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Drewery v. Gautreaux

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

February 8, 2019




         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4) filed by Defendants Sid J. Gautreaux, III, and Deputy Leroy Griffin (collectively, Defendants). Plaintiff Shawn Drewery, on behalf of Shaqualia Felder, opposes the motion. (Doc. 11.) Defendants have filed a reply. (Doc. 22.) Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule.

         For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part. The motion is granted in that all of Plaintiff's § 1983 claims are dismissed, except for his § 1983 claims against Griffin in his individual capacity for compensatory and punitive damages for false arrest and excessive force. The motion is denied in those respects and with respect to Plaintiff's state law claims.

         I. Relevant Factual Background

         The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's Petition for Damages (Pet., Doc. 1-3 at 2-6.) They are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion. Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2014).

         Shawqualia Felder (“Felder”) is Plaintiff's minor daughter. (Pet. ¶ 3, Doc. 1-3.) Plaintiff files this suit on Felder's behalf. (Pet., Doc. 1-3 at 2.)

         On or about February 7, 2017, Felder was arrested and charged with Battery of a Police Officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Pet. ¶ 3) The arrest took place at Felder's school. (Pet. ¶ 4.)

         According to Plaintiff, Deputy Griffin “had been abusing [Felder's] cousin who was about 14 years old by punching him, slamming him to the ground and hand cuffed him (sic).” (Pet. ¶ 6.) “[W]hile all these abuse (sic) were going on, [Felder] asked the defendant why he was handling her cousin like that knowing that he was a kid and could not defend himself.” (Pet. ¶ 7.) Felder “was crying” from the abuse. (Pet. ¶ 7.)

         While Felder was in the hall, “no one touched the Deputy nor went near him because of what he was doing to . . . [Felder's] cousin.” (Pet. ¶ 8.) However, Griffin “started using vulgar language, harassing and intimidating [Felder].” (Pet. ¶ 8.)

         Plaintiff alleges:

[W]hile the deputy started cursing her she cried some more, [Deputy Griffin] then punched her [i]n the face that sent excruciating pain through her body. She was terrified and afraid for her life because of the rage the Deputy was exhibiting then. . . .
Deputy then picked her up and slammed her on the ground in a rage. The force with which [Griffin] slammed [Felder] into the ground was so violent that she thought she will die. Immediately, all her body started hurting.

         (Pet. ¶¶ 9-10.)

         Felder was a “small framed teenager” and was “badly hurt and in serious pain.” (Pet. ¶ 11.) While Felder was on the floor, Griffin “rough handled her some more and hand cuffed her.” (Pet. ¶ 11.) Felder was “frightened to death” and “hysterical, scared that she thought she was seriously injured or dead.” (Pet. ¶ 11.)

         Critically, Plaintiff further alleges:

During all these times, [Felder] shows this Court that she never fought back and was helpless. She avers that she never struck the officer nor was she able to defend herself in any way, shape or form because of her size.

         (Pet. ¶ 12.)

         Felder was ultimately taken to “Juvenile Detention without any medical treatment.” (Pet. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff took Felder to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. (Pet. ¶ 13.)

         Plaintiff claims that Griffin “failed to read [Felder] her rights nor had any probable cause before they arrested the plaintiff and their failure to do so subjected . . . [Felder] to unlawful arrest, wrongful imprisonment and malicious prosecution when she was wrongfully charged with Battery of a Police Officer.” (Pet. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff alleges false arrest, detention, and charge without reasonable or probable cause. (Pet. ¶ 16.)

         Plaintiff also claims that Felder was “mercilessly beaten and battered” by Griffin and the unknown defendants, all of whom “used excessive force under the condition and circumstances and that such force was neither necessary nor were they provoked.” (Pet. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff maintains that Felder was subject to unnecessary and excessive force. (Pet. ¶ 17.)

         According to Plaintiff, Felder continues to suffer from a variety of mental anguish damages. (Pet. ¶ 16.)

         Additionally, Plaintiff makes the following allegations with respect to his official capacity claims:

Prior to February 7, 2017, The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office developed and maintained policies or customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons in the community by retaining officers like the defendant, DEPUTY GRIFFIN. . . .
It was only the policy and/or custom of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office to inadequately and improperly investigate citizen complaints of deputies misconduct (sic), and acts of misconduct were instead tolerated by the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, including but not limited to other incidents involving the same defendant herein. . . .
It was the policy and/or custom of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office to inadequately supervise and train it's (sic) deputies, including the defendant deputy, thereby failing to adequately discourage further constitutional violation on the part of the deputies. The Sheriff did not require appropriate in-service training, or retraining of officers who were known to have engaged in law enforcement misconduct.
As a result of the above described policies and customs, Deputy Sheriffs of the East Baton Rouge Parish's Office, including the defendant deputy, believed that their actions would not be properly monitored by supervisor deputies and the misconduct would not be investigated or sanctioned, but would be tolerated.

         (Pet. ¶¶ 21-24.) As to Sheriff Gautreaux, Plaintiff asserts: “Defendant [Gautreaux] was at that time the supervisor and commanding officer of the defendant and thus was also liable as such.” (Pet. ¶ 26.)

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants acted “willfully, maliciously, and with callous and reckless indifference[.]” (Pet. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff claims compensatory and punitive damages. (Pet., Doc. 1-3 at 6.)

         II. Relevant Standard

         “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.” Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 135 S.Ct. 346, 346-47 (2014) (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 fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal [that the elements of the claim existed].” Lormand v. 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, 55[0] 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 that there is a “reasonable expectation” that “discovery will reveal relevant evidence of each element of the claim.” Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257; Twombly, 55[0] 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).

         In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, all well-pleaded facts are taken as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Thompson v. City of Waco, Tex., 764 F.3d 500, 502-03 (5th Cir. 2014). 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.” Id. at 503.

         III. Discussion

         A. Preliminary Issue - Consideration of Evidence

         Preliminary, the Court notes that both parties submit documentary evidence with their motion to dismiss, including a police report, an Internal Affairs report, and an eye-witness acount. The Court must first decide whether to consider this evidence.

         In general, pursuant to Rule 12(d), “[i]f, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6)[, ] ... matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d); United States v. Rogers Cartage Co., 794 F.3d 854, 861 (7th Cir. 2015). There are some exceptions to this standard. On a motion to dismiss, the court may consider “the complaint, its proper attachments, ‘documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.' ” Innova Hosp. San Antonio, Ltd. P'ship v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Inc., No. 14-11300, 2018 WL 2943339, at *3 (5th Cir. June 12, 2018) (citing Wolcott v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 763 (5th Cir. 2011) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted)).

         As the Fifth Circuit has explained, “[i]f the district court does not rely on materials in the record, such as affidavits, it need not convert a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.” U.S. ex rel. Long v. GSDMIdea City, L.L.C., 798 F.3d 265, 275 (5th Cir. 2015) (citing Davis v. Bayless, 70 F.3d 367, 372 n.3 (5th Cir. 1995)). “[T]he mere submission [or service] of extraneous materials does not by itself convert a Rule 12(b)(6) [or 12(c) ] motion into a motion for summary judgment.” Id. (quoting Finley Lines Joint Protective Bd. v. Norfolk S. Corp., 109 F.3d 993, 996 (4th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted) (second alteration in original)). A district court, moreover, enjoys broad discretion in deciding whether to treat a motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. See St. Paul Ins. Co. v. AFIA Worldwide Ins. Co., 937 F.2d 274, 280 n.6 (5th Cir. 1991).

         The Fifth Circuit has recognized a limited exception to the general rules under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) and related jurisprudence. The Fifth Circuit has approved district courts' consideration of documents attached to a motion to dismiss, when such documents are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to the plaintiff's claim. See Werner v. Dept. of Homeland Sec., 441 Fed. App'x. 246, 248 (5th Cir. 2011); Scanlan v. Texas A & M Univ., 343 F.3d 533, 536 (5th Cir. 2003); Collins, 224 F.3d at 498-99.

         Here, the Court will exercise its discretion and decline to consider the documents submitted by the parties. None of these documents are central to the Plaintiff's claim, and the Court is disinclined to convert the instant motion to one for summary judgment. Consequently, the Court will decide this motion based on the Petition alone.

         B. Claims against Gautreaux and Griffin in their Individual Capacity

         1. Standard for Qualified Immunity

         “Qualified immunity provides government officials performing discretionary functions with a shield against civil damages liability, so long as their actions could reasonably have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated.” Gobert v. Caldwell, 463 F.3d 339, 345 (5th Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 638, 107 S.Ct. 3034 (1987)). “In determining whether an official enjoys immunity, we ask (1) whether the plaintiff has demonstrated a violation of a clearly established federal constitutional or statutory right and (2) whether the official's actions violated that right to the extent that an objectively reasonable person would have known.” Id. (citing Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 122 S.Ct. 2508 (2002)). Courts are “permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 565 (2009).

         “ ‘Qualified immunity attaches when an official's conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.' ” Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018) (per curiam) (quoting White v. Pauly, 137 S.Ct. 548, 551 (2017) (per curiam) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted)). “ ‘In other words, immunity protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.' ” Id. (quoting White, 137 S.Ct. at 551 (internal quotation marks omitted)). “ ‘Of course, general statements of the law are not inherently incapable of giving fair and clear warning to officers.' ” Kisela, 138 S.Ct. at 1153 (quoting White, 137 S.Ct. at 552 (internal quotation marks omitted)). “But . . . [a]n officer ‘cannot be said to have violated a clearly established right ...

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