Howard v. St. Johns Cnty. Sheriff, 3:20-cv-939-MMH-PDB

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
PartiesKASIM HOWARD, Plaintiff, v. ST. JOHNS COUNTY SHERIFF, A governmental entity established by and through the Constitution of the State of Florida, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number3:20-cv-939-MMH-PDB
Decision Date17 September 2021

KASIM HOWARD, Plaintiff,

ST. JOHNS COUNTY SHERIFF, A governmental entity established by and through the Constitution of the State of Florida, et al., Defendants.

No. 3:20-cv-939-MMH-PDB

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

September 17, 2021


MARCIA MORALES HOWARD United States District Judge

THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendants St. Johns County Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Jason W. Briggs' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint with Memorandum of Law (Doc. 39; Motion), filed on November 2, 2020. In the Motion, St. Johns County Sheriff (the Sheriff) and Deputy Briggs seek dismissal of Counts I, III, and VI of Plaintiff Kasim Howard's Amended Complaint and Demand for Jury Trial (Doc. 38; Complaint). On November 30, 2020, Howard filed a response to the Motion. See Plaintiff's Response to Motions to Dismiss Filed by Defendants St. Johns County Sheriff and Deputy Sheriff Jason W. Briggs (Doc. 44; Response). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for the Court's consideration.

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508, n.1 (2002); see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Omar ex rel. Cannon v. Lindsey, 334 F.3d 1246, 1247 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. BellSouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while “[s]pecific facts are not necessary, ” the complaint should “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The “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.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted); see also BellSouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that “conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal”) (citations and quotations omitted). Indeed, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions, ” which simply “are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth.” See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

II. Background[1]

In Count I of his Complaint, Howard alleges that Deputy Briggs violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when Briggs employed excessive force against him. Complaint at 2-8. In Count III, Howard brings the same claim against the Sheriff, as the governmental entity of which Deputy Briggs was an employee.[2] Id. at 13-18. And in Count VI, [3] Howard alleges that the Sheriff is liable under Florida state law for the tort of battery. Id. at 22-26.

As the underlying facts of his claims, Howard asserts that on April 9, 2016, Deputy Briggs was following Howard as he was on his way to the gym. Complaint ¶¶ 8-9. Howard alleges that he exited his vehicle once he stopped at the gym and Deputy Briggs approached him with a firearm. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Deputy Briggs pointed the firearm at Howard and demanded that Howard go to the back of the vehicle. Id. Howard questioned Deputy Briggs' demand and told him that he would raise his hands in the air if Deputy Briggs lowered the firearm. Id. ¶¶ 12, 15-16. Once Deputy Briggs lowered the firearm, Howard put his hands in the air and Deputy Briggs “proceeded to place his hand around Plaintiff's throat and butted Plaintiff's chest with Defendant Briggs' hat and then tossed his hat.”[4] Id. ¶¶ 15-16. With his “hand and/or hands” still on Howard's throat, Deputy Briggs demanded that Howard get to the ground. Id. ¶ 17. Howard “continued with his hands in the air.” Id. ¶ 18. Around this time, Officer Gillespie, a police officer employed by the City of St. Augustine, arrived on the scene. Id. ¶¶ 7, 19. Howard asserts that he requested that Officer Gillespie arrest Deputy Briggs for assault and report his conduct to a supervisor. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Deputy Briggs and Officer Gillespie attempted to restrain Howard while he continued to question what he had done wrong. Id. ¶ 26. Then, with Howard's hands in the air, Deputy Briggs and Officer Gillespie aimed their tasers at him. Id. ¶ 28. According to Howard, Deputy Briggs instructed Officer Gillespie to “light him up” and Officer Gillespie shot “two tasers” at Howard hitting his abdomen and the inside of his thigh. Id. ¶¶ 29-30. Howard subsequently fell to the ground where he was physically restrained and handcuffed. Id. ¶ 31. Howard also contends that Deputy Briggs and Officer Gillespie declined to transfer him to the hospital and instead took him to the St. Johns County Jail where he received no medical treatment. Id. ¶ 36. According to Howard, the Sheriff issued him a ticket for driving an unregistered vehicle as well as driving without a seatbelt. Id. ¶ 38. In addition, the Sheriff charged Howard with “assault on a law enforcement officer and resisting an officer without violence.” Id. Howard was acquitted of the criminal charges by a jury, “the ticket for driving an unregistered motor vehicle was dropped, ” and Howard paid the ticket for driving without a seatbelt[5] “at the direction and/or request of the trial court.” Id. ¶ 41. As a result of the incident on April 9, 2016, Howard alleges that he “suffered physical injury, physical pain and suffered mental anguish accrued medical bills, and accrued legal fees” and additionally suffered from “ . . . mental injury, embarrassment, humiliation, mental anguish anguish [sic], causing the need for medical and mental health treatment.” Id. ¶ 42.

III. Summary of the Arguments

In Count I, Howard asserts a federal excessive force claim against Deputy Briggs based on the force he used to effectuate Howard's arrest. See Complaint at 2-8. Deputy Briggs seeks to dismiss this claim based on qualified immunity. See Motion at 3-7. In Count III, Howard brings the same claim against the Sheriff. Complaint at 13-18. In the Motion, the Sheriff contends that Howard has failed to allege sufficient facts to establish Monell[6] liability. See Motion at 7-9. Last, in Count VI, Howard brings a state law tort claim for battery against the Sheriff, Complaint at 22-26, and the Sheriff seeks to dismiss it arguing that Howard has failed to allege whether Deputy Briggs was acting within or outside the scope of his employment so as to establish vicarious liability. See Motion at 9-10. Defendants also generally argue that the Complaint should be dismissed as a shotgun pleading.

In response to the Motion, Howard maintains that he has sufficiently pleaded facts to show that Deputy Briggs is not entitled to qualified immunity and also to establish Monell liability as to the Sheriff. See generally Response. In addition, Howard argues that while he does not explicitly allege whether Deputy Briggs was acting within the scope of his employment, it is nonetheless “clear that the Plaintiff is alleging that Deputy Briggs was acting within the scope of his employment.” See id. at 12. Finally, Howard asserts that the Complaint does not constitute a shotgun pleading because Defendants have adequate notice of the alleged actions against them. See id. at 13.

IV. Discussion

a. Pleading

Defendants argue that Counts I, III, and VI of the Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim because the Complaint constitutes a “shotgun pleading” that impermissibly incorporates and repeats the same factual allegations in each count. Motion at 11. Typically, a shotgun complaint contains “multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts, causing each successive count to carry all that came before and the last count to be a combination of the entire complaint.” See Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1321 & n.11 (11th Cir. 2015) (collecting cases). As a result, “most of the counts . . . contain irrelevant factual allegations and legal conclusions.” Strategic Income Fund, L.L.C. v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295 (11th Cir. 2002). In ruling on the sufficiency of a claim in a shotgun pleading, the Court is faced with the onerous task of sifting out irrelevancies in order to decide for itself which facts are relevant to a particular cause of action. See id.

Upon review of the Complaint, the Court does not find that it constitutes an impermissible “shotgun pleading.” Rather than first setting forth the general factual allegations and then incorporating them by reference into each applicable count, counsel for Howard has repeated verbatim the underlying factual allegations each time they are relevant to a particular claim in the Complaint. See generally Complaint. Notably, Howard does exclude irrelevant factual allegations from each count. For example,...

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