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Tucker v. Heaton

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah Division

April 24, 2015

ABIGAIL A. TUCKER, Plaintiff,
v.
RODNEY HEATON, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Clifford West. (Docket No. 7.) Plaintiff Abigail A. Tucker has responded, (Docket No. 9), and West has replied, (Docket No. 13.) Fully briefed, this matter stands ripe for adjudication. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART West's motion.

Factual Background

Tucker was previously employed by both Caldwell County, Kentucky, as an animal control officer and by the City of Princeton, Kentucky, as a police officer. On June 22, 2012, she was charged with abuse of public trust and tampering with public records in the Caldwell Circuit Court. Approximately three months later, the circuit court dismissed the indictment without prejudice. (Docket No. 1-1 at 5.) Both Caldwell County and the City of Princeton subsequently terminated Tucker's employment.

In her complaint, originally filed in the Circuit Court of Caldwell County, Kentucky, Tucker asserts a number of claims against the City of Princeton, Caldwell County, and various public officials, including Caldwell County Magistrate Rodney Heaton, Caldwell County Magistrate Bobby Lewis, Caldwell County Judge-Executive Brock Thomas, Princeton Chief of Police Don Weedman, Caldwell County employee Donna Thomas, and West, an investigator and detective for the Commonwealth of Kentucky's Fifty-Sixth Judicial Circuit. Tucker alleges that the defendants targeted her in a scheme designed to result in her termination from employment. According to Tucker, the defendants sought to "intimidate, embarrass, [and] defame" her by causing her to be prosecuted for crimes that she did not commit. (Docket No. 1-1 at 4-5.)

Tucker names West among the defendants, suing him both individually and in his official capacity as an "investigator and detective" employed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. (Docket No. 1-1 at 3.) Specifically, she contends that West conspired with four co-defendants to taint the grand jury proceedings that resulted in her indictment. She contends that he made certain misrepresentations of fact to certain unnamed witnesses in the grand jury proceeding, causing those witnesses to provide false testimony. (Docket No. 1-1 at 5.) Her claims against West include conspiracy, invasion of privacy, malicious prosecution, violation of civil rights, intentional interference with a contractual relationship, and outrageous conduct. She seeks both compensatory and punitive damages for these claims, as well as injunctive relief.

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to seek dismissal of a complaint that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court will presume that the complaint's factual allegations are true and will draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Total Benefits Planning Agency v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Great Lakes Steel v. Deggendorf, 716 F.2d 1101, 1105 (6th Cir. 1983)). To adequately state a claim, a complaint must contain "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

The Supreme Court has explained that "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain 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) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Although plaintiffs need not provide "detailed factual allegations, " they must furnish "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation, " or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Courts must accept the plaintiff's factual assertions as true, but they "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Once the Court has separated the complaint's legal conclusions from its factual allegations, the Court must determine whether the remaining facts state a plausible claim for relief. A claim becomes plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plaintiff's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted).

Analysis

I. The federal pleading standard applies to state law claims removed to federal court.

As an initial matter, the Court addresses whether state or federal pleading standards apply to state law actions that have been removed to federal court. Tucker emphasizes that she filed her complaint in a Kentucky state court and urges the Court to look to Kentucky's pleading requirements. (Docket No. 9 at 3.) Under Kentucky law, plaintiffs enjoy a more lenient notice pleading standard, where "[i]t is not necessary to state a claim with technical precision... as long as a complaint gives a defendant fair notice and identifies the claim." Grand Aerie Fraternal Order of Eagles v. Carneyhan, 169 S.W.3d 840, 844 (Ky. 2005) (applying Kentucky's Civil Rule 8.01). However, Tucker misperceives the effect of removal.

The Court first turns to the text of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court adopted the Rules in response to Congress' invitation "to prescribe general rules of practice and procedure and rules of evidence for cases in the United States district courts...." 28 U.S.C. ยง 2072(a). Rule 1 provides that "[t]hese rules govern the procedure in the United States district courts in all suits of a civil nature...." Important to the instant discussion, Rule 81(c) expressly provides that the Rules "apply to a civil action after it is removed from state court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 81(c)(1). The Supreme Court has explained, "This expansive language contains no express exceptions and indicates a clear intent to have the Rules... apply to all district court civil proceedings, " including those removed from state courts. Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 135 (1992). The Sixth Circuit's pre- Iqbal precedent reflects this view. See, e.g., ...


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