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n.7) (footnotes omitted).
However, that scenario would present an exception to Heck’s general rule—an
exception to be applied based on the particular facts of each case: “[N]ot all Fourth
Amendment claims fit the exception to Heck, and courts ‘must look both to the claims
raised under § 1983 and to the specific offenses for which the § 1983 claimant was
convicted.’” Vickers v. Donahue, 137 Fed. App’x 285, 290 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Hughes, 350 F.3d at 1160 n.2); see also Weaver v. Geiger, 294 Fed. App’x 529, 533
(11th Cir. 2008) (“We have previously held that [Fourth Amendment claims premised
on invalid warrants] can be brought even without proof that the underlying conviction
has been called into question. However, we have also determined that Heck would
still preclude those claims that ‘if successful, would necessarily imply the invalidity
of the conviction because they would negate an element of the offense.’” (quoting
Hughes, 350 F.3d at 1160 n.2)).
The facts of this case demonstrate that the Heck bar is properly invoked. In
view of the facts surrounding the traffic stop, as alleged by Cano-Diaz, the Heck bar
is triggered because her Fourth Amendment claim, if successful, would necessarily
implicate the validity of the underlying state charges. More specifically, Cano-Diaz
alleges that she was “was stopped by an officer of the Leeds Police Department for
allegedly crossing outside the fog line multiple times.” (Doc. 29 ¶ 21). She further
alleges that the “traffic stop was pretextual and was effected solely in order to harass
or intimidate the Plaintiff because of her ethnicity, Hispanic, and improperly to
enforce Alabama’s Immigration Act.” (Id.) (emphasis added). Accordingly, her
denial of any basis for the reason she was pulled over—allegedly, her failure to
maintain her lane—implicates the validity of her failure-to-maintain-lane citation.
Additionally, if Cano-Diaz were to prevail on her claim that she was pulled over and
detained without the requisite probable cause or reasonable suspicion, the fruit of the
poisonous tree doctrine would apply to invalidate or expunge the second offense she
was charged with, driving without a license. See Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S.
471, 484-85 (1963) (“[T]his Court held nearly half a century ago that evidence seized
during an unlawful search could not constitute proof against the victim of the search.
The exclusionary prohibition extends as well to the indirect as the direct products of
such invasions.” (citing Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1913)). This is so
because any evidence obtained during the stop that she was driving without a license
would necessarily be excluded in light of the unlawful stop.9 See id.
Therefore, Cano-Diaz’s Fourth Amendment claim in Count I is due to be
dismissed under Heck because “a judgment in [her] favor on this claim would
necessarily imply the invalidity of h[er] underlying convictions.” Hawthorne v.
Sheriff of Broward Cnty, 212 Fed. App’x 943, 947 (11th Cir. 2007); see also Tuff v.
Wright, No. CV 311-108, 2012 WL 1167729, at *3 (S.D. Ga. Mar. 15, 2012)
(applying Heck to bar § 1983 claim for an alleged Fourth Amendment violation on
the basis that the plaintiff’s “§ 1983 claims . . . would imply that he was indicted
In this case, the City of Leeds police officer would not have discovered the evidence of
Cano-Diaz driving without a license absent pulling her over and inquiring about the same. Thus,
the independent-source doctrine and inevitable discovery rule that were cited as a concern in
Heck have no applicability here. Cf. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 n.7 (explaining that its holding would
not necessarily preclude a Fourth Amendment claim of illegal search and seizure given doctrines
such as independent source, inevitable discovery, and harmless error).
based purely on knowingly falsified information, which is tantamount to implying
that his conviction was invalid.”); Spencer v. Deluca, No. 3:10–cv–65–KAP, 2010
WL 2076912, at *2 (W.D. Pa. May 21, 2010) (“A claim that the arresting officer
totally fabricated probable cause for an arrest which led to the discovery of the sole
evidence [upon which the charge was based] is one that cannot accrue until the
dismissal of the charges.” (citing Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87)). Cano-Diaz’s Fourth
Amendment claim is not ripe under Heck because she has not pointed to a “conviction
or sentence reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid
by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by
a federal court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 487.
Therefore, she does not have a cognizable § 1983 claim at this time for her alleged
Fourth Amendment violation.
Fourteenth Amendment Claim
In Count II, Cano-Diaz asserts that the City of Leeds violated the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Like her Fourth Amendment claim,
she brings her Fourteenth Amendment claim by and through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. And,
like her Fourth Amendment claim, her Fourteenth Amendment claim is likewise due
to be dismissed under the Younger abstention doctrine to the extent her charges are
still pending, and under Heck to the extent she has been convicted of those charges.
Application of the Younger abstention doctrine
For the same reasons stated supra concerning her Fourth Amendment claim,
Cano-Diaz’s Fourteenth Amendment claim for racial profiling is due to be dismissed
under the Younger abstention doctrine to the extent that any charges brought against
her due to the allegedly discriminatory and unlawful stop are still pending. See
Younger, 401 U.S. at 44; 31 Foster Children, 329 F.3d at 1274-76. In addition to the
general reasons stated above concerning Cano-Diaz’s ability to address her
constitutional grievances before a state tribunal, a number of courts across the country
have considered the specific issue of whether Younger applies to Fourteenth
Amendment racial profiling claims and have concluded that abstention is appropriate.
(See Doc. 31 at 10-11 (citing cases)).10
For instance, in Lee v. Ingram, Civil Action No. 4:10–CV–604–Y, 2012 WL 369931
(N.D. Tex. Feb. 6, 2012), the court applied Younger abstention principles in dismissing a § 1983
claim that raised unlawful discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment due to racial
profiling by police officers who were allegedly conducting selective traffic stops of black
motorists. In Lee, the plaintiff had been stopped and detained allegedly due to racial profiling
and was issued three citations during the traffic stop, including “(1) evading arrest/detention with
a motor vehicle; (2) tampering/fabricating physical evidence with intent to impede its
availability; and (3) possession of a controlled substance, less than one gram.” Id. at *1. The
plaintiff then sought a court order in federal court to “stop profiling black drivers in Hood
County, order that further training be done on writing traffic tickets or on following the laws and
policies of law enforcement, and compensation for lost wages.” Id. at *1. The court concluded:
“Because Lee is the subject of a state prosecution on the charges made the basis of this
complaint, and because those state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity for Lee to raise
the challenges to his arrest and detention asserted here . . . Lee's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
arising from his stop and detention, including his claims for injunctive or declaratory type relief,
must be dismissed.” Id. at *1.
Accordingly, Cano-Diaz’s Fourth Amendment claim will be dismissed without
prejudice as premature to the extent that her underlying state charges are still pending.
Application of the Heck bar
Just as the Heck bar applies to dismiss Cano-Diaz’s Fourth Amendment claim,
see analysis supra, it applies similarly to dismiss her Fourteenth Amendment claim
to the extent her charges have resulted in a conviction.
In her Fourteenth Amendment claim, brought by and through 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
Cano-Diaz asserts that “suspicionless stops have been and are predominantly
conducted on Black and Latino or Hispanic individuals or those that have physical
characteristics belonging to such races or ethnicities on the basis of racial and/or
ethnic profiling.” (Doc. 29 ¶ 36). She further contends that “[a]s a result, the police
department policy, practice, and/or custom of suspicionless stops violate the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Id. ¶ 37). The facts specific to
Cano-Diaz allege that she was pulled over, arrested, and incarcerated, based on a
“pretextual” traffic stop that “was effected solely in order to harass or intimidate the
Plaintiff because of her ethnicity, Hispanic.” (Id. ¶ 21).
Applying Heck, the court must again analyze whether Cano-Diaz’s § 1983
claim, if successful, will necessarily imply the invalidity of any outstanding
conviction against her at the state or municipal level. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 486-87.
If so, the court must dismiss her claim, “unless [Cano-Diaz] can demonstrate that the
conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.” Id. Analysis of Cano-Diaz’s
Fourteenth Amendment racial profiling claim reaches an even clearer result than her
Fourth Amendment claim. Consistent with the persuasive analysis and conclusion
of numerous other courts (see Doc. 31 at 13 n.3 (citing multiple district court cases)),
the court finds that, if Cano-Diaz prevailed on her § 1983 claim for Equal Protection
violations under the Fourteenth Amendment, it would “necessarily imply” the
invalidity of any outstanding conviction against her at the state or municipal level for
the offenses charged during her traffic stop. More specifically, if Cano-Diaz proved
that the City of Leeds officer who pulled her over did so for purely discriminatory
motives based on her race or ethnicity, such proof of the illegality of the stop would
invalidate any convictions resulting therefrom. See, e.g., Cook v. Layton, 299 Fed.
App’x 173, 174 (3d Cir. 2008) (“Heck . . . applies to allegations of a violation of
equal protection, because a successful claim of racially discriminatory enforcement
of the law would invalidate the resulting conviction and sentence.”); Sanders v.
Fayetteville City Police Dep’t, 160 Fed. App’x 542, 543 (8th Cir. 2005) (affirming
dismissal pursuant to Heck of a § 1983 claim arising from an alleged racially
motivated vehicle stop from which a conviction resulted); Gibson v. Superintendent
of N.J. Dep’t of Law, 411 F.3d 427, 441 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding that the Heck bar was
applicable “[b]ecause a successful claim of selective enforcement under the
Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause would have necessarily invalidated
. . . [the underlying] conviction . . .”).11
Moreover, Cano-Diaz has not shown that her “conviction . . . [has been]
reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state
tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal
court’s issuance of a writ of habeas corpus.” Heck, 512 U.S. at 487. Accordingly,
Cano-Diaz’s Fourteenth Amendment claim in Count II is not ripe under Heck and is
due to be dismissed under Heck to the extent that her pending underlying state
charges have become convictions.
Title VI Claim
Cano-Diaz also asserts, in Count III, that the City of Leeds unlawfully
discriminated against her in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42
U.S.C. § 2000(d), et seq.12 Specifically, she pleaded that the law enforcement
The Third Circuit’s Gibson decision was overruled in part on other grounds by Dique
v. New Jersey State Police, 603 F.3d 181, 183 (3d Cir. 2010) (“We believe, however, that the
Supreme Court's decision in Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384 (2007), which clarified the Heck rule
[concerning the statute of limitations for a selective-enforcement claim], extends to Fourteenth
Amendment selective-enforcement claims and thus overrides our decision in Gibson.”).
Title VI generally provides that a program or activity receiving federal financial
assistance shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin. See 42 U.S.C. §
2000d, et seq. Cano-Diaz alleges that the “laws (sic) enforcement activities described in this
amended complaint have been funded, in part, with federal funds.” (Am. Complt., Doc. 29 ¶ 42).
activities “had a disparate impact on minorities, particularly Blacks and Latinos.”
(Am. Compl., Doc. 29 ¶ 43) (emphasis added). The City of Leeds contends that
Cano-Diaz fails to state a claim under Title VI because she is not entitled to a private
right of action to enforce disparate impact treatment. The court agrees.
It is clear under Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2001), that there is no
private right of action to enforce disparate impact regulations. Alexander, 532 U.S.
at 285 (holding that there is no private right of action to enforce Title VI disparate
impact regulations); see also Title VI Legal Manual, U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/cor/coord/vimanual.php (Jan. 11, 2001) (recognizing
that “Sandoval foreclosed private judicial enforcement of Title VI disparate impact
regulations”). Therefore, Cano-Diaz’s Title VI claim is due to be dismissed with
prejudice because it is not cognizable under the law.
In Counts IV and V, Cano-Diaz asserts claims for remedial relief predicated
upon the Defendant’s past unconstitutional practices and claims for money damages
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Neither of these claims can stand without a cognizable
underlying § 1983 claim to support them. See generally Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S.
386, 393-94 (1989) (“As we have said many times, § 1983 ‘is not itself a source of
substantive rights,’ but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights
elsewhere conferred.’” (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)).
Class Action Allegations
Likewise, because Cano-Diaz has not stated a maintainable cause of action on
any of her alleged claims, the putative class allegations necessarily must fail.
In sum, the court concludes as follows:
Plaintiff’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, brought by and through
42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I and II) are due to be dismissed under the Younger
abstention doctrine to the extent that the underlying state charges are still
pending as alleged. Alternatively, Counts I and II are due to be dismissed to
the extent that the underlying charges have become convictions because they
are not ripe—and thus “not cognizable”—under Heck. Heck, 512 U.S. at 487
(“A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that
has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983.” (italics in original;
underline added). Under either reasoning, Counts I and II are due to be
dismissed without prejudice.
Plaintiff’s Title VI claim (Count III) is due to be dismissed with prejudice
because it is not a cognizable claim.
Because Plaintiff has not stated a maintainable cause of action on any of her
substantive claims, Plaintiff’s claims for remedial relief (Count IV) and for
damages under § 1983 (Count V) are due to be dismissed.
Because Plaintiff has not stated a maintainable cause of action on any of her
alleged claims, the putative class allegations necessarily must fail.
With no remaining claims, this case is due to be dismissed. A separate order
dismissing the case will be entered.
DONE and ORDERED this the 1st day of August, 2012.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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