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Laird v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

May 22, 2017

DONNA LAIRD
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY,

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DeGRAVELLES UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Detective Patti Freeman ("Freeman") and Sid Gautreaux ("Gautreaux" and collectively, "Defendants"), in his official capacity as the Sheriff of the East Baton Rouge Parish. (Doc. 16.) Plaintiff Donna Laird ("Plaintiff) has filed an opposition. (Doc. 21.) Defendants filed a reply (Doc. 23.) Oral argument is not necessary. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART

         II. Factual Background

         On or about September 16, 2016, Plaintiff initiated suit in the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge bearing Civil Action No. 651509, Section 27, naming as defendants State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, State Farm Life Insurance Company, and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (collectively, "State Farm"), State Farm agent Stan Douglas ("Douglas"), Plaintiffs half-brother Michael Rojas ("Rojas"), Freeman and Gautreaux in his official capacity as Sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish.[1] (Docs. 1 at 3-4, 1-2 at 5-6.) In her Petition, Plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that Douglas, Rojas, and Freeman "conspired to intentionally, recklessly, and/or unreasonably, deprive plaintiff of her well-established right to be free from malicious prosecution and unreasonable seizure, guaranteed by Louisiana law and by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution." (Doc. 1-2 at 6.)

         Plaintiff is the daughter of Gloria Garside ("Garside"). (Id. at 7.) In 2010, Plaintiff moved into Garside's home to help take care of her and manage her personal and financial affairs. (Id.) On October 15, 2013, and again on March 25, 2014, Garside executed a Power of Attorney granting Plaintiff full authority over all of Garside's affairs. (Id. at 8.)

         Rojas is Plaintiffs half-brother and Garside's son. (Id. at 7) According to Plaintiff, Rojas has physically attacked her, once in 2011 and again in 2012. (Id.) She alleges that at all relevant times, she and Garside lived in fear of Rojas. (Id.)

         Douglas is a State Farm agent and acquaintance of Garside's. (Id.) He sold Garside insurance policies and retirement/investment instruments issued by State Farm. (Id.) At all relevant times, Douglas had a key to Garside's home, and would occasionally stop by and give her medication. (Id.) In 2012, Plaintiff contacted Douglas to complain that he was overmedicating Garside. (Id. at 8.) Garside had been exhibiting signs of mental decline, and much to Plaintiffs chagrin, Douglas allegedly encouraged Garside to believe she was fine and did not require medical care. (Id. at 7-8.) Plaintiff vehemently disagreed with Douglas on this point, and implored him to refrain from involvement in Garside's affairs. (Id.)

         In February 2014, Garside's neurologist diagnosed her with early stages of dementia, but found that she was still capable of making financial decisions and competent to sign legal instruments. (Id. at 8.) By March 2014, Garside began wandering away from her home and locking herself out of the house. (Id.) In an effort to protect Garside from wandering the streets as a result of her dementia, Plaintiff had the locks changed at Garside's house in March or April 2014. (Id.) On the morning of April 17, 2014, Douglas arrived at Garside's home and threatened Plaintiff that he would call Rojas and instruct Rojas to report Plaintiff to Adult Protective Services because Plaintiff was falsely imprisoning Garside. (Id.) On that same date, Plaintiff called Adult Protective Services, Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area, and the Capital Area on Aging to seek advice on how to best care for her mother. (Id. at 9.) All three agencies confirmed that Plaintiff was acting in Garside's best interest and properly caring for her. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also called State Farm to complain about Douglas's conduct and his persistent meddling into her mother's affairs. (Id.) In turn, Douglas began to retaliate against Plaintiff. He informed Rojas that Garside was planning to sell her house and purchase a new home with Plaintiff, which Rojas was adamantly against. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Douglas and Rojas worked in concert "to remove [her] from Garside's home, put Rojas in charge of Garside's affairs, and allow Douglas and State Farm to exercise control over Garside's retirement funds." (Id.)

         On May 5, 2014, Freeman allegedly called Plaintiff and advised her that she would be arresting her for the false imprisonment of Garside. (Id.) The following day, a neighbor informed Plaintiff that Douglas was changing the locks on Garside's home; Plaintiff had to call a locksmith to get back into the house. (Id.) Plaintiff further alleges that Douglas was following her in his car, and that she once again complained to State Farm about Douglas's behavior, but State Farm did nothing in response. (Id.)

         On May 10, 2014, Plaintiff was served with a protective order forcing her to leave Garside's home. (Id. at 10.) On May 29, 2014, Freeman arrested and seized Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that prior to arresting Plaintiff, Freeman did not review the Powers of Attorney, Garside's medical records, or any documentation from Alzheimer's services; she simply arrested Plaintiff pursuant to the desires of the complaining witnesses Douglas and Rojas. (Id.) On July 2, 2014, Plaintiff appeared in court to contest the protective order, and Freeman arrived at the courthouse "and again arrested and seized [Plaintiff], impairing [her] right to contest the order." (Id.) Ultimately, Plaintiff was charged with second degree battery, false imprisonment, crimes of violence against a victim 65 years-old or older, cruelty to the infirmed, exploitation of the infirmed, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. (Id.) Following Plaintiffs arrest, Rojas had Garside interdicted and sent to a nursing home and moved into her house. (Id.) On February 16, 2016, the district attorney dismissed all charges against Plaintiff; a trial was never held in the matter. (Id.)

         On October 20, 2016, State Farm removed this action from the 19th Judicial District Court, alleging this Court had jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1337, 1441, 1446, and 15 U.S.C. § 4. (Doc. 1 at 3.)

         III. Discussion

         a. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         In Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 135 S.Ct. 346 (2014), the Supreme Court explained "Federal pleading rules call for a 'short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); they do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted." 135 S.Ct. at 346-47 (citation omitted).

         Interpreting Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Fifth Circuit has explained:

The complaint (1) on its face (2) must contain enough factual matter (taken as true) (3) to raise a reasonable hope or expectation (4) that discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of a claim. "Asking for [such] plausible grounds to infer [the element of a claim] does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal [that the elements of the claim existed]."

Lormandv. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 257 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct.1955, 1965 (2007)).

         Applying the above case law, the Western District of Louisiana has stated:

Therefore, while the court is not to give the "assumption of truth" to conclusions, factual allegations remain so entitled. Once those factual allegations are identified, drawing on the court's judicial experience and common sense, the analysis is whether those facts, which need not be detailed or specific, allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." [Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)]; Twombly, 555 U.S. at 556. This analysis is not substantively different from that set forth in Lormand, supra, nor does this jurisprudence foreclose the option that discovery must be undertaken in order to raise relevant information to support an element of the claim. The standard, under the specific language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), remains that the defendant be given adequate notice of the claim and the grounds upon which it is based. The standard is met by the "reasonable inference" the court must make that, with or without discovery, the facts set forth a plausible claim for relief under a particular theory of law provided there is a "reasonable expectation" that "discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the claim." Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257; Twombly, 555 U.S. at 556.

Diamond Servs. Corp. v. Oceanografia, S.A. De C.V., No. 10-00177, 2011 WL 938785, at *3 (W.D. La. Feb. 9, 2011) (citation omitted).

         The Fifth Circuit further explained that all well-pleaded facts are taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The task of the Court is not to decide if the plaintiff will eventually be successful, but to determine if a "legally cognizable claim" has been asserted. Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2014).

         b. Parties Arguments

         i. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 16)

         Defendants argue that even accepting all factual allegations contained in Plaintiffs complaint as true, it still fails to state a claim against Freeman and Geautraux upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 16-1 at 4.) In support of this contention, Defendants argue the following: that Plaintiffs false arrest and certain conspiracy claims have prescribed and that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim with regard to the remaining federal and state law claims asserted against Defendants. (Id.) Thus, Defendants argue that dismissal is appropriate here.

         Defendants first argue that Plaintiffs false arrest claims against them under both state and federal law have prescribed and should be dismissed with prejudice. (Id. at 5.) Citing Plaintiffs allegation that she was unlawfully arrested on May 29, 2014, and again on July 2, 2014, Defendants argue these claims are untimely. (Id.) Noting that Louisiana's prescriptive period applies to delictual actions brought under Section 1983 and federal law determines when the cause of action accrues, Defendants argue that her claims for false arrest accrued, at the latest, on July 2, 2014 (the date of her second arrest), and prescribed one year later, on July 2, 2015. (Id. at 5-6.) Because ...


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