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Tucker v. Heaton

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

June 26, 2015

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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS B. RUSSELL, Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Defendants Rodney Heaton, Bobby Lewis, Brock Thomas, and Caldwell County, Kentucky. (Docket No. 14.) Plaintiff Abigail A. Tucker has responded, (Docket No. 15), and Defendants have replied, (Docket No. 16). Fully briefed, the matter stands ripe for adjudication. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Defendants' motion.

Factual Background

As stated in the Court's previous Memorandum Opinion, 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, a Caldwell Circuit grand jury indicted her with Abuse of Public Trust and Tampering with Public Records. 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 December 2012.

In her complaint, Tucker alleges that Defendants conspired to "intimidate, embarrass, [and] defame" her, ultimately seeking to cause Tucker's termination from employment. She asserts that Defendants accomplished this by causing her to be prosecuted for crimes of which she was innocent. (Docket No. 1-1 at 4-5.) While her allegations provide little specificity, she directly contends that West caused grand jury witnesses to believe untrue statements about her in an effort to procure false testimony. (Docket No. 1-1 at 5.) She further submits that Brock Thomas and Donna Thomas provided untrue testimony to the grand jury. (Docket No. 1-1 at 5.)

Tucker names as Defendants 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 Clifford West, an investigator and detective for the Commonwealth of Kentucky's Fifty-Sixth Judicial Circuit. She raises eight claims: (1) vicarious liability against Caldwell County and Princeton; (2) conspiracy against Heaton, Lewis, Brock Thomas, West, Donna Thomas, and Weedman; (3) invasion of privacy against all Defendants; (4) defamation against Heaton and Lewis; (5) malicious prosecution against Heaton, Lewis, Brock Thomas, West, and Donna Thomas; (6) violation of civil rights against all Defendants; (7) intentional interference against Heaton, Lewis, Brock Thomas, West, and Donna Thomas; and (8) outrageous conduct against Heaton, Lewis, Brock Thomas, West, Donna Thomas, and Weedman. ( See Docket No. 1-1.)

Legal Standard

Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, "After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." The Court analyzes a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim. Fritz v. Charter Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010). Therefore, to survive a Rule 12(c) motion, a complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, '" it requires "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. The factual allegations in the complaint must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court may examine the complaint and its exhibits, public records, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the motion so long as they are referenced in the complaint and are central to its claims. Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008). The Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-movant, accepting all well-pleaded factual allegations as true-but it need not accept her legal conclusions or unwarranted factual allegations. Commercial Money Ctr., Inc. v. Ill. Union Ins. Co., 508 F.3d 327, 336 (6th Cir. 2007). The motion will be granted only if the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id.

Although the pleadings have closed and Defendants' motion is timely, their reply memorandum references portions of certain discovery materials-namely, a timeline of events that Tucker generated in response to Defendants' first set of interrogatories. Defendants have included this timeline as an exhibit to their reply memorandum. ( See Docket No. 16-1.) Defendants rely upon his extraneous material in support of their argument that Tucker failed to satisfy the relevant statutes of limitations for several of her claims. Because this document is neither contained nor referenced in the pleadings, the Court must either reject the evidence or treat the motion as one for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d) ("If, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56."); see also Max Arnold & Sons, LLC v. W.L. Hailey & Co., Inc., 452 F.3d 494 (6th Cir. 2006) ("Because Plaintiff presented matters outside the pleadings with respect to Defendant's 12(c) motion, and because the district court did not exclude these matters, the district court should have converted the Rule 12(c) motion to a motion for summary judgment.").

Courts may convert a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment so long as the parties are not "likely to be surprised by the proceedings." See Salehpour v. Univ. of Tennessee, 159 F.3d 199, 204 (6th Cir. 1998). Here, the Court is confident that Tucker was aware of the motion's conversion and was afforded a reasonable opportunity to respond to the extraneous material. Defendants expressly addressed this matter in the reply memorandum they submitted in late January, leaving Tucker ample time to seek leave to file a surreply, had she so desired. Nonetheless, the Court declines to consider Defendants' extraneous evidence at this stage. The timeline offers limited value at this stage, and the Court is unwilling to base a finding of summary judgment exclusively upon that document. Moreover, the docket reflects that the parties have scheduled numerous depositions to occur throughout July and August. The Court will permit the parties to continue engaging in discovery on Tucker's claims, as set forth below. Because the Court finds that conversion to summary judgment would be imprudent, it will not consider the timeline that accompanies Defendants' reply. See Barrett v. Harrington, 130 F.3d 246, 253 (6th Cir. 1997) (holding that district courts have "complete discretion to determine whether or not to accept any material beyond the pleadings that is offered in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.").

Finally, the Court again notes that contrary to Tucker's understanding, federal-not state- pleading standards apply to state law actions that have been removed to federal court. As more fully explained in the Court's prior Memorandum Opinion, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 81(c)(1) provides that the Rules "apply to a civil action that is removed from state court." ( See Docket No. 23, Memorandum Opinion.) Accordingly, the Court will consider Tucker's complaint under the federal pleading standards rather than those applied in Kentucky courts.

Analysis

I. The Court will dismiss Tucker's state law tort claims against Caldwell County and against Heaton, Lewis, Brock Thomas, and Donna Thomas in their official capacities pursuant to the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

Relying upon the doctrine of sovereign immunity, Defendants first move the Court to dismiss Tucker's claims against Caldwell County and against Heaton, Lewis, Brock Thomas, and Donna Thomas in their official capacities. (Docket No. 14-1 at 4.) Tucker does not contest that well-settled principles of Kentucky law dictate this outcome. (Docket No. 15 at 5-6.) See Jones v. Cross, 260 S.W.3d 343, 345 (Ky. 2008) ("Because the county is a political subdivision of the state, it is cloaked' with sovereign or governmental immunity.") (citation omitted); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985) ("Officialcapacity suits... generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent."). The Court will therefore dismiss these claims.

II. The Court will dismiss claims against Brock Thomas and Donna Thomas based on their allegedly false grand jury testimony.

Defendants also move for the dismissal of Tucker's claims against Brock Thomas and Donna Thomas based on their allegedly false grand jury testimony. Tucker concedes that both federal and state law establish that grand jury witnesses enjoy absolute immunity from civil suits based on their testimony. See Rehberg v. Paulk, 132 S.Ct. 1497 (2012) (concluding that a grand jury witness should enjoy the same immunity as witnesses at trial); Reed v. Isaacs, 62 S.W.3d 398 (Ky. Ct. App. 2000) ("[T]he testimony a witness given in the course of a judicial proceeding is privileged and will not support a cause of action against him.") (internal citation omitted). The Court therefore finds that Brock Thomas and Donna Thomas are immune from any claim founded upon their testimony.

III. The Court will dismiss Tucker's conspiracy claim.

Tucker alleges that Heaton, Lewis, Brock Thomas, West, Donna Thomas, and Weedman conspired to maliciously prosecute her and cause her to be terminated from her employment. The Court presumes that she raises these claims under both state and federal law.[1] Defendants move the Court to dismiss this claim pursuant to both the one-year statute of limitations and to the pleading standards articulated in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

The Court first considers Defendants' statute of limitations argument. Defendants assert that Tucker's conspiracy claim is untimely pursuant to the one-year statute of limitations for conspiracy established by KRS 413.140(1)(c), which also governs federal claims. See Parrish v. Wilson, 1998 WL 34201913 at *2 (W.D. Ky. Apr. 16, 1998) ("Because 42 U.S.C. ยง 1985 does not contain a statute of limitations, a federal district court must apply the statute of limitations of the state where it sits which would be applicable in the most closely analogous state action to determine the time within which the cause of action must be commenced."). The limitations period commences only when the "last overt act performed in compliance with the objective of the conspiracy has been accomplished.'" Parrish, 1998 WL 34201913 at *2.

Defendants submit that Tucker has alleged only two overt acts: Brock Thomas's and Donna Thomas's provision of allegedly false grand jury testimony. Tucker has identified no actions of the alleged conspiracy that occurred after her indictment. Assuming that the Thomas Defendants' testimony constitutes the "last overt act, " Defendants reason that the conspiracy necessarily occurred before Tucker's indictment on June 22, 2012. Because Tucker filed her complaint on September ...


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