Gaddy v. Yelton

Decision Date16 August 2011
Docket NumberCIVIL CASE NO. 1:10cv214
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of North Carolina
PartiesROBERT D. GADDY, JR., Plaintiff, v. W.M. YELTON, in his Individual and Official Capacity, DOUG SHEEHAN, in his Individual and Official Capacity, NICHOLAS RYAN MITCHELL, in his Individual and Official Capacity, ERVIN HUNTER, in his Individual and Official Capacity, JIMMY STOVER, in his Individual and Official Capacity, and THE CITY OF ASHEVILLE, Defendants.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. 21]; the Magistrate Judge's Memorandum and Recommendation regarding the disposition of such Motion [Doc. 28]; and the Plaintiff's Written Objections to the Memorandum and Recommendation [Doc. 29].


The Plaintiff Robert D. Gaddy, Jr., brings this action against the Defendants W.M. Yelton, Doug Sheehan, Nicholas Ryan Mitchell, Ervin Hunter, and Jimmy Stover ("Individual Defendants") and the City of Asheville ("City"), asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful seizure and excessive force, arising from Plaintiff's arrest on October 27, 2008, and for violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech, to travel, and to associate, arising from the Plaintiff being banned in April 2009 from City Housing Authority property for a period of three years. The Plaintiff also asserts state law claims for negligence, gross negligence, trespass by a public officer, and malicious prosecution. [Amended Complaint, Doc. 14 at 10-18]. All claims are asserted against the Individual Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. [Id.]. To the extent that the Individual Defendants are entitled to immunity from the state law claims asserted, the Plaintiff alternatively pleads a claim under Article I, Sections 1 and 19 of the North Carolina Constitution for a violation of substantive due process. [Id. at 18-19].

On January 27, 2011, the Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings on the official capacity state law claims on the basis of governmental immunity. [Doc. 21]. They further moved to dismiss the § 1983 claims against the City and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities as well as the claim brought pursuant to the North Carolina Constitution against the Individual Defendants. [Doc. 21].

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and the Standing Orders of Designation of this Court, the Honorable Dennis L. Howell, United States Magistrate Judge, was designated to consider the Defendants' motions and to submit a recommendation regarding their disposition. On April 22, 2011, the Magistrate Judge entered a Memorandum and Recommendation in which he recommended that the Defendants' motions be granted. [Doc. 28]. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommended: (1) that the § 1983 claims brought against the Individual Defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed, as such claims are duplicative of the claims brought against the City [Id. at 7-8]; (2) that the § 1983 claims against the City should be dismissed because the Plaintiff had failed to allege a plausible claim for relief based on a theory of municipal policy or custom [Id. at 8-14]; (3) that the North Carolina tort claims brought against the City and the Individual Defendants in their official capacities should be dismissed under the doctrine of governmental immunity [Id. at 15-18]; and (4) that the Plaintiff's substantive due process claim under the North Carolina Constitution should be dismissed because the Plaintiff has an adequate remedy under state law [Id. at 18-20].

The Plaintiff timely filed objections, challenging the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation that the § 1983 claims against the City and the substantive due process claim under the North Carolina Constitution should be dismissed.1 [Doc. 29]. The Defendants have responded, arguing that the Court should adopt the Recommendation in its entirety. [Doc. 30].

Having been fully briefed, this matter is ripe for review.

A. Standard of Review Applicable to Objections to Magistrate Judge's Proposed Findings and Recommendation

The Federal Magistrate Act requires a district court to "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specific proposedfindings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). In order "to preserve for appeal an issue in a magistrate judge's report, a party must object to the finding or recommendation on that issue with sufficient specificity so as reasonably to alert the district court of the true ground for the objection." United States v. Midgette, 478 F.3d 616, 622 (4th Cir. 2007). The Court is not required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge to which no objections have been raised. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150, 106 S.Ct. 466, 472, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985). Additionally, the Court need not conduct a de novo review where a party makes only "general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations." Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982).

B. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

In order to survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). To be"plausible on its face," a plaintiff must demonstrate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

[T]he Supreme Court has held that a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." To discount such unadorned conclusory allegations, "a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are not more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." This approach recognizes that "naked assertions" of wrongdoing necessitate some "factual enhancement" within the complaint to cross "the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief."
At bottom, determining whether a complaint states on its face a plausible claim for relief and therefore can survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion will "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,'" as required by Rule 8. ... [E]ven though Rule 8 "marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code pleading regime of a prior era, ... it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions."

Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955 and Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court applies the same standard for motions made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Burbach Broadcasting Co. v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002).


The Magistrate Judge summarized the relevant facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint as follows:

The crux of this dispute arises out of an incident involving Plaintiff, Sergeant Yelton, and at least two other unidentified officers. At approximately 8:00 p.m. on October 27, 2008, Plaintiff approached the front door of an acquaintance's house in Asheville. As he was approaching the door, someone called out "Robert." Plaintiff then saw Sergeant Yelton, who approached him and asked for identification. After looking at Plaintiff's driver's license, Sergeant Yelton stated that he thought he had a warrant for his arrest, grabbed Plaintiff, and placed him in handcuffs with his hands behind his back. Plaintiff did not resist.
As Sergeant Yelton was walking Plaintiff away from the house, Plaintiff felt his left cuff come free. Sergeant Yelton then yelled an obscenity at Plaintiff, and Plaintiff felt a blow to the right side of his head. Sergeant Yelton and at le[a]st two other uniformedofficers then began kicking, punching, and beating Plaintiff with a baton. At some point, Sergeant Yelton started choking Plaintiff and yelling at him to stop breathing. When Plaintiff exclaimed that he could not breathe, one of the other officers sprayed mace in his face.
Subsequently, an ambulance arrived and transported Plaintiff to the hospital, where he received treatment for the injuries sustained during this altercation, including having a chest tube inserted to repair a collapsed lung. While he was being transported to the hospital, the officers charged Plaintiff with simple assault, trespass, resisting a public officer, and assault on a government official. After Plaintiff was released from the hospital, his wife filed a written complaint with the Asheville Police Department. Although the Asheville Police Department conducted an internal investigation into the incident, it exonerated the officers.
In early 2010, Plaintiff was acquitted of all charges stemming from the October 27, 2008 incident. Plaintiff contends that this altercation and the subsequent criminal prosecution stemmed from a personal animosity between Plaintiff and the Individual Defendants.
In support of his claim that the October 27, 2008, altercation and the subsequent criminal prosecution stemmed from personal animosity between the parties, Plaintiff points to several incidents

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