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Coleman v. East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

October 28, 2014

ALONZO COLEMAN AND DIANE COLEMAN
v.
EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SHERIFF'S OFFICE, SID J. GAUTREAUX III, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH, AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND CRYSTAL QUIETT, COMMANDER OF EAST BATON ROUGE PARISH SHERIFF'S OFFICE COMMUNICATIONS DIVISION, IN HER INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY.

RULING

SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) [1] filed by Defendants, Sid J. Gautreaux, III, in his official capacity as Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish, Sid J. Gautreaux, III, in his individual capacity, and Crystal Quiett, in her individual capacity as Commander of East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office Communications Division. Plaintiffs, Alonzo Coleman and Diane Coleman, have filed a Response [2] to Defendants' Motion to which Defendants have filed a Reply. [3] For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion shall be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 8, 2012, the Plaintiffs' son, Rouche' Sherrod Coleman, Sr. (hereinafter "Roddy"), and their daughter-in-law, Kesia Coleman, were found dead from gunshot wounds. Kesia's eleven year old son, Roddy's stepson, was also found wounded at the scene. Plaintiffs' grandson, Logan Coleman, the child of Roddy and Kesia, was not at home during the shootings.

Ultimately, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office (hereinafter "EBRPSO") notified the Plaintiffs that their son, Roddy, had "attempted murder, committed murder, and then shot himself."[4] Unconvinced by the EBRPSO's conclusion, the following spring, the Plaintiffs began their own investigation into their son's death, which involved submitting several public records requests to the EBRPSO; notably, the first such request was made on March 24, 2013.[5] In response to their public records requests, Plaintiffs contend that, on April 23, 2013, they were charged by and paid $2, 103.49 to the EBRPSO for crime scene photographs.[6] Five days later, Plaintiffs claim to have requested additional records related to Roddy's death, including a copy of the 911 tape recording Kesia made immediately preceding her death.[7] After receiving a copy of the 911 tape, which Communication Director Quiett had indicated was complete, Plaintiffs submit that a private audio analysis company independently reviewed the tape and concluded that it had been altered.[8]

On March 31, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the pending lawsuit against the EBRPSO, Sheriff Gautreux, in his official and individual capacities, and Commander Quiett, in her individual capacity, complaining that "Defendants are concealing-through excessive pricing for investigation records and altered tape recordings-the fact that a third party killed Roddy, as well as concealing the killer's identity."[9] According to Plaintiffs, it is the policy of the EBRPSO and Sheriff Gautreaux to unconstitutionally apply Louisiana's Public Records Act ("LPRA"), La. R.S. §44:32(C)(1)(a)[10], in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by charging unreasonable fees to persons, like themselves, who are African American.[11] Plaintiffs contend that, on April 23, 2013, they were charged by the EBRPSO an "unreasonable fee" in violation of the LPRA for copies of a "few crime scene photos, in contrast to the fees customarily charged to similarly situated persons who are not black."[12] Plaintiffs have asserted their Fourteenth Amendment disparate treatment allegation against both the EBRPSO and Sheriff Gautreaux, in his official and individual capacities.

Plaintiffs also raise 42 U.S.C. § 1983 individual capacity claims against Sheriff Gautreaux and Commander Quiett for "wrongfully interfering with" their First and Fourteenth Amendment substantive constitutional rights of access to the courts, and equal protection under the law to assert various tort claims on behalf of their grandson.[13] Plaintiffs further allege 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2) conspiracy claims against Commander Quiett and Sheriff Gautreaux in their individual capacities arising out of Quiett's certification of the incomplete 911 tape recording as being "complete", and Gautreaux's knowledge thereof and failure to take preventative action.[14]

Plaintiffs also seek to invoke the Court's supplemental jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), over their state law claims arising under the LPRA, La. R.S. 44:31(A).[15]

In their Motion, Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims on two grounds. First, Defendants contend that Plaintiffs have no right of action under the LPRA because they were not the requestors of the public records at issue. In the alternative, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have failed to state viable 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985(2) claims upon which relief can be granted.

II. LAW

A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "[t]he court accepts all wellpleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'"[16] However, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."[17] "Furthermore, while the court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, it will not strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiff.'"[18] Rather, "[t]o survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'"[19] In order to satisfy the plausibility standard, the plaintiff must show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."[20] "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."[21] Furthermore, "[w]hile a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, 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."[22] On a motion to dismiss, the court may consider "the complaint, its proper attachments, documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.'"[23]

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims

"Section 1983 imposes liability on anyone who, under color of state law, deprives a person of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.'"[24] In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must establish two elements: "(1) that the conduct in question deprived a person of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law."[25] As for the first element, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only imposes liability for violations of rights protected by the United States Constitution-not for violations of duties of care arising out of tort law.[26] As to the second ...


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