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Harris v. Mamou Police Department

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

September 3, 2019





         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted [Doc. No. 4] filed by Defendant Robert McGee, Former Chief of Police of the Town of Mamou. Plaintiff Emerette Harris has filed an Opposition, [Doc. No. 10] to which Defendant McGee has filed a Reply. [Doc. No. 15] For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.



         This civil rights action arises out of Harris' arrest on or about February 8, 2015, for aggravated assault with a firearm outside the Mamou Superette. Harris was quickly released on bond pending his arraignment and trial. The trial never occurred because the complainant filed an affidavit of non-prosecution and the charges against Harris were dismissed on August 9, 2017.

         On August 9, 2018, Plaintiff Emerette Harris filed this lawsuit against the Mamou Police Department (hereafter "MPD"), and former Mamou Chief of Police Robert McGee, in his individual capacity. Harris' Complaint does not clearly set forth the claims he is asserting. Reading the Complaint liberally, Harris asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his rights granted by the Fifth, Eighth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.[1] [Doc. No. 1, ¶ 21] Plaintiff also appears to assert claims for wrongful arrest and wrongful detention under the Fourth Amendment and state law, and malicious prosecution under federal and state law. According to the allegations set forth in the Complaint, Harris was unlawfully "arrested and/or detained on or about February 7, 2015 for the crime of Aggravated Assault with a Firearm." [Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 19, 23] Although Harris's charges were dismissed on August 9, 2017, his Complaint alleges that "the delay from the time these alleged crimes were supposedly committed until date" caused him to suffer damages in the form of "mental and psychological anguish." Id. at ¶¶ 1-2. The Complaint further alleges that Defendants "wrongfully abused the judicial process," and that Defendants have a "policy, practice and custom of engaging in faulty investigations, false arrests and false imprisonment." Id. at ¶¶ 3, 15. In light of these allegations, Plaintiff seeks an award of "compensatory damages in the amount of $100, 000.00, and attorney's fees, along with punitive damages, ... and court costs...." Id. at 6. Defendant McGee then filed two motions to dismiss: (1) a Motion to Dismiss Penalty, Punitive, or Exemplary Damages [Doc. No. 6] and (2) the present Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can be Granted. [Doc. No. 4] The Court previously granted Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claim for punitive damages. [Doc. No. 16]


         Standard Of Review

         Motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim are appropriate when a defendant attacks the complaint because it fails to state a legally cognizable clam. Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir.2001). In other words, a motion to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim "admits the facts alleged in the complaint, but challenges plaintiffs rights to relief based upon those facts." Id. at 161-62. When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, "[t]he court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs 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 [.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)(citations, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct.1955). Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court generally "must limit itself to the contents of the pleadings, including attachments thereto." Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir.2000). However, "the court may permissibly refer to matters of public record." Cinel v. Connick, 15 F.3d 1338, 1343 n.6 (5th Cir.1994); see also Test Masters Educational Services, Inc. v. Singh, 428 F.3d 559, 570 n.2 (5th Cir.2005).




         Defendant contends that Plaintiffs state and federal claims for false arrest and imprisonment have prescribed. [Doc. No. 4-1 at 4, 8] While federal law governs accrual of claims under § 1983, state law governs the limitations period and tolling rules for these claims. The parties do not dispute that the applicable limitations period in Louisiana is one year. [Doc. No. 4 at 4-5, 6-8; Doc. No. 4-1 at 12-15; Doc. No. 10 at 1] However, the parties disagree on when Plaintiffs claims accrued. Defendant argues that Plaintiff s federal law claims for false arrest and false imprisonment accrued, respectively, on the date of arrest and the date of release from imprisonment. [Doc. No. 4 at 5; Doc. No. 4-1 at 12; Doc. No. 15 at 4] Defendant argues that Plaintiffs state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment both accrued on the date of arrest and imprisonment. [Doc. No. 4 at 4] Plaintiff appears to argue that his state and federal claims for false arrest and imprisonment, as well as his state law claim for malicious prosecution, accrued on the date his criminal charges were dismissed.[2] [Doc. No. 10 at 1-2] Plaintiff further contends that his false imprisonment continued beyond the time he was released from detention because he remained subject to his conditions of bond. [Doc. No. 10 at 2]

         The prescriptive period for a § 1983 claim for false arrest or imprisonment brought in Louisiana is one year. White v. Gusman, 347 Fed.Appx. 66, 67 (5th Cir. 2009). A claim seeking damages under § 1983 for false arrest, when the arrest is followed by criminal proceedings, accrues at the time the claimant is detained pursuant to legal process. Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 397, 127 S.Ct. 1091, 1100, 166 L.Ed.2d 973 (2007). A claim seeking damages under § 1983 for false imprisonment accrues when the alleged false imprisonment ends. Id. at 389. An alleged false imprisonment ends when the legal process commences, such as by arraignment or appearance before a magistrate. Id.

         Harris, however, argues that a different accrual date applies to his claims. In that regard, he cites Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S.Ct. 911 (2017) to support his argument that his false arrest and false imprisonment claims accrued when the charges against him were dismissed on August 9, 2017. Manuel, however, is inapposite here because that case involved a plaintiff subject to detention after legal process had commenced and, according to the court, was grounded on a wrongful arrest and false imprisonment claim that was more like a malicious prosecution claim. The Fifth Circuit has never recognized an independent federal claim for malicious prosecution. See Castlellano v. Fragazo, 352 F.3d 939, 942 (5th Cir. 2003) (holding that "malicious prosecution standing alone is no violation of the United States Constitution."). The Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court, however, have recognized that a false imprisonment claim that involves "detention accompanied.. .by wrongful institution of legal process" is more akin to a malicious prosecution claim and should, therefore, accrue only when the prosecution ends in the plaintiff s favor. Winfrey v. Rogers, 901 F.3d 483, 491 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting Wallace, 549 U.S. at 390) (emphasis added). Here, there was no detention accompanied by wrongful institution of legal process because Harris was released from custody prior to arraignment and the commencement of the legal process. Accordingly, the Manuel rule for accrual does not apply.

         Turning to the allegations of the complaint, Plaintiff was arrested on or about February 8, 2015, was detained for an unspecified amount of time, and was then "released until his arraignment and trial," suggesting that Plaintiff was released prior to his arraignment and was never detained again. [Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 18-21] Therefore, on the basis of the Complaint alone, Plaintiffs Fourth Amendment claim for false arrest accrued on February 8, 2015. Determining when the false imprisonment claim accrued is more challenging because Harris' Complaint omits key facts, such as the date he was released from detention and the date of his arraignment. Nevertheless, the Complaint is clear that the release was prior to the arraignment, which in turn was prior to the dismissal of the criminal charges on August 9, 2011[3] Therefore, Harris' federal false imprisonment claim accrued before August 9, 2017. The record reflects that the Complaint was filed on August 9, 2018, more than one year after these federal claims accrued, and therefore each claim had prescribed by the date of filing. Consequently, Defendant's motion is granted as to Harris' federal claims for false arrest and imprisonment.

         State law claims for false arrest and imprisonment accrue on the date of arrest and imprisonment. Eaglin v. Eunice Police Dep't, 2017-1875 (La. 6/27/18), 2018 WL 3154744. As stated above, Harris alleges that his arrest and imprisonment began on or about February 8, 2015. Accordingly, each of those state law claims prescribed before the date the Complaint was filed. Defendant's motion is therefore granted with respect to Plaintiffs state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment.


         Defendant also seeks dismissal of Plaintiff s claims under the Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. With respect to the Fifth Amendment claims, Defendant argues that the Fifth Amendment does not provide for relief against him because he was never a federal actor during the time period covered by the Complaint. [Doc. No. 4-1 at 8-9] As to the Eighth Amendment, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff fails to plead any facts showing a violation of the Eighth Amendment, given that Harris was released from custody prior to the commencement of legal process. Defendant contends that Harris only makes the conclusory assertion that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated. [Doc. No. 4-1 at 9] Defendant further argues that the Ninth Amendment does not grant substantive rights that can be enforced through § 1983. Id. As to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, Defendant contends that Harris has alleged no facts showing that Defendant intentionally acted in a manner that was arbitrary or shocking to the conscience. [Doc. No. 4-1 at 10-12] Plaintiff does not rebut these claims, but rather asserts that he will seek leave to amend the Complaint to plead these claims with specificity. [Doc. No. 10 at 4] Defendant argues in reply that Plaintiff "cannot plead any facts sufficient to establish" claims under these Amendments, and therefore leave to amend should be denied as futile. [Doc. No. 15 at n.1]

         1. Fifth Amendment

         While the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution enumerates several rights, [4]Harris fails to specifically identify which of those rights was or were allegedly violated. [Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 9] The Court construes Plaintiffs statement as a claim that his right against self-incrimination or his right to due process under the Fifth Amendment was violated.[5] Either claim must be dismissed.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies only to federal actors. Ristow v. Hansen, 719 Fed.Appx. 359, 364 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Jones v. City of Jackson, 203 F.3d 875, 880 (5th Cir. 2000)). Harris' Complaint makes no allegation that Defendant is or was a federal actor at any relevant time. Therefore, Defendant's motion as to Plaintiffs Fifth Amendment Due Process claim must be granted.

         The right against self-incrimination applies to state actors by way of the Fourteenth Amendment. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 6, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 1492, 12 L.Ed.2d 653 (1964). Plaintiff alleges no facts showing that he was compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case. Therefore, to the extent that Harris' Fifth Amendment claim is grounded on his right against self-incrimination, Defendant's motion must be granted and this claim dismissed.

         2. Eighth Amendment

         The Eighth Amendment prohibits "excessive bail...excessive fines...[and] cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const, amend. VIII. Plaintiffs Complaint makes no factual allegation challenging his bail or that any fines were imposed. Nor does Harris allege that Defendant imposed cruel or unusual punishment with respect to confinement, or that he withheld medical treatment. Moreover, the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment prong applies to convicted persons, not pre-trial detainees. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979). As noted above, the charges against Harris were dismissed before trial. Therefore, Defendant's motion to dismiss as to Harris' Eighth Amendment claim is granted.

         3. ...

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