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Laubis v. Witt

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

March 20, 2014

ERIC LAUBIS, Plaintiff,
v.
KATHY H. WITT, Individually, and as Sheriff of Fayette County, Kentucky, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM, OPINION, AND ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on two motions made by defendant Kathy Witt. Witt's motion for a more definite statement (DE 4) is denied as moot, and her motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (DE 6) is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Eric Laubis was involved in a personal relationship with Darlene Perkins. In June 2005, Ms. Perkins filed a petition in Fayette County Kentucky Family Court, seeking a domestic violence order (DVO) against Laubis. The court dismissed that petition. In February 2007, Laubis was charged with forth degree domestic violence assault with a minor injury; Ms. Perkins was the victim. (DE 4-1). On May 17, 2007, Laubis pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of harassment, under K.R.S. § 525.070. (DE 5). Laubis concedes that he pleaded guilty to K.R.S. § 525.070(1)(a), which states, "(1) A person is guilty of harassment when, with intent to intimidate, harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she: (a) Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise subjects him to physical contact." (DE 4-1, 5, 7, "case jacket").

In June 2010, Ms. Perkins filed another petition in Fayette County Kentucky Court, again seeking a DVO against Laubis. After a hearing, the court granted the DVO. Pursuant to the DVO, Laubis surrendered at least nine firearms to Sherriff's Deputy, Sgt. R. Stephens. The Fayette County Family Court dismissed the DVO on December 15, 2010. (DE 5).

After the DVO was dismissed, Laubis alleges that he spoke with Deputy Chris Tudor, who indicated that it could take "a year or two for his guns to be released." Laubis was worried when he discovered that Deputy Tudor and others had been charged with using confiscated guns for personal use. At some point, Laubis alleges he contacted the Sherriff of Fayette County, defendant Kathy Witt, who informed him that the "matter was under investigation." On January 14, 2013, the Fayette County Family Court issued an agreed order to release Laubis's firearms surrendered under the DVO. Shortly after the order releasing the firearms was entered, Laubis alleges he telephoned Sheriff Witt, and Witt indicated that, "they would keep his guns regardless of any court order because of the Lautenberg Amendment." (DE 5, DE 1-2). The Lautenberg Amendment is found in 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9) and makes it unlawful for an individual "who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, " to possess any firearm or ammunition.

Laubis now brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that by refusing to return Laubis's firearms, Witt has violated Laubis's Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Laubis seeks an order compelling Witt to return the firearms, general damages, special damages, punitive damages, and attorney's fees. (DE 5).

II. Analysis

When considering a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must regard the "factual allegations in the complaint... as true." Scheid v. Fanny Farms Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988) (quoting Windsor v. The Tennessean, 719 F.2d 155, 158 (6th Cir. 1983)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his èntitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The plaintiff must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face" and to nudge his claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Id. at 570.

A. Laubis's Alleged Constitutional Deprivations

As an initial matter, counsel for Laubis and Witt devote significant effort to arguing whether in refusing to return Laubis's firearms, Sheriff Witt correctly interpreted 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9), commonly referred to as the Lautenberg Amendment. This effort is misplaced based on the claims Laubis has alleged. The Lautenberg Amendment states in relevant part "It shall be unlawful for anyone... who has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence... to possess... any firearm or ammunition." 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). In discussing whether Witt properly applied the Lautenberg Amendment, the parties commit the majority of their briefs to debating whether Laubis's conviction for harassment of Ms. Perkins under K.R.S. § 525.070 is a "misdemeanor crime of domestic violence." Laubis contends that a recent Court of Appeals decision, U.S. v. Castleman, 695 F.3d 582 (6th Cir. 2012), is dispositive of this issue. In Castleman, the Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision to dismiss a defendant's criminal indictment under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), because the defendant's conviction of a Tennessee misdemeanor domestic assault did not qualify as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence since it did not include an element of "strong and violent force." Id. at 588. As will be explained later in this Order, Cattleman provides little guidance to evaluate the constitutional violations alleged, because it only addresses the interpretation of the criminal statute.

The parties devote considerable attention and argument to the Sheriff's interpretation of a federal statute commonly referred to as the Lautenberg Amendment, which prevents those convicted of domestic violence from possessing firearms. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(9). This debate, however, misses the mark and Laubis has failed to assert a violation of a federal right sufficient to state a claim under section 1983. To avoid a 12(b)(6) dismissal, a plaintiff must plead facts beyond "labels and conclusions" of law. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545. In order to proceed under § 1983, Laubis must first assert a plausible "deprivation of [] rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "In order to seek redress through § 1983, [] a plaintiff must assert the violation of a federal right, not merely a violation of federal law." Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329, 341 (1997). "This Court has consistently held that damage claims against government officials arising from alleged violations of constitutional rights must allege, with particularity, facts that demonstrate what each defendant did to violate the asserted constitutional right. " Heyne v. Metro. Nashville Pub. Sch., 655 F.3d 556, 564 (6th Cir. 2011) (emphasis added).

In the instant case, Laubis asserts in his complaint that his Second, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. However, neither party has addressed how Witt, acting under the color of state law, violated any of Laubis's rights when she refused to return Laubis's forearms. Instead of focusing on the alleged constitutional violations, the parties concentrate on a violation of federal law, which is not alone actionable under section 1983. Even taking the facts as true, Laubis has not pleaded sufficient facts to show a ...


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