Byrd v. Williams et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER- It is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and DECREED, that the Motion to Dismiss by Plaintiff Bridget Byrd (Doc. 57 ) is due to be and hereby is GRANTED as to all counterclaims pleaded on behalf of Samuel Williams and DENIED as to all counterclaims pleaded on behalf of defendant Lenora Williams Signed by Magistrate Judge T Michael Putnam on 1/28/16. (MRR, ) Modified on 1/29/2016 (MRR, ).
2016 Jan-29 AM 08:07
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
LENORA WILLIAMS, et al.,
Case No. 7:14-cv-01537-TMP
MEMORANDUM OPINION and ORDER
Pending before the court is a motion by plaintiff/counterclaim defendant
Bridget Byrd to dismiss the counterclaims of defendants Samuel and Lenora
Williams (“the Williamses”). (Doc. 57). The motion has been fully briefed, and
the parties have consented to the exercise of dispositive jurisdiction by the
The plaintiff moves to dismiss the Williamses’
counterclaims pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Sadly, this case arises out of a tragic, intra-family dispute concerning the
custody of a minor child. The plaintiff, mother of the child, has sued her own
mother, Lenora Williams, who has in turn filed a counterclaim against her
daughter. Such unfortunate family quarrels have been the fodder of literature since
STANDARD OF REVIEW1
Before the Supreme Court decided Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007), a court could dismiss a pleading
seeking relief2 only where it was clear that no relief could be granted under any set
of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations,” as set forth in Conley
v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957). The well-established
Rule 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley was expressly rejected in Twombly
when the Supreme Court examined the sufficiency of a plaintiff’s complaint and
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief,” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim
is and the grounds upon which it rests,” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S.
41, 47, 78 S. Ct. 99, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1957). While a complaint
Despite styling the instant motion as a Motion to Dismiss, the plaintiff argues entitlement to
dismissal and/or summary judgment regarding the defendants’ counterclaims and sets out the
standard of review for summary judgment rather than dismissal pursuant to Rule 12 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 57, pp. 2-3). The plaintiff is not entitled to summary
judgment because, as addressed herein, there remain genuine issues of material fact with regard
to each of the counterclaims. Accordingly, to the extent the plaintiff intends the instant motion
to be a Motion for Summary Judgment, the motion is due to be and hereby is DENIED.
Although Twombly and Iqbal were decided in the context of analyzing motions to dismiss a
complaint, the same pleading standards apply to counterclaims as well. The ratio decidendi of
the Supreme Court’s holding in Twombly was the language in Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) requiring a
“pleading that states a claim for relief” to contain a short, plain statement “showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” From this phrase, the Supreme Court gleaned a requirement that
such a pleading allege sufficient facts, not just “labels and conclusions,” to show a “plausible”
basis for relief. The rule itself does not limit its application only to complaints, but applies to all
“pleading[s] that state a claim for relief,” and this clearly includes counterclaims, as well as
complaints. Accord Fed. Home Loan Corp. v. Brooks, 2014 WL 5410236 (N.D. Ala. Oct. 23,
2014) (analyzing counterclaim under Twombly/Iqbal pleading standard).
attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed
factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the “grounds” of
his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and conclusions,
and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level.
550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). The Court went on to criticize Conley, stating
that “[t]he ‘no set of facts’ language has been questioned, criticized, and explained
away long enough” by courts and commentators, and “is best forgotten as an
incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once 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 562-63.
Supreme Court emphasized, however, that “we do not require heightened fact
pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” 550 U.S. at 570. The Supreme Court expanded on the
Twombly standard when it decided Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct.
1937, 1949–50, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009), reiterating the Twombly determination
that a claim is insufficiently pleaded if it offers only “labels and conclusions” or “a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.
The Court further explained:
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the
tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in
a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of
the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice.... Rule 8 marks a notable and generous
departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior
era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed
with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that
states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.
Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief
will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that
requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and
common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the
court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the
complaint has alleged—but it has not “show[n]”—“that the pleader is
entitled to relief.”
Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949–50 (citation omitted). See also Sinaltrainal v. Coca–Cola
Co., 578 F.3d 1252 (11th Cir. 2009) (“The mere possibility the defendant acted
unlawfully is insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss” and “the well-pled
allegations must nudge the claim ‘across the line from conceivable to plausible’”
(quoting Iqbal and Twombly)). Applying these standards, the court examines the
merits of the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the Williamses’ counterclaims.
On August 8, 2014, Plaintiff Bridget Byrd filed in this court a complaint
against Lenora Williams, Samuel Williams, and five other defendants. (Doc. 1).
Plaintiff Byrd is domiciled in Michigan, and all of the defendants are domiciled in
Alabama. (Id.) Lenora and Samuel Williams are the only defendants at issue in
the current motion to dismiss counterclaims. (Doc. 57). On May 11, 2015, the
Williamses, with leave from the court, filed an amended answer to the complaint in
which they asserted four counterclaims against Byrd for recklessness, negligence,
assault, and battery.
The plaintiff filed the Motion to Dismiss
Counterclaims on June 1, 2015. (Doc. 57). The Williamses responded to the
motion on June 22, 2015. (Doc. 63).
The facts at issue are those surrounding the August 6, 2012, altercation
between the plaintiff and the Williamses regarding the custody of minor child B.B.,
to whom the plaintiff is the biological mother and the Williamses are the maternal
grandmother and step-grandfather. The facts recited here are those pleaded or
adopted by the counterclaimants, the Williamses, and they are assumed to be true
for purposes of assessing the sufficiency of their counterclaim.
In the summer of 2011, the Williamses picked up minor child B.B. and her
younger brother from the plaintiff’s home in Michigan for a summer visit. In July
2011, the plaintiff allowed her father and step-mother, Lamond and Gennie Byrd,
to retrieve B.B. and B.B.’s brother from the Williamses’ in Alabama and return
them to Michigan to attend a funeral. The Williamses allowed B.B.’s brother to
return to Michigan, but did not allow the plaintiff’s father and step-mother to take
B.B., who remained in Alabama with the Williamses. The events taking place
between July 2011 and August 2012 are extensive and controverted, but those most
relevant to the counterclaims, and therefore to the instant motion, occurred on
August 6, 2012.
The parties arranged to have a meal together at a restaurant in Tuscaloosa,
Alabama, on August 6, 2012, at which time the plaintiff, as well as her father and
step-mother, could visit with B.B. (Doc. 52, p. 14). Defendant Lenora Williams
asserts that, upon arrival at the restaurant parking lot, the plaintiff’s father and stepmother took B.B. from Lenora Williams and shoved her into a car driven by the
plaintiff. (Id.) Lenora Williams was injured in an attempted to stop the car from
leaving. 3 (Id.) She was transported by ambulance to DCH Regional Medical
Center in Tuscaloosa, where she received treatment.
The Williamses filed a
complaint with the Tuscaloosa Police Department, claiming that B.B. had been
unlawfully removed from the custody of Lenora Williams.
Exactly how the injury occurred is unclear. The counterclaim itself does not describe what
happened or how Lenora was injured, stating only that she was seriously injured attempting to
prevent the car from leaving the restaurant parking lot. In her opposition to the motion to
dismiss (doc. 63), Mrs. Williams states that she was struck and “run[ ] over” by the car being
driven by her daughter, plaintiff Byrd, while she was “standing in front of Byrd’s vehicle….”
(Doc. 63, p. 6). Under Twombly and Iqbal, the facts constituting the claim for relief must be
alleged in the pleading, consistent with Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), not in subsequent briefing.
Although the Williamses title the counterclaims as being asserted on behalf
of both of them (doc. 52, p. 12), there is no indication in the facts or in the counts
themselves that any of the counterclaims actually apply to Samuel Williams. The
facts allege that “[d]efendant Lenora Williams was seriously injured attempting to
stop the car from leaving the vicinity of the restaurant.”
(Doc. 25, ¶ 11).
Furthermore, each count addresses only the injuries and damages suffered by
Lenora Williams. It is never alleged that the actions of the plaintiff damaged
Samuel Williams in any way. 4
Finally, the relief requested is an award to
“Defendant Lenora Williams [of] damages in an amount sufficiently large to fully
compensate her for all of the harm occasioned by the Plaintiff’s conduct.” (Doc.
52, p. 17). Accordingly, to the extent the Williamses intended to pursue any of the
counterclaims on behalf of defendant Samuel Williams, the plaintiff’s Motion to
Dismiss Counterclaims (doc. 57) is GRANTED, and the counterclaim by Samuel
Williams is DISMISSED. Insofar as the counterclaims are brought on behalf of
defendant Lenora Williams, the claims are addressed below.
The counterclaim does not allege that Samuel Williams was touched, struck, or otherwise
injured. It does not allege that he suffered a loss of consortium due to the injuries to his wife,
Plaintiff Lenora Williams asserts four counterclaims against the plaintiff:
I) Recklessness 5, II) Negligence, III) Assault, and IV) Battery. The plaintiff argues
that Counterclaims I and II are barred by the Alabama two-year statute of
limitations and Counterclaims III and IV should be dismissed as meritless. In the
Motion to Dismiss and the Response, the parties discuss Counterclaims I and II
together and Counterclaims III and IV together. For purposes of clarity, the court
will do the same.
Counterclaims I & II – Wantonness and Negligence
Wantonness and negligence both are subject to a two-year statute of
limitation under Alabama tort law. Ala. Code § 6-2-38 (1975). The events at issue
took place in August of 2012, but the Williamses did not assert their claims against
the plaintiff until May 2015. Accordingly, had the Williamses asserted these
claims in an independent action, the claims would be barred by the Alabama
statute of limitations. However, the Williamses did not assert the claims as an
independent action. Instead, the claims were asserted as counterclaims to the civil
suit filed by the plaintiff on August 6, 2014. The Williamses argue that the
counterclaims arise from the same incident or occurrence at issue in the plaintiff’s
Although Lenora Williams labeled her first counterclaim as “Recklessness,” she
acknowledges in the response to the Motion to Dismiss that the counterclaim actually sets out the
elements of the Alabama tort of wantonness. (Doc. 63, p. 3 n. 2). The court must read the
counterclaim for its substance, not simply the label attached to it. Accordingly, the court
hereinafter will address Counterclaim I as a claim of wantonness.
suit and, therefore, are compulsory counterclaims not subject to a statute of
“When the defendant pleads a counterclaim to the plaintiff’s demand, to
which the plaintiff replies the statute of limitations, the defendant is nevertheless
entitled to his counterclaim, where it was a legal subsisting claim at the time the
right of action accrued to the plaintiff on the claim in the action.” Ala. Code § 6-884 (1975), see Romar Dev. Co., Inc. v. Gulf View Mgmt. Corp., 644 So. 2d 462
(Ala. 1994). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure similarly define compulsory
counterclaims, stating that a counterclaim is compulsory if it “(1) arises out of the
same transaction or occurrence, and (2) does not require adding an additional
party, who the court could not acquire jurisdiction over.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 13(a).
The Eleventh Circuit defined the “logical relationship” test as the method by which
to determine whether a counterclaim is compulsory. Republic Health Corp. v.
Lifemark Hosps. of Florida, 755 F.2d 1453 (11th Cir. 1985). A counterclaim is
compulsory if there is a logical relationship between the complaint and the
counterclaim. A logical relationship exits when “the same operative facts serve as
the basis of both claims or the aggregate core of facts upon which the claim rests
activates additional legal rights, otherwise dormant, in the defendant.” Id. at 1455,
citing Plant v. Blazer Financial Services, Inc., 598 F.2d 1357, 1361 (5th Cir. 1979).
The Complaint addresses the August 6, 2012, incident, stating that “[o]n
August 6th [sic], 2012 Byrd picked up BB from Alabama and brought her back to
Michigan. However, Defendants L. Williams and S. Williams filed false charges
in Alabama charging Byrd with Felonious Interference with Custody of BB.”
(Doc. 1, ¶ 33). The same operative facts—the August 6, 2012 encounter between
the Williamses and the plaintiff—are used to support allegations in the Complaint
as well as the counterclaims. A logical relationship exists between the Complaint
and the counterclaims, and, accordingly, the counterclaims are compulsory and not
subject to a statute of limitations argument.
The plaintiff argues that, even if the counterclaims are compulsory, it is
prejudicial to allow Lenora Williams to assert counterclaims so long after the
initial Answers were filed. A counterclaim must be assessed when the answer is
filed, because “[i]t would be inconsistent with the purposes of the [R]ule [13(a)] to
permit a party to wait until after discovery and presentation of the evidence to
determine whether he or she should assert a compulsory counterclaim.” Brooks v.
Peoples Nat’l Bank of Huntsville, 414 So. 2d 917, 920 (Ala. 1982). A party failing
to assert a compulsory counterclaim is barred from doing so in the future, as the
counterclaim has been waived. Id. However, both the Alabama Rules of Civil
Procedure and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure direct that parties be permitted
to amend pleadings “when justice requires.” Ala. R. Civ. P. 13(f); Fed. R. Civ. P.
The Williamses filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint and Assert
Counterclaims on April 13, 2015.
The motion noted that the
Williamses were proceeding pro se until February 2015, at which time they
retained representation by the University of Alabama School of Law Civil Law
Clinic. (Doc. 45, p. 2). The court granted the motion on May 1, 2015, specifically
allowing the plaintiff to file the instant Motion to Dismiss Counterclaims. (Doc.
46). Rule 13(f) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure states that “[w]hen a
pleader fails to set up a counterclaim through oversight, inadvertence, or excusable
neglect, or when justice requires, the pleader may by leave of court set up the
counterclaim by amendment.” The corresponding rule in the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure was abrogated by the 2009 amendments.
Committee Notes regarding the deletion explained that the rule was deleted as
redundant and, “[w]hen the court’s leave is required [to amend a pleading], the
reasons described in Rule 13(f) for permitting amendment of a pleading to add an
omitted counterclaim sound different from the general amendment standard in
Rule 15(a)(2), but seem to be administered—as they should be—according to the
same standard directing that leave should be freely given when justice so requires.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 13 advisory committee’s notes. Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure states that “[t]he court should freely give leave [to amend a
pleading] when justice so requires.”
Taking into consideration the fact that no substantial discovery has taken
place in the instant case and that the Williamses—who do not claim to be attorneys
or knowledgeable in the art of legal pleadings—were without legal representation
at the time they filed their first Answers to the Complaint, the court concludes that
justice requires the Williamses to be allowed to pursue compulsory counterclaims
that otherwise would be lost to them. Cf. Vulcan Marketing, Inc., v. Technical
Consumer Products, Inc., 614 F. Supp. 2d 1253 (N.D. Ala. 2009) (holding that a
represented party is not allowed to assert a counterclaim long after the deadline for
amendment of pleadings and expert reports had passed, where expert testimony
would be required to pursue the counterclaim.)
Accordingly, the Motion to
Dismiss is DENIED as to the defendants’ Counterclaims I and II, insofar as the
counterclaims pertain to defendant Lenora Williams.
Counterclaims III & IV – Assault and Battery
The plaintiff asserts that Counterclaims III (Assault) and IV (Battery),
should be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because,
according to the plaintiff, she is immune to civil liability under Alabama Code
§ 13A-3-23, which states, in pertinent part:
(d) A person who uses force, including deadly physical force, as
justified and permitted in this section is immune from criminal
prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the force
was determined to be unlawful.
Ala. Code § 13A-3-23. The plaintiff’s argument under this code section is an
affirmative defense and is inappropriate for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.
For an affirmative defense to be considered in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the
existence of the defense must appear “on the face of the complaint.” Davidson v.
Maraj, 609 Fed. Appx. 994, 997 (11th Cir. 2015). In general, an affirmative
defense will not support dismissal. Id. “The claim may be adequately stated . . .
but in addition to the claim the complaint may include matters of avoidance that
preclude the pleader’s ability to recover. When this occurs, the complaint has a
built-in defense and is essentially self-defeating.” Id., citing Quiller v. Barclays
Am. & Credit, Inc., 727 F.2d 1067, 1069 (11th Cir. 1984). It is established that the
affirmative defense of res judicata may be considered in a 12(b)(6) motion because
it appears on the face of the complaint. See Concordia v. Bendekovic, 693 F.2d
1073 (11th Cir. 1982). Similarly, the defense of statute of limitations appears on
the face of the complaint and thus is considered in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See
Mann v. Adams Realty Co., 556 F.2d 288, 293 n. 6 (5th Cir. 1977). Unlike the
defenses above, Plaintiff’s affirmative defense does not appear on the face of the
complaint. As such, it is inappropriate to consider the defense in a Rule 12(b)(6)
A claim is sufficiently pleaded for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) if “the
complaint succeeds in ‘identifying facts that are suggestive enough to render [the
element] plausible.’” Watts v. Fla. Int’l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1296 (Eleventh Cir.
2008), quoting Twombly, 127 S. Ct. at 1965. A complaint alleging assault and
battery must prove “(1) that the defendant touched the plaintiff; (2) that the
defendant intended to touch the plaintiff; and (3) that the touching was conducted
in a harmful or offensive manner.” Ex parte Atmore Cmty. Hosp., 719 So. 2d
1190, 1193 (Ala. 1998). The defendants assert that the plaintiff operated the
vehicle that struck Lenora Williams, causing serious injury. (Doc. 52, pp. 15-17).
The defendants further argue that the plaintiff was aware that Lenora Williams was
in front of the vehicle and in harm’s way. (Id.) The plaintiff knew or had reason
to believe that Lenora Williams was near the car because B.B. had just been taken
from her. (Doc. 52, p. 14). Lenora Williams was injured by the vehicle driven by
the plaintiff and required medical treatment. (Id. at 15-17). Lenora Williams’s
injuries support the allegation that the plaintiff “touched” the defendant with the
vehicle. Furthermore, the fact that Lenora Williams was struck by the vehicle
supports the allegation that the plaintiff intentionally struck her. See United States
v. Chiantese, 560 F.2d 1244, 1246-47 (5th Cir. 1977) (Intent can be presumed
“from the doing of the wrongful or fraudulent or illegal act.”). 6 These facts are
sufficient to render the elements of assault and battery plausible.
To the extent the plaintiff intends to argue that her use of force against
Lenora Williams was justified and that she is immune from civil action by §13A-323, the argument requires a factual analysis that is inappropriate for a motion to
dismiss. First, the plaintiff must show that she was justified in using physical force
because she “reasonably believe[d]” that Lenora Williams was in the process of or
about to commit a crime enumerated in subsection §13A-3-23(a). Furthermore, the
plaintiff’s assertion is subject to argument by Lenora Williams that the plaintiff’s
use of force was not justified as defined in §13A-3-23(c). The facts alleged in the
counterclaim must be taken as true for purposes of analyzing the proposed defense.
Under those facts, Byrd (and her aiders) was the clear aggressor, “snatching” the
child from Lenora Williams’ arms. As such, plaintiff cannot claim to be the
innocent victim of a crime by Williams for purposes of invoking the immunity.
Any arguments in this regard are fact-intensive and are not properly before this
court without more discovery. Even then, there may remain material questions of
fact that are appropriately determined only by a jury.
In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1207 (11th Cir. 1981)(en banc), the Eleventh
Circuit Court of Appeals adopted as precedent decisions of the former Fifth Circuit rendered
prior to October 1, 1981.
Because Lenora Williams’s counterclaims of assault and battery are
supported by factual allegations rendering her claims at least plausible, the
plaintiff’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED as to Counts III and IV insofar as they
pertain to defendant Lenora Williams.
For the reasons stated above, it is ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and
DECREED, that the Motion to Dismiss by Plaintiff Bridget Byrd (doc. 57) is due
to be and hereby is GRANTED as to all counterclaims pleaded on behalf of
Samuel Williams and DENIED as to all counterclaims pleaded on behalf of
defendant Lenora Williams.
DONE this 28th day of January, 2016.
T. MICHAEL PUTNAM
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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