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Trahan v. Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government

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

November 11, 2018

CEASAR TRAHAN
v.
LAFAYETTE CITY-PARISH CONSOLIDATED GOVERNMENT, ET AL.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE HANNA

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PATRICK JOANNA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the court is the motion to dismiss, which was filed by the defendants Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government; Officer Tyler Howerton, individually and in his official capacity as a Lafayette city police officer; and Officer Brandon Lemelle, individually and in his official capacity as a Lafayette city police officer. (Rec. Doc. 9). In the motion, the defendants seek dismissal of the plaintiff's claims against them for penalty, punitive, or exemplary damages. The motion is opposed. (Rec. Doc. 12). The motion was referred to this Court for report and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of this Court. For the following reasons, it is recommended that the motion be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         Background

          The complaint filed in this lawsuit articulated a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged violation of the plaintiff's First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights as well as Louisiana state-law claims. The suit arose out of the investigation of a motor vehicle accident by Officers Howerton and Lemelle.

         On February 3, 2017, plaintiff Ceasar Trahan was involved in a motor vehicle accident on Guilbeau Road in Lafayette, Louisiana, which allegedly caused serious damage to Mr. Trahan's vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle involved in the accident allegedly caused the accident and allegedly fled the scene on foot. When the police officers asked Mr. Trahan to produce his proof-of-insurance card, which he could not immediately locate, Mr. Trahan admittedly responded to the officers' inquiries with expletives. Mr. Trahan was allegedly arrested, handcuffed, and placed in a police car until his daughter produced an e-mail proving that Mr. Trahan's vehicle was insured. Mr. Trahan was issued a citation for disturbing the peace, but the charges were allegedly nolle prossed by the city prosecutor. Mr. Trahan contends that his arrest was unlawful and violated his free speech rights. He further contends that the arrest resulted in mental, emotional, and physical pain and suffering, including aggravation of the injuries he sustained in the automobile accident, as well as economic damages in the form of medical expenses and legal costs. The plaintiff also asserted Louisiana state-law claims for false arrest and battery.

         Mr. Trahan asserted claims against Officer Howerton, Officer Lemelle, and the Lafayette City-Parish Consolidated Government. The complaint does not expressly state whether the claims against the officers were made in their individual or official capacities. However, the complaint does state that “because the actions of the defendant officers were done maliciously and wantonly, they are liable to plaintiff for punitive damages.” (Rec. Doc. 1 at 6).

         The defendants now seek to have all claims for penalty, punitive, or exemplary damages against the city and the officers in their official capacities dismissed.

         Law and Analysis

         A. The Applicable Standard

         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, a 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. Are Punitive ...


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