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Vidal v. Lexington Fayette Urban County Government

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

September 8, 2014

RICHARD A. VIDAL, Plaintiff,
v.
LEXINGTON FAYETTE URBAN COUNTY GOVERNMENT, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

DANNY C. REEVES, District Judge.

Defendants Lexington Fayette Urban County Government ("LFUCG") and Officer Ronald Kornrumpf, individually and in his official capacity, have moved for dismissal of the claims against them. [Record No. 12] Alternatively, the defendants have moved for summary judgment. [Record No. 12] The defendants argue that the constitutional and state common law claims stemming from Plaintiff Richard A. Vidal's arrest are meritless, fail on statute of limitations grounds or are otherwise barred by official governmental and qualified immunity. For the reasons outlined below, this Court will dismiss all claims against the LFUCG and Kornrumpf in his official capacity and all state law claims against Kornrumpf in his individual capacity. The claims against Kornrumpf in his individual capacity for constitutional violations brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 remain pending.

I.

Kornrumpf responded to a noise complaint at a residence at 468 Park Avenue, Lexington, Kentucky on April 28, 2012, between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. [Record No. 26] He approached the back door and questioned the occupant of the residence, Vidal. [ Id., p. 2] Vidal allegedly refused to provide his name. [ Id., ¶ 11; Record No. 21, pp. 9-10] Vidal claims that Kornrumpf then "forced" his way in to residence "without warning or provocation" by "blocking the door with his foot and pushing it violently inward." [Record No. 26, pp. 2, 5 ¶¶13-17] Kornrumpf then purportedly held Vidal on the floor in a "chokehold, " causing pain and discomfort. [ Id. ] There was not a search or arrest warrant. [ Id., ¶¶ 20-21] Kornrumpf placed Vidal under arrest and charged him with: (i) violation of a local noise ordinance; (ii) disorderly conduct in the 2nd degree; (iii) resisting arrest, and (iv) person 18-20 in possession of alcohol. [Record No. 26, p. 6 ¶ 29] On June 21, 2012, Vidal pleaded guilty to the noise ordinance violation. [ Id., ¶ 31] The remaining charges were dismissed, with prejudice. [ Id., ¶ 30]

Based on the allegations set out above, Vidal asserts claims of: (i) unlawful arrest; (ii) unlawful detention and confinement; (iii) use of excessive force; and (iv) refusing or neglecting to prevent harm under § 1983. [ Id., pp. 6-13] Additionally, Vidal asserts state law claims for: (i) malicious prosecution; (ii) malicious abuse of process; (iii) false imprisonment; (iv) assault; (v) battery; (vi) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (vii) negligent infliction of emotional distress; (viii) negligence; and (ix) gross negligence. [ Id., pp. 13-20]

II.

The defendants request dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, in the alternative, summary judgment under Rule 56. [Record No. 12] Rule 12(d) provides that if "matters outside the pleadings are presented and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56." The obligation to convert to a summary judgment motion is mandatory if matters outside the pleadings are not excluded by the Court. Max Arnold & Sons, LLC v. W.L. Hailey & Co., Inc., 452 F.3d 494, 503 (6th Cir. 2006) (applying Rule 12(d) to a Rule 12(c) motion). However, a court may consider matters outside of the pleadings without converting to a Rule 56 motion if the documents - in this case the state court criminal proceedings, which are a matter of public record - are "referred to in the complaint and are central to the claims contained therein." Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). This Court has considered the disposition of the criminal matter, but excluded any consideration of the affidavits filed as attachments to the defendants' motion. Ennis v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 1:10-CV-751, 2011 WL 1118669, at *2 (W.D. Mich. March 25, 2011) (citation omitted) ("A district court's decision to exclude such materials should be explicit."). Accordingly, this matter will be considered under the Rule 12 standard.

When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must determine whether the complaint alleges "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The plausibility standard is met "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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Although the complaint need not contain "detailed factual allegations" to survive a motion to dismiss, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted).

III.

A. Claims against the LFUCG and Kornrumpf, in his Official Capacity, under Section 1983

To state a claim against a municipal entity such as the LFUCG, Vidal must show that it committed some wrong. Doe v. Clairborne Cnty., Tenn., 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 1996) ("[R]espondeat superior is not available as a theory of recovery under section 1983."). "To establish municipal liability pursuant to § 1983, a plaintiff must allege an unconstitutional action that implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers' or a constitutional deprivation[] visited pursuant to governmental custom even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body's official decisionmaking channels.'" Shamaeizadeh v. Cunigan, 338 F.3d 535, 556 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978)). The plaintiff must show that the "custom, policy, or practice attributable to the municipality was the moving force' behind the violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights." Heyerman v. Cnty. of Calhoun, 680 F.3d 642, 648 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Miller v. Sanilac Cnty., 606 F.3d 240, 254-55 (6th Cir. 2010)). Further, to "survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must adequately plead (1) that a violation of a federal right took place, (2) that the defendants acted under color of state law, and (3) that a municipality's policy or custom caused that violation to happen." Bright v. Gallia Cnty., Ohio, 753 F.3d 639, 660 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Lambert v. Hartman, 517 F.3d 433, 439 (6th Cir. 2008)).

The LFUCG argues that these allegations are no more than mere recitals of the legal requirements for a § 1983 action against a county. Thus, it asserts that Vidal has not pled "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Vidal disagrees, arguing that he "need only plead a constitutional violation and allege that the violation was caused by an official policy or custom" to meet the notice requirements of Rule 8. [Record No. 21, p. 8] He argues that it would be premature to dismiss these claims without allowing discovery. See Petty v. Cnty. of Franklin, Ohio, 478 F.3d 341, 348 (6th Cir. 2007) ("We wonder how [the plaintiff] would necessarily know, at the point of his complaint, and without the benefit of discovery, whether such a custom or policy might exist....").

Vidal's arguments, however, have been consistently rejected by district courts following Twombly and Iqbal. See Hutchison v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., 685 F.Supp.2d 747, 751 (M.D. Tenn. 2010) ("In the context of Section 1983 municipal liability, district courts in the Sixth Circuit have interpreted Iqbal's standards strictly."); Scott v. Giant Eagle, Inc., No. 1:12-cv-3074, 2013 WL 1874853, at *4 (N.D. Ohio May 3, 2013). Heightened pleading standards do not apply to § 1983 claims. Leatherman v. Tarrant Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-69 (1993). Nonetheless, a complaint must contain more than bare statements that the alleged constitutional violation was caused by a policy or custom to survive a motion to dismiss. "Plaintiffs are in fact required to identify the practice or policy that forms the basis of their claim." Ghaster v. City of Rocky River, No. 1:09-cv-2080, 2010 WL 2802685, at *7 (N.D. Ohio May 12, 2010). And to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff "must describe what the official custom or policy was and describe how it was violated." Kustes v. Lexington-Fayette Urban Cnty. Gov't, Civil Action No. 5:12-323-KKC, 2013 WL 4776343, at *5 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 3, 2013).

In Kustes, the plaintiff used language similar to that included in Vidal's Amended Complaint, without the benefit of any factual allegations relating to the municipal defendant. Id. at 3-5. Rejecting the plaintiff's argument that he "need only plead a constitutional violation and alleged that the violation was cause by an official policy or custom" to defeat a motion to dismiss, the court found that a plaintiff must identify and describe the official custom or policy. Id. at 5.

In Hutchison, the plaintiff's complaint included specific details of the events of the underlying incident - a traffic stop - but did "not include any facts related to a municipal policy on probable cause and traffic stops, or a municipal custom, policy or practice regarding drivers or passengers who are disabled." Hutchison, 685 F.Supp.2d at 751. The plaintiff did not include any additional factual support for his allegation that the defendant "failed to adequately train its officers in stopping vehicles and/or ordering passengers out of those vehicles in disregard of their disabilities and injuries." Id. Thus, the complaint "stop[ped] short of the line between possibility and plausibility' regarding municipal liability." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Although the district court noted that it was "uncomfortable with this pleading standard as now applied, especially in the context of Section 1983 and municipal liability[, ]" the municipal claims were dismissed by the Court. Id.

Vidal's Amended Complaint suffers from the same deficiencies described in these cases. He states that the LFUCG "negligently trained and/or supervised" Kornrumpf with respect to "arrest, " "proper police procedures, " "use of excessive force, " and "use of force and seizure policies." [Record No. 26, p. 7 ¶¶ 38, 56] The Complaint states that "the conscious failure" of the LFUCG to investigate the "obvious" unlawful conduct of Kornrumpf exhibited deliberate indifference. [ Id., pp. 8, 9 ¶¶ 41, 47] Vidal also alleges that the LFUCG "adopted policies, practices, or customs that allow... the use of excessive force when other more reasonable and less drastic measures are available." [ Id., ¶55] Finally, the Amended Complaint states that the LFUCG "failed to instruct, supervise, control, and discipline... [p]olice [o]fficers" and, more specifically, that the LFUCG

lacked a proper policy, procedure, or custom, or had an insufficient/improper policy, custom or procedure, to instruct, train, supervise, and/or control in Lexington Police Officers properly finding probable cause to support a warrantless arrest, following the explicit city ordinances regarding entry onto private residences for enforcement of city ordinances, and applying or using

excessive force in stopping and/or arresting private citizens such as Plaintiff. [ Id., pp. 11-12 ¶¶ 60, 61] These "naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement contribute nothing to the sufficiency of the ...


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