Chute v. Odom, NO. 3:12-0607

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtJOHN S. BRYANT
PartiesDAVID CHUTE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. JEREME ODOM, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date28 August 2013
Docket NumberNO. 3:12-0607

DAVID CHUTE, et al., Plaintiffs,
JEREME ODOM, et al., Defendants.

NO. 3:12-0607


ENTERED: August 28, 2013

Judge Trauger/Bryant

TO: The Honorable Aleta A. Trauger, District Judge


Defendants State of Tennessee, Jereme Odom, Cape Taylor, Tim Cleveland, Steve Patrick, and Ed Carter ("State Defendants") have filed a motion to dismiss this action against them on November 29, 2012. (Docket Entry No. 107). Plaintiffs Chute timely responded with an opposition to State Defendants' motion on December 14, 2012. (Docket Entry No. 115).

For the reasons states below, the undersigned Magistrate Judge recommends that State Defendants' motion to dismiss be GRANTED.

I. Statement of the Case

Plaintiffs filed a pro se Complaint on June 13, 2012. (Docket Entry No. 1). In response to this court's November 5, 2012 Order that Plaintiffs file an Amended Complaint (Docket

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Entry No. 105), Plaintiffs filed a 103-page Amended Complaint on November 20, 2012. (Docket Entry No. 106) The Amended Complaint makes it clear that Plaintiffs' claims arise out of two primary events. First, on March 12, 2011, Defendant Jereme Odom allegedly forced Plaintiff Kathleen Chute to delete photographs from her digital camera that she had taken of a shooting victim.

Second, Plaintiffs complain of the fact that Defendant Odom sued them for harassment, libel, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in the General Sessions Court of Montgomery County, Tennessee. Defendant Odom initially received a temporary restraining order against both Plaintiffs on June 4, 2012. (Docket Entry No. 106). After a trial on July 25, 2012, Judge Goble issued a permanent injunction against the Chutes and awarded judgment of $20,000.00 against them for slander, libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in favor of Odom. Plaintiffs allege that the State Defendants have harassed them as a result of these and other events.

In total, Plaintiffs' complaint enumerates seventeen counts against nine Defendants, including six State Defendants represented in this motion. Five of these are individuals who are sued solely in their official capacities; the State of Tennessee is the sixth Defendant. Counts I-IV are brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for various violations of

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Plaintiffs' constitutional rights; counts V-XV allege violations of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-101 et seq.; and, counts XVI and XVII allege violations of Tennessee common law. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief and damages, both compensatory and punitive, for a total of $10,000,000.00.

State Defendants now bring this motion to dismiss all claims against them on the ground that Plaintiffs have failed to state any claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. Standard of Review

In deciding a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting all well-pleaded factual allegations as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This requirement of accepting the truth of the complaint's factual allegations does not apply to legal conclusions, however, even where such conclusions are couched as factual allegations. Id. Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires merely "a short and plain statement of the claim," the plaintiff must allege enough facts to make the claim plausible, not merely possible. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). He must plead well enough

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so that his complaint is more than "a formalistic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 555. "The factual allegations, assumed to be true, must do more than create speculation or suspicion of a legally cognizable cause of action; they must show entitlement to relief." League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007).

While a pro se complaint is "to be liberally construed" and "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers," Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)), "basic pleading essentials" still apply. See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1990). Moreover, "[d]istrict courts are not required to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them or to construct full blown claims from sentence fragments. To do so would 'require . . . [the courts] to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, . . . [and] would . . . transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party.'" Dixie v. Ohio, 2008 WL 2185487, at *1 (N.D. Ohio, May 23, 2008) (quoting Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985)).

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III. Analysis

State Defendants raise the defense of sovereign immunity, which is relevant to the analysis of each of Plaintiffs' claims. Sovereign immunity is a "well-established immunity of a State from being sued without its consent." Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 67 (1989). Moreover, "the [Eleventh] Amendment prohibits suits against a 'state' in federal court whether for injunctive, declaratory or monetary relief." Lawson v. Shelby Cnty., 211 F.3d 331, 335 (6th Cir. 2000). However, two exceptions to sovereign immunity exist. The first is where Congress, or a state, has explicitly and unmistakably abrogated the immunity. Hoffman v. Conn. Dept. of Income Maintenance, 492 U.S. 96, 101 (1989). Second, a state is not immune from suit when it has consented to being sued. Lawson, supra at 334. Plaintiffs do not argue that either of these exceptions applies here.

A suit against a state official in his official capacity is deemed to be a suit against the state. Will, 491 U.S. at 71 (citing Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471 (1985)); Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994). A claimant against a state official in his official capacity cannot obtain monetary relief, but can obtain forms of prospective relief such as injunctive relief. Kentucky v.

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Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985); Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 157 (1908).

Plaintiffs do seek injunctive relief in this case.1 Generally speaking, before a permanent injunction is to be issued, a plaintiff must show (1) irreparable injury, (2) there are no adequate remedies at law, (3) in balancing the hardships on both parties, the equitable remedy is warranted, and (4) it is not against public interest to order an injunction. eBay, Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., 547 U.S. 388, 391 (2006); Audi AG v. D'Amato, 469 F.3d 534, 550 (6th Cir. 2006). Concerning constitutional violations specifically, the Sixth Circuit requires that before an injunction is issued by a federal court, "A party . . . [must] establish that it suffered a constitutional violation and will suffer 'continuing irreparable injury' for which there is no adequate remedy at law." Women's Med. Prof'l Corp. v. Baird, 438 F.3d 595, 602 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Kallstrom v. City of Columbus, 136 F.3d 1055, 1067 (6th Cir. 1998)). Thus, if there is no "irreparable injury" or no constitutional violation has occurred, Plaintiffs are not entitled to injunctive relief.

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a. Section 1983 Counts

42 U.S.C. § 1983 states, in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute[ or] ordinance . . . of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States
. . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured . . . .

As a threshold matter, "[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are 'persons' under § 1983" for the purposes of monetary relief. Will, 491 U.S. at 71 (noting, however, that state officials are subject to suit for injunctive relief). In enacting § 1983, Congress did not abrogate sovereign immunity from monetary damages for states and their employees acting in their official capacities. Rodgers v. Banks, 344 F.3d 587, 594 (6th Cir. 2003). Plaintiffs explicitly allege actions taken by Defendants in their official capacities only (Docket Entry No. 106, at 5, 6, 13, 76, 77, 78, 79), and the pleadings and motion papers (in which qualified immunity was not raised as a defense) cannot be otherwise construed as revealing notice to the Defendants of the potential for personal liability. See Rodgers, supra. Therefore, the State of Tennessee and State Defendants are immune from suit for monetary relief under § 1983, and such claims against them must

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be dismissed. What remains of the § 1983 claims are Plaintiffs' prayer for prospective injunctive relief.

Section 1983 of 42 U.S.C. authorizes injunctions "in highly unusual and limited circumstances." Honey v. Goodman, 432 F.2d 333, 340 (6th Cir. 1970). Specifically, "threatened or imminent bad-faith prosecutions by illegally motivated state officials, brought for the purpose of suppressing First Amendment rights under valid laws, must be enjoined." Honey, 432 F.2d at 342 (citing Taylor v. Kentucky State Bar Association, 424 F.2d 478, 480 (6th Cir. 1970)).

Count I. Plaintiff's first count contains fourteen claims. (Docket Entry No. 106, ¶144). Claims (a), (k), (l), and (m), seeking to vindicate Plaintiffs' rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments, are all based on the alleged events which occurred on March 12, 2011. State Defendants argue that the statute of limitations has run on these claims, and that they are time barred. Congress did not enact a statute of limitations for § 1983 actions, but the Supreme Court determined in Wilson v. Garcia that the limitations period for a § 1983 action is determined by the local...

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