Ledbetter v. City of Topeka, Kan.

Decision Date06 February 2003
Docket NumberNo. 02-3202.,02-3202.
Citation318 F.3d 1183
PartiesJoseph R. LEDBETTER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF TOPEKA, KANSAS; Mayor Joan Wagnon; Municipal Judge Neil Roach; Police Chief Dean Forester; John Doe — an unnamed Police Officer — Topeka Police Department; Officer Mark Grayson; Lisa Pinkley; and City Attorney Linda P. Jeffrey, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit

Joseph R. Ledbetter, Pro Se, Plaintiff-Appellant.

Gregory A. Lee, of Davis, Unrein, McCalister, Biggs, & Head, LLP, Topeka, KS, for the Defendants-Appellees.

Before SEYMOUR, HENRY, and BRISCOE, Circuit Judges.

HENRY, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff, Joseph Ledbetter, filed this pro se civil rights action against the City of Topeka, Kansas and certain of its officials, alleging that the defendants violated the Fourth Amendment by arresting him on an invalid warrant and unlawfully searching his backyard. Mr. Ledbetter also alleged violations of his First Amendment rights and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The district court first dismissed all of Mr. Ledbetter's claims against the individual defendants, see Ledbetter v. City of Topeka, Kansas, No. 00-1153, 2001 WL 80060 (D.Kan. Jan.23, 2001), and then granted summary judgment in favor of the City of Topeka on his remaining claim alleging a wrongful arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Rec. vol. I, doc. 82, 2002 WL 92929 (Memorandum Op. and Order, filed Jan. 18, 2002).

However, we conclude that the district court properly dismissed Mr. Ledbetter's claims against the individual defendants and that the court's grant of summary judgment to the City of Topeka was proper.1

I. BACKGROUND

In 1998, Mr. Ledbetter was served with a complaint alleging that he had violated a Topeka municipal ordinance by failing to possess proof of registration of the vaccination of his dog. After Mr. Ledbetter failed to answer the complaint within the prescribed period, a court clerk issued a warrant and stamped it with the signature of Municipal Judge Neil Roach. "However, Judge Roach did not personally review or sign the warrant." Ledbetter v. City of Topeka, 2001 WL 80060, at *1.

Pursuant to the warrant, a municipal officer arrested Mr. Ledbetter. Mr. Ledbetter was detained for five hours and then released.

Subsequently, Judge Roach found Mr. Ledbetter guilty of violating the municipal ordinance as charged in the complaint and ordered him to pay a $132.00 fine. Mr. Ledbetter appealed the conviction to a Kansas district court, but he withdrew his appeal after the City agreed to dismiss the charge upon the purchase of a license for his dog.

Mr. Ledbetter then filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that: (1) in the course of investigating the municipal code violation, animal control officer Linda Jeffries searched his backyard without his consent, in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) Judge Roach's failure to sign the arrest warrant rendered the arrest unreasonable and in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (3) the conditions to which he was subjected during his five hour detention constituted cruel and unusual punishment; and (4) city officials had violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him over a ten-year period. Mr. Ledbetter named as defendants the mayor of Topeka, Joan Wagnon; Municipal Judge Roach; the chief of police, Dean Forrester; a police officer, Officer Grayson; animal control officer Jeffries; and the City itself. He sought actual and punitive damages.

The district court dismissed Mr. Ledbetter's claims against all of the individual defendants. As to the animal control officer, the police officer, and the police chief, the court reasoned that Mr. Ledbetter had failed to serve them with the complaint. See Ledbetter, 2001 WL 80060, at *1. As to Mayor Wagnon and City Attorney Jeffrey, the court concluded that Mr. Ledbetter offered "no allegations remotely connecting [either of these defendants] to his alleged deprivation." Id. at *3. As to Municipal Judge Roach, the court stated that Mr. Ledbetter's allegations did not indicate that the judge acted in the clear absence of all jurisdiction. See id. Accordingly, the court held that Judge Roach was entitled to absolute immunity from Mr. Ledbetter's claims. See id.

The court also ruled that Mr. Ledbetter's First Amendment retaliation claim and his cruel and unusual punishment claim did not set forth specific allegations of wrongdoing. Therefore, the court dismissed these claims as to the individual defendants and the city.

Subsequently, the district court granted summary judgment to the City of Topeka on Mr. Ledbetter's remaining claim — for wrongful arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The court reasoned that even though Mr. Ledbetter's arrest warrant had been issued in violation of state law, "the issuance of [the] invalid warrant by Judge Roach was done pursuant to his position as a judicial officer of the State of Kansas" and Judge Roach was thus "not acting with final policymaking authority for the City." Rec. vol. I, doc. 82, at 12.

II. DISCUSSION

Because Mr. Ledbetter proceeds pro se, we construe his pleadings liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972). We therefore read his appellate brief as challenging the district court's five dispositive rulings: (1) the dismissal of the claims against defendants Pinkley, Grayson, and Forrester for lack of service, (2) the dismissal of the claims against defendants Mayor Wagnon and City Attorney Jeffrey because Mr. Ledbetter had failed to connect them to the alleged constitutional violations; (3) the dismissal of Mr. Ledbetter's First Amendment retaliation claim and his cruel and unusual punishment claim; (4) the dismissal of the claim against Judge Roach on immunity grounds, and (5) the grant of summary judgment to the City.

We review for abuse of discretion the district court's dismissal based on a lack of timely service. Espinoza v. United States, 52 F.3d 838, 841 (10th Cir.1995). However, we review de novo the district court's grant of the individual defendant's motions to dismiss, applying the same standards as the district court under Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Wark v. United States, 269 F.3d 1185, 1189 n. 3 (10th Cir.2001). A complaint should not be dismissed "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). We also review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment, applying Fed. R.Civ.P. 56. Rogers v. United States, 281 F.3d 1108, 1113 (10th Cir.2002). Summary judgment is warranted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See Mincin v. Vail Holdings, Inc., 308 F.3d 1105 (10th Cir.2002) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)).

A. Dismissal of the Claims Against Defendants Pinkley, Grayson, and Forrester

Upon review of the record, we conclude that the district court properly dismissed the claims against the defendants Pinkley, Grayson, and Forrester. As to these defendants, there is no indication that Mr. Ledbetter obtained proper service.2

B. Dismissal the Claims Against Defendants Mayor Wagnon and City Attorney Jeffrey

As to Mayor Wagnon and City Attorney Jeffrey, we note that under § 1983, "a defendant may not be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior." Worrell v. Henry, 219 F.3d 1197, 1214 (10th Cir.2000). Instead, "a plaintiff must show that an affirmative link exists between the [constitutional] deprivation and either the [defendant's] personal participation, his exercise of control or direction, or his failure to supervise." Id. (citations and quotations omitted). Here, Mr. Ledbetter's complaint fails to allege such conduct by the mayor or the city attorney.

C. Dismissal of First Amendment Retaliation Claim

We also agree with the district court that dismissal of Mr. Ledbetter's First Amendment retaliation claim was warranted. As the district court noted, Mr. Ledbetter's "allegations of retaliatory conduct and free speech deprivation are vague and completely lacking in specificity," see Ledbetter, 2001 WL 80060 at *2, and the complaint fails to allege how the individual defendants participated in the alleged violation of his rights. See Northington v. Jackson, 973 F.2d 1518, 1520-21 (10th Cir.1992) (noting that although the court should liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's complaint, "the court should not assume the role of advocate, and should dismiss claims which are supported only by vague and conclusory allegations").

D. Dismissal of Cruel and Unusual Punishment Claim

Similarly, Mr. Ledbetter's cruel and unusual punishment allegations lack the necessary specificity. Mr. Ledbetter's complaint states that he was falsely imprisoned in "[h]einous conditions," but provides no further detail. Rec. vol. I, doc. 1, at 4 (Complaint filed April 20, 2000).

We note that in an affidavit submitted in response to the City's motion for summary judgment, Mr. Ledbetter states that he was kept "in a filthy cell with no toilet in [his] bare feet." Rec. vol. I, doc. 70, Ex. A (affidavit of Joseph Ledbetter, dated Sept. 14, 2001). Even if Mr. Ledbetter had alleged these facts in his complaint, they are insufficient to establish that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution.

Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the City was required to provide to a pretrial detainee such as Mr. Ledbetter "humane conditions of confinement by ensuring ... the basic necessities of adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care and by taking reasonable measures to guarantee [his] safety."...

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