Harbeck v. Smith

Decision Date30 August 2011
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 4:10cv140.
Citation814 F.Supp.2d 608
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia
PartiesRachel Iris HARBECK, Plaintiff, v. Linda Batchelor SMITH, and Michele Winston, and William Boyle, Esquire, Defendants.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Kevin Peter Shea, Christina Elise James, Kevin P. Shea Attorneys & Counselors at Law, Bradford Carter Windley Phillips, B. Carter Phillips, Hampton, VA, for Plaintiff.

S. Lawrence Dumville, Norris & St. Clair P.C., Virginia Beach, VA, Christy Warrington Monolo, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MARK S. DAVIS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on motions to dismiss filed by William Boyle (Boyle), Linda B. Smith (Smith), and Michele Winston (“Winston,” and collectively Defendants), requesting the Court dismiss Rachel Harbeck's (“Harbeck” or Plaintiff) Second Amended Complaint 1 pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On June 8, 2011, the Court held oral argument on motions to dismiss Plaintiff's original Complaint, as well as on Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend her original Complaint. The Court granted Plaintiff's request for leave, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint, and Defendants responded by filing the motions to dismiss noted above. After examining those motions, the associated briefs, the Second Amended Complaint, and the points raised during oral argument, for the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Boyle's motion to dismiss. As to Smith and Winston, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART each of their motions to dismiss.

I. Facts and Procedural History 2
A. Facts

Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit in response to events occurring in late 2009 and early 2010. These events resulted in Plaintiff being unlawfully imprisoned, according to Plaintiff, for eighty-seven (87) days.

On or about October 22, 2009, Plaintiff was arrested for “threatening to burn her mother's house” in violation of section 18.2–83 of the Code of Virginia. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff was immediately incarcerated in the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 8. Shortly thereafter, Boyle, a public defender in the City of Hampton, Virginia, was appointed by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court of the City of Hampton to represent Plaintiff in that state court criminal case. Compl. ¶ 4, 9. On or about December 22, 2009, the charge against Plaintiff was certified to the grand jury by the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. However, Plaintiff was never actually indicted for the offense by the Circuit Court grand jury.

On or about that same day, December 22, 2009, the Second Amended Complaint alleges that an Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney for the City of Hampton, Charisse Mullen, determined that the Commonwealth would not pursue an indictment in the case, despite the charge having been certified for such an indictment. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 11; Ex. A. It is this decision that set in motion the events upon which Plaintiff bases her Second Amended Complaint.

After Mullen made this determination, she allegedly sent a letter to Boyle informing him of the decision. A copy of that letter was also sent “to the attention of Smith,” the elected Clerk of Court for the Circuit Court of the City of Hampton, at the “office of the Clerk of Court for the Circuit Court of the City of Hampton, Virginia.” Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 11. Plaintiff has attached a copy of this letter to the Second Amended Complaint. In pertinent part, it advised that the Commonwealth would not seek indictment of Plaintiff on the threatening to burn charge and it was to serve as notice to the “Clerk's Office” that Plaintiff “may be released of any bond in effect that is related to the” threatening to burn charge. Compl. ¶ 11; Ex. A. According to the Second Amended Complaint, a copy of this letter, or another letter containing similar information, was subsequently sent on a separate occasion to the office of the Clerk of Court by Mullen. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 13. The Second Amended Complaint alleges that this subsequent letter was received by Smith, and by Winston, a Deputy Clerk of Court for the Circuit Court of the City of Hampton, on December 22, 2010.3 Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff notified Boyle on two separate occasions that she was supposed to be released, each time to no avail. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Additionally, the Second Amended Complaint alleges that “on or about January 4, 2010, Smith and/or Winston received a Criminal Order dated January 4, 2010, from Circuit Court Judge Wilford Taylor, which stated that no indictment was presented against Plaintiff on the charge for which she was incarcerated” and therefore she is to “be released from any bond” applicable to the threatening to burn charge. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 15; Ex. B.

According to the Second Amended Complaint, as of December 22, 2009, there was no longer any legal basis for keeping Plaintiff incarcerated. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 17. However, “none of the Defendants notified personnel at the Jail that there was no longer any legal basis for keeping Plaintiff incarcerated, even though Defendants knew she was incarcerated.” Second Am. Compl. ¶ 20. Plaintiff was eventually released from jail on March 19, 2010 when Hampton Public Defender James Gochenour, Boyle's supervisor, “learned of the situation, went to the office of the Clerk of Court for the Circuit Court of the City of Hampton, Virginia, and set Plaintiff's release in motion.” Second Am. Compl. ¶ 23. In total, Plaintiff alleges that she spent eighty-seven days in jail, after all the charges had been dismissed against her, because Defendants failed to take any action to release her.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court against only Defendants Smith and Boyle on October 28, 2010. In response to this Complaint, both Boyle and Smith filed motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on November 22, 2010 and December 8, 2010 respectively. Docket Nos. 6 & 9. In turn, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to amend her Complaint on January 21, 2011. In this motion, Plaintiff informed the Court that she wished to amend her Complaint because [c]ertain basic facts were inadvertently omitted from the Complaint” and Plaintiff needs to add a Fourth Amendment violation and discard the Eighth Amendment violation.” Mot. Leave to Amend 2; Docket No. 20. On June 8, 2011, the Court held a hearing on the motions discussed above. The next day, the Court signed an Order granting Plaintiff leave to amend her Complaint, and, given the anticipated amended complaint, deemed Defendants' previous Motions to Dismiss terminated.” Docket No. 32.

On June 23, 2011, Plaintiff filed her Second Amended Complaint. In this Second Amended Complaint, in addition to making the factual and legal changes for which she requested leave, she also added Winston as an additional Defendant. This Second Amended Complaint asserts five counts against Defendants, though, each count does not assert a claim against each Defendant. In Count I, Plaintiff brings a claim against each Defendant, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that each Defendant violated her rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In Count II, Plaintiff charges each Defendant with false imprisonment under the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In Count III, Plaintiff accuses Boyle of legal malpractice with respect to his role in her alleged unlawful detention. In Count IV, Plaintiff asserts a cause of action for negligence against Smith and Winston. Finally, in Count V, Plaintiff asserts a cause of action for punitive damages against all Defendants. In response to these allegations, Defendants Smith and Boyle once again filed motions to dismiss. Docket Nos. 34 & 36. Defendant Winston, as a newly added party, also filed a motion to dismiss shortly after Smith and Boyle. Docket No. 45. The Court considers these motions below.

II. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a defendant to seek dismissal based on the plaintiff's “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A court considering a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) must assess the legal sufficiency of the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir.2009). A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should be granted if the complaint does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Requiring a claim be plausible does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage. Id. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955. However, it does ask for more than a “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

A 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of a complaint and “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir.1992). Accordingly, a court should “assume the truth of all facts alleged in the complaint and the existence of any fact that can be proved, consistent with the complaint's allegations.” E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir.2000). Although the truth of the facts alleged is assumed, courts are not bound by the “legal conclusions drawn from the facts” and “need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Id.

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) must be...

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