Richardson v. Smith, Civil Action 3:22cv78

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
Writing for the CourtJohn A Gibney, Jr. Senior United States District Judge
Decision Date27 July 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action 3:22cv78



Civil Action No. 3:22cv78

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

July 27, 2022


John A Gibney, Jr. Senior United States District Judge

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Daren Smith and Thomas Grasso's partial motion to dismiss Plaintiff Travis Richardson's complaint. (ECF No. 2.) On August 1, 2019, Smith and Grasso-two Spotsylvania County deputies-responded to a drug-related emergency at Richardson's house.[1] Instead of offering aid, the deputies interrupted ongoing medical treatment and then verbally assaulted and tased Richardson when he refused to give consent for them to search his home. Further, before leaving the house, Smith seized Richardson's phone. Finally, after arresting Richardson for two misdemeanor offenses related to the possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, Smith sought two felony charges against Richardson for the sole purpose of influencing a magistrate judge to deny Richardson bail.[2]


On October 20, 2021, Richardson sued Smith and Grasso[3]-in both their individual and official capacities-for assault, battery, and violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts Five, Six, Three, and One).[4] Richardson also sued Smith for (1) unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count Two) and (2) retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment (Count Four) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants now move to dismiss Richardson's official capacity claims against them, as well as the two individual capacity claims against only Smith. In his response, Richardson abandons his official capacity claims against both defendants (ECF No. 6, at 2); thus, the Court will grant the defendants' motion as to those claims. Richardson's individual capacity claims as to both defendants remain.

Smith moves the Court to dismiss Counts Two and Four because Richardson fails to allege an unlawful search or seizure, Richardson's retaliatory prosecution claim fails under the Heck doctrine, and Richardson “fails to allege sufficient facts to show a chilling effect” under the First Amendment. (ECF No. 3, at 10-12.) Because the Court finds that Richardson's complaint plausibly pleads claims for unreasonable search and seizure against Smith, the Court will deny Smith's motion as to Count Two. The Count also finds that the Heck doctrine does not bar Richardson's First Amendment claim at this stage of the litigation and that Richardson pleads a cognizable claim for retaliatory prosecution against Smith. Accordingly, the Court will deny


Smith's motion as to Count Four as well.


On August 1, 2019, Richardson “experienced a drug-related medical emergency.” (ECF No. 1-1 ¶ 17.) When one of his family members called for help, fire and rescue personnel responded to his home. Several “[d]eputies from the Spotsylvania County Sheriffs Office, including [the d]efendants, arrived shortly thereafter.” (Id. ¶ 18.) Medical personnel located Richardson in an upstairs bathroom and began administering medical treatment. Then, the defendants intervened.

First, Deputy Smith “moved into the bathroom doorway,” and interrupting communications between medical personnel and Richardson, he asked Richardson “what drugs he was under the influence of.” (Id. ¶ 20.) Richardson told Smith that he had ingested suboxone,[5]but Smith replied that he did not believe him, asking twice whether Richardson “received his suboxone from a doctor.” (Id. ¶ 22.) Although Richardson confirmed that he had and provided Smith with his doctor's name, Smith's questions continued. When Smith asked Richardson whether he had a prescription for the suboxone, Richardson “stated that he did, pointed in the direction of his bedroom, and stood up.” (Id. ¶ 25.) Smith told Richardson to sit down, and Richardson complied. Smith then asked Richardson “where his prescription was located inside the home.” (Id. ¶ 27.) Richardson told Smith that Smith did not have his permission “to search his home in order to locate it.” (Id.) Smith replied that he did not need Richardson's permission.

Suddenly, Deputy Grasso “aggressively approached” Richardson, ordered Richardson to “come with [him],” grabbed Richardson by his right arm, and lifted Richardson to his feet. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Then, without uttering a verbal command, Grasso tried to bring Richardson's left arm


behind his back. Richardson asked “what [was] going on,” and Smith approached him from behind, stating “I'm going to tase you.” (Id. ¶¶ 31-32.) Smith then tased Richardson in the back for approximately five seconds. Richardson fell to the ground in pain, and Smith struck him on the face with his hand. Smith and Grasso “pushed... Richardson onto his stomach, face down on the floor, with his arms behind his back.” (Id. ¶ 38.) Smith tased Richardson again. Smith told Richardson to put his hands behind his back, and Richardson remained face down on the floor while a third deputy handcuffed him. Grasso shouted, “You're not going to tell us we have no permission to be here. You decided to shoot up? We're here. Do you understand me?” (Id. ¶ 43.) When Richardson did not reply, Grasso leaned down and shouted, “Do you understand me?” (Id. ¶ 44.) After Grasso stood and proclaimed, “Now, medical will see you,” medical personnel resumed treating Richardson. (Id. ¶ 45.)

While Richardson sat handcuffed on the floor, Smith called his supervisor, Deputy Chambers, to the scene. Richardson asked Chambers whether he was under arrest, and Chambers told him that he was “not under arrest” but merely “being treated.” (Id. ¶ 50.) At the scene, Grasso expressed frustration to Chambers and Smith that Richardson had told the deputies to “get out” and said that they “had no right to be there,” but neither deputies' body camera captured Richardson saying such things. (Id. ¶¶ 61-65.) As the deputies prepared to take Richardson to the hospital, Richardson's phone rang. Smith entered his bedroom, retrieved the phone from where it lay on Richardson's bed, silenced the call, and took the phone. Before riding to the hospital with Richardson, Smith gave the phone to Chambers. Chambers returned it once they arrive at the hospital, telling Smith that he wasn't sure what Smith wanted to do with the phone. In response, Smith took the phone and placed it into an envelope in the trunk of his patrol vehicle.[6]


Following the altercation, Smith sought charges against Richardson for “two misdemeanor offenses related to the possession of Schedule III drugs and drug paraphernalia.” (Id. ¶ 67.) Smith also sought charges for two felony offenses: disarming a law enforcement officer of a stun gun and felony assault of a law enforcement officer. Smith sought the felony charges despite his knowledge that Richardson had not disarmed or assaulted him or Grasso. Before Smith took Richardson to a magistrate judge, Smith told him that he expected that the judge would deny him bail because of the felony charges. The magistrate did, in fact, deny Richardson bail, and Richardson sat in jail for several weeks. Before trial, the Commonwealth's Attorney amended both felonies to the lesser misdemeanor offense of obstruction of justice or resisting arrest without the use of force. The Commonwealth's Attorney later declined to prosecute the obstruction charges altogether and nolle prossed them both.[7]


The defendants move to dismiss parts of Richardson's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests “the sufficiency of a complaint.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v., Inc.,


591 F.3d 250,253 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Edwards, 178 F.3d at 244). But the Court need not embrace bare recitals of the elements of a claim or legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must state facts that, when accepted as true, state a facially plausible claim for relief. Id. at 678. “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.” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). The plaintiff need not make “detailed factual allegations,” but “the well-pleaded facts [must] permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 679 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Finally, when a Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests “the sufficiency of a civil rights complaint, ‘[a court] must be especially solicitous of the wrongs alleged.'” Edwards, 178 F.3d at 244 (quoting Harrison v. U.S. Postal Serv., 840 F.2d 1149,1152 (4th Cir. 1988).


Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress ....

42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although § 1983 creates a plaintiffs cause of action, the statute is not “a source of substantive rights”; rather, § 1983 provides “a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137,144 n.3 (1979)). Thus, a plaintiff seeking relief...

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