Hall v. City of Willacoochee

Decision Date07 March 2022
Docket Number5:21-CV-20
PartiesGARRY HALL, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF WILLACOOCHEE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia


This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. No. 18. For the reasons given below, the motion is GRANTED.


This case is a property dispute turned civil rights action. The controversy began when Plaintiff Garry Hall contracted to have a fence installed on (what he alleges is) his property. Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 17-18; see also id. ¶ 20 (describing the location of the property). The pleadings do not shed much light on why, but it seems clear that at least some of the parties disagreed about the status and ownership of the land. See id. ¶¶ 27-28 32. Perhaps for that reason, Plaintiff informed the Willacoochee Police of his plans to build a fence on the disputed property. Id. ¶ 29.

During construction of the fence, Plaintiff alleges, Defendants Marty Moore, Anthony Davis, and Timothy Davis “consistently cursed, harassed[, ] and threatened the installers of the fence” and “harassed and threatened the Plaintiff and his grandchildren.” Id. ¶¶ 27-28. As a result, Plaintiff apparently summoned the Police to his property [o]n several occasions.” Id. ¶ 30.

On one such occasion, Plaintiff called the police “to quell disturbances by Defendants Moore and Davis, ” and one of the Defendant officers, Kevin Rodriguez, came to the scene. Id. ¶ 30-31. Once there, Rodriguez told Plaintiff that the Davises had a legal right to remove the fence. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. Plaintiff alleges that the Police Department knew, or should have known, that he owned the property where the fence was built-but allowed the Davises to remove it anyway. Id. ¶¶ 33-35. That led to this lawsuit.

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, seemingly alleging (1) a trespass claim id ¶ 1, (2) a takings claim, id., (3) a negligent hiring and training claim, id. ¶¶ 37-42, (4) intentional infliction of emotional distress, id. ¶¶ 43-44, and (5) a conspiracy “to deprive the Plaintiff [of] the use and enjoyment of his property, ” id. ¶¶ 45-50. Plaintiff sued numerous defendants, including:

• the City of Willacoochee;
• the City Council of Willacoochee;
• Willacoochee Mayor Samuel Newsom;
• the Mayor Pro Temp;
Councilmembers Malcom Jones, Verniel Hall, George Myers, and Calesha Lott;
• the Willacoochee Police Department,
• Willacoochee Police Chief William Gilliard;
• Officer Kevin Rodriguez;
• an undescribed “public works” employee named Marty Moore; and
• two private citizens: Anthony Davis and Timothy Davis.

See generally id. Outside of the officer defendants Plaintiff does not specify what role the other individually-named Defendants played in the alleged wrongs.

The movant-defendants answered, dkt. nos. 5, 10, 12, 16, and asked for judgment on the pleadings, dkt. no. 18. The only defendants not party to the motion are Anthony and Timothy Davis. Id. at 1 n.1.[1] The motion advances some seven arguments. As to Plaintiff's federal law claims, Defendants contend that:

1. Hall has not alleged any violation of his federal rights, dkt. no. 18 at 5-13;
2. Even if he had, he has not alleged that any violation was caused by a municipal policy, practice, or custom, so the claims against the City (including official capacity claims) must fail, id. at 13-15; and
3. To the extent Hall is asserting any individual capacity claims, they are barred by qualified immunity, id. at 15-17;

And as to Plaintiff's state law claims, Defendants argue that:

4. Sovereign Immunity bars any state-law claims against the City, id. at 17-19;
5. Hall has not complied with Georgia's ante litem notice requirements, id. at 19-20;
6. Official Immunity bars any individual capacity claims, id. at 20-22; and
7. Hall has not alleged facts showing intentional infliction of emotional distress, id. at 22-23.

Plaintiff, of course, disagrees, insisting that his complaint shows violations of “the Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 . . . as a result of Defendants['] destruction of [his] property.” See generally Dkt. No. 19 at 1.


[U]nder Rule 12(c), a party may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial.” Carbone v. Cable News Network, Inc., 910 F.3d 1345, 1350 (11th Cir. 2018) (quotation omitted). “A motion for judgment on the pleadings is governed by the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), ” id., meaning it is “appropriate where there are no material facts in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, ” Perez v. Wells Fargo, N.A., 774 F.3d 1329, 1335 (11th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). To avoid dismissal on these grounds, [the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.' Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). To that end, “conclusory allegations [ ] are not entitled to an assumption of truth-legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations.” Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 709-710 (11th Cir. 2010). And, ultimately, “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.' Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted).


“The district courts of the United States . . . are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by the Constitution and statute[.] Durrence v City of Brunswick, No. 2:15-cv-137, 2015 WL 6692262, at *2 (S.D. Ga. Nov. 3, 2015) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “In order to provide a federal forum for plaintiffs who seek to vindicate federal rights, Congress has conferred on the district courts original jurisdiction in federal-question cases-[that is, ] civil actions that arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Id. (quoting Exxon Mobil, 545 U.S. at 552).

Plaintiff invokes federal jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but that does not take him very far here. Section 1983 “does not itself create any substantive legal rights, ” it merely “provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.' Mundy v. Hambright, No. 2:13-cv-128, 2014 WL 2895475, at *2 (S.D. Ga. June 24, 2014) (quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989)). “To sustain a claim under § 1983, the plaintiff must establish that he was ‘deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States[.] Id. (quoting Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999)); cf. Brewer v. Smith, No. 6:04-cv-158, 2006 WL 2507561, at *2 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 28, 2006) (because [s]ection 1983 is not a source of rights, but a means of vindicating federal rights, ” courts “must ‘first identify the specific [federal] right allegedly infringed' (quoting Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994))); Bettis v. Holmes, No. 4:04-cv-217, 2007 WL 1521591, at *2 (S.D. Ga. May 23, 2007) (“Violations of state statutes or tortious conduct under state law do not constitute the type of injury for which § 1983 provides a remedy.”). The problem here is that [t]his Court is unaware of any constitutional provision or federal law that would provide the basis for Plaintiff's Complaint, ” and Plaintiff's pleadings [and briefs] do not shed any light on [the] matter.” Durrence, 2015 WL 6692262, at *2.

1. The first few paragraphs of the complaint reference a number of federal authorities, but none of those reveal a basis for federal jurisdiction here. Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 1-3. First, invoking 28 U.S.C. § 1331 proves nothing-that statute just confirms that district courts have jurisdiction over cases arising under “the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” The existence of such a law is exactly what Plaintiff must show here. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 3. Next, the citation to Title VII-an employment discrimination law-is also no help: this is clearly not an employment case. See id. ¶ 2 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-1 et seq.). Along the same lines, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 does not provide a jurisdictional anchor, because nothing in the complaint indicates that Plaintiff has been denied “the same right . . . to make and enforce contracts, to sue, ” and otherwise claim “the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens.” See Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 3 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1981).

Moving to the body of the complaint, there are references to federal (or potentially federal) causes of action but no discernable federal claims based on the facts actually alleged. Despite repeated references to the Fourteenth Amendment, for example the complaint nowhere links any of the alleged wrongs to the rights guaranteed by that Amendment. Compare id. ¶¶ 1-2 with id. ¶¶ 3-50. Similarly, Hall's references to “conspir[acy], ” id. ¶¶ 46, 50, might help to anchor jurisdiction in some case, see 42 U.S.C. § 1985, but the complaint here points only to a plot “to deprive [him] [of] the use and enjoyment of his property”-not his federal due process rights, themselves. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 46; see also Gibbons v. McBride, 124 F.Supp.3d 1342, 1379 (S.D. Ga. Aug. 21, 2015) (explaining that plaintiffs must allege “an agreement among the Defendants to violate” his “federal rights”); Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 259 (1978) (“Procedural due process rules are meant to protect persons not from the [underlying] deprivation [of protected rights], but from the mistaken or unjustified deprivation of life, liberty, or property” because...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT