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Joseph v. City of Ville Platte

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

January 10, 2018




         Pending before the court is the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Rec. Doc. 8). The motion is opposed. The motion was referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of the court. For the following reasons, it is recommended that the plaintiff be ordered to amend her complaint and the motion to dismiss be denied without prejudice to the plaintiff's right to reurge the motion, if necessary or appropriate, following review of the amended complaint.


         The complaint filed in this lawsuit alleged that the defendant is liable under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 for violations of rights guaranteed to the plaintiff by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The plaintiff alleged that on or about May 5, 2017, she was approached by Arthur Phillips, a deputy Ville Platte City Marshal, who asked for her phone number and asked if she wanted to ride with him to Kinder, Louisiana. The plaintiff allegedly agreed, assuming this was a date. Allegedly dressed in his uniform and driving a marked unit, Mr. Phillips picked the plaintiff up and drove her to Fenton, Louisiana to his apartment, where he allegedly held her against her will, forced her to have sex with other men for money, and caused her to be arrested for prostitution by deputies of the Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff's Office.

         The plaintiff contends that these events violated her constitutional rights. The plaintiff also suggested that she has state-law claims, but no such claims were clearly articulated in the complaint.

         In the pending motion, the defendant seeks to have the plaintiff's claims dismissed, arguing that Mr. Phillips is not an employee of the City of Ville Platte and that, even if he were a city employee, municipalities are not vicariously liable for their employees' constitutional violations.

         Law and Analysis

         A. The Standard for Evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is properly granted when a defendant attacks the complaint because it fails to state a legally cognizable claim.[1] When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a district court must limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including any attachments thereto.[2] The court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and it must view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.[3] However, conclusory allegations and unwarranted deductions of fact are not accepted as true, [4] and courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”[5]

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[6] The allegations must be sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ”[7] and “the pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.”[8] “While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”[9] If the plaintiff fails to allege facts sufficient to “nudge[ ][his] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [his] complaint must be dismissed.”[10]

         A claim meets the test for facial plausibility “when the plaintiff pleads the factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[11] “[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[12]Therefore, “[t]he 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.”[13]

         B. The Standard for Evaluating a Section 1983 Claim

         In her complaint, the plaintiff articulated claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 provides a cause of action against anyone who “under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State” violates another person's constitutional rights. Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights; it merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere.[14] To state a Section 1983 claim, a plaintiff must: (1) allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.[15]

         In this case, the plaintiff's complaint expressly stated that the plaintiff's claims are premised on alleged violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The plaintiff also alleged that she was injured by the actions of Arthur Phillips, a deputy city marshal. But she did not sue Mr. Phillips either individually or in his official capacity. She only sued his alleged employer, the City of Ville Platte.

         In Section 1983 lawsuits, government officials may be sued in either their individual or official capacities. A claim against a state or municipal official in his official capacity “generally represent[s] only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.”[16] On the other hand, however, individual or personal capacity suits “seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law.”[17] To establish personal liability under Section 1983, a “plaintiff must establish that the defendant ...

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