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Fondren v. Brown

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

April 2, 2018

COURTNEY FONDREN
v.
JASON BROWN, ET AL.

          JAMES JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICK J. HANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the court is the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim (Rec. Doc. 7), which was filed by defendants City of Youngsville, Youngsville police officer Sergeant Jason Brown, and Youngsville Police Chief Rickey Boudreaux. The motion is opposed. The motion was referred to the undersigned 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 motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         The plaintiff's complaint asserted federal constitutional claims and Louisiana state-law claims. The following factual allegations are set forth in the plaintiff's complaint and will be taken as true for the purpose of resolving this motion.

         Early on January 1, 2017, nineteen-year-old Courtney Fondren was riding in a GMC Yukon with five friends in a residential area of Youngsville, Louisiana. When the driver stopped to recover a cell phone for one of the passengers and to change seats, Sgt. Jason Brown, a Youngsville city police officer, stopped his vehicle behind the Yukon and requested that the driver step out. The driver exited on the Yukon's passenger side, and one of the passengers also exited the vehicle. Sgt. Brown became irate and called for backup. Additional police officers approached the Yukon with lights flashing and guns drawn, causing Ms. Fondren to experience fear and panic. More officers arrived on the scene along with a large police dog. All of the Yukon's occupants were ordered out of the vehicle, and Sgt. Brown began interrogating them about who had been driving.

         When Ms. Fondren and others refused to answer his questions, Sgt. Brown began using loud, abusive, and threatening language. He handcuffed Ms. Fondren and the others, ignoring Ms. Fondren's complaint that the handcuffs were painful. He searched her purse and the Yukon without consent. After Ms. Fondren was handcuffed and her purse was searched, she was read her Miranda rights. She was then arrested and taken to the police station.

         Ms. Fondren was not permitted to make a telephone call for several hours. She was charged with obstruction of justice under La. R.S. 14:130.1 and fake identification under La. R.S. 14:70.5. She was released from custody at approximately 10:00 a.m. on New Year's Day.

         As a result of the arrest and the charges, Ms. Fondren lost her position on the executive board of her college sorority, she was suspended from certain sorority activities, and embarrassing information about her was published. She sustained pain and bruising due to the forceful manner in which she was grabbed, handcuffed, and shoved by Sgt. Brown, and she suffered nightmares and other adverse emotional effects as a result of the incident.

         Ms. Fondren contends that her Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures was violated, contends that she was arrested without probable cause in retaliation for asserting her constitutional right to refuse to answer Sgt. Brown's questions, and contends that Sgt. Brown and the other officers used excessive force in arresting her. She contends that she was falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted, and falsely imprisoned, and she seeks compensation for these claims under both federal and state law. Ms. Fondren also asserted claims against Chief Boudreaux and the City of Youngsville for the alleged failure to train and supervise Sgt. Brown and the other officers involved in her arrest. She asserted negligence claims, and a claim for aggravated assault and battery under Louisiana law. Finally, she asserted state-law claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         The defendants responded to the complaint by seeking dismissal, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), of (1) the claim against the City of Youngsville for failure to properly train and supervise the police officers; (2) the failure to train and supervise claims asserted against Chief Boudreaux; (3) the official capacity claims asserted against Chief Boudreaux and Sgt. Brown, (4) the excessive force claim under Section 1983; and (5) any Fifth Amendment claim that the plaintiff might have asserted.

         Law and Analysis

         A. The Applicable Standard

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is properly granted when a defendant attacks the complaint because it fails to state a legally cognizable claim.[1] When considering such a motion, a district court must limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including any attachments thereto, [2] accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and view the facts in a 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 Claims against the City of Youngsville

         The plaintiff asserted a claim against the City of Youngsville based on the contention that customs or policies of the Youngsville Police Department resulted in poorly trained and poorly supervised police officers and led to the incident in which the plaintiff was arrested and allegedly injured. The defendants argued that this claim should be dismissed because the complaint contains no allegations detailing the type of training or supervision that should have been conducted in order to avoid violating the plaintiff's constitutional rights.

         A municipality, such as the City of Youngsville, may not be held liable under Section 1983 on the basis of vicarious liability.[14] Municipalities may, however, be liable where “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.”[15] To establish municipal liability under Section 1983, a plaintiff must show that (1) an official policy (2) promulgated by the municipal policymaker (3) was the moving force behind the violation of a constitutional right.[16] Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government's lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.[17] The description of a policy or custom and its relationship to the underlying constitutional violation cannot be conclusory but must include specific facts.[18]

         A local government's decision not to train certain employees about their legal duty to avoid violating a citizen's rights may rise to the level of official government policy, but only if the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the untrained employees come into contact.[19] A claim for failure to train must allege sufficient facts to show that (1) the municipality adopted inadequate training policy procedures, (2) acted with deliberate indifference in doing so, and (3) the inadequate training policy directly caused the plaintiff's injury.[20]Complaints typically satisfy the first element by alleging facts related to a municipality's actual training program.[21] A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is ordinarily necessary to make the required showing as to deliberate indifference.[22]

         The plaintiff has not offered any specific facts regarding the city's actual training of its police officers or identified any aspects of the training or supervision of the police officers that was lacking. She has not alleged any prior incidents or other facts that could allow an inference of deliberate indifference by the city with regard to any such failures. It is not enough to simply allege that the plaintiff's injury could have been avoided through better training or that discovery will flesh out the claim.[23] Therefore, dismissal of this claim is warranted. But, as will be discussed in greater detail below, this Court will recommend that the plaintiff be given an opportunity to amend her complaint to set forth more facts underlying this claim.

         C. The Claims Against Chief Boudreaux

         In her complaint, the plaintiff asserted an official-capacity claim against Chief Boudreaux for his alleged failure to properly Sgt. Brown and the other officers involved in her arrest. She did not assert an individual-capacity claim. A supervisory officer such as Chief Boudreaux cannot be held personally liable under Section 1983 for the actions of his subordinate officers on a theory of vicarious liability.[24]However, the plaintiff sued Chief Boudreaux only in his official capacity. As will be discussed, below, that claim is duplicative of the claim against the City of Youngsville and must, for that reason, be dismissed. Accordingly, the ...


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