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Knight v. City of Baton Rouge

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

September 26, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1), Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6), and Motion for a More Definite Statement Under Rule 12(e)[1] and the Motion to Quash Subpoena and Motion to Stay Proceedings[2] filed by Defendants, City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge (“City/Parish”), Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome (“Mayor Broome”), Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council (“Metro Council”), and Baton Rouge Police Department Chief of Police Murphy J. Paul, Jr. (“Chief Paul”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiffs, Roblisa Knight and Waconda Toney (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), filed a Response[3] to both motions, and Defendants filed a Reply with respect to the Motion to Dismiss.[4] For the reasons that follow, Defendants’ motions shall be GRANTED.


         Plaintiffs’ Complaint is sparse but alleges that Calvin Toney (“Toney”) was killed as a result of “an incident involving the Baton Rouge Police Department.”[5] Plaintiff Roblisa Knight appears herein on behalf of her daughter, Calie Knight, whose father, she avers, was Toney. Plaintiff Waconda Toney states that she is Toney’s biological mother. Together, they bring wrongful death and loss of consortium claims, as well as additional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the actions of Defendants amounted to violations of Toney’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from excessive force, and that Defendants acted “with deliberate indifference to the decedent’s medical needs.”[6] Plaintiffs also allege various state law tort claims, including negligence, assault, and battery. In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants raise several arguments for the dismissal of Plaintiffs’ claims against them. The Court will address those arguments in turn.


         A. Motions to Dismiss Under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)

         1. Rule 12(b)(1)

         “When a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction ‘is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits.’”[7] If a complaint could be dismissed for both lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, “‘the court should dismiss only on the jurisdictional ground under [Rule] 12(b)(1), without reaching the question of failure to state a claim under [Rule] 12(b)(6).’”[8] The reason for this rule is to preclude courts from issuing advisory opinions and barring courts without jurisdiction “‘from prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice.’”[9]

         “Article III standing is a jurisdictional prerequisite.”[10] If a plaintiff lacks standing to bring a claim, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim, and dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is appropriate.[11] The party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction bears the burden of showing that standing existed at the time the lawsuit was filed.[12] In reviewing a motion under 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court may consider (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.[13]

         2. Rule 12(b)(6)

         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.’”[14] 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.”[15] “To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’”[16] In Twombly, the United States Supreme Court set forth the basic criteria necessary for a complaint to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss 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.”[17] A complaint is also insufficient if it merely “tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.’”[18] However, “[a] claim has 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.”[19] In order to satisfy the plausibility standard, the plaintiff must show “more than a sheer possibility that the defendant has acted unlawfully.”[20] “Furthermore, while the court must accept well-pleaded facts as true, it will not ‘strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiff.’”[21] On a motion to dismiss, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”[22]

         3. Analysis

         i. 12(b)(1) – Proper Plaintiff for Wrongful Death Claim

         Plaintiffs’ First Claim for Relief is entitled “Wrongful Death.”[23] Defendants argue that under Louisiana law, Calvin Toney’s alleged daughter, Calie Knight, “is the only person having a right to pursue”[24] this claim. The Court agrees. “As a threshold matter, any party bringing suit must have standing to do so, and the [United States Court of Appeals for the] Fifth Circuit has instructed district courts to evaluate state law concepts . . . to establish standing in wrongful death and survivorship actions.”[25] Under Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2315.1 and 2315.2, the right of a survival or wrongful death action is afforded to four exclusive categories of survivors. However, the statutes do not allow for multiple classes of survivors, e.g., both the mother and siblings of the decedent, to recover. Rather, the existence of a person within a higher class precludes a person in a lower class from filing suit.[26] The primary category under both 2315.1 and 2315.2 includes the surviving spouse and/or children of the decedent. The second category includes “the surviving father and mother of the deceased, or either of them if he left no spouse or child surviving.”[27] Siblings are only permitted to recover under the third category, and then only if [the decedent] left no spouse, child, or parent surviving.”[28]

         Plaintiffs aver in their Complaint that “Waconda Toney is the biological mother of the decedent Calvin Darnell Toney.”[29] The law is clear that Calie Knight, the decedent’s daughter, ranks in the first category and excludes Calvin Toney’s mother, who falls into the second category, from recovering in a wrongful death action. Therefore, Waconda Toney lacks standing to bring her wrongful death claim, and her claim shall be dismissed with prejudice. The wrongful death claim may continue with Roblisa Knight as Plaintiff, on behalf of her minor child Calie Knight. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Under 12(b)(1) shall be granted as to Waconda Toney’s claim.

         ii. 12(b)(6) – Failure to State a Claim

         Defendants urge the Court to dismiss all claims against them because the Complaint “does not contain any factual information to justify the claims presented, to allow the Court to rule on those claims, or to allow Defendants to investigate the claims and present their defenses.”[30] A review of the Complaint suggests that Defendants are correct. Although Plaintiffs allege that the “wrongful acts of defendants killed the decedent, ”[31] there are no factual allegations regarding where, when, or how Calvin Toney’s death occurred, nor any information about who, specifically, caused it. With only a bare-bones allegation of liability, the Court cannot draw a reasonable inference that Defendants are liable for the alleged misconduct, as required to survive a motion to dismiss. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss shall be granted, and the claims against them dismissed without prejudice. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave” and a “court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Rather than belabor the 12(b)(6) analysis with respect to such an obviously deficient Complaint, the Court concludes that Plaintiff Knight shall have leave to amend her Complaint (Plaintiff Toney’s claims having already been dismissed, supra, for lack of standing).

         B. Motion to Quash Subpoena

          On March 21, 2019, this Court issued a subpoena to Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) Chief Murphy Paul, commanding BPRD to produce “the complete file of Calvin Darnell Toney, inclusive, but not limited to: 1. Police Report 2. Coroner’s Report 3. Investigative Report 4. Video Recordings 5. Audio Recordings.”[32] The BRPD records custodian was served with the subpoena on March 22, 2019. On March 28, BRPD filed an Objection to Subpoena Duces Tecum, [33] arguing that the death of Calvin Toney was still under criminal investigation by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and that, pursuant to Louisiana Revised Statute § 44.3, “[r]ecords pertaining to pending criminal investigation or potential criminal prosecution are not subject to disclosure until such litigation has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled.”[34]

         Now, Defendants bring the instant Motion, [35] urging this Court to quash the subpoena because it requires disclosure of privileged or protected matter. Plaintiffs oppose the Motion to Quash on the basis that, although the existence of an ongoing investigation could exempt the requested documents from disclosure, the BRPD’s “showing is insufficiently specific to invoke this exclusion from disclosure.”[36] Specifically, Plaintiffs argue that “[s]imply alleging that ‘the officer’ is under ‘an open criminal investigation’ is not enough to assure this Court that Section 44:3 does apply to these subpoenas.”[37] The Court notes, however, that BRPD has not “simply alleg[ed]” the existence of an ongoing investigation; it has provided evidence of such in the form of a letter from the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office, wherein the First Assistant District Attorney states that, as of March 27, 2019, the “officer involved shooting death of Calvin Toney is still under review by our office.”[38] The letter also indicates that the District Attorney’s office has not yet decided whether to present the matter to a grand jury.[39]

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45, a court may quash or modify a subpoena if it: (1) fails to allow a reasonable time for compliance; (2) requires a person who is not a party to travel more than 100 miles from where the person resides; (3) requires disclosure of privileged or protected matter; or (4) subjects a person to undue burden.[40] Finding that Defendants have sufficiently established that the officer-involved shooting death of Calvin Toney is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, this Court concludes that the subpoena should be quashed because it requires the disclosure of a privileged or protected matter. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion to Quash[41] shall be GRANTED.

         C. Motion to Stay

         Defendants also argue that the Court should stay this matter because, given the existence of an ongoing investigation into the underlying events, “no substantive discovery can be conducted at this point.”[42] Further, Defendants aver, they “will be prejudiced if the case is allowed to move forward without first determining whether criminal litigation against the law enforcement officer ...

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