Mitchell v. Taylor

Decision Date17 June 2016
Docket NumberNO. 3:15-1310,3:15-1310
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Tennessee
TO: Honorable Kevin H. Sharp, Chief District Judge

By Order entered January 7, 2016 (Docket Entry No. 9), the Court referred this pro se action to the Magistrate Judge to enter a scheduling order for the management of the case, to dispose or recommend disposition of any pretrial motions under 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B), and to conduct further proceedings, if necessary, under Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of Court.

Presently pending are the separately filed motions to dismiss of Defendant Guardian Home Care Holdings, Inc. (Docket Entry Nos. 20 and 69), Defendants Mary Holder and the City of Hartsville (Docket Entry No. 22), Defendant Tommy Thompson, Jr. (Docket Entry No. 30), and Defendant Trousdale County Sheriff's Department (Docket Entry No. 62). For the reasons set out below, the Court recommends that the motions be granted and that this action be dismissed.


Dwight J. Mitchell ("Plaintiff") is a resident of Madison, Tennessee. On May 24, 2015, he filed this lawsuit pro se and in forma pauperis against Wilson Taylor ("Taylor"), Guardian Home Care Holdings, Inc. ("Guardian Home Care"),1 Mary Holder ("Holder"), the City of Hartsville, Tommy Thompson, Jr. ("Thompson"), and the Trousdale County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department."). The lawsuit was also filed on behalf of Sun Valley Home for the Aged ("Sun Valley"). However, by Order entered January 7, 2016 (Docket Entry No. 9), the Court dismissed all claims brought by Sun Valley.2

Plaintiff's lawsuit is based upon events that occurred in 2007. See Amended Complaint (Docket Entry No. 8) at 10-12, ¶¶ 14-20. Plaintiff was the owner and operator of Sun Valley, a residential assisted living facility for the elderly that was located in Hartsville, Tennessee. In 2007, Sun Valley was facing a suspension of its operating license by the Tennessee Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities ("the Board") after the Tennessee Department of Health conducted a complaint and annual licensing survey of Sun Valley in early August. Plaintiff alleges that, on or about August 14-15, 2007, Defendant Thompson, who is the District Attorney for the City of Hartsville, along with members of the Sheriff's Department and the Department of Health, came to Sun Valley and served an order of suspension on Sun Valley. The residents of Sun Valley were thereafter removed, and Plaintiff alleges Thompson entered Sun Valley under the auspices of a warrant and seized both business records and personal property. Although on order of summary suspension was issued by the Board on August 15, 2017, summarily suspending Sun Valley's license to maintain a home for theaged, ordering that it (i) discontinue operating, (ii) not accept any new patients pending resolution of the matter at a hearing, and (iii) refer all existing residents to other facilities, see Docket Entry No. 30-1, Plaintiff disputes that any warrant to enter Sun Valley and/or seize property ever existed.

Plaintiff contends that these actions caused him to lose the "tenant contracts" he had with the 13 residents at Sun Valley and also caused the cancellation or termination of vendor contracts. Plaintiff asserts that the closure of Sun Valley further rendered him unable to make payments on loans that he had obtained from Citizens Bank and that foreclosure proceedings occurred with respect to real property that had been used to secure these loans.

Plaintiff alleges that a conspiracy existed to shut down the operations of Sun Valley and to wrongfully obtain the real property securing the Citizen's Bank loans. He alleges that this conspiracy involved, among others, 1) Taylor, who was formerly a president at Citizens Bank, and, 2) Thompson, who was also a member of Citizens Bank's board of directors. He further alleges that Defendant Holder, who is the Register of Deeds for Trousdale County and is alleged to be married to a board member at Citizens Bank, and Taylor falsified documents and filings that were recorded pertaining to the real property at issue and that Taylor took steps to fraudulently conceal this conduct. Plaintiff alleges that Thompson also harbored racial animosity toward Plaintiff, who is black, and that this animosity influenced Thompson's actions. Plaintiff contends that Guardian Home Care became involved in the matter by presenting three witnesses at Sun Valley's license suspension proceedings. Asserting that his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment have been violated, Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985(3), and seeks nominal,compensatory, and punitive damages. See Amended Complaint at 13-29.3 Plaintiff seeks a trial by jury.

In lieu of answers, Defendants Holder, the City Hartsville, the Sheriff's Department, Guardian Home Care, and Thompson have filed the pending dispositive motions.4 Defendants Holder and the City of Hartsville raise a statute of limitations defense, see Memorandum in support (Docket Entry No. 23), and the Sheriff's Department argues that it is not a legal entity capable of being sued. See Memorandum in support (Docket Entry No. 63). Defendant Guardian Home Care argues that it has not been properly served with process, see Memorandum in support (Docket Entry No. 21), and, further, that the claims against it should be dismissed, 1) on the ground of res judicata because of a prior state court lawsuit against it that was dismissed on the merits, 2) because of the statute of limitations, and, 3) because of the doctrine of witness immunity. See Memorandum in support (Docket Entry No. 70). Defendant Thompson argues that the Eleventh Amendment bars any official capacity claims brought against him and that the individual capacity claims brought against him are barred by statute of limitations and are supported by only conclusory allegations of racial discrimination and a conspiracy. See Memorandum in support (Docket Entry No. 31). He further raised qualified immunity to any damage claims brought against him. Id.

Plaintiff has made multiple and lengthy filings in opposition to the motions. See Docket Entry Nos. 34, 35, 37, 38, 55, 60, 61, 65, 86, and 87. He disputes the legal grounds for dismissal raised byDefendants, contends that his claims are timely, and disputes that any immunity applies. He further extensively argues the merits of his factual allegations and claims, and he disputes the factual basis for the 2007 suspension proceedings. Plaintiff attaches to his responses various forms of documentary and other evidence. See Docket Entry Nos. 34-1 to 34-8, Docket Entry Nos. 37-1 to 37-8; Docket Entry Nos. 38-1 to 38-5; Docket Entry No. 65-1 to 65-2; and Docket Entry No. 87-1 to 87-6.


Defendants' motions to dismiss are reviewed under the standard that the Court must accept all of the well pleaded allegations contained in the Amended Complaint as true, resolve all doubts in Plaintiff's favor, and construe the Amended Complaint liberally in favor of the pro se Plaintiff. See Kottmyer v. Maas, 436 F.3d 684 (6th Cir. 2006); Boswell v. Mayer, 169 F.3d 384, 387 (6th Cir. 1999); Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 11-12 (6th Cir. 1987). Although the Court is required to liberally construe the pro se pleadings, this does not require the Court to apply a more lenient application of the substantive law. Bennett v. Batchik, 1991 WL 110385 at *6 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing Wolfel v. United States, 711 F.2d 66, 67 (6th Cir. 1983)); Lyons v. Thompson, 2006 WL 463111 at *4 (E.D. Tenn. Feb. 24, 2006).

Plaintiff's pleadings must contain either direct or inferential factual allegations that are sufficient to sustain a recovery under a viable legal theory. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-61, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (abrogating Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)); Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1988). This "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Plaintiff must show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Mik v. Federal Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 743 F.3d 149, 157 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). The well pleaded factual allegations must "do more than create speculation or suspicion of a legally cognizable cause of action; they must show entitlement to relief." League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A complaint does not "suffice if it tenders 'naked assertions' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

In reviewing the motions to dismiss, the Court has appropriately considered the prior written decisions of the state courts and state administrative agency, as well the filings in Plaintiff's prior federal lawsuits. See Jackson v. City of Columbus, 194 F.3d 737, 745 (6th Cir. 1999), overruled on other grounds by Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 122 S.Ct. 992, 152 L.Ed.2d 1 (2002) (in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court may "consider public records, matters of which a court may take judicial notice, and letter decisions of governmental agencies"); Vaughn v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cty., 2014 WL 234200, at *3 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 22, 2014) (Trauger, J.); Lee v. Dell Products, L.P., 236 F.R.D. 358, 361 (M.D. Tenn. 2006).


Before turning to the merits of any of the individual motions to dismiss, the Court notes that the instant action is merely the latest in a succession of unsuccessful federal and state lawsuits...

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