Atkins v. Fort Worth Police Department, 080620 TXNDC, C. A. 4:20-cv-00054-P-BP

Docket NºCivil Action 4:20-cv-00054-P-BP
Opinion JudgeHAL R. RAY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Party NameADAM ATKINS, Plaintiff, v. FORT WORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant.
Case DateAugust 06, 2020
CourtUnited States District Courts, 5th Circuit, Northern District of Texas

ADAM ATKINS, Plaintiff,

v.

FORT WORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendant.

Civil Action No. 4:20-cv-00054-P-BP

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Fort Worth Division

August 6, 2020

FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

HAL R. RAY, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Before the Court are Plaintiff's Complaint, ECF No. 1; Plaintiff's Response to the Show Cause Order, ECF No. 9; Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 18; and Plaintiff's “Motion to Request Mediation/Continuance, ” ECF No. 20, which the Court construes as Plaintiff's response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. After considering the pleadings and applicable legal authorities, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that United States District Judge Mark T. Pittman GRANT Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, DISMISS Plaintiff's federal law claims WITH PREJUDICE, and DISMISS his state law claims WITHOUT PREJUDICE, but also grant Plaintiff an opportunity to amend his Complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

This case concerns an allegedly false and malicious arrest. The factual description that follows comes from the Complaint, unless noted otherwise. Pro se Plaintiff Adam Atkins (“Atkins”) claims that his neighbor assaulted him. ECF Nos. 1 at 2; 18 at 1. A Fort Worth police officer arrived at the scene of the assault, but instead of arresting the neighbor, he arrested Atkins for burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit another felony. ECF No. 18 at 1. Atkins filed suit against the Fort Worth Police Department. Although the department is not a jural entity that can sue or be sued, the City of Fort Worth (“the City”) appeared in this case. See Combs v. City of Dallas, 289 Fed.Appx. 684, 686 (5th Cir. 2008) (police department cannot sue or be sued as a separate and distinct entity unless the city grants that capacity to the department). The Court proceeds as if Atkins had filed suit against the City, though the Court warns Plaintiff that the City, not its police department, is the proper legal entity to be named in any amended pleading. See Darby v. Pasadena Police Dep't, 939 F.2d 311, 313-14 (5th Cir. 1991) (plaintiff entitled to amend complaint erroneously naming police department as defendant).

Atkins alleges that the City concealed evidence about a hate crime that his neighbor committed against him. ECF Nos. 1 at 4; 18 at 1. He also alleges that the City violated Tex. Gov't Code § 411.046 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1 at 4. The Court issued an order requiring Atkins to allege facts showing how the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case. ECF No. 8. Atkins filed a response, clarifying that his § 1983 claims are for false arrest and malicious prosecution, and further alleging that the City violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VI”). ECF No. 9 at 1-3.

Atkins properly filed suit in this Court based on federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. ECF No. 1. Federal courts can assert jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Atkins alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the ADA, and Title VI. These are federal statutes, so his suit is a civil action arising under the laws of the United States, and this Court may hear it.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), a federal court may assert supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims that are so related to the original claims that they form part of the same case or controversy, “[deriving] from a common nucleus of operative fact.” United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 725 (1966). Here, in addition to Atkins's federal claims, he alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution, and violation of Tex. Gov't Code § 411.046. On the face of the pleadings, the federal and state law claims concern the same core factual issue: Atkins's arrest by Fort Worth police. See ECF No. 1. The claims are sufficiently related for purposes of § 1367(a), and this Court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to move for dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Rules require that each claim contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A complaint must include sufficient factual allegations “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, courts “take all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . and ask whether the pleadings contain ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Yumilicious Franchise, LLC v. Barrie, 819 F.3d 170, 174 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting id. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court may rely on the complaint, documents properly attached to the complaint or incorporated by reference and matters of which a court may take judicial notice. Wolcott v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 763 (5th Cir. 2011). “The court may judicially notice [an adjudicative fact] that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it: (1) is generally known within the trial court's territorial jurisdiction; or (2) can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b).

There exists a “well-established policy that the plaintiff be given every opportunity to state a claim.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Hitt v. City of Pasadena, 561 F.2d 606, 608 (5th Cir. 1977)). It is federal policy to decide cases on the merits rather than technicalities, and thus when possible the Fifth Circuit has recommended that suits be dismissed without prejudice on Rule 12 motions. Great Plains Tr. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 329 (5th Cir. 2002); Hines v. Wainwright, 539 F.2d 433, 434 (5th Cir. 1976) (vacating and remanding a Rule 12(c) dismissal with instructions to the district court to dismiss without, instead of with, prejudice). As a result, courts generally allow plaintiffs at least one opportunity to amend following a Rule 12 dismissal on the pleadings. Great Plains Tr. Co., 313 F.3d at 329; see Parker v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 3:16-CV-00892-CWR-FKB, 2017 WL 4287912, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 27, 2017) (“It is well-established that plaintiffs who fail to meet their burden on a motion for judgment on the pleadings and yet may still have a viable avenue to recover should be granted leave to amend their complaint and make their best case.” (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)); In re Online Travel Co. (OTC) Hotel Booking Antitrust Litig., 997 F.Supp.2d 526, 548-49 (N.D. Tex. 2014) (dismissing for failure to state a claim without prejudice because dismissing with prejudice would be “too harsh a sanction”).

A pro se plaintiff's pleadings are liberally construed. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A pro se complaint, “‘however inartfully pleaded,' must be held to ‘less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers . . . .'” Id. (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). If the district court determines that a plaintiff has pleaded his or her best case, however, the court does not err in dismissing a pro se complaint with prejudice. Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 326-27 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing Bazrowx v. Scott, 136 F.3d 1053, 1054 (5th Cir. 1998); Jacquez v. Procunier, 801 F.2d 789, 792 (5th Cir. 1986)).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Atkins does not state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Supreme Court has stated that the statutory language of § 1983 compels a broad construction because it speaks of deprivations of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” Dennis v. Higgins, 498 U.S. 439, 443 (1991) (emphasis in original) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). To plead municipal liability under § 1983, the plaintiff must allege “a policymaker; an official policy; and a violation of constitutional rights whose ‘moving force' is the policy or custom.” See Piotrowski v. City of Hous., 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). The alleged policymaker must have final policymaking authority and take the place of the governing body in a designated area of city administration. City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 127 (1988); Webster v. City of Hous., 735 F.2d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1984). A city's governing body may delegate policymaking authority expressly or implicitly. Bennett v. City of Slidell, 728 F.2d 762, 769 (5th Cir. 1984). The Fifth Circuit “has long distinguished between final decisionmaking authority and final policymaking authority” when establishing municipal liability. Valle v. City of Hous., 613 F.3d 536, 542 (5th Cir. 2010). “Municipal liability attaches only where the decisionmaker possesses final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481 (1986)).

Here, Atkins sues the City for false arrest and malicious prosecution under § 1983. He does...

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