United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division
HORNSBY, MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MAURICE HICKS, JR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendant, Sergeant Jason Turner's
(“Turner”) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (Record Document 11) Plaintiff
James Hayward Lester's (“Lester”) allegations
in his Complaint (Record Document 1) and Amended Complaints
(Record Documents 33 and 42) of federal constitutional
violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Louisiana
constitutional violations, and torts under state law by
Turner. For the reasons which follow, Turner's Rule
12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
is a resident of Tarrant County, Texas, but for many years
has been active as a commercial contractor in Shreveport.
See Record Document 1 at 1-4. On February 28, 2003,
Lester first filed an application for a Louisiana commercial
contractor's license in Shreveport. See id. at
4, ¶ 13. This application included a statement that
Lester had never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor;
in fact, Lester had previously been convicted of a
misdemeanor in Texas. See id. at 5, ¶ 25;
see also State v. Lester, 165 So.3d 1181 (La.App. 2
Cir. 05/20/16). Lester received a valid Louisiana commercial
contractor license on May 15, 2003. See Record
Document 1 at 4, ¶ 14. He continually reapplied for such
license and held a valid license during all times relevant to
this case. See id. at 4, ¶ 15.
Lester's contracting work involved making repairs to
houses of residents who applied for grants from the City of
Shreveport's Bureau of Housing and Business Development.
See id. at 4, ¶¶ 16-17. Lester would
submit a bid for the requested work and, if he had the lowest
bid, he would receive the contract to perform the work.
See Id. In October 2007, Lester was awarded the
contract to perform work on Ms. Bessie Lee Broadway's
(“Broadway”) home. See id. On January
14, 2008, a change order for the original contract was
approved, allowing Lester to receive an additional fee of $5,
100 for additional work. See id. at 4, ¶ 21. On
January 24, 2008, Lester, Broadway, and City Inspector Daniel
Lacour (“Lacour”) executed a
“Contractor's Pay-Out Request” to pay Lester
$17, 900 for work that Lester had completed. See id.
at 4, ¶ 20.
March 8, 2008, Lacour and Lester orally agreed to a second
change order which would allow Lester to repair and service
the furnace in the home rather than replace it entirely and
use the money that would have paid for a new furnace to
replace a deteriorated wall. See id. at 4-5, ¶
22. Lacour later admitted that he forgot to complete a
physical change order for these changes. See id. On
April 1, 2008, Lester, Broadway, and Lacour executed a second
“Contractor's Pay-Out Request” to pay Lester
$7, 090 for the remainder of the work that Lester had
completed. See id. at 5, ¶ 23.
March 19, 2009, Sergeant Turner of the Louisiana State Police
and Sergeant Jay Long (“Long”) and Corporal John
May (“May”) of the Caddo Parish Sheriff's
Department began an investigation into Lester's
activities as a contractor. See id. at 5, ¶ 24.
During the investigation, Turner found Lester's previous
misdemeanor conviction and received documents related to the
repairs Lester completed on Broadway's house. See
id. at 5-6, ¶¶ 24-27. On July 15, 2009, Turner
obtained a warrant for Lester's arrest for filing or
maintaining false public records in violation of La. Rev.
Stat. § 14:133 by submitting renewal applications for
his contractor's license without correcting the statement
that he had not been convicted of a previous misdemeanor.
See id. at 6, ¶ 28.
Long, and May continued their investigation of Lester by
inspecting Broadway's property with another inspector,
Timothy Weaver (“Weaver”). See id. at 6,
¶ 29. Weaver later sent a letter to Turner stating that
he found that Lester had failed to install as much insulation
in Broadway's attic as the contract specified. See
id. at 7, ¶ 30. On August 29, Turner obtained an
arrest warrant for Lester and Lacour's arrest for home
improvement fraud in violation of La. Rev. Stat. §
14:202.1. See id. at 7 ¶ 31. In interviews with
the officers after the arrest warrants were issued but prior
to his actual arrest, Lacour admitted that he had failed to
complete a second change order for Broadway's house, and
he stated that if the officers had found something wrong with
the repairs to the house, “its my fault, nobody elses .
. . I should've did my job right (sic).” See
id. at 8, ¶ 32.
August 31, 2009, Lester and six other African American
contractors and inspectors, including Lacour, were arrested.
See id. at 9, ¶ 34. That day, a press
conference “featuring Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator
and Caddo Parish District Attorney Charles Scott” was
held on the steps of the Caddo Parish courthouse. See
Id. at 9, ¶ 35. At the press conference, Prator
announced a $1.5 million scandal involving the arrestees to
defraud the City of Shreveport, a statement that Lester
alleges was made “falsely and with the full intention
to mislead the public.” See id. at 9, ¶
35. On November 18, 2009, Assistant District Attorney Lea
Hall, Jr. (“Hall”) filed the first Bill of
Information against Lester, charging him with home
improvement fraud and filing or maintaining false public
records. See id. at 10, ¶ 36.
25, 2010, the trial of one of the other contractors, James
Alex III (“Alex”), resulted in a mistrial.
See id. at 10, ¶ 37. According to Hall's
statements to a reporter after the trial, the parties had
made a joint motion for mistrial after they discovered that
the jury instructions did not reflect the fact that Alex was
charged with home improvement fraud that allegedly occurred
under an old statute and an amended statute. See id.
at 10, ¶ 37. On July 8, 2010, Lester filed a Motion to
Quash the Information in his case on the basis of statutory
affirmative defenses to home improvement fraud. See
id. at 11, ¶ 38. The trial judge held a hearing on
the motion, but reserved a ruling until after trial. See
id. at 11, ¶ 39. On September 28, 2011, Lester
provided the State with photographic evidence that allegedly
proved that he was innocent of the home improvement fraud
charge. See id. at 11-12, ¶ 40. On February 14,
2012, a second Bill of Information was filed against Lester
which dropped the home improvement fraud charge and included
only the filing or maintaining false public records charge.
See id. at 12, ¶ 41.
April 9, 2014, Lester filed a Motion to Quash the Amended
Information, which the trial court granted. See id.
at 12, ¶¶ 42-43. On July 4, 2014, Sheriff Prator
gave an interview to the editor of local newspaper The
Inquisitor in which he stated that he was frustrated
with the fact that Lester had not been prosecuted for home
improvement fraud and stating that Lester had committed theft
and abuse of Broadway. See id. at 12- 13, ¶ 44.
That same day, acting District Attorney Dale
(“Cox”) sent an email to the editor of The
Inquisitor stating why the home improvement fraud charge
against Lester was dropped and that the State would be
appealing the trial court's decision to quash the filing
or maintaining false public records charge against Lester.
See id. at 13, ¶ 45. On May 20, 2015, the
Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the trial
court's decision to quash the filing or maintaining false
public records charge against Lester on the basis of
prescription. See id. at 14-15, ¶ 51; see
also State v. Lester, 165 So.3d 1181 (La.App. 2 Cir.
filed this suit against Hall, Scott, Cox, Turner, Long, May,
and Prator on July 2, 2015. See Record Document 1.
On October 26, 2015, Turner filed the instant Rule 12(b)(6)
Motion to Dismiss. See Record Document 11. Lester
filed his Memorandum in Opposition to the instant Motion on
November 9, 2015. See Record Document 26. On
November 9, 2015, Lester filed a Motion to Amend his Original
Complaint in which he sought to (1) clarify that Turner is
being sued in both his official and individual capacity and
(2) ensure that all claims in the Original Complaint that
applied to the “Sheriff Defendants” (Prator,
Long, and May) also applied to Turner. See Record
Document 25. On November 16, 2015, the Court granted the
Motion to Amend. See Record Document 27.
December 1, 2015, Lester filed an Amended Complaint adding
Caddo Parish as a defendant. See Record Document 33.
On December 8, 2015, Lester filed another Motion to Amend his
Complaint, along with seventeen numbered exhibits.
See Record Document 40. The Court granted the
Motion, allowing Lester to file the Amended Complaint but
stating that no further amendments will be allowed.
See Record Documents 41, 42, and 42-1. This most
recent Amended Complaint adds more specific allegations
against some Defendants and cites to the attached exhibits as
proof of these allegations. See Record Documents 42
September 29, 2016, the Court granted the Rule 12(b)(6)
Motions to Dismiss filed by Hall and Scott, dismissing all
claims against them with prejudice. See Lester v. Caddo
Parish, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136192 (W.D. La. 2016). On
October 26, 2016, the Court granted in part and denied in
part a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss by Cox, dismissing
most claims against him with prejudice but allowing the
defamation claims under federal and state law to proceed past
the Motion to Dismiss stage. See Lester v. Caddo
Parish, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148414 (W.D. La. 2016). On
March 30, 2017, the Court granted the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion by
Caddo Parish, dismissing all claims against Caddo Parish with
prejudice. See Lester v. Caddo Parish, 2017 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 48031 (W.D. La. 2017).
Pleading Standards and the Rule 12(b)(6) Standard
8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the
requirements for pleadings that state a claim for relief,
requiring that a pleading contain "a short and plain
statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled
to relief." The standard for the adequacy of complaints
under Rule 8(a)(2) is now a "plausibility" standard
found in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007), and its progeny. Under this
standard, "factual allegations must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the
assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true
(even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555-556,
127 S.Ct. at 1965. If a pleading only contains "labels
and conclusions" and "a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action, " the pleading does not
meet the standards of Rule 8(a)(2). Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows parties to seek
dismissal of a party's pleading for failure to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted. In deciding a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court generally "may not
go outside the pleadings." Colle v. Brazos Cty.,
Tex., 981 F.2d 237, 243 (5th Cir. 1993). However, a
court may also rely upon "documents incorporated into
the complaint by reference and matters of which a court may
take judicial notice" in deciding a motion to dismiss.
Dorsey v. Portfolio Equities, Inc., 540 F.3d 333,
338 (5th Cir. 2008). Additionally, courts must accept all
allegations in a complaint as true. See Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. However, courts do not have
to accept legal conclusions as facts. See id. Courts
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) are only
obligated to allow those complaints that are facially
plausible under the Iqbal and Twombly
standard to survive such a motion. See id. at
678-679, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. If the complaint does not meet
this standard, it can be dismissed for failure to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted. See id. Such
a dismissal ends the case "at the point of minimum
expenditure of time and money by the parties and the
court." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558, 127 S.Ct. at
Section 1983 Actions against State Officials
42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff may file suit against a
person acting under color of state law who has allegedly
violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Section
1983 claims do not provide a remedy against States because
(1) States are not “persons” for the purposes of
§ 1983 and (2) such claims are barred by the Eleventh
Amendment, which grants immunity to the States. See Will
v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66, 109
S.Ct. 2304, 2309 (1989); see Edelman v. Jordan, 415
U.S. 651, 663, 94 S.Ct. 1347, 1356 (1974). “A suit
against a state official in his . . . official capacity is
not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against
the official's office, " and thus is "no
different from a suit against the State itself."
Will, 491 U.S. at 71, 109 S.Ct. at 2312. Thus,
claims against state officials in their official capacity for
alleged constitutional violations are both (1) unavailable
under § 1983's definition of a “person”
and (2) barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity.
§ 1983 claims against state officials in their
individual capacity are not barred. Rather, “state
officials, sued in their individual capacities, are
‘persons' within the meaning of § 1983.”
Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 31, 112 S.Ct. 358, 365
(1991). Additionally, “the Eleventh Amendment does not
bar such suits, nor are state officers absolutely immune from
personal liability under § 1983 solely by virtue of the
‘official' nature of their acts.”
Id. at 31, 112 S.Ct. at 365. Thus, any damages award
against a state official in his individual capacity will be
payable from the individual official's funds, not those
of the State. See id. at 30-31, 112 S.Ct. at 365.
Section 1983/Monell Claims
addition to suits against persons acting under the color of
state law in their individual capacities, § 1983 also
allows for suits against local government entities
themselves. In Monell v. Dept. of Social Serv., 436
U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978), the Supreme Court held that
municipalities and local government agencies cannot be held
liable for constitutional torts under § 1983 under a
theory of respondeat superior, but they can be held liable
"when execution of a government's policy or custom,
whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or
acts may fairly be said to represent official policy,
inflicts the injury." Id. at 691, 694, 98 S.Ct.
at 2036-38. In other words, merely establishing a
constitutional violation by an employee of a local government
entity is not enough to impose liability upon that entity
under § 1983.
to succeed on a Monell claim against a local
government entity, the plaintiff must establish (1) an
official policy or custom, of which (2) a policymaker can be
charged with actual or constructive knowledge, and (3) a
constitutional violation whose "moving force" is
that policy or custom. McGregory v. City of Jackson,
335 F. App'x 446, 448, 2009 WL 1833958, *2 (5th Cir.
2009), citing Rivera v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist.,
349 F.3d 244, 247-49 (5th Cir. 2003). Locating an official
"policy" or "custom" ensures that a local
government entity will be held liable only for violations of
constitutional rights that resulted from the decisions of
those officials whose acts may fairly be said to be those of
the government entity itself. See Bryan Cty. Comm'rs
v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-05, 117 S.Ct. 1382, 1388
Qualified Immunity of State Officials
a plaintiff may pursue an action under § 1983 against a
state official in his individual capacity, that official,
like local officials, may still be protected by qualified
immunity. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
243-45, 129 S.Ct. 808, 822 (2009) (holding that state law
enforcement officers were entitled to qualified immunity
protection). The concern with ending a case at a point of
minimum expenditure of time and money is particularly acute
when the defendant raises an immunity defense. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 685, 129 S.Ct. 1937,
1953 (2009) (“the basic thrust of the
qualified-immunity doctrine is to free officials from the
concerns of litigation, including avoidance of disruptive
discovery”) (internal quotations and citations
omitted). In fact, a qualified immunity defense is truly
“an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to
liability.” Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231, 129
S.Ct. at 815. Because of the important public policy behind
the qualified immunity doctrine, a higher pleading standard
applies in evaluating a plaintiff's complaint against a
public official in his individual capacity once the official
has raised a qualified immunity defense. See Schultea v.
Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1433-34 (5th Cir. 1995) (en
the defendant raises a qualified immunity defense, the
plaintiff carries the burden of demonstrating the
inapplicability of qualified immunity. See Club Retro LLC
v. Hilton, 568 F.3d 181, 194 (5th Cir. 2009). First, the
court must determine whether the plaintiff alleged sufficient
facts to make out a violation of a constitutional right.
See Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232, 129 S.Ct. at 816.
Second, the court must determine whether the constitutional
right at issue was “clearly established” at the
time of the defendant's alleged misconduct. Id.
at 232, 129 S.Ct. at 816. A defendant who can validly raise a
qualified immunity defense will enjoy its protection so long
as the allegedly violated constitutional right was not
clearly established at the time of the violation. See
id. The qualified immunity inquiry turns on “the
objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in
light of the legal rules that were clearly established at the
time it was taken”. Id. at 244, 129 S.Ct. at
Qualified Immunity under the Louisiana Constitution
Moresi v. State, the Supreme Court of Louisiana
explained that though the Louisiana Constitution creates a
private right of action against those who violate rights
secured thereunder, those who act under the color of state
law in doing so are entitled to the protection of qualified
immunity from liability for violations of the Louisiana
Constitution. 567 So.2d 1081, 1091-95 (La. 09/06/1990). In so
holding, the Court applied the same standard as federal law
for deciding whether a person's actions are protected by
qualified immunity. See ...