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Ulrich v. Scott

United States District Court, Western District of Louisiana, Shreveport Division

March 19, 2015

AMBER HAHMER ULRICH
v.
CHARLES R. SCOTT, ET AL.

HORNSBY, MAGISTRATE JUDGE

MEMORANDUM RULING

S. MAURICE HICKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants, the City of Shreveport (“the City”) and Terri Scott (“Scott”). See Record Document 12. Defendants argue that Plaintiff Amber H. Ulrich’s (“Ulrich”) complaint fails to state factual allegations against the City and Scott sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. See id. Additionally, Scott argues that she is entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity or qualified immunity for the claims against her in her individual capacity. See Id. Ulrich has opposed the motion. See Record Document 16. For the reasons which follow, the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. The motion is GRANTED as to all federal claims against the City and Scott. The motion is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to be refiled as to the state law claims against the City and Scott.

BACKGROUND

Ulrich asserts claims against Scott and the City for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment (false arrest), Fifth Amendment (protection against double jeopardy), and Sixth Amendment (right to a speedy trial).[1] See Record Document 21 at ¶¶ 34-50. She also asserts state law claims of negligence, malicious prosecution, abuse of process and unlawful detention. See id. at ¶¶ 51-56. Her claims arise from the Shreveport City Attorney transferring a dismissed misdemeanor case to the Caddo Parish District Attorney for prosecution of a felony. See Record Document 21 at ¶ 12. Ulrich alleges that the transferred case had been closed and dismissed by the Shreveport City Attorney in February 2008 after she paid administrative fees and completed “the City Attorney’s probation.” Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. She contends that her “sentence was a final adjudication.” Id. at ¶ 6. After the case was transferred to Caddo Parish District Court, Ulrich was arrested in January 2013, spent two to three weeks in jail, lost her security officer job at a local casino, and lost her gaming license. See id. at ¶¶ 7-10, 27. The felony charges were ultimately dismissed in February 2013, with the Caddo District Attorney’s Office citing “defendant convicted in another jurisdiction” as the reason. Id. at ¶¶ 11, 28.

As to Scott and the City, Ulrich specifically alleges:

The CITY ATTORNEY acting on behalf of the CITY OF SHREVEPORT transferred the dismissed case to district court for prosecution by The Caddo Parish DA. Due to the influence of the CITY ATTORNEY, the Caddo District Attorney’s office accepted the case for prosecution. The City Attorney failed to notify the Caddo District Attorney’s office that the City Attorney had already prosecuted this matter and had dismissed it. The City Attorney failed to provide the Caddo Parish DA with a current address at which to notify Plaintiff. The Caddo Parish DA accepted the case for prosecution in part due to the prestige and clout of the City Attorney and her employees. If the City Attorney had not referred the case for prosecution, the Caddo Parish DA would not have prosecuted the case.

Record Document 21 at ¶ 12. Ulrich further alleges that “[n]one of the named Defendants herein had a policy or practice of verifying whether or not a city police issued summons over . . . two years old had been previously prosecuted.” Id. at ¶ 21. Instead, Ulrich contends that Defendants “had a policy or practice of prosecution without verification of charges that were based on events over two years old, ” which Defendants should have known could lead to “bench warrants . . . being issued with double jeopardy or due process violations and without probable cause.” Id. Finally, Ulrich alleges that Defendants, including Scott and the City, “did not provide training, nor made any policy or practice as to the use of addresses listed on summons which is known to be outdated or which present indicia of being stale (over two years old). The lack of such a practice or policy is an obvious deficiency which would lead to a constitutional violation such as a false arrest on a bench warrant or which result in a violation of double jeopardy.” Id. at ¶ 25. As to Scott and the City, she contends that “a prudent city attorney would be motivated under such circumstances to implement a policy of checking summons that are dated over either two years or five years to insure that the matter is still an open case and additionally the information on the defendant is accurate and current and would provide training to clerical staff.” Id.

The City and Scott have now moved to dismiss all of Ulrich’s claims against them.

LAW AND ANALYSIS

I. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows for dismissal of an action “for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion does not need detailed factual allegations in order to avoid dismissal, the plaintiff’s factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-1965 (2007); see also Cuvillier v. Taylor, 503 F.3d 397, 401 (5th Cir.2007). A plaintiff’s obligation “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. The Supreme Court expounded on the Twombly standard, explaining that a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). “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.” Id. In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint liberally and accept all of the plaintiff’s factual allegations in the complaint as true. See In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir.2009).

II. Monell Standard.

Under Monell, a municipality cannot be held vicariously liable for the unconstitutional actions of its employees or agents. See Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2037 (1978). Instead, a municipality can be held liable under Section 1983 only when there is “a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation.” City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 1203 (1989). Thus, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, the Fifth Circuit requires a plaintiff to plead specific facts which show: (1) a policy or custom existed; (2) the municipal policymakers actually or constructively knew of its existence; (3) a constitutional violation occurred; and (4) the custom or policy ...


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