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Hall v. City of Williamsburg

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

August 24, 2017



          Danny C. Reeves United States District Judge

         This matter is pending for consideration of the motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for judgment on the pleadings filed by the remaining defendants in this case, the City of Williamsburg, Kentucky (“City of Williamsburg”) and Chief Wayne Bird (“Bird”). [Record No. 111] The defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings based on the statute of limitations, immunity, and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendants' motion will be granted, in part, and denied, in part, for the reasons outlined below.


         The relevant facts of this case have been set out in the Court's decision granting motions to dismiss filed by the other defendants. [Record No. 110] As explained previously, this case involves ongoing criminal proceedings in which Hall was charged with several offenses. The Amended Complaint alleges the following facts that are relevant to the remaining defendants.

         A. The Solicitation Charge

         In January 2013, an anonymous person used the internet forum Topix to post that he or she would “pay someone $5000 cash for the murder and concealment of Melissa Jones [sic] body . . . .” [Record No. 31, ¶ 17] Following an investigation, law enforcement officer Richard Baxter (“Baxter”) concluded that Hall had created the post. [Id. at ¶ 21] According to the Amendment Complaint, Baxter then obtained a warrant and arrested Hall for the offense of “murder”.[1] [Id. at ¶ 27] The court arraigned Hall for this offense on May 17, 2013. [Id. at ¶ 29] The murder charge was later amended to solicitation to commit murder and the grand jury indicted Hall for this offense on June 17, 2013. [Id. at ¶ 31]

         B. The Intimidation/Retaliation Charge

         While the solicitation to commit murder charge was pending, Hall's then-girlfriend (Angela Reeves) contacted Defendant Allen Trimble who was serving as the prosecutor of the charge. [Id. at ¶¶ 58-63] Reeves left Trimble a voicemail in which she asserted that if Trimble did not find Hall guilty of the solicitation charge she would “deliver [Hall's] dead head to your lobby with blood all over it. You better find him guilty.” [Id. at ¶ 61] Based on this conduct, on June 24, 2014, Bird obtained a warrant to arrest Hall for “intimidation of a legal participant. [Id. at ¶¶ 64, 65] In the affidavit, Bird “falsely alleged” that Hall and “his girlfriend Angie Reeves AKA Angie Hall placed 8 different phone calls to Trimble” as a means of intimidating him to obtain the arrest warrant. [Id. at ¶ 65] Hall asserts that this statement was false in that Reeves had made all of the phone calls to Trimble without Hall's involvement and, additionally, the calls did not involve any personal threats against Trimble. [Id. at ¶ 67]

         On June 20, 2014, in connection with the investigation of the intimidation charge, Bird executed a search warrant of Hall's grandmother's home, where Hall was residing on house arrest. [Id. at ¶ 70] Bird seized a number of Hall's and Reeves's possessions, including phones, computers, and documents that Hall had received from his attorney. [Id. at ¶ 71] Bird did not conduct any further examination or testing of the phones seized. [Id.]

         The court dismissed the intimidation charge for failure to indict on August 29, 2014. [Id. at ¶ 76] The prosecutors then re-charged the offense as retaliation against a legal participant. [Id.] Bird interviewed Reeves regarding the phone calls to Trimble, at which point she confessed that she had been responsible for the calls. [Id. at ¶ 78] On February 2, 2015, Bird allegedly “gave false and perjured testimony before the Grand Jury.” [Id. at ¶ 82] Specifically, Bird testified that Hall had left a voice mail threatening Trimble. [Id.] In a suppression hearing that same day, Bird gave statements that were inconsistent with those that he had made during the grand jury proceeding. [Id. at ¶ 96] Bird also gave conflicting and “evidently false” statements to the media and in recorded interviews in connection with the retaliation charge. [Id. at ¶ 97]

         The grand jury then returned an indictment on the retaliation charge on March 2, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 83] The charge was ultimately dismissed on February 11, 2016. [Id. at ¶ 86]

         C. The Hindering Prosecution and Contempt Charges

         Hall was also charged with hindering prosecution based on his conduct when Bird executed the search warrant in connection with the intimidation/retaliation charges. [Id. at ¶ 88] The plaintiff claims that, immediately upon arriving to Hall's residence to execute the arrest and search warrants on June 20, 2014, Bird arrested Hall without advising him his Miranda rights. [Id. at ¶ 89] Bird then asked Hall where Reeves was presently located and Hall replied that he and Reeves had separated several months earlier. [Id. at ¶ 91] Bird informed Hall that he had a warrant for Reeves' arrest for intimidation of a legal participant. [Id.] However, while executing the search warrant for Hall's grandmother's residence, law enforcement found Reeves hiding in a closet. [Id.] As a result of this conduct, on June 25, 2014, Hall was arrested on a warrant for the offense of hindering prosecution or apprehension of a witness. [Id. at ¶ 92]

         The court discharged Hall's bond on September 25, 2015, and Hall was no longer incarcerated as of this date. [Id. at ¶ 102] Although Hall was no longer subject to bond, on October 25, 2016, the court “sua sponte” added bond conditions on the hindering charge that, among other things, prohibited Hall from contacting the prosecutor who was handling the case, Robert Hammons (“Hammons”). [Id.] Later that day, “someone posing as Hall” sent Hammons an email. [Id. at ¶ 104] Hammons presented this email to the court and moved to revoke Hall's bond and hold Hall in contempt for violating bond conditions, which the court granted. [Id. at ¶¶ 104, 105] Hall “believes and avers that the new bond conditions and the subsequent email were a set[-]up by prosecutor Hammons, Bird, Reeves, or others working in conspiracy . . . .” [Id. at ¶ 109] Hall entered a guilty plea to the hindering and contempt charges on November 21, 2016. [Id. at ¶ 111]

         D. The Harassing Communications Charge

         On January 26, 2015, Reeves contacted Bird to report that Hall had contacted her with the intent to intimidate, harass, annoy, or alarm her. [Id. at ¶ 117] Bird then “instructed” Reeves to speak with Hammons and obtain an arrest warrant. [Id. at ¶ 118] Hall was arrested on this charge, but was released on March 26, 2015, after posting bond. [Id. at ¶¶ 118, 120] Hammons moved to dismiss the charge on March 21, 2016, because Reeves's conduct was inconsistent with her allegations against Hall. [Id. at ¶ 122] The court dismissed the charge on that date. [Id.]

         E. The Insurance Fraud Charge

         Hall was charged with insurance fraud after reporting to his insurance company that Reeves had lost his fur coat. [Id. at ¶ 125] The insurance company initiated an investigation in 2013 and the Commonwealth later presented the charge to the grand jury. [Id. at ¶¶ 126, 132] Hall was indicted on this charge on March 2, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 123] The Commonwealth later dismissed the charge on November 12, 2015. [Id. at ¶ 140]


         Defendants Bird and the City of Williamsburg have filed a joint motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for judgment on the pleadings. [Record No. 111] Bird and the City of Williamsburg filed a joint answer to the Amended Complaint on April 26, 2017. [Record No. 106] Because the pleadings have now closed, the motion is one for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) rather than a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) (“After the pleadings are closed . . . a party may move for judgement on the pleadings.”). The distinction makes little practical difference because motions for judgment on the pleadings are reviewed using the same standard that applies to motions to dismiss. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510 F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007).

         A court evaluating a motion for judgment on the pleadings must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all of the complaint's factual allegations as true, and determine whether the plaintiff undoubtedly can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief.” Engler v. Arnold, 862 F.3d 571, 574 (6th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A complaint will not survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings unless it contains “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, 570 (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 for judgment on the pleadings, the “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 citation omitted). The court is not required to accept as true legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot be plausibly drawn from the facts as alleged. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”).


         Hall brings numerous claims for relief, each asserted against all defendants. Hall's federal claims include: malicious prosecution, deprivation of liberty, [2] behavior that shocks the conscience, and abuse of process. His state claims include: intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligence, defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and respondeat superior. The defendants argue that they are entitled to judgment on the pleadings because of the applicable statutes of limitations, immunity, and because of the plaintiff's failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         A plaintiff proceeding on a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must show that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or by the laws of the United States and that the deprivation was caused by person acting under color of law. Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001).

         A. Defendant Bird

         1. Official Capacity Claims

         Hall's Complaint names Bird in his official and individual capacities. [Record No. 31] However, “[a] suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather a suit against the official's office.” Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (citations omitted). Hall's official capacity claims will be dismissed. See C.K. v. Bell County Bd. of Educ., 839 F.Supp.2d 881, 884-85 (E.D. Ky. 2012).

         2. Statute of Limitations

         Many of Hall's claims against Bird are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. The argument that a claim is untimely is an affirmative defense on which the defendant bears the burden of proof. Rembisz v. Lew, 590 F. App'x 501, 503 (6th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Dismissing a claim as untimely is appropriate if “the allegations in the complaint affirmatively show that the claim is time-barred.” Cataldo v. U.S. Steel Corp., 676 F.3d 542, 547 (6th Cir. 2012).

         i. Federal Claims

         Claims asserted under § 1983 are governed by the applicable state law statute of limitations. Johnson v. Memphis Light Gas & Water Div., 777 F.3d 838, 843 (6th Cir. 2015) (citations omitted). As a result, the timeliness of Hall's § 1983 claims will be determined by reference to Kentucky's statute of limitations for personal injury claims, which requires that the action be “brought within one year after the cause of action accrues.” KRS 413, 140(1). Hall filed his claim on December 28, 2016. All claims that accrued before December 28, 2015, are barred by the statute of limitations.

         Federal law controls the determination of when the statute begins to run for a particular claim. Sevier v. Turner, 742 F.2d 262, 272 (6th Cir. 1984). Under federal law, a § 1983 action accrues “when the plaintiff knew or through the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known of the injury that forms the basis of his action.” Sharpe v. Cureton, 319 F.3d 259, 266 (6th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). The analysis of when the plaintiff should have known of his injury is an objective one based on the occurrence of the event that “should have alerted the typical lay person to protect his or her rights.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). It is thus necessary to identify the alleged injuries that should have made Hall “aware that [his] rights had been violated and therefore started the clock on [his] statute of limitations.” Printup v. Director, Ohio Dept. of Job and Family Services, 654 F. App'x 781, 785 (6th Cir. 2016).

         The statute of limitations was discussed at length in the Court's prior opinion, and much of that analysis applies to the present case. For the reasons previously stated, Hall's malicious prosecution claim is timely to the extent that it is based on the retaliation charge, solicitation charge, hindering and contempt charges, and/or harassing charge. Hall's speedy trial and civil conspiracy claims are also timely. ...

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