Lacy v. City of St. Petersburg

Decision Date04 September 2014
Docket NumberCase No. 8:14-cv-252-T-33TGW
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida
PartiesCHRISTINE LACY, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF ST. PETERSBURG, Florida, a municipal corporation; WILLIAM SFOTER, Former Mayor; and CHIEF OF POLICE CHUCK HARMON, Defendants.

This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Defendants City of St. Petersburg, Florida; Former Mayor William Foster; and Former Chief of Police Chuck Harmon's Dispositive Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 30), filed on May 7, 2014. Plaintiff Christine Lacy filed a response in opposition to the Motion on June 2, 2014. (Doc. # 41). For the reasons that follow, Count I is dismissed without prejudice as it is not ripe for this Court's review; Count II is dismissed with prejudice; and the remaining state law claims are remanded to state court.

I. Background

Plaintiff initiated this action on January 27, 2014, in state court.1 (Doc. # 2). Defendants filed a Notice of Removal on February 3, 2014, contending that this Court has federal question jurisdiction over this action. (Doc. # 1). This Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on April 8, 2014 (Doc. # 24), and Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on April 25, 2014 (Doc. # 28).

According to the Amended Complaint, in January of 2011, St. Petersburg police officers and other law enforcement officers came to Plaintiff's residence in St. Petersburg, Florida looking for Plaintiff's husband in order to execute a felony arrest warrant against him. (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 17). When Plaintiff answered the door, she informed police that her husband was home and that he was armed or may have been armed. (Id. at ¶ 18). Plaintiff further indicated that she was in fear of her husband and what he may do to her and others. (Id.). Law enforcement directed Plaintiff to leave her residence immediately, and Plaintiff complied. (Id. at ¶ 19).

Law enforcement began to search the residence for Plaintiff's husband, which led to a shoot-out between lawenforcement and Plaintiff's husband. (Id. at ¶ 20). The shoot-out culminated in the "tragic death of two law enforcement officers as well as the death" of Plaintiff's husband. (Id.).

After the shoot-out and recovery of the law enforcement officers from Plaintiff's residence, "[t]he St. Petersburg Police Department, through Chief Harmon and/or Mayor Bill Foster made an abrupt decision to [demolish] Plaintiff's home and remove the entire contents prior to allowing [Plaintiff] back to the residence." (Id. at ¶¶ 23-25). According to the Amended Complaint, "the house [was] completely leveled to the ground and all of its contents were destroyed and/or removed and demolished." (Id. at ¶ 26).

Plaintiff contends that subsequent to the destruction of her home, Mayor Foster promised, among other things, that "[t]he City will make sure [Plaintiff] is made whole." (Id. at ¶ 29). Plaintiff submits that she wrote to Mayor Foster directly requesting he honor this promise. (Id. at ¶ 30). Furthermore, the Amended Complaint provides that "Plaintiff has complied with all administrative and statutory conditions precedent to filing her complaint." (Id. at ¶ 14).

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff sets forth the following claims against Defendants:

Count I: 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment claim (City of St. Petersburg, Mayor Foster, Chief Harmon);
Count II: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Fourteenth Amendment claim (City of St. Petersburg, Mayor Foster, Chief Harmon);

Count III: Breach of Oral Agreement (City of St. Petersburg, Mayor Foster);

Count IV: Promissory Estoppel claim (City of St. Petersburg, Mayor Foster);

Count V: Inverse Condemnation claim (City of St. Petersburg, Mayor Foster, Chief Harmon); and

Count VI: Negligence (City of St. Petersburg).

(See Doc. # 28).

Defendants filed the present Motion on May 7, 2014, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. # 30). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the Motion on June 2, 2014. (Doc. # 41). The Court has reviewed the Motion and the response thereto and is otherwise fully advised in the premises.

II. Legal Standard

On a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262 (11th Cir. 2004).Further, this Court favors the plaintiff with all reasonable inferences from the allegations in the complaint. Stephens v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 901 F.2d 1571, 1573 (11th Cir. 1990)("On a motion to dismiss, the facts stated in [the] complaint and all reasonable inferences therefrom are taken as true."). However, the Supreme Court explains that:

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. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Further, courts are not "bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

In accordance with Twombly, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) calls "for 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, 663 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plausible claim for relief must include "factual content [that] allows the court to draw thereasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

III. Analysis
A. Count I

Count I is a constitutional "Takings" claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. (See Doc. # 28). According to Defendants, Count I is not ripe for this Court's review. (Doc. # 30 at 5).

To establish a constitutional takings violation, a plaintiff must prove that the challenged action denied the plaintiff - the property owner - of any viable economic use of the property. BFI Waste Sys. of N. Am. v. Dekalb Cnty., Ga., 303 F. Supp. 2d 1335, 1347 (N.D. Ga. 2004). "In other words, the governmental action must have made the property worthless." Agripost, Inc. v. Miami-Dade Cnty. ex rel. Manager, 195 F.3d 1225, 1231 (11th Cir. 1999). In addition, "the property owner must allege either that the state law provides him no process for obtaining just compensation (such as an action for inverse condemnation) or that the state law appears to provide such process, but due to state court interpretation, the process is inadequate." Id. (emphasis added). If the plaintiff cannot show either of these latterrequirements, the case is not ripe and the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim. Williamson Cnty. Reg'l Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172, 194 (1985). Defendants argue that Plaintiff's Takings claim is not ripe as Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that state law provides her with no process for obtaining the just compensation she desires. (Doc. # 30 at 5).

Plaintiff argues that Defendants have failed to state what "procedures" are available to Plaintiff that she has failed to exhaust. (Doc. # 41 at 4). To the contrary, Plaintiff contends that she did comply with the available state procedures before filing this lawsuit and alleged so in her Amended Complaint - "Plaintiff has complied with all administrative and statutory conditions precedent to filing her complaint" (Doc. # 28 at ¶ 14), which included filing a notice under Fla. Stat. § 768.28 and waiting the six month period for the state to consider her claim. (Doc. # 41 at 4).

Plaintiff indicates that she knows of no other options for her to obtain relief from the alleged constitutional deprivations but for her to bring a § 1983 action. To that end, Plaintiff submits that the remedies under a tort theory are "far from equal to remedies available under [42 U.S.C. §] 1983" as the state caps damages, limits attorneys' fees andaffords other immunities to government employees and agencies. (Id.). However, the Court notes that in addition to her federal Takings claim, Plaintiff has simultaneously brought a claim of inverse condemnation against Defendants, "for the taking of private property rights protected under Article X, Section 6 and Article I, Section 9, of the Florida Constitution as well as Articles V and XIV of the United States Constitution." (See Doc. # 28 at 9-11).

Neither party disputes that Florida law provides a procedure for seeking just compensation under an inverse condemnation claim. The Court acknowledges Plaintiff's arguments regarding the "inadequacy" of the state law remedies for her alleged deprivation. However, Plaintiff has failed to provide any legal authority demonstrating this alleged inadequacy or that she has been previously denied relief on her state law takings claim. Thus, Plaintiff's federal Takings claim is not ripe, and will not be "until [she] has used the [state] procedure and been denied just compensation." Williamson Cnty. Reg'l. Planning Com'n, 473 U.S. at 195; Watson Constr. Co. v. City of Gainesville, 244 F. App'x 274, 277-78 (11th Cir. 2007)("Because Florida law provides an adequate procedure for seeking just compensation under an inverse condemnation claim, [plaintiff's] federalclaim is not ripe 'until it has used the procedure and been denied just compensation.'"); New Port Largo, Inc. v. Monroe Cnty., 873 F.Supp. 633, 640 (S.D. Fla. 1994) aff'd, 95 F.3d 1084 (11th Cir. 1996)(finding that the plaintiff's just compensation claim was not ripe as the plaintiff failed to pursue an inverse condemnation remedy in state court to obtain just compensation for the alleged taking); E.-Bibb Twiggs Neighborhood Ass'n v. Macon Bibb Planning & Zoning Comm'n, 896 F.2d 1264, 1266 (11th Cir. 1989) (fin...

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