Patel v. City of Madison, Alabama
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART and otherwise DENYING 60 MOTION to Dismiss Fourth Amended Complaint. The deadline for Defendant City of Madison, Alabama to answer Plaintiff Sureshbhai Patel's Fourth Amended Complaint is no later than February 15, 2017. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 2/1/2017. (JLC)
2017 Feb-01 PM 03:21
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CITY OF MADISON, ALABAMA,
and ERIC SLOAN PARKER,
) Case No.: 5:15-CV-0253-VEH
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Sureshbhai Patel’s (“Mr. Patel”) initiated this civil rights action on
February 12, 2015 (Doc. 1) and most recently amended his complaint on October 3,
2016. (Doc. 58). Pending before the court is the Renewed Motion To Dismiss Fourth
Amended Complaint of Defendant City of Madison, Alabama (the “City”) (Doc. 60)
(the “Motion”) filed on October 21, 2016. In light of Mr. Patel’s failure to oppose the
Motion under the schedule contained in Appendix III to the court’s uniform initial
order (Doc. 20), the court entered an order (Doc. 62) directing Mr. Patel to show
cause why the Motion should not be granted. On January 4, 2017, Mr. Patel filed his
response. (Doc. 63). The City filed its reply (Doc. 64) on January 11, 2017. For the
reasons stated below, the Motion is GRANTED IN PART and otherwise is
Rule 12(b)(6) Standard
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. See FED.
R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) (“[A] party may assert the following defenses by motion: (6)
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]”). 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, 78 S. Ct. 99,
103, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957) (footnote omitted) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)),
abrogated by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S. Ct. 1955,
1965, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (setting forth general
pleading requirements for a complaint including providing “a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”).
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 555, 127 S. Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47, 78 S.
Ct. at 103). However, at the same time, “it demands more than an unadorned,
the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (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, 127 S. Ct. at 1969.
“[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, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S. Ct. at 1950. “While legal
conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by
factual allegations.” Id. “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, 556 U.S. at 680, 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, 556 U.S. at 678, 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, 127 S. Ct. at 1965).
This case involves a law enforcement incident occurring on February 6, 2015,
when Mr. Patel–a 57-year-old citizen of India who was visiting Alabama so that he
could assist his son and daughter-in-law in the care of their 17-month-old
son–encountered Defendant Eric Parker (“Officer Parker”), an officer with the
Madison Police Department during a walk in Mr. Patel’s son’s neighborhood. (Doc.
58 at 1 ¶ 4). Earlier that morning, a neighbor had reported Mr. Patel as a suspicious
person to the Madison Police Department. (Doc. 58 at 2 ¶ 10). Officer Parker first
“searched [Mr.] Patel for weapons” and found him to be unarmed. (Doc. 58 at 3 ¶¶
17-18). “After the search, without provocation, [Officer] Parker restrained [Mr.]
Patel’s arms and slammed [Mr.] Patel face first into the ground using a leg sweep.”
(Doc. 58 at 3 ¶ 19). Mr. Patel was seriously injured as a result of this use of force and
“immediately became paralyzed in his arms and legs” due to “significant trauma”
impacting his spinal cord. (Doc. 58 at 3 ¶ 21). Mr. Patel was hospitalized and has
been through a long period of rehabilitation. (Doc. 58 at 3-4 ¶¶ 24-25). Mr. Patel
alleges that, had he not been seriously injured, Officer Parker would have charged
him with obstructing governmental operations and resisting arrest. (Doc. 58 at 9 ¶
Mr. Patel’s Fourth Amended Complaint (Doc. 58) contains six counts. Three
of these allege federal constitutional violations and are brought against the City and
Officer Parker jointly pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count I is for illegal seizure;
Count II is for unlawful search; and Count III is for excessive force. (Doc. 58 at 13-15
¶¶ 73-84). The remaining counts are state law claims alleged against Officer Parker
The City’s Motion seeks a dismissal of all three claims brought against it. (Doc.
60 at 2). However, rather than dealing with the elements of each specific count, the
City’s briefing addresses Mr. Patel’s claims collectively. More specifically, the City
challenges whether Mr. Patel’s allegations plausibly meet the Monell standard
governing municipal liability for constitutional violations.1 Under Monell, “a local
government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its
employees or agents.” 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S. Ct. at 2037. Instead, for liability beyond
respondeat superior to plausibly attach, a municipality’s official policy or custom
(including, under certain circumstances, the absence of any policy when policymakers
have been deliberately indifferent about the need to have one) must be the “moving
force [behind] the constitutional violation[.]” 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S. Ct. at 2038.
The full case citation is Monell v. Department of Social Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018,
56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978).
In each of the three counts involving the City, Mr. Patel makes a Monell-based
reference that contains almost identical (i.e., when comparing Counts I and II) and/or
partially overlapping language (i.e., when comparing Count III with Counts I and II):
Count I: “The City’s policies and customs, including those
regarding necessary training, stops, abusive charges,
investigations of citizen complaints, and tolerance for
constitutional violations in general, were the moving force behind
[Officer] Parker’s violation of [Mr.] Patel’s Fourth Amendment
rights.” (Doc. 58 at 13 ¶ 75);
Count II: “The City’s policies and customs, including those
regarding necessary training, weapons patdowns, investigations
of citizen complaints, and tolerance for constitutional violations
in general, were the moving force behind [Officer] Parker’s
violation of [Mr.] Patel’s Fourth Amendment rights.” (Doc. 58 at
14 ¶ 79); and
Count III: “The City’s policies and customs, including those
regarding investigations of citizen complaints, and tolerance for
constitutional violations in general, were the moving force behind
[Officer] Parker’s violation of [Mr.] Patel’s Fourth Amendment
rights.” (Doc. 58 at 15 ¶ 83).
Here, the City primarily asserts that Mr. Patel has alleged merely conclusory and,
therefore, legally insufficient facts to show that “the City’s failure to train its officers
on the constitutional limits in investigatory stops and its alleged failure to investigate
officer misconduct or to discipline officers” (Doc. 61 at 3)2 were the “moving force”
behind Mr. Patel’s injuries.
All page references to Doc. 61 correspond with the court’s CM/ECF numbering system.
The City also challenges Mr. Patel’s reliance upon a ratification theory based
upon the reinstatement of Office Parker to show that it is liable for Mr. Patel’s alleged
injuries. Id. Against this backdrop, the court analyzes the plausibility of Mr. Patel’s
Monell-based theories and the merits of the City’s Motion.
Failure To Train
One way to establish official municipal policy in the context of challenged
police action is through deficient officer training. In City of Canton v. Harris, 489
U.S. 378, 109 S. Ct. 1197, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412 (1989), the Supreme Court
acknowledged that “there are limited circumstances in which an allegation of a
‘failure to train’ can be the basis for liability in § 1983[,]” and held that “the
inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where
the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with
whom the police come into contact.” 489 U.S. at 387, 388, 109 S. Ct. at 1204. In
other words, the deliberate indifference standard requires a conscious choice on the
part of a municipality before it “can . . . properly be thought of as a ‘policy or custom’
that is actionable under § 1983.” 489 U.S. at 389, 109 S. Ct. at 1205. The individual
shortcomings of a police officer or even the negligent administration of an “otherwise
sound program” are insufficient grounds for maintaining a § 1983 municipal claim.
Canton, 489 U.S. at 390, 109 S. Ct. at 1206.
In addressing the failure to train as a custom or policy under § 1983, the
Eleventh Circuit has clarified:
Only when the failure to train amounts to “deliberate indifference” can
it properly be characterized as the “policy” or “custom” that is necessary
for section 1983 liability to attach. City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 389, 109
S. Ct. at 1205. Failure to train can amount to deliberate indifference
when the need for more or different training is obvious, id. at 390, 109
S. Ct. at 1205, such as when there exists a history of abuse by
subordinates that has put the supervisor [or municipality] on notice of
the need for corrective measures, Greason, 891 F.2d at 837, and when
the failure to train is likely to result in the violation of a constitutional
right, City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 390, 109 S. Ct. at 1205.
Belcher v. City of Foley, 30 F.3d 1390, 1397-98 (11th Cir. 1994).
The City contends that Mr. Patel’s failure to train allegations are controlled by
the Eleventh Circuit’s decision affirming the district court’s Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal
of a Monell-training claim in Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff’s Office, 792 F.3d
1313 (11th Cir. 2015). The plaintiff in Weiland complained about “two Palm Beach
County Sheriff’s Office deputies shooting, tasering, and beating him in his own
bedroom without warning or provocation during their response to a ‘Baker Act
call[,]’”3 792 F.3d at 1316, and attributed Monell liability to the Sheriff’s Office on
account of its “policy of not training its deputies in the appropriate use of force when
Under Florida’s Baker Act, a person suffering from a mental illness may be subject to an
involuntary examination at a mental health facility under certain circumstances. See Weiland, 792
F.3d at 1316 n.1 (describing Baker Act by directly quoting from Fla. Stat. § 394.463(1)(b)(2)).
seizing mentally ill citizens for transportation to mental health facilities.” 792 F.3d
1328. In rejecting the Weiland plaintiff’s failure-to-train theory, the Eleventh Circuit
“In limited circumstances, a local government’s decision not to
train certain employees ... to avoid violating citizens’ rights may rise to
the level of an official government policy for purposes of § 1983.”
Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1359, 179 L. Ed.
2d 417 (2011). But “[a] pattern of similar constitutional violations by
untrained employees is ordinarily necessary to demonstrate deliberate
indifference for purposes of failure to train.” Id. at 1359-60 (quotation
marks omitted). Count two does not allege a pattern of similar
constitutional violations by untrained employees. Although it contains
the conclusory allegation that the Sheriff’s Office was “on notice” of the
need to “promulgate, implement, and/or oversee” policies pertaining to
the “use of force” appropriate for “the seizure of mentally ill persons and
their transportation to mental health facilities,” no facts are alleged to
support that conclusion. Instead, it is clear that the claim outlined in
count two arises from a single incident and the actions of two deputies.
792 F.3d at 1328-29 (footnotes omitted) (emphasis added).
Regarding the caliber of facts needed to plausibly state a § 1983 failure-to-train
claim, the Eleventh Circuit noted that the complaint lacked “allegations that the prior
Baker Act calls resulted in similar violations . . . of Weiland’s constitutional rights
or that the Sheriff’s Office was aware of those violations and therefore ‘on notice’ of
a need to train and supervise deputies in this particular area.” 792 F.3d at 1239 n.21.
The Eleventh Circuit also found that the complaint’s reference to “numerous police
shootings” of mental health patients in Palm Beach County as providing the Sheriff’s
Office with notice of a need to train were inadequate under Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557,
127 S. Ct. at 1966.4 Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1239 n.21. Instead, the plaintiff “must
allege, with some ‘factual enhancement,’ that those shootings gave rise to ‘similar
constitutional violations[.]’” 792 F.3d at 1239 n.21 (citations omitted).
Mr. Patel counters that, under Hoefling v. City of Miami, 811 F.3d 1271 (11th
Cir. 2016), he is not obligated “to identify other specific incidents” to plausibly
support his municipal liability claim. (Doc. 63 at 3). The plaintiff in Hoefling
complained that “the City and its marine patrol officers” violated his procedural due
process and Fourth Amendment rights when they destroyed his boat without notice.
811 F.3d at 1280. The district court dismissed the § 1983 municipal claim in Hoefling
on the basis that “Mr. Hoefling failed to identify the City official who acted as the
final policymaker.” 811 F.3d at 1279. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed and held that
“[a]ll he needed to do was allege a policy, practice, or custom of the City which
caused the seizure and destruction of his sailboat.”5 Id. at 1280.
Regarding allegations about any shootings that occurred somewhere outside of Palm Beach
County, those could “not establish a pattern of similar constitutional violations by employees of the
Sheriff’s Office that would put it on notice that its own training is inadequate.” Weiland, 792 F.3d
at 1239 n.21.
The Eleventh Circuit’s opinion in Hoefling does not discuss plausible pleading in the
context of a failure-to-train theory. Instead, the Hoefling appeal involves factual allegations that are
more closely aligned with the standing policy Monell claim analyzed by the First Circuit in Haley.
See discussion, infra, § III.F.
The court then detailed how the Hoefling plaintiff met the Twombly pleading
standard: he not only described the seizure and destruction of his own boat, but also
referred to a telephone “call from a friend ‘notifying him that the police were taking
boats’” as well as examples of ‘others [who] ha[d] fallen victim to similar conduct as
a result of the City[’s] and [the marine patrol officers’] failure to adhere to law and
appropriate procedures regarding the investigation and destruction of potentially
derelict vessels.’” Id. Additionally, he claimed “that the City refer[red] to this
‘systematic roundup and destruction of ugly boats in its waters’ as a ‘cleanup’
program.” Id. Ultimately, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that Mr. Hoelfling’s facts
were “not the sort of ‘naked allegations’ . . . found [to be] wanting in Weiland, 792
F.3d at 1329-30 (brackets and quotation marks deleted).” 811 F.3d at 1281. Thus,
“Mr. Hoefling’s allegations were sufficient to state a facially plausible municipal
liability claim because they permit ‘the reasonable inference that [the City] is liable
for the misconduct alleged.’” Hoefling, 811 F.3d at 1281 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678, 129 S. Ct. at 1949).
As set forth above, under each specific count involving the City, Mr. Patel
invokes merely boilerplate language and does not describe a facially plausible § 1983
Monell-training claim. Mr. Patel’s allegations that precede his specific counts do not
transform his training claim into a plausible one either. For example, Mr. Patel alleges
that “City policymakers knew to a moral certainty that City officers would regularly
confront the questions of 1) whether a stop was permissible and 2) whether a patdown
for weapons was justified.” (Doc. 58 at 7 ¶ 41). Mr. Patel further asserts that “City
policymakers, with deliberate indifference, failed to take steps to insure [sic] officers
were trained and supervised regarding the constitutional limits of officers’ authority
in these areas.” (Doc. 58 at 7 ¶ 42).
However, nowhere does Mr. Patel adequately connect how these (or his other)
allegations form a larger constitutional pattern plausibly establishing the City’s
deliberate indifference to the need for specific training to prevent the reoccurrence
of comparable constitutional injuries. Notably, Mr. Patel does not contend that the
City was aware of other situations involving an officer’s improper use of a “selfinitiated” contact, a weapons patdown, or a “leg sweep” which resulted in
constitutional injuries comparable to his and which plausibly put the City on notice
of the need to address this systematic problem with additional training. Further, Mr.
Patel’s contention that this court should follow Hoefling as a less demanding
alternative to Weiland is misplaced, given that Hoefling is not a failure-to-train
opinion. Thus, Mr. Patel’s failure-to-train theory lacks the level of “factual
enhancement” necessary to support a plausible Monell claim. Weiland, 792 F.3d at
1239 n.21; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (“Threadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
Citing to Danley v. Allen, 540 F.3d 1298 (11th Cir. 2008), overruled as
recognized by Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 709 (11th Cir. 2010) (“While Swann,
GJR, and Danley reaffirm application of a heightened pleading standard for § 1983
cases involving defendants able to assert qualified immunity, we agree with Randall
that those cases were effectively overturned by the Iqbal court.”), Mr. Patel maintains
that his notice allegations about force reports and citizen complaints (Doc. 58 at 11
¶ 67) are adequate to show a pattern of constitutional violations (Doc. 63 at 7) and
“cannot be dismissed as insufficiently specific.” (Doc. 63 at 8). The court disagrees
and finds Mr. Patel’s reliance upon Danley to be misplaced for at least two reasons.
First, Danley pre-dates Twombly and Iqbal and, therefore, does not apply the
plausibility standard set out in those cases.
Second, the Eleventh Circuit’s discussion of the supervisory allegations at issue
in Danley included more than just a general assertion that prior complaints and force
reports were made. See Danley, 540 F.3d at 1315 (“[T]he numerous complaints to
Rikard and Willis about the excessive use of pepper spray and the denial of adequate
medical treatment to inmates, especially during the shift on which Allyn, Wood, and
Woods worked, were enough to put them on notice of misconduct that was
sufficiently ‘obvious, flagrant, rampant and of continued duration’ to require them to
act.”). Therefore, Danley does not further Mr. Patel’s position and the Motion is
GRANTED regarding Mr. Patel’s reliance upon a failure-to-train theory to support
his constitutional claims brought against the City.
Obvious Need for Training
The Supreme Court in Canton suggested that not all failure-to-train claims
would require prior notice and noted that “the need to train officers in the
constitutional limitations on the use of deadly force, see Tennessee v. Garner, 471
U.S. 1, 105 S. Ct. 1694, 85 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1985), can be said to be ‘so obvious,’ that
failure to do so could properly be characterized as ‘deliberate indifference’ to
constitutional rights.” 489 U.S. at 390 n.10, 109 S. Ct. 1205 n.10. The Supreme Court
later described this discussion in Canton as follows. “In leaving open . . . the
possibility that a plaintiff might succeed in carrying a failure-to-train claim without
showing a pattern of constitutional violations, we simply hypothesized that, in a
narrow range of circumstances, a violation of federal rights may be a highly
predictable consequence of a failure to equip law enforcement officers with specific
tools to handle recurring situations.” Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown,
520 U.S. 397, 409, 117 S. Ct. 1382, 1391, 137 L. Ed. 2d 626 (1997).
In its Motion, the City contests Mr. Patel’s efforts to allege an obvious-need14
for-training claim. (Doc. 61 at 15-19). In particular, the City contends that the facts
of Mr. Patel’s case that challenge the scope of Officer Parker’s investigatory stop of
and use of force against him do not plausibly support an obvious training claim,
especially as his Fourth Amended Complaint acknowledges that the City’s officers
received some training. (See Doc. 58 at 8 ¶ 46 (“Officers are initially trained at a
certified policy academy and are instructed regarding constitutional rules.”)).
In Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 64, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1361, 179 L. Ed.
2d 417 (2011), the Supreme Court rejected an attempt to establish obvious or
“‘single-incident’ liability [for] . . . . failing to provide specific Brady training . . . .”
to parish prosecutors. Connick, 563 U.S. at 63, 131 S. Ct. at 1361. As part of its
reasoning for holding that “a district attorney’s office [can]not be held liable for
failure to train based on a single Brady violation[,]” 563 U.S. at 54, 131 S. Ct. at
1355, the Connick Court distinguished Canton’s window for an obviousness
A second significant difference between this case and the example
in Canton is the nuance of the allegedly necessary training. The Canton
hypothetical assumes that the armed police officers have no knowledge
at all of the constitutional limits on the use of deadly force. But it is
undisputed here that the prosecutors in Connick’s office were familiar
with the general Brady rule. Thompson’s complaint therefore cannot
rely on the utter lack of an ability to cope with constitutional situations
that underlies the Canton hypothetical, but rather must assert that
prosecutors were not trained about particular Brady evidence or the
specific scenario related to the violation in his case. That sort of nuance
simply cannot support an inference of deliberate indifference here. As
the Court said in Canton, “[i]n virtually every instance where a person
has had his or her constitutional rights violated by a city employee, a §
1983 plaintiff will be able to point to something the city ‘could have
done’ to prevent the unfortunate incident.” 489 U.S., at 392, 109 S. Ct.
1197 (citing Tuttle, 471 U.S., at 823, 105 S. Ct. 2427 (plurality
Thompson suggests that the absence of any formal training
sessions about Brady is equivalent to the complete absence of legal
training that the Court imagined in Canton. But failure-to-train liability
is concerned with the substance of the training, not the particular
instructional format. The statute does not provide plaintiffs or courts
carte blanche to micromanage local governments throughout the United
Connick, 563 U.S. at 67-68, 131 S. Ct. at 1363 (emphasis by underlining added); see
also Gray ex rel. Alexander v. Bostic, 458 F.3d 1295, 1309 (11th Cir. 2006) (“The
failure to provide specific training regarding the detention of students, in addition to
general training regarding use of force during detention and arrest, was not ‘so likely’
to result in the violation of students’ Fourth Amendment rights that Sheriff Sexton
reasonably can be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need for this
particularized training without any prior notice.”) (emphasis by underlining added).
Guided by the holdings in Connick and Bostic, the court concludes that, given
Mr. Patel’s allegations concerning the City’s inadequate (as opposed to a complete
lack of) police officer training, his constitutional claims do not support municipal
liability. The court’s conclusion to dismiss this narrow exception to the conventional
framework applicable to § 1983 training liability is bolstered by Mr. Patel’s
underdeveloped and superficial resistance to that theory’s dismissal. Without meeting
any of the City’s arguments and cited cases head on, Mr. Patel minimally states:
Because plaintiff’s complaint more than sufficiently alleges a
failure-to-train claim under the City of Canton notice prong, the Court
does not need to reach any issue regarding the obvious-need-for-training
prong at this time. Plaintiff would nevertheless point out that the City
does not dispute that officers need to be trained regarding the limits on
their authority to stop and frisk. While the City contends any “obvious”
training obligation is satisfied by the police academy, that is a matter
more properly resolved on summary judgment. Plaintiff has alleged an
obvious need for training and a failure and a refusal to train.
(Doc. 63 at 9); (see also Doc. 64 at 10 (“Plaintiff offers no real arguments in
opposition and all but concedes the ‘obvious’ failure to train theory in his
response.”)). Therefore, the Motion is GRANTED regarding Mr. Patel’s reliance
upon an obvious-need-to-train theory to support his constitutional claims brought
against the City.
Failure To Investigate and Discipline
Mr. Patel alleges in a conclusory fashion that, prior to the incident involving
him, “City policymakers were aware of numerous incidents in which citizens were
subjected to unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, and uses of force but took no
action to investigate and discipline officers.” (Doc. 58 at 8 ¶ 50). Mr. Patel’s Monell
claims premised upon the City’s failure to investigate complaints and discipline
officers for their misconduct suffer from the same infirmities as his § 1983 training
ones–he has not linked his counts of illegal seizure, unlawful search, or excessive
force to non-boilerplate examples of inadequately investigated/disciplined officer
misconduct involving self-initiated contacts, weapons patdowns, or leg sweeps,
which resulted in constitutional injuries comparable to his and which plausibly put
the City on notice of the need to address this systematic problem. Thus, Mr. Patel’s
failure-to-investigate/discipline theory lacks the level of “factual enhancement”
necessary to support a plausible Monell claim. The Motion is GRANTED regarding
Mr. Patel’s reliance upon a failure-to-investigate/discipline theory to support his
constitutional claims brought against the City.
Mr. Patel alleges that “[t]he City’s reinstatement of [Officer] Parker and finding
that his conduct was within City policy constitutes a ratification of [Officer] Parker’s
constitutional violations and makes the City liable for [them under Monell].” (Doc.
58 at 10 ¶ 59). Relying upon the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Thomas ex rel.
Thomas v. Roberts, 261 F.3d 1160 (11th Cir. 2001), vacated on other grounds by 536
U.S. 953 (2002), reinstated by 323 F.3d 950 (11th Cir. 2003), the City contends that
a solitary decision to reinstate Officer Parker to the Madison Police Department does
not plausibly give rise to ratification liability pursuant to § 1983.
Mr. Patel agrees in his opposition that “current Eleventh Circuit law does not
allow for municipal liability based solely on post-incident ratification.” (Doc. 63 at
5-6); cf. also Brown, 520 U.S. at 415, 117 S. Ct. at 1394 (observing that “every injury
is traceable to a hiring decision” and rejecting municipal liability premised upon a
single hiring decision “without adequate screening” as contrary “to [the] rigorous
requirements of culpability and causation” required by Monell). Nonetheless, Mr.
Patel contends that, within the Eleventh Circuit, “post-incident actions can be strong
evidence of pre-existing policy.” (Doc. 63 at 6 (citing Salvato v. Miley, 790 F. 3d
1286, 1297-98 (11th Cir. 2015)).
As pointed out in the City’s reply (Doc. 64 at 9-10), Salvato’s holding
reinforces the City’s position. In Salvato, the Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that a
“persistent failure to take disciplinary action against officers can give rise to the
inference that a municipality has ratified conduct.” 790 F.3d at 1297 (internal
quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added) (quoting Thomas, 261 F.3d at 1174 n.12).
However, ultimately, the facts in Salvato did not meet this persistence standard and
the Eleventh Circuit held that a “sheriff cannot be held liable under section 1983 for
a single failure to investigate a constitutional violation[.]” 790 F.3d at 1298 (emphasis
added); see also id. (“But an isolated incident is, by definition, not a ‘persistent
Similar to Salvato, Mr. Patel’s complaint is devoid of non-boilerplate
allegations plausibly approaching a persistent pattern of problematic officer
reinstatement by the City. Instead, those of Mr. Patel’s ratification-related allegations
with any factual description are limited to the City’s post-incident treatment of Mr.
Patel and Officer Parker. (See, e.g., Doc. 58 at 9 ¶ 55 (“Thus, the City’s initial press
release attempted to blame the incident on [Mr.] Patel”); id. ¶ 52 (“The City’s
policymakers did not criticize [Officer] Parker’s initial seizure of [Mr.] Patel,
[Officer] Parker’s aggressive and unconstitutional search for weapons, or [Officer]
Parker’s arrest of [Mr.] Patel.”); id. at 10 ¶ 58 (“On September 6, 2016, the City
announced, through acting police chief Major Jim Crooke, that [Officer] Parker’s
actions regarding [Mr.] Patel did not violate any City policy and that [Officer] Parker,
after completing necessary training for re-certification, would be returned to duty.”)).
Therefore, the Motion is GRANTED regarding Mr. Patel’s reliance upon a
ratification theory to support his constitutional claims brought against the City.
Standing Policy and Custom
In his opposition brief, Mr. Patel asserts that his Fourth Amended Complaint
contains a policy and custom claim against the City that is separate from his failureto-train theory. (Doc. 63 at 2); (see also id. at 10 (“Moreover, plaintiff’s complaint
contains detailed allegations regarding the City’s use of its field training program in
a manner designed to directly counter academy training regarding constitutional
standards. Thus, perhaps, plaintiff’s failure to train claim more naturally fits as part
of a policy and custom claim, as explained above.”).
As legal support for his argument, Mr. Patel relies upon Haley v. City of
Boston, 657 F.3d 39 (1st Cir. 2011), and points out that the Eleventh Circuit cited to
Haley with approval in Hoefling. 811 F.3d at 1281. As the First Circuit summarized
the municipal claims at issue in Haley, the plaintiff “alleged both that the [Boston
Police Department] had a standing policy that was itself unconstitutional and that the
City failed to train its personnel in their evidence-disclosure obligations despite
notice of persistent and ongoing violations. These allegations are sufficient to anchor
two separate Monell-type claims, each demanding a different kind of proof.” 657 F.3d
The Haley court further explained the contours of a standing policy Monell
Haley’s first Monell-type claim implicates the standing policy
itself. “Where a plaintiff claims that a particular municipal action itself
violates federal law, or directs an employee to do so, resolving [the]
issues of fault and causation is straightforward” as long as the
appropriate level of culpability is established. Id. at 404, 117 S. Ct.
1382. . . .
The complaint alleges that the detectives’ withholding of the
sisters’ statements occurred pursuant to a standing [Boston Police
Department] policy, under which Boston police officers regularly kept
helpful evidence from criminal defendants. The complaint further
alleges that this policy was designed to encourage successful
prosecutorial outcomes despite the existence of evidence pointing to
innocence. The complaint contrasts the [Boston Police Department]’s
policy with that of the district attorney’s office, which it alleges had a
standing policy to disclose all known exculpatory and impeachment
evidence in full compliance with Brady. Haley argues that, in his case,
the district attorney’s office was unable to fulfill its salutary (and
constitutionally mandated) disclosure policy because the [Boston Police
Department] failed to apprise it of the sisters’ statements. The end result
was Haley’s wrongful conviction.
Haley, 657 F.3d at 51-52, 52. The plaintiff’s failure-to-train theory drew on similar
facts and was pleaded in the alternative: “that the [Boston Police Department]’s
unconstitutional suppression of the sisters’ statements, if not the result of a standing
policy, was precipitated by poor training, to which the City was deliberately
indifferent.” 657 F.3d at 52. While acknowledging the closeness of the call, 657 F.3d
at 53 n.5, the Haley court concluded that both municipal claims “contain[ed]
sufficient factual content to survive a motion to dismiss . . . .” 657 F.3d at 53.
In reply to Mr. Patel’s reliance upon Haley, the City urges that “Haley is inapt
because in that case the city incorrectly argued on a motion to dismiss that the
allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint were not true.” (Doc. 64 at 6). While the First
Circuit did comment that “[w]hether Haley can prove what he has alleged is not the
issue”, that court clearly decided the plausibility question based upon the plaintiff’s
allegations, not a mistaken argument made by the defendant. Haley, 657 F.3d at 52.
Further, the City’s argument ignores the fact that, in Haley, “[t]he City also
contend[ed] that both municipal liability claims fail as a matter of pleading to meet
the . . . [Twiqbal] ‘plausibility’ requirement.” Id. The City also unconvincingly
attempts to discount the persuasive value of Haley even though the Eleventh Circuit
found it to be worthy of citing to in Hoefling.
Further, the court agrees that Mr. Patel’s Fourth Amended Complaint includes
standing policy and custom allegations that are separate from and analyzed differently
than his failure-to-train ones. (See, e.g., Doc. 58 at 7 ¶ (“[T]he City evaluated officers’
performance based in part on their statistics for ‘self initiated’ contacts, arrests, and
tickets, thereby encouraging officers to be aggressive in their approaches to allegedly
suspicious persons.”); id. ¶ 43 (“Officers were encouraged to make stops without also
being reminded of the limits on their authority to make them.”); id. at 8 ¶ 44
(“[P]olice officers were specifically trained that patdowns for weapons were
permitted, in the officer’s complete discretion, during any investigatory stop.”); id.
¶ 47 (“Academy training, however, is followed by a 16-week training program in
which FTOs teach new officers how the job is really done.) (emphasis added);6 id. ¶
FTO stands for field training officer. (Doc. 58 at 2 ¶ 11).
48 (“In treating [Mr.] Patel as he did, [Officer] Parker, the FTO, was teaching the
trainee with him about how the job of a Madison police officer is really done.”); id.
¶ 49 (“Thus, multiple FTOs testified in [Officer] Parker’s criminal trials that [Officer]
Parker’s actions were consistent with Madison policy and training.”)).
Importantly, the City’s Motion does not address the plausibility of Mr. Patel’s
standing policy and custom theory in light of these particular allegations that
represent affirmative Madison Police Department acts and practices. Instead, the City
omits any reference to Mr. Patel’s reliance upon this type of direct-causation Monell
claim and, even in its reply, incorrectly insists that Mr. Patel only identifies two
customs or policies–the alleged failure to train and the alleged failure to
investigate/discipline. (Doc. 64 at 1-2). Therefore, persuasively guided by Haley and
Hoefling (which comparably involved the plausibility of facts reflecting a standing
municipal policy to seize and destroy boats without prior notice to the owners), the
court finds that Mr. Patel has plausibly asserted the existence of a standing policy or
custom attributable to the City through the Madison Police Department that is distinct
from his failure-to-train theory and that, if proven, could support Mr. Patel’s
constitutional claims asserted against the City. Thus, to that extent, the Motion is
DENIED. Alternatively, the Motion is DENIED because, in seeking a dismissal of
all counts asserted against it by Mr. Patel, the City has overlooked (or ignored) the
existence of this alternative theory of Monell liability and, therefore, simply has not
carried its burden as the movant.
Therefore, the City’s Motion is GRANTED IN PART and otherwise is
DENIED. The deadline for the City to answer Mr. Patel’s Fourth Amended
Complaint is no later than February 15, 2017.
DONE and ORDERED this the 1st day of February, 2017.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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