Duncan v. Bibb Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 7:19-cv-00447-LSC

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
Citation471 F.Supp.3d 1243
Docket Number7:19-cv-00447-LSC
Parties Ricky DUNCAN, Plaintiff, v. BIBB COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date09 July 2020

471 F.Supp.3d 1243

Ricky DUNCAN, Plaintiff,


United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division.

Signed July 9, 2020

471 F.Supp.3d 1252

H. Arthur Edge, III, Arthur Edge, III, P.C., Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiff.

A. Courtney Crowder, Phelps Jenkins Gibson & Fowler LLP, Tuscaloosa, AL, for Defendants City of Brent, Alabama, Shane Deason.

J. Randall McNeill, Kendrick E. Webb, Fred Lee Clements, Jr., Webb & Eley PC, Montgomery, AL, for Defendant Jimmy Ward.

Memorandum of Opinion

L. Scott Coogler, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Ricky Duncan ("Duncan") brought this suit against Sheriff Jody Wade ("Sheriff Wade" or "Wade"), Deputy Jimmy Ward ("Deputy Ward" or "Ward"), Officer Jim Gray ("Officer Gray" or "Gray"), and City of Centreville ("Centreville") (collectively "Defendants") under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for exemplary and punitive damages for injuries he suffered during a traffic stop and police pursuit.1 Before the Court are Defendants’ motions to dismiss Duncan's complaint on the grounds that it fails to state a claim and that they are entitled to qualified immunity. (Docs. 49, 51, and 55.) The issues have been fully briefed by the parties and are ripe for review. For the reasons stated below Wade, Gray, and Centreville's motions to dismiss (docs. 49 and 55) are due to be GRANTED and Ward's motion to dismiss (doc. 51) is due to be DENIED.

I. Background2

On the morning of March 4, 2018, Ricky Duncan was driving his step-mother's vehicle in Centreville, Alabama when Officer Gray of the City of Centreville Police Department pulled him over, claiming that his car's rear-view mirror was too low. After a brief trip to his cruiser, Officer Gray returned to Duncan's car and asked him to step out of the car because there was allegedly a warrant out for his arrest. According to Duncan, he knew no such warrant existed and he believed that Officer Gray lacked any power to arrest him and so he failed to follow Officer Gray's instructions to step out of the car. Instead, Duncan drove away from the stop.

Officer Gray followed Duncan and called for additional law enforcement to join him in pursuing Duncan's vehicle. Among the officers and deputies who joined the pursuit were Deputy Ward of the Bibb County Sheriff's Department and Officer Deason of the City of Brent Police Department.

Duncan drove his vehicle toward his brother's residence, but stopped before reaching it. Officers and deputies immediately surrounded Duncan. When Duncan exited the car, he was holding a pistol in his left hand above his head. Duncan insists that he was surrendering. Duncan alleges that as he began to stand up out of

471 F.Supp.3d 1253

the car with his back facing the officers, Deputy Ward and Officer Deason shot him multiple times. The bullets struck Duncan in the neck and left wrist, causing him to drop the gun from his hand and fall back into the car seat. When he attempted to stand up once more, Deputy Ward and Officer Deason again shot him several times.

Paramedics did not arrive on the scene until one hour after the shooting. In the interim, the officers and deputies attempted to dress Duncan's gunshot wounds. Finally, paramedics arrived and transported Duncan to DCH Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he received treatment for his injuries caused by the gunshot wounds.

II. Standard of Review

A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). However, the facts alleged in the complaint must be specific enough that the claim raised is "plausible." See Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ("To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. ") (internal quotations omitted) (emphasis added). "To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that ‘allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ " Pouyeh v. Univ. of Ala. Dep't of Ophthamology , No. CV-12-BE-4198-S, 2014 WL 2740314, at *3 (N.D. Ala. June 16, 2014) (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 ) (alteration in original). Conclusory statements of law may "provide the framework of a complaint," but the plaintiff is required to support them with "factual allegations." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

The process for evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint has two steps. This Court "begin[s] by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. Conclusory statements and recitations of a claim's elements are thus disregarded for purposes of determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to survive a motion to dismiss. See Randall v. Scott , 610 F.3d 701, 709 (11th Cir. 2010) (citing Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 687, 129 S.Ct. 1937 ). Next, this Court "assume[s] [the] veracity" of "well-pleaded factual allegations" and "determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937. A complaint's factual matter need not be detailed, but it "must ... raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

In reviewing the complaint, this Court "draw[s] on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937. Nonetheless, "[a] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the facts alleged] is improbable." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955. This Court considers only "the face of the complaint and attachments thereto" in order to determine whether Plaintiff states a claim for relief. Starship Enters. of Atlanta, Inc. v. Coweta Cnty., Ga. , 708 F.3d 1243, 1252 n.13 (11th Cir. 2013). Generally, the complaint should include "enough information regarding the material elements of a cause of action to support recovery under some ‘viable legal theory.’ " Am. Fed'n of Labor & Cong. of Indus. Orgs. v. City of Miami, Fla. , 637 F.3d 1178, 1186 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice, Inc. , 253 F.3d 678, 683-84 (11th Cir. 2001) ).

471 F.Supp.3d 1254

III. Analysis

Duncan's Third Amended Complaint contains five counts: Count One – excessive use of force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Ward; Count Two – failure to train excessive force in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Wade; Count Three – failure to train emergency medical care in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Wade and the City of Centreville; Count Four – false arrest in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Gray; and Count Five – assault and battery under Alabama law against Deason. Before this Court are Defendants’ motions to dismiss some of the parties as to Counts One through Four of Duncan's Third Amended Complaint.

A. Ascertaining the Capacity in Which Defendants Are Sued

As an initial matter, the Court must determine the capacity in which Duncan sues each defendant. Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint is "silent" as to whether Defendants are sued in their individual capacities, official capacities, or both. (Doc. 48.)

"Plaintiffs are not usually required to designate, with particular words in the pleadings, that they bring their action against defendants in the defendants’ individual or official capacities, or both." Hobbs v. Roberts , 999 F.2d 1526, 1529-30 (11th Cir. 1993). However, "[i]n general," plaintiffs have a "duty to make plain who they are suing and to do so well before trial." Colvin v. McDougall , 62 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 1995). Thus, "[i]t is obviously preferable for the plaintiff to be specific in the first instance to avoid any ambiguity." Hafer v. Melo , 502 U.S. 21, 24 n.*, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991) (quoting Melo v. Hafer , 912 F.2d 628, 636 n.7 (3d Cir. 1990) ). When a complaint does not identify "in which capacity the defendants are sued, the course of proceedings typically indicates the nature of the liability sought to be imposed." Jackson v. Georgia Dept. of Transp. , 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994).

Here, in examining the course of the proceedings, the court concludes for two reasons that Plaintiff has sued Defendants Ward, Wade, and Gray in their individual capacities. First, Plaintiff seeks punitive damages from each of these defendants. (Doc. 48 at 16.) In § 1983 actions, punitive damages are only available from government officials when sued in their individual capacities. See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc. , 453 U.S. 247, 268-70, 101 S.Ct. 2748, 69 L.Ed.2d 616 (1981). Because Plaintiff may not obtain punitive damages from Defendants3 in their official capacities, the logical inference is that Plaintiff seeks punitive damages from Defendants in their individual capacities. Second, Defendants have asserted the affirmative defense of qualified immunity in this action. The Court notes that the invocation of qualified immunity allows the presumption...

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