United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
OPINION AND ORDER
K. CALDWELL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' joint motion to
dismiss Plaintiff's complaint or, in the alternative, a
joint motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff Charles
Coleman Davis, Jr. brought suit for damages under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, alleging violations of his Constitutional
rights; he also alleges violations of state law. (DE 1.)
Defendants Joseph Baker and Phillip Johnson filed their joint
motion pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and 12(c). (DE 8.)
For the reasons stated below, the Court grants
early morning of March 20, 2018, Defendants - officers with
the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Police
Department - were patrolling an area in response to recent
complaints of possible drug and prostitution activity. (DE 1
at 2-3.) Running a check on the registration number for
Plaintiff's black Dodge Charger, Defendant Baker learned
that the number was assigned to a white Dodge
Charger, and the officers stopped the vehicle. (DE 1 at 3.)
During the traffic stop, Defendants reportedly smelled
marijuana and conducted a search of the vehicle, finding 2.5
grams of marijuana and a 9-millimeter handgun. (DE 1 at 3.)
arrested Plaintiff, and he was later indicted by a Fayette
County grand jury for possession of a firearm by a convicted
felon, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, possession of
marijuana, and being a persistent felony offender in the
first degree. (DE 1 at 3.) On October 24, 2018, the Fayette
County Circuit Court granted Plaintiff's motion to
suppress the evidence that was found during the traffic stop.
(DE 1-4.) Plaintiff had argued that Defendants did not have
reasonable suspicion that criminal activity had occurred, or
was about to occur, sufficient to justify stopping his
vehicle; he did not commit a traffic violation, it is not
illegal to change a vehicle's paint color, and the law
does not require notification to the state when a vehicle is
repainted. (DE 1 at 4.) Plaintiff spent approximately 205
days detained in the Fayette County Detention Center while
his motion to suppress was pending. (DE 1 at 4.) Plaintiff
was also on probation at the time of the traffic stop, and
the Fayette County Circuit Court revoked his probation and
sentenced him to five years in prison. (DE 1 at 4.)
filed suit in this Court on March 18, 2019. (DE 1.) The
complaint alleges that the seizure, search, and arrest
violated Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights. (DE 1 at 5-6.) He seeks damages and other relief for
those violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (DE 1 at
5-8.) Plaintiff also brings state law claims for intentional
infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of
emotional distress, and malicious prosecution. (DE 1 at 6-7.)
Defendants filed their joint motion on April 24, 2019. (DE
8.) Defendants argue that Plaintiff's federal law claims
are barred by their qualified immunity and Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) (DE 8 at 1, 16-17),
that the Court should dismiss the state law claims either on
the merits or because Plaintiff has failed to meet his
pleading burden (DE 8 at 1).
may move for judgment on the pleadings after the pleadings
have closed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The standard of review for a
Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings and a Rule
12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted are the same. See Fritz v. Charter
Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010). For
the purposes of either motion, the well-pleaded allegations
of the complaint must be taken as true and all reasonable
inferences drawn in the plaintiff's favor. Id.
(quoting JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget, 510
F.3d 577, 581 (6th Cir. 2007)); Gavitt v. Born, 835
F.3d 623, 640 (6th Cir. 2016).
survive a Rule 12(c) or Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “[t]he
factual allegations in the complaint need to be sufficient to
give notice to the defendant as to what claims are alleged,
and the plaintiff must plead ‘sufficient factual
matter' to render the legal claim plausible, i.e., more
than merely possible.” Fritz, 592 F.3d at 722
(quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)).
“A legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation,
” however, “need not be accepted as true on a
motion to dismiss, nor are recitations of the elements of a
cause of action sufficient.” Id. (quoting
Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609
(6th Cir. 2009)).
42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims
Defendants' conduct violated Plaintiff's rights, that
alone is not enough for the Plaintiff to secure damages in a
§ 1983 action. The Court finds that the law which might
determine that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourth
Amendment rights was not clearly enough established to defeat
Defendants' qualified immunity claim.
U.S.C. § 1983 provides “a vehicle for a plaintiff
to obtain damages for violations of the Constitution or a
federal statute.” Boler v. Earley, 865 F.3d
391, 401 (6th Cir. 2017). Under the statute -
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or
the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person
within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action
at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
the law provides government officials with qualified immunity
from such actions. “[G]overnment officials performing
discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability
for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate
clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of
which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow
v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). If the law at
the time of the conduct “did not clearly establish that
the [official's] conduct would violate the Constitution,
the [official] should not be subject to liability or, indeed,
even the burdens of litigation.” Brosseau v.
Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198 (2004). Although the procedure
“should not be regarded as mandatory in all cases,
” a court can look to the two-step sequence described
in Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001), to aid its
evaluation of an official's qualified immunity claim.
Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
“First, a court must decide whether the facts that a
plaintiff has alleged… make out a violation of a
constitutional right. Second, if the plaintiff has satisfied
this first step, the court must decide whether the right at
issue was ‘clearly established' at the time of
defendant's alleged misconduct.” Id. at
232 (citations to Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201 omitted).
Supreme Court has further clarified that conduct violates
clearly established law if at the time of the conduct the
“contours” of the right were “sufficiently
clear” such that “every reasonable official would
[have understood] that what he is doing violates that
right.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 741
(2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
Qualified immunity will apply “if reasonable officials
could disagree as to whether the conduct violated the
plaintiff's rights.” Thomas v. Cohen, 304
F.3d 563, 580 (6th Cir. 2002). The law does “not
require a case directly on point, but existing precedent must
have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond
debate.” Ashcroft, 563 U.S. at 741 (citations
and internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, the
conduct at issue need not have “previously been held
unlawful, ” but “in the light of pre-existing law
the unlawfulness must be apparent.” Anderson v.
Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987); see also St.
John v. Hickey, 411 F.3d 762, 774 (6th Cir. 2005)
(“The critical question is whether the case law has put
the officer on notice that his conduct is clearly
unlawful.”), abrogated on other grounds by Marvin
v. City of Taylor, 509 F.3d 234, 246 n. 6 (6th Cir.
2007). The Sixth Circuit has instructed that, “[w]hen