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Bruner v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 1, 2017

JOHN BRUNER
v.
SCOTT BROWN

         SECTION “R” (1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          SARAH S. VANCE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         John Bruner brings Bivens claims against U.S. Navy Law Enforcement Officer Scott Brown for alleged violations of Bruner's Fourth Amendment rights. Brown moves to dismiss Bruner's claims, or in the alternative, for summary judgment. The Court finds that Bruner's allegations, taken as true, cannot overcome Brown's qualified immunity from suit. Accordingly, Brown's motion to dismiss is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from plaintiff John Bruner's complaint. Bruner alleges that on the afternoon of August 19, 2015, he was driving on the U.S. Naval Air Station in Belle Chasse, Louisiana, when he was stopped by defendant Scott Brown, a U.S. Navy law enforcement officer.[1] Brown told Bruner that Bruner had been stopped for failing to wear a seatbelt.[2] Bruner put his seatbelt on, apologized to Brown, thanked Brown, and told Brown to have a nice day.[3] Brown responded by swearing at Bruner and demanding Bruner's license and registration.[4]

         After Bruner provided his license, Brown asked Bruner for his social security number.[5] Bruner refused to answer.[6] Brown then informed Bruner that he was under arrest.[7] Bruner did not resist, but told Brown that he had a pre-existing shoulder injury.[8] Bruner told Brown not to handcuff Bruner's hands behind his back, because doing so would severely aggravate the injury and harm Bruner.[9] According to Bruner, Brown then “maliciously injured [Bruner] while improperly handcuffing [Bruner] to cause [Bruner] pain and torture him.”[10]

         Bruner was released from Brown's custody at approximately 3:00 p.m. the same day.[11] He was issued two citations, one for Failure to Obey a Direct Order and one for Failure to Wear a Seatbelt.[12] The citation for Failure to Obey a Direct Order was later dismissed.[13] Following an MRI, Bruner was diagnosed with tears of the 360-degree periphery of the cartilaginous lip of the glenoid labrum.[14] Bruner alleges that Brown caused this injury when he handcuffed Bruner, and Bruner will require surgery to repair his shoulder.[15]Bruner sues Brown in his individual capacity.[16] Bruner asserts that Brown's alleged actions constitute false imprisonment and excessive force under the Fourth Amendment.[17] Bruner seeks damages including medical expenses, disability, pain and suffering, attorney's fees, and punitive damages.[18]

         Brown now moves to dismiss Bruner's claims and argues in part that Bruner's claims are barred by qualified immunity.[19] Brown also moves, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the same issues.[20] Because the Court finds that Bruner's alleged facts, taken as true, cannot support a claim, the Court does not consider the parties' summary judgment evidence.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 697 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 239 (5th Cir. 2009); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996).

         A legally sufficient complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's claim is true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. It need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257. If there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, or if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, the claim must be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Brown is a federal law enforcement officer, and may therefore be liable for damages for certain violations of the Fourth Amendment. See Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 389 (1971). Brown is, however, protected by qualified immunity. See Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999). Qualified immunity under Bivens is identical to the immunity granted to individual defendants sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. Accordingly, Brown is immune unless Bruner's allegations, taken as true, demonstrate that (1) Brown violated Bruner's constitutional rights and (2) Brown's actions were objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law at the time of the alleged violation. Hinojosa v. Livingston, 807 F.3d 657, 669 (5th Cir. 2015). “A Government official's conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, the contours of a right are sufficiently clear 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) (internal quotations and modifications omitted); see also Manis v. Lawson, 585 F.3d 839, 845 (5th Cir. 2009) (“Qualified immunity shields from civil liability ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.'” (quoting Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, (1986)).

         A. ...


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