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Whitfield v. City of New Orleans

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 19, 2019

ARABIA WHITFIELD, ET AL
v.
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, ET AL

         SECTION M (2)

          ORDER & REASONS

          BARRY W. ASHE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a motion for partial dismissal pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) in No. 09-8074 filed by defendants the City of New Orleans (the “City”), former Superintendent of Police Warren J. Riley, Sgt. Daniel Scanlan, Officer Regina Barr, Officer Collette Booth, Officer Terry Baham, Officer Joseph Moore, Joseph Meisch, Greg Lapin, Steven Keller, Marcellus White, Julio Alonzo, and Larisa Austin (collectively, “Defendants”).[1] Plaintiffs Adolph Grimes, Jr., [2] and Patricia Grimes (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), parents of the deceased, Adolph Grimes, III, oppose the motion.[3] Oral argument on the motion was heard on December 5, 2019.[4] Having considered the parties' memoranda, the record, the arguments made at the hearing, and the applicable law, this Court issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of the death of Adolph Grimes, III, on January 1, 2009.[5] According to Plaintiffs, at around three in the morning, Adolph Grimes, III, exited his grandmother's house, where Plaintiffs, his parents, remained inside. Adolph Grimes, III, was in his parked car outside the house when two unmarked police vehicles parked next to his car and defendant police officers approached him. Under disputed circumstances, Adolph Grimes, III, was shot by the police officers and died as he fled on foot. According to Plaintiffs, this occurred within minutes of Adolph Grimes, III's having left the house. Plaintiffs allege that Patricia Grimes was in the front room of the house when she heard the gunshots and, immediately after, she ran outside and observed her son's bullet-ridden vehicle with its lights on, the driver's door open, the overhead light on, and the rear windshield shot out. They allege that she ran down the steps and was only a few feet away from the car when the police officers stopped her and “forced [her] back into the house.”[6] The same occurred when she attempted to reach the vehicle a few more times. Patricia Grimes then informed her husband, Adolph Grimes, Jr., of what had happened. Adolph Grimes, Jr., then also ran out of the house and observed the bullet-ridden vehicle, confronted the police officers about his son's condition, and was handcuffed, arrested, and detained by two of the police officers. He was later taken to the homicide bureau where he was questioned and eventually released.

         Plaintiffs filed this complaint against Defendants, asserting (1) Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations arising out of their son's death and a conspiracy to cover up the wrongful death, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) mirror state law wrongful death and conspiracy claims; (3) Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations arising out of Adolph Grimes, Jr.'s arrest and detention, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (4) state law claims of assault, battery, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress, bystander injury, criminal conspiracy, and violation of their rights to privacy, liberty, and due process, and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; (5) a state law claim against the City for negligent hiring, supervision, retention, and discipline; and (6) a state law claim for vicarious liability on the part of the City for their other state law claims.

         II. PENDING MOTION

         Defendants seek judgment in their favor and dismissal of various of Plaintiffs' claims. First, they argue that Plaintiffs lack standing and otherwise fail to assert a cause of action under the Fourteenth Amendment or 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for their son's death, having allegedly “witnessed” the death, or any alleged conspiracy.[7] Second, they maintain that Plaintiffs also lack standing and otherwise fail to state claims against the City or Riley under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).[8] Third, Defendants assert that, as to Patricia Grimes, Plaintiffs fail to allege any facts for state law false arrest, assault, battery, or unlawful search and seizure.[9] Finally, Defendants argue that neither Plaintiff sufficiently states a cause of action under Louisiana Civil Code article 2315.6 for mental anguish and emotional distress because “they did not witness the incident or come upon the scene of the incident shortly thereafter.”[10]

         Plaintiffs do not oppose dismissal of their § 1983 claims arising out of the death of their son, any alleged conspiracy, and having witnessed their son's death; their Monell claims against the City and Riley; their state law wrongful death and conspiracy claims; or Patricia Grimes's state law claims for false arrest, assault, battery, and unlawful search and seizure.[11] Plaintiffs note that Defendants have not moved to dismiss Adolph Grimes, Jr.'s federal civil rights or state law claims arising out of his arrest, or Plaintiffs' state law claims against the City for negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and discipline.[12] Plaintiffs oppose dismissal of their bystander claim under Civil Code article 2315.6.[13] They argue that while “they were not literal eyewitnesses” to the shooting, they allege that “they observed the traumatic injury-causing event soon thereafter, ” and therefore sufficiently satisfy the codal requirement that they “come upon the event causing injury immediately thereafter.”[14] Plaintiffs ask the Court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over this claim. Finally, they add that because their bystander claim should stand, so should their vicarious liability claim against the City, as far as it is based on the bystander claim.[15]

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) and 12(c) Standard

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The statement of the claim must “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A pleading does not comply with Rule 8 if it offers “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57).

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is plausible on the face of the complaint “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Plausibility does not equate to probability, but rather “it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Thus, if the facts pleaded in the complaint “do not permit the court to infer more than a mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court employs the two-pronged approach utilized in Twombly. The court “can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions [unsupported by factual allegations], are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. However, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Motions to dismiss are disfavored and rarely granted. Turner v. Pleasant, 663 F.3d 770, 775 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Harrington v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 563 F.3d 141, 147 (5th Cir. 2009)).

         A court's review of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss “is limited to the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint.” Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000)). A court may also take judicial notice of certain matters, including public records and government websites. Dorsey v. Portfolio Equities, Inc., 540 F.3d 333, 338 (5th Cir. 2007); see also Kitty Hawk Aircargo, Inc. v. Chao., 418 F.3d 453, 457 (5th Cir. 2005). Thus, in weighing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, district courts primarily look to the allegations found in the complaint, but courts may also consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint whose authenticity is unquestioned.” Meyers v. Textron, Inc., 540 Fed.Appx. 408, 409 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007)).

         “The standard for dismissal under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule (12)(b)(6).” Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 529 (5th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted).

         B. Bystander Claims in Louisiana

         Article 2315.6 of the Louisiana Civil Code provides in pertinent part:

A. The following persons who view an event causing injury to another person, or who come upon the scene of the event soon thereafter, may recover damages for mental anguish or emotional distress that they suffer as a result of the other person's injury: …
(2) The father and mother of the injured person, or either of them.
B. To recover for mental anguish or emotional distress under this Article, the injured person must suffer such harm that one can reasonably expect a person in the claimant's position to suffer serious mental anguish or emotional distress from the experience, and the claimant's mental anguish or ...

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