Chandler v. Sec'y of Fla. Dep't of Transp.

Decision Date19 September 2012
Docket Number11–12425.,Nos. 11–12374,s. 11–12374
PartiesJoel E. CHANDLER, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Deborah S. Chandler, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Robert S. Chandler, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs–Appellees, v. SECRETARY OF the FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Stephanie C. Kopelousos, individually, Kevin J. Thibault, individually, Richard D. Nelson, individually, Ron Russo, individually, Bill Grimm, individually, Denise Garcia, individually, Milissa Burger, individually, Frankie A. Cook, Defendants–Appellants, Faneuil, Inc., Defendant. Joel E. Chandler, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Deborah S. Chandler, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Robert S. Chandler, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs–Appellees, v. Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, et al., Defendants, Faneuil, Inc., Defendant–Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Hank B. Campbell, William Thompson McKinley, James Charles Valenti, Valenti Campbell Trohn Tamayo & Aranda, Lakeland, FL, for PlaintiffsAppellees.

Pam Bondi, Yvette Acosta MacMillan, Diana R. Esposito, Atty. Gen.'s Office, Jay Paul Lechner, Peter W. Zinober, Greenberg Traurig, PA, Tampa, FL, Louis F. Hubener, III, Atty. Gen.'s Office, Tallahassee, FL, Elliot H. Scherker, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Miami, FL, Julissa Rodriguez, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Mark F. Bideau, Lorie M. Gleim, Andrea C. Shwayri, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, West Palm Beach, FL, for DefendantsAppellants.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before MARTIN, HILL and EBEL,* Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

Joel E. Chandler, Deborah S. Chandler, and Robert S. Chandler, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, brought these actions against the Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation and seven other officials of that department or the Florida Turnpike Enterprise and Faneuil, Inc., for injunctive relief and damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants in both cases moved to dismiss on the grounds of qualified immunity. The district court denied the motions and defendants appealed.

I.

The Florida Department of Transportation (the FDOT) operates the Florida Turnpike system. The FDOT is authorized to collect tolls from vehicles using turnpike roads. The persons who collect the tolls at toll stations along the turnpike are employees of Faneuil, Inc. (Faneuil).

Motorists using the Florida Turnpike sometimes pay the small tolls charged with large denomination bills, including $50 and $100 bills. In order to guard against payment of the tolls with counterfeit bills, FDOT implemented a policy that required toll collectors to document certain observable vehicle information whenever the driver of a vehicle paid the toll with a large denomination bill. The toll booth operator was instructed to record the vehicle's make, model, color, tag number and state of issuance in a Bill Detection Report. This policy was voluntarily discontinued in 2010, before the lawsuits were filed.

Joel E. Chandler, Deborah S. Chandler, and Robert S. Chandler (the Chandlers), brought these actions against the Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation and seven other officials of that department or the Florida Turnpike Enterprise (the “state defendants) and also against Faneuil alleging that the FDOT promulgated a policy of “detaining” motorists in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Chandlers seek both injunctive relief and damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.1

The state defendants and Faneuil moved to dismiss Counts II and III of the complaint on the grounds of qualified immunity.2 The district court denied the motions, concluding that:

While the Court has not found, nor the parties presented, a case on all fours, the conduct in this case violates the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures which also encompasses the right to be free from arrest without probable cause. See Von Stein v. Brescher, 904 F.2d 572, 579 (11th Cir.1990). There is nothing to suggest in the complaint that the motorists had been engaged in any sort of criminal conduct. Consequently, qualified immunity is denied.

We review de novo the district court's denial of the motion to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds. See Long v. Slaton, 508 F.3d 576, 579 (11th Cir.2007).

II.

A government official acting in the course and scope of his employment is shielded from suit against him in his individual capacity if, while performing a discretionary function, his conduct did not violate a clearly established constitutional right of which a reasonable person would have known. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982).3 To survive a motion to dismiss based upon qualified immunity, the plaintiff must have alleged sufficient facts to support a finding of a constitutional violation of a clearly established law. See Oliver v. Fiorino, 586 F.3d 898, 905 (11th Cir.2009). Although we take the allegationsof the complaint to be true on motion to dismiss, the complaint must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Furthermore, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

In this case, the Chandlers allege that the defendants “have engaged in a practice of detaining motorists and their passengers on the Turnpike System until such motorists provided certain personal information in exchange for their release.” The “personal information” alleged to have been “required” by defendants includes the vehicle make, model, color, tag number and state of issuance. The complaint also alleges, without any detail, that [o]ther information such as the vehicle occupant's race, gender, and relative age has also been recorded.” Further, the complaint alleges that [u]pon information and belief,” toll collectors have also “required motorists to provide ... drivers license information in exchange for their release.” Finally, the complaint alleges that [t]oll collectors have threatened motorists that they would employ the assistance of Law Enforcement Officers in the motorists' detention and in procuring the motorists' personal information when motorists have resisted toll collectors' demands for personal information in exchange for their release.” The duration of these detentions is unspecified.

These factual assertions are insufficient to allege a violation of a constitutional right. For the following reasons, we hold that the district court's conclusion to the contrary is error and due to be reversed.

III.

A “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment occurs “when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, terminates or restrains [a person's] freedom of movement, through means intentionally applied.” Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249, 254, 127 S.Ct. 2400, 168 L.Ed.2d 132 (2007) (internal quotation marks, citations, emphasis omitted). [A] person has been ‘seized’ ... only if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554, 100 S.Ct. 1870, 64 L.Ed.2d 497 (1980).

The fact that a person is not free to leave on his own terms at a given moment, however, does not, by itself, mean that the person has been “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 436, 111 S.Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991) (bus passenger's feeling that he was not free to leave when speaking to police not dispositive of seizure issue). “The purpose of the Fourth Amendment is not to eliminate all contact between the police and the citizenry, but ‘to prevent arbitrary and oppressive interference by enforcement officials with the privacy and personal security of individuals.’ Id. at 553–54, 111 S.Ct. 2382 (quoting United States v. Martinez–Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 554, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116 (1976)).

In Florida, a person's right and liberty to use a highway is not absolute; it may be regulated in the public interest through reasonable and reasonably executed regulations. Thornhill v. Kirkman, 62 So.2d 740, 742 (Fla.1953). Otherwise, [i]t would produce an intolerable situation on the public highways to subscribe to a theory that they could not be summarily regulated in the interest of the public.” Id.

The Chandlers concede, as they must, that an allegation of a toll booth stop, required by the State and enforced by the toll booth operator, does not, without more, constitute a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The operator of a toll road has the right to set reasonable terms and conditions for its use. Miami Bridge Co. v. Miami Beach Ry. Co., 152 Fla. 458, 12 So.2d 438, 445 (1943). Every vehicle may be required to stop to pay a toll. Carson v. Commonwealth, 12 Va.App. 497, 404 S.E.2d 919, 920 (1991) (Fourth Amendment not triggered by toll booth stop, even if officer is present).

The Chandlers contend, however, that the delay in their “release” occasioned by the toll booth operator's completion of the Bill Detection Report was a “detention” and, therefore, a Fourth Amendment “seizure.” To the extent that this allegation is meant to state the legal conclusion that a constitutional violation occurred, it is not binding upon us. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. It is we who must decide if the factual allegations of delay rise to the level of a Fourth Amendment seizure. See id.

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