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Easter v. Caldwell

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

March 20, 2015

NIDA M. EASTER
v.
CHARLIE CALDWELL, ET AL

MEMORANDUM RULING

ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE, District Judge.

Before this Court are Motions To Dismiss submitted by Chief Willie Shaw of the Shreveport Police Department ("Chief Shaw"), Shreveport City Marshal Charlie Caldwell, Jr. ("City Marshal Caldwell"), and Sheriff Steve Prator of the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff Prator"). [Record Documents 8, 12, and 14]. The Plaintiff, Nida M. Easter, filed suit against each of these Defendants in his official capacity, [1] seeking both federal and state relief for purported violations of her Fourth Amendment rights. [Record Document 1]. Whereas City Marshal Caldwell and Sheriff Prator filed their motions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Chief Shaw seeks dismissal because the allegations against him are duplicative of those asserted against the City of Shreveport. Upon consideration of the parties' filings, the Court hereby GRANTS the Defendants' Motions To Dismiss [Record Documents 8, 12, and 14] and DISMISSES the Plaintiff's federal and state claims against Chief Shaw, City Marshal Caldwell, and Sheriff Prator.

I. Background

On the night of Friday, May 10, 2013, the Plaintiff alleges that she was unlawfully arrested and detained overnight at Caddo Correctional Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, by deputies with the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office ("Sheriff's Office") after visiting an inmate at the center. Record Document 1, pp. 2-3. Deputies stated that she had an outstanding warrant dating back to 2008, despite her protestations to the contrary. Id. at p. 4. The following night deputies transferred the Plaintiff to Shreveport City Jail and the custody of the Shreveport Police Department, after explaining the warrant at issue originated from Shreveport City Court. Id. at pp. 5-6. Once there, she was eventually booked with "contempt of court, " was released on bond the next morning, Sunday, May 12, 2013, and was provided with a summons to appear in Shreveport City Court. Id.

The Plaintiff retained counsel and then arrived on the scheduled morning to discover that she was not on the court's docket. Id . Eventually, after questions went unanswered from both the Clerk of Court and the Office of the City Marshal ("City Marshal"), minutes from a civil case filed in 2006 were located that indicated a warrant had been issued for the Plaintiff's failure to appear at a judgment debtor exam. Id. at pp. 6-7. However, this warrant had been recalled before her arrest on May 10, 2013. Id.

Thus, given what she believes was an unreasonable arrest and detention by both the Sheriff's Office and the Shreveport Police Department due to an improperly recalled warrant from Shreveport City Court, the Plaintiff now seeks federal and state relief from five Defendants, each in his official capacity: Chief Shaw; City Marshal Caldwell; Sheriff Prator; Robert Shemwell, Clerk of Court for the Shreveport City Court; and Cedric Glover, Mayor of the City of Shreveport. Id. at pp. 1-2, 10. In addition to generally asserting that the Defendants were each grossly negligent in ensuring the integrity of their databases pertaining to the issuance, disposition, and/or recall of arrest warrants, she alleges two specific claims. Id. at 8. First, she claims her arrest and detention were caused by the "implementation of a custom, policy or official act of defendants or by the negligence or omissions of [their] personnel." Id. at 10. Second, she also alleges these Defendants failed to train and monitor their personnel on the performance and operation of their warrant systems, which contributed, in part, to her improper detention. Id. at p.

8. With these allegations, Chief Shaw, City Marshal Caldwell, and Sheriff Prator each submitted his respective Motion To Dismiss. Record Documents 8, 12, and 14.

II. Chief Shaw's Motion To Dismiss

To begin, the Court must address Chief Shaw's Motion To Dismiss. Chief Shaw argues, and the Plaintiff agrees, that when a suit is filed against both a police chief in his or her official capacity and the municipality itself, the suit against the police chief should be dismissed as redundant. See Murray v. Town of Mansura, 76 F.Appx. 547, 549 (5th Cir. 2003) (citing Turner v. Houma Mun. Fire & Police Civil Serv. Bd., 229 F.3d 478, 483 (5th Cir. 2000)). It is undisputed that the Plaintiff's allegations against Chief Shaw in his official capacity are duplicative of those made against the City of Shreveport, through the Plaintiff's suit against Mayor Cedric Glover in his official capacity.[2] Therefore, the Court hereby GRANTS Chief Shaw's motion [Record Document 8] and DISMISSES the Plaintiff's suit against him.

III. Law and Analysis of the Motions To Dismiss Filed by City Marshal Caldwell and Sheriff Prator

A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

A defendant may assert through Rule 12(b)(6) that a plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed because it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive such a challenge, "a complaint must contain 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)). Courts are required to accept the plaintiff's "well-pleaded" facts as true and construe the complaint in a light favorable to that plaintiff. In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). Nonetheless, courts are not required to accept the veracity of legal conclusions framed as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (reasoning that under Rule 8, it is not sufficient to merely recite a cause of action's elements with supporting conclusory statements). Overall, determining when a complaint states a plausible claim is a context-specific task, requiring courts to rely on judicial experience and common sense to assess when a complaint crosses the line from conceivable to plausible. Id. at 678-80.[3]

B. Municipal[4] Liability Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

The Complaint, at its core, alleges that the Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was arrested and detained, and as a result, the Plaintiff seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 from the municipal entities that these Defendants represent. Establishing a § 1983 claim requires two basic elements: (1) a plaintiff was deprived of a constitutional right or a right secured by the laws of the United States, and (2) this deprivation was caused by a state agent acting under the color of law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

At the outset, however, there are two limitations to pleading a § 1983 claim that the Court must address. First, while it is well-settled law that municipal entities, like the City Marshal or the Sheriff's Office, cannot be subject to liability under § 1983 based on respondeat superior, they may be sued based on constitutional harms that they caused with their policies and/or customs or their failure to properly train or monitor their personnel. Second, a plaintiff must establish an underlying constitutional violation to successfully plead a § 1983 claim. The Court assumes, arguendo, that for purposes of these Motions To Dismiss, the Plaintiff's arrest and detention represent the required violation, as the warrant in question from Shreveport City Court purportedly remained active when it should have been properly recalled. Although the Court agrees with Sheriff Prator that there is no affirmative obligation for law enforcement officers to investigate the validity of a warrant before executing it, as well as the fact that officers may rely on a warrant database entry to establish probable cause to make an arrest, see Duckett v. City of Cedar Park, Tex., 950 F.2d 272, 279-80 & n.12 (5th Cir. 1992), such reliance on a warrant's accuracy does not negate a possible Fourth Amendment violation. An individual may be unconstitutionally arrested and detained if an officer's reliance on a warrant's validity is ultimately misplaced due to a bookkeeping error or negligence. See Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135, 137 (2009) ("What if an officer reasonably believes there is an outstanding arrest warrant, but that belief turns out to be wrong because of a negligent bookkeeping error by another police employee? The parties here agree that the ensuing arrest is still a violation of the Fourth Amendment.").

i. The Plaintiff's Claims Concerning the Policies or Customs of City Marshal Caldwell and Sheriff Prator

The Plaintiff alleges that the policies or customs of City Marshal Caldwell and Sheriff Prator were responsible for the constitutional violation she suffered when she was unlawfully arrested and detained. A municipality may be held liable under § 1983 for its official policies or customs that result in a constitutional deprivation, "even if such custom has not received formal approval." See Zarnow v. City of Witchita Falls, Tex., 614 F.3d 161, 166-67 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978)). In this context, "municipal liability... requires proof of three elements: (1) a policymaker; (2) an official policy; and (3) a violation of constitutional rights whose moving force' is the policy or custom." Piotrowski v. City of Hous., 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694).

In particular, an "official policy" can be evidenced through "duly promulgated policy statements, ordinances or regulations" or by a custom that is such a persistent and widespread practice of city officials that, although not officially promulgated, it fairly represents a municipal policy. Id . (citing Webster v. City of Hous., 735 F.2d 838, 841 (5th Cir. 1984)). To establish the "moving force" requirement, a plaintiff must show that the municipality's policy or custom that caused the alleged harm was either unconstitutional or "promulgated with deliberate indifference." Id . (citing Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty., Okla. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 405 (1997)). Deliberate indifference is a stringent standard: it requires "proof that a municipal actor disregarded [the] known or obvious consequence" that constitutional ...


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