Johnson v. Israel

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida
Citation576 F.Supp.3d 1231
Docket NumberCASE NO. 17-62291-CIV-ALTMAN/Hunt
Parties Timothy Lee JOHNSON, Plaintiff, v. Broward County Sheriff Scott ISRAEL, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date21 December 2021

Timothy Lee Johnson, Maxton, NC, Pro Se.

Reginald John Clyne, Dakeitha Shauncy Haynes, Stephanie Marie Martin, Sophia Renee Ward, Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., Miami, FL, Nory Maria Acosta-Lopez, Barakat Law, P.A., Coral Gables, FL, for Defendant Broward County Sheriff.

Reginald John Clyne, Dakeitha Shauncy Haynes, Stephanie Marie Martin, Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., Miami, FL, Nory Maria Acosta-Lopez, Barakat Law, P.A., Coral Gables, FL, for Defendants Tim Metf, Deputy J. Augustus.



Timothy Lee Johnson was stopped by two officers as he drove into the parking lot of his apartment complex. While gathering his licence, registration, and insurance card, Johnson asked the officers why they had stopped him, queried whether he was under arrest, and told the officers that he wanted to call his lawyer. On Johnson's telling, the officers’ reaction to these comments and questions was spiteful and swift: the officers (he says) yanked his phone away, ordered him out of his truck, and placed him in handcuffs. The officers then searched his vehicle and brought him into the police station, where a lieutenant—puzzled by the decision to bring him in—sent Johnson home. Once home, however, Johnson discovered that his car had been impounded.

The officers issued Johnson two citations: one for unlawful window tinting and a second for non-violent resistance. Both citations were later dismissed. Johnson has now brought this civil rights action, averring that the officers and their sheriff violated his constitutional rights by unlawfully stopping him, arresting him, and searching his car. For the fourth time, the Defendants have moved to dismiss. This order follows.


This case began with an ordinary traffic stop. On November 22, 2013, Timothy Lee Johnson was driving home with a neighbor when police officers started trailing Johnson's SUV. See Third Amended Complaint [ECF No. 79] (the "TAC") ¶¶ 18, 37. Johnson turned into the private parking area of his apartment complex and pulled into his assigned parking spot. Id. ¶ 19. Once the car was parked, it didn't interfere in any way with traffic. Id. ¶ 34. Johnson says that, while his car's windows are tinted, the tinting falls within Florida's lawful limits. Id. ¶ 18. Deputies Justin Augustus and Timothy Metz (the "Deputies") followed Johnson into the parking lot, exited their police cruiser, and approached Johnson's car, demanding that Johnson provide his license, registration, and insurance card. Id. ¶ 19.

The traffic stop quickly devolved from there. While he was reaching into his back pocket to get his driver's license, Johnson explained that he was moving rather slowly because a back injury was causing him pain. Id. ¶ 20. He also asked why the Deputies had stopped him. Id. Angered by the question, Deputy Augustus answered in "harsh" terms: "Don't ask me no questions. Just do as you are told." Id. (cleaned up). Johnson followed up by asking whether he was "being detained or under arrest for something and, if so, what." Id. Hearing this second question, Deputy Metz interjected and, while expressing "extreme anger," told Johnson that he was "not under arrest yet. " Id. ¶ 21. Johnson then said that he wanted to call his lawyer. Id. ¶ 22.

That last comment threw Deputy Augustus into a rage. Before Johnson knew what had happened, Deputy Augustus—who was then standing by the passenger-side door—reached over Johnson's friend, admonished Johnson not to call his lawyer, and snatched Johnson's phone from his hand. Id. Having done all this, Deputy Augustus announced: "now you're under arrest. " Id. Deputy Metz then ordered Johnson and his friend out of the car. Id. ¶ 23. The Deputies placed Johnson in handcuffs and sat him on the bumper of his truck. Id. ¶ 39. According to Johnson, his friend (and neighbor) was "not considered a threat." Id. And the allegations support that: after the Deputies directed the friend out of the car, the Deputies never placed him under arrest, didn't secure him, and allowed him to saunter home. Id. ¶¶ 24, 39.

As Johnson sat handcuffed on the bumper of his SUV—and while his friend watched from his own apartment—the Deputies searched Johnson's car. Id. ¶ 23. Johnson "protest[ed]," but the Deputies ignored him. Id. After the search—which, as far as we can tell, revealed nothing—the Deputies moved Johnson (who had a rather severe back injury and couldn't sit upright) onto the floor of their police van. Id. ¶¶ 25, 40. During the fifteen-or-so-mile drive to the North Broward County Detention Facility, "each turn of the vehicle caused [Johnson] excruciating pain." Id. ¶ 28. Once Johnson arrived at the jail, an officer forced him into prison garments, and the jail's booking official questioned Johnson about his health. Id. ¶ 26.

When a "lieutenant-in-charge" asked him "why [he was] in jail," Johnson said: "don't know why." Id. ¶ 27. The lieutenant reviewed some papers that were handed to him by another officer, asked Johnson about his medical condition, and—learning that Johnson was diabetic—wondered aloud: "[W]hy is this man in my jail?" Id. The lieutenant then ordered some other officers to "get this man out of my jail now." Id. The officers handed Johnson his clothes and asked whether he wanted them to take him home or to the hospital. Id. ¶ 28. Although the arrest had increased Johnson's blood-sugar, he asked the officers to take him home. Id. ¶ 59.

When he returned home, Johnson discovered that the Deputies had impounded his vehicle. Id. ¶ 31. When he asked the towing company about it, the company's rep said that the Broward Sheriff's Office had placed a hold on the vehicle for inventory searching and that any questions regarding missing items would have to be addressed to the BSO. Id. Johnson alleges that this subsequent search of his SUV "resulted in[ ] twice the invasion [of] unlawful searching of [his] vehicle." Id. He also avers that, because his car was impounded, he incurred various "costs and fees associated with towing and storage as well as having to return the vehicle to its owners for fear of future harassment" by police officers. Id. ¶ 46.

Although the Deputies never gave him a citation, Johnson says that he later received a "Notice to Appear" in the mail. Id. ¶¶ 44–45. That Notice asserted that Johnson had committed two infractions: (1) "Side Wind/Rest Sunscreen Too Dark" and (2) "Resisting/Obstructing Justice Without Violence." Id. Johnson claims that the resistance charge was added "as a last effort attempt to disguise [his] unlawful arrest." Id. ¶ 44. He also explains that both charges were later "dropped/dismissed. " Id. In this lawsuit, Johnson sues Deputy Augustus (in his official and individual capacities), Deputy Metz (in his official and individual capacities), Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel (in his official capacity), and the City of Dania Beach. Id. ¶¶ 10–13.

A lot has happened since Johnson first filed this case in November 2017. As relevant here, we denied the first motion to dismiss as to some of Johnson's claims, and we dismissed others without prejudice. See Johnson v. Israel , 2020 WL 1060007, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 5, 2020) (Altman, J.). We ultimately dismissed Johnson's second amended complaint as a shotgun pleading. See Order [ECF No. 78]. Now, Johnson has filed his third amended complaint, see TAC, which the Defendants have (again) moved to dismiss, see Third Renewed Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 82] (the "MTD").

In their MTD, the Defendants advance four arguments: First , they say that Johnson's complaint is a shotgun pleading. Second , they argue that they're entitled to qualified immunity on any claims arising from the stop, the arrest, the initial search, and the inventory search. Third , they contend that the Deputies and the Sheriff cannot be liable in their official capacities. Fourth , they ask us to strike Johnson's punitive-damages claims against the Deputies and the Sheriff. We'll navigate through each of these contentions in turn.


"To survive a motion to dismiss [under 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 , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 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) ). Pleadings must contain "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, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (citation omitted). Indeed, "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

To meet this "plausibility standard," a plaintiff must "plead[ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). The standard "does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ). "[T]he standard ‘simply calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence’ of the required element." Rivell v. Private Health Care Sys., Inc. , 520 F.3d 1308, 1309–10 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 545, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ).

On a motion to dismiss, "the court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true and take them in the light most favorable to plaintiff." Dusek v. JPMorgan Chase & Co. , 832 F.3d 1243,...

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