Glass v. City of Glencoe, Case No.: 4:17-cv-0026-JEO

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
Writing for the CourtJOHN E. OTT Chief United States Magistrate Judge
Docket NumberCase No.: 4:17-cv-0026-JEO
Decision Date20 April 2017


Case No.: 4:17-cv-0026-JEO


April 20, 2017


In her now-governing Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Sarah Bowman Glass ("Plaintiff") raises claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama tort law against two Defendants: the City of Glencoe, Alabama (the "City"), and James Shelnutt ("Shelnutt"), a judge on the City's municipal court (collectively "Defendants"). (Doc.1 30). Those claims all arise from a core allegation that when Shelnutt issued an order revoking Plaintiff's probation, he lacked a valid Alabama law license, as required under state law to serve as a municipal court judge. The cause comes to be heard on three motions. The first two, filed separately by each of the Defendants, seek dismissal under FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). (Docs. 7, 20). In the

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third motion, the City asks the court to strike two affidavits submitted by Plaintiff in opposition to the City's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 32). Upon consideration, the court2 concludes that the City's motion to strike is moot and that both motions to dismiss are due to be granted.


Rule 12(b)(6), FED. R. CIV. P., authorizes a motion to dismiss a complaint in whole or in part on the ground that its allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On such a motion, the "'issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" Little v. City of North Miami, 805 F.2d 962, 965 (11th Cir. 1986) (quoting Scheur v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). The court assumes the factual allegations in the complaint are true and gives the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences. Hazewood v. Foundation Financial Group, LLC, 551 F.3d 1223, 1224 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam).

Rule 12(b)(6) is read in light of Rule 8(a)(2), FED. R. CIV. P., which requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," in order to "'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555

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(2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citations, brackets, and internal quotation marks omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ...." Id. Thus, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face,'" i.e., its "factual content ... 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) (citations omitted).


Under both the state constitution and by statute, municipal court judges in Alabama are required to be licensed to practice law in this state. Ala. Const. of 1901, Art. VI, § 145; Ala. Code § 12-14-30(d). Plaintiff alleges, however, that Defendant Shelnutt, a judge on the City of Glencoe Municipal Court, did not have a valid law license at the time he issued an order revoking Plaintiff's probation on

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January 7, 2015, whereupon she spent the next eight days in jail. (Doc. 30 ¶¶ 8-10, 14). Plaintiff also asserts that the City's Mayor, Charles Gilchrist4; the City Prosecutor; the City Attorney "and/or other city officials knew or should have known of Shelnutt's unlicensed status," having been made aware of same by Plaintiff's counsel. (Doc. 30 ¶ 11). Despite such knowledge, Plaintiff says, those City officials failed "to remedy the situation or mitigate the damages caused to the Plaintiff." (Id. ¶ 12). Plaintiff further claims that the City failed both "to properly train and supervise its officers, employees, against or assigns with regard to the constitutional right to due process" and "to implement proper policies and procedures to protect Plaintiff's constitutional rights." (Id. at 1-2).

Based on such allegations, Plaintiff raises claims in her Amended Complaint under both § 1983 and Alabama tort law. (Doc. 30). First, Plaintiff maintains that Defendants are liable under § 1983 for violating Plaintiff's rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (id., Counts I and II) and the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable seizures. (Id., Counts III and IV). Plaintiff also contends that Shelnutt, but not the City, is liable under § 1983 for subjecting her to cruel or unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id., Count V). With regard to her state-law claims, Plaintiff

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contends that Defendants are liable for false imprisonment and false arrest (id., Counts VI and VII), and that the City is also liable for negligent, reckless, "and/or" wanton training "and/or" "monitoring." (Doc. 30, Count VIII). In her demand for relief, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Defendants violated her constitutional rights, an award of compensatory damages against both Defendants, an award of punitive damages against Shelnutt, as well as attorney's fees and costs. (Id. at 13).

Shelnutt and the City have filed separate motions to dismiss all claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)5. (Docs. 7, 20). In support, Shelnutt argues that he enjoys absolute judicial immunity on all of Plaintiff's claims. (See Docs. 7, 8, 31). The City, in turn, contends that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts plausibly supporting that the City caused or is otherwise legally responsible for any

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violation of her rights under either federal or state law. (See Docs. 20, 21, 33; see also Docs. 8, 196).

Plaintiff opposes both motions to dismiss. (Docs. 26, 27, 28). Her brief in response to the City's motion also appends two affidavits. (Doc. 28-1). One is sworn by Justin Hayes, the former public defender for the City. (Doc. 28-1 at 2-3 ("Hayes Aff.")). The other is from Jonathan Welch, an attorney Plaintiff retained after learning of Shelnutt's unlicensed status, while she was in jail. (Doc. 28-1 at 4-5 ("Welch Aff.")). The City has filed a motion to strike both affidavits (Doc. 32, 36), which Plaintiff also opposes. (Doc. 34).


A. The City's Motion to Strike

As a threshold matter, the court considers the City's motion to strike the affidavits of Hayes and Welch. (Doc. 32). In the former, Hayes states that sometime "in January 2015," while serving as the public defender for the City, he learned that Shelnutt's name did not appear on the attorney membership list on the Alabama State Bar Association (the "Bar") website. (Hayes Aff. ¶ 3). Hayes indicates that a representative of the Bar informed him thereafter that such an

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omission indicated that Shelnutt was "not in good standing." (Id. ¶ 4). Hayes claims he then relayed that fact to the Glencoe City Attorney. (Id. ¶ 5).

In his affidavit, Welch indicates that Plaintiff retained him as her attorney during the eight-day period she was confined to jail, after Shelnutt had revoked her probation. (Welch Aff. ¶¶ 2-3). Welch says he then spoke the Glencoe City Prosecutor about Shelnutt's unlicensed status as it related to Plaintiff's case. (Id. ¶ 4). Apparently as a result, a "special judge" set aside Shelnutt's order, and Plaintiff was released from jail. (Id.)

In support of its motion to strike the affidavits, the City argues, among other things, that it is inappropriate and unnecessary as a procedural matter for Plaintiff to file them in connection with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 32, ¶ 2). The City is generally correct in that assertion. The inquiry at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage is to determine merely whether the plaintiff has pled sufficient material to state a legally cognizable claim for relief. In that undertaking, the court is must accept the complaint's well-pled allegations as true, affording the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences flowing from those allegations. So to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff need do no more than plead, i.e., allege in her complaint, facts upon which the law would authorize recovery. As such, it is wholly unnecessary for the plaintiff to proffer, and generally improper

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for the court to consider, extrinsic evidence on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Adinolfe v. United Techs. Corp., 768 F.3d 1161, 1168 (11th Cir. 2014) ("The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted." (quoting Tal v. Hogan, 453 F.3d 1244, 1252 (10th Cir. 2006)); Watts v. Florida Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1298 (11th Cir. 2007) ("The district court dismissed Watts' complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). We are at the pleading stage, not the proof stage.").

Plaintiff responds, however, that the court may consider the affidavits on the theory that they are "central" to her claims. (Doc. 34 at 3). It is true that, although a court faced with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is generally restricted to reviewing the four corners of the complaint, it may also consider documents that are both "central" to the plaintiff's claim and undisputedly authentic.7 See United States ex rel. Osheroff v. Humana Inc., 776 F.3d 805, 811 (11th Cir. 2015); SFM Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Amer. Securities, LLC, 600 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2010); see also Rule 10(c), FED. R. CIV. P. But the difficulty with Plaintiff's theory is that, in

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this context, a document is typically "central" to a claim only if it is a written...

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