Vandiver v. Meriwether Cnty., CIVIL ACTION FILE NO. 3:17-cv-114-TCB

Decision Date07 August 2018
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION FILE NO. 3:17-cv-114-TCB
Citation325 F.Supp.3d 1321
Parties Paul VANDIVER, Plaintiff, v. MERIWETHER COUNTY, GEORGIA, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia

Charles E. Cox, Jr., Charles Cox, Jr. Attorney at Law, Christopher Brian Jarrard, C. Brian Jarrard, LLC, Macon, GA, for Plaintiff.

Taylor Wayne Hensel, Timothy J. Buckley, III, Buckley Christopher, P.C., Atlanta, GA, for Defendant.


Timothy C. Batten, Sr., United States District Judge

This case comes before the Court on Defendant Meriwether County's motion [6] to dismiss.

I. Background

On May 23, 2015, Meriwether County issued citations to Plaintiff Paul Vandiver for violations of zoning ordinances related to business registration and noise regulation. It can be inferred from the complaint that sometime thereafter the County referred the violations to the office of Peter Skandalakis, district attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit.1

On August 17, assistant district attorney Robert Peterkin obtained a twenty-four count indictment in Meriwether County Superior Court for the ordinance violations. Two days later, the County dismissed four of the County-issued citations against Vandiver.

Based on the remaining counts in the indictment, Peterkin moved on behalf of the State2 to place Vandiver in custody and set a $10,000 bond. The superior court granted the motion and Vandiver was arrested. Vandiver posted bond, which was subsequently revoked on the State's motion. He was, once again, arrested. He was later released on a supersedeas bond order.

After this, on March 10, 2016, Beth Neely-Hadley, Chairman of the Meriwether County Board of Commissioners, sent a letter purporting to represent the entire commission. The letter was addressed to district attorney Skandalakis and states:

This letter is in reference to the Vandiver case that is currently being heard in Superior Court, Coweta Judicial Circuit, Meriwether County, Georgia.
The Meriwether County Board of Commissioners is aware that the District Attorney's office is representing Meriwether County in this matter, and have consented to this representation.
Please accept this letter as the Board of Commissioner's formal request for your office to continue your representation of this case on behalf of Meriwether County.
Should you have questions or need additional information, please contact our office. Thanks again for your assistance to our County.

[1-4] at 1.

The case proceeded until the Superior Court dismissed the indictment on April 21, 2016, because proceedings for violation of county ordinances are required to be by citation or accusation—not indictment—under O.C.G.A. § 15-10-62(a).

On August 17, 2017, Vandiver filed this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the County for false arrest (Count I) and malicious prosecution (Count II). The County has moved to dismiss based on Vandiver's failure to demonstrate that the deprivation of rights was the result of a County policy or custom.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[.]" This pleading standard does not require "detailed factual allegations," but it does demand "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Chaparro v. Carnival Corp. , 693 F.3d 1333, 1337 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) ).

Under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) ; Chandler v. Sec'y of Fla. Dep't of Transp. , 695 F.3d 1194, 1199 (11th Cir. 2012) (quoting id. ). The Supreme Court has explained this standard as follows:

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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.

Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citation omitted) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955 ); see also Resnick v. AvMed, Inc. , 693 F.3d 1317, 1324–25 (11th Cir. 2012).

Thus, a claim will survive a motion to dismiss only if the factual allegations in the complaint are "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555–56, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (citations omitted). "[A] formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (citation omitted). While all well-pleaded facts must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Powell v. Thomas , 643 F.3d 1300, 1302 (11th Cir. 2011), the Court need not accept as true the plaintiff's legal conclusions, including those couched as factual allegations, Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

Thus, evaluation of a motion to dismiss requires two steps: (1) eliminate any allegations in the pleading that are merely legal conclusions, and (2) where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, "assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937.

III. Discussion

Vandiver seeks to hold the County liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for malicious prosecution by the Coweta Circuit district attorney, as well as false arrest.3 "[T]o impose § 1983 liability on a municipality, a plaintiff must show: (1) that his constitutional rights were violated; (2) that the municipality had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy or custom caused the violation." Anderson v. Fulton Cty. Gov't , 485 Fed.Appx. 394, 396 (11th Cir. 2012) (alteration in original) (quoting McDowell v. Brown , 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) ).

Vandiver asserts that his constitutional rights to be free from false arrest and malicious prosecution were violated by the County or those whose actions can be attributed to the County. The false arrest claim will not survive. Vandiver was arrested pursuant to a court order, meaning his arrest was effected through legal process as part of his prosecution. As a result, his claim is properly one for malicious prosecution, rather than false arrest. Carter v. Gore , 557 Fed.Appx. 904, 906 (11th Cir. 2014) ("The issuance of a warrant—even an invalid one as ... allege[dly] issued here—constitutes legal process, and thus, where an individual has been arrested pursuant to a warrant, his claim is for malicious prosecution rather than false arrest."); accord Coakley v. Jaffe , 72 F.Supp.2d 362, 363–64 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) ; see also Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 484, 114 S.Ct. 2364, 129 L.Ed.2d 383 (1994) ("The common-law cause of action for malicious prosecution provides the closest analogy to claims of the type considered here because, unlike the related cause of action for false arrest or imprisonment, it permits damages for confinement imposed pursuant to legal process."); Whiting v. Traylor , 85 F.3d 581, 585 n.7 (11th Cir. 1996) ("Where an arrest is made after the filing of an information and the arrest is the basis of a Fourth Amendment section 1983 claim, we think the tort of malicious prosecution is the most analogous tort to the section 1983 claim.").

Vandiver's claim for malicious prosecution is based on the allegedly unlawful criminal prosecution initiated by the district attorney against him for county ordinance violations. See Uboh v. Reno , 141 F.3d 1000, 1002–03 (11th Cir. 1998) (recognizing malicious prosecution as a constitutional tort remediable through § 1983 ). The Court will assume arguendo that Vandiver adequately alleged a constitutional violation predicated on Fourth Amendment malicious prosecution.4

Even so, his complaint fails to demonstrate the second and third elements of a claim for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services , 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978), because Vandiver has not adequately alleged a County custom or policy that caused his constitutional injury. "[M]unicipalities may not be held liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on a theory of respondeat superior. Instead, municipalities may only be held liable for the execution of a governmental policy or custom." Scala v. City of Winter Park , 116 F.3d 1396, 1399 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Monell , 436 U.S. at 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018 ); see also Turquitt v. Jefferson Cty. , 137 F.3d 1285, 1287 (11th Cir. 1998) (en banc) ("A local government may be held liable under § 1983 only for acts for which it is actually responsible, ‘acts which the [local government] has officially sanctioned or ordered.’ " (alteration in original) (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati , 475 U.S. 469, 480, 106 S.Ct. 1292, 89 L.Ed.2d 452 (1986) ) ).

Liability based on a county custom or policy may be established by showing that (1) the municipality's legislative body enacted an "official policy," (2) its "final policymakers have acquiesced in a longstanding practice that constitutes the entity's standard operating procedure," or (3) someone with final policymaking authority adopts or ratifies the unconstitutional act or decision of a subordinate. Hoefling v. City of Miami , 811 F.3d 1271, 1279 (11th Cir. 2016). "[W]here action is directed by those who establish governmental policy , the municipality is equally responsible whether that action is to be taken only once or to be taken repeatedly." Scala , 116 F.3d at 1399 (second alteration in original) (quoting Pembaur , 475 U.S. at 481, 106 S.Ct. 1292 ). Ultimately, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the existence of a municipal policy. K.M. v. Sch. Bd. of Lee Cty. , 150 Fed.Appx. 953, 957 (11th Cir. 2005).

Vandiver's theories that the County should...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 cases
  • Olagues v. Frost
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • September 7, 2018
  • Bailey v. Miami Dade Cnty.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida
    • February 26, 2020
    ...for Miami-Dade County, and his allegations do not reasonably support this inference. See generally Vandiver v. Meriwether Cty., Ga., 325 F. Supp. 3d 1321, 1328 (N.D. Ga. 2018) ("Liability based on a county custom or policy [under § 1983] may be established by showing that (1) the municipali......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT