Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff's Office

Decision Date08 July 2015
Docket NumberNo. 13–14396.,13–14396.
Citation792 F.3d 1313
PartiesChristopher J. WEILAND, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. PALM BEACH COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, Deputy Christopher Fleming, individually, Deputy Michael Johnson, individually, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Charles Garret White, Charles G. White, PA, Miami, FL, Robert Charles Stone, Robert C. Stone, PA, Boca Raton, FL, for PlaintiffAppellant.

Harriet R. Lewis, Lewis Stroud & Deutsch, PL, Boca Raton, FL, for DefendantsAppellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, and RESTANI,* Judge, and ROBRENO,** District Judge.


ED CARNES, Chief Judge:

Nearly one hundred and thirty years ago, one of Georgia's greatest judges described the ideal in pleading:

Pleading is pure statement; just as much as a letter addressed to your sweetheart or your wife or your friend. The plaintiff complains that he has such a case, and he tells you what it is. The defendant says either that that is not so, or something else is so, and he makes his statement. The true rule ought to be this: the statement ought to consist precisely of what has to be [proven]. It ought not to fall short, or go beyond. If it goes beyond, it has surplusage matter that is unnecessary. Whatever is irrelevant, whatever is non-essential in statement, ought not to be in. Let the law declare that every man's pleadings shall embrace a full and clear statement of all matters of fact, which he is required to [prove], and no other.

Logan Bleckley, “Pleading,” 3 Ga. Bar Assoc. Report 40, 41–42 (1886). The complaint that gave rise to this appeal does not approach that ideal, but it claims that the plaintiff has a case, and parts of it do a good enough job in telling what that case is to require the defendants to say “either that that is not so, or something else is so.”

The story that Christopher Weiland's complaint tells is about two Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputies shooting, tasering, and beating him in his own bedroom without warning or provocation during their response to a “Baker Act call.”1 Finding that the latest version of Weiland's complaint failed to comply with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and 10(b), the district court dismissed with prejudice his § 1983 claims against the deputies and the Sheriff's Office. As an alternative ground for the dismissal of the § 1983 claims against the Sheriff's Office, the court found that Weiland had failed to plausibly allege a custom or policy of deliberate indifference sufficient to impose municipal liability. The district court also dismissed on sovereign immunity grounds two of his three state law claims; the third one it remanded to state court. This is Weiland's appeal.


The allegations in Weiland's third amended complaint, which we accept as true for present purposes, are as follows.

On April 6, 2007, Weiland's father called 911 and stated that his son—who at the time suffered from bipolar disorder

—was “acting up,” was “on drugs” (prescription painkillers), and “probably ha[d] a gun.” This was not the first time the Sheriff's Office had dealt with the younger Weiland; in fact, he had been “Baker Acted” on at least two earlier occasions after threatening to harm himself.

Deputies Christopher Fleming and Michael Johnson were dispatched to the Weiland residence. Weiland's father met them outside of the house and explained that his son had threatened to harm himself and that he might have a gun. As he escorted the deputies into the house, he told them that Weiland was in a bedroom at the end of a hallway.

Fleming and Johnson, guns drawn, approached the bedroom without calling out or identifying themselves. The deputies “came upon [Weiland] sitting on the edge of a bed looking down at a shotgun that lay loosely in his lap.” Suddenly and without warning, Johnson fired two rounds at Weiland, knocking him off the bed.2 As Weiland lay on the floor bleeding and critically injured, Fleming tasered him. Then both Johnson and Fleming “physically beat and assault[ed] [Weiland] before finally handcuffing one of his hands to a dresser.” At no point did Weiland raise the shotgun from his lap or point it at the deputies.

In an effort to cover up their assault on Weiland, Johnson and Fleming “fabricated an elaborate story about [Weiland] running from them into another room, grabbing a shotgun, sitting in a chair and then pointing the gun at the Deputies as they entered the doorway.” They also said that Weiland's gun had discharged during the scuffle.

Weiland was charged with two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and incarcerated for nearly two years awaiting trial. And then at his trial:

[Fleming] and [Johnson]'s story fell apart.... No blood was found in the office/bedroom they claimed Weiland ran into before he armed himself and was subsequently shot. No buckshot or other projectiles were recovered from a hole in the office wall [Fleming] and [Johnson] claimed was from [Weiland]'s alleged shotgun blast. In fact, during trial, it was revealed that [Johnson] had removed [Weiland]'s shotgun from the so-called crime scene to another unknown location, finally returning and placing it in the custody of crime scene investigators nearly 7–8 hours after the incident.

The jury acquitted Weiland of the charges against him.


Weiland filed this lawsuit in state court on January 12, 2011. His original complaint and first amended complaint asserted only state law claims. On December 17, 2012, Weiland filed a second amended complaint that added multiple claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants removed the case to the Southern District of Florida and filed a motion to dismiss.

In May 2013 the district court dismissed without prejudice all of Weiland's § 1983 claims. It concluded that the four counts asserting those claims violated Rule 8(a)(2) and Rule 10(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because they “incorporate[d] all of the factual allegations contained in paragraphs 1 through 30 inclusive, fail[ed] to identify which legal theories or constitutional amendments govern which counts, and fail[ed] to identify which allegations are relevant to the elements of which legal theories.” Even though it dismissed all of Weiland's federal claims, the district court observed that “viewing the alleged facts in the light most favorable to Weiland ... Defendants violated Weiland's fourth amendment constitutional rights when they shot him.” The court gave Weiland until May 29, 2013 to amend his complaint.

On that deadline, Weiland filed a third amended complaint, which is the operative one in this case. The first 49 paragraphs of the third amended complaint consist of an introductory statement (paragraph 1), a jurisdiction section3 (paragraphs 2 through 5), a parties section (paragraphs 6 through 9), and a facts section (paragraphs 10 through 49). The facts section has three subsections: (1) “Facts Surrounding the Shooting of [Christopher Weiland] (paragraphs 10 through 32); (2) [The Sheriff's Office's] Deliberate Indifference” (paragraphs 33 through 38); and (3) [The Sheriff's Office's] Coverup” (39 through 49). The remainder of the complaint is organized into seven counts, each of which begins, Plaintiff realleges and reavers the allegations of paragraphs 1–49 inclusive, and alleges further....”

The first four counts are § 1983 claims. Count one claims that Fleming, Johnson, and John Doe Deputies,4 acting under color of state law, violated Weiland's constitutional rights by “using excessive and unreasonable force.” Count two claims that the Sheriff's Office “did not adequately train or supervise its Sheriff Deputies in ... [the use of] appropriate and proportioned force” in detaining mentally ill citizens. Count three claims that Fleming, Johnson, and the Sheriff's Office conspired to cover up their violations of Weiland's constitutional rights. And count four claims that the Sheriff's Office had a custom or policy of using its internal affairs investigations to “perpetrate a coverup of any misconduct by Deputies.”

The final three counts of the complaint are brought under Florida tort law and allege excessive use of force (count five), intentional infliction of emotional distress (count six), and malicious prosecution (count seven). All three of those claims are brought only against the Sheriff's Office.

Defendants moved to dismiss the third amended complaint. On August 28, 2013, the district court issued an order granting in part and denying in part defendants' motion to dismiss and remanding the remainder of the action to state court. The court dismissed all four of the § 1983 claims (counts one through four)—this time with prejudice—because the pleading of them “duplicate[d] the violations of Rule 8(a)(2) and 10(b) which formed the basis of the [c]ourt's [earlier] dismissal of th[o]se counts.” The court also concluded, with respect to three of the § 1983 claims asserted against the Sheriff's Office, that the “allegations ... fail[ed] to provide any factual support ... beyond merely referring to alleged practices and policies promulgated by [the Sheriff's Office].”5

As an alternative ground for dismissal of counts two and four, which alleged that the Sheriff's Office failed to adequately train its deputies and maintained a custom or policy of covering up constitutional violations, the court determined that Weiland did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted because he failed to plausibly allege an official policy or custom, as is required for municipal liability under § 1983.

As an alternative ground for the dismissal of the part of count three that involves the Sheriff's Office itself, the court ruled that Weiland's allegations of conspiracy among Fleming, Johnson, and the Sheriff's Office were “conclusory” as to the Sheriff's Office. But not as to Fleming and Johnson, as the court added in a footnote: “However, the [c]ourt finds that with respect to Defe...

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