United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, District Judge.
Plaintiffs Robyn Haynes and Eric Jackson bring suit against six Durham police officers - Mark Wendell Brown, Jr., Danny Reaves, Timothy Stanhope, Lawrence Van de Water, Vincent Pearsall, and Jerry Yount ("Officer Defendants") - and the City of Durham ("the City") for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' federal constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986, as well as alleged violations of North Carolina law. Before the court is the Officer Defendants' motion to dismiss several of Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 23.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.
The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, are as follows:
On the morning of October 8, 2009, Jackson borrowed Haynes' car and drove it from a gas station to his nearby home at 1401 Cherrycrest Drive in Durham, North Carolina. (Doc. 1 ("Compl.") ¶¶ 15, 16.) After Jackson parked the car and began walking toward his home, Officer Brown approached quickly in his patrol car and ordered Jackson back into his car. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) Jackson complied and, upon Brown's request, produced his driver's license and Haynes' registration. (Id. ¶ 19.) Brown refused to tell Jackson why he was being detained. (Id. ¶ 20.) Corporal Pearsall then arrived and spoke with Brown about Jackson, saying "I don't know him." (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)
Pearsall called for a K9 unit, which searched Jackson, his car, and the exterior of his house. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) The K9 did not alert to anything and was taken from the scene, but Brown continued to detain Jackson. (Id. ¶¶ 25-26.) At 10:54 a.m., approximately an hour after the K9 unit left, Brown issued Jackson a citation for driving over the line separating travel lanes on a two-lane road, in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-140.3. (Id. ¶ 27.) Plaintiffs allege that Jackson did not commit that traffic infraction. (Id. ¶ 28.)
Jackson took the citation from Brown and entered his home, but the officers stayed outside for another 45 minutes. (Id. ¶¶ 29-30.) Shortly after noon, Jackson left his house to take his daughter to a doctor's appointment. (Id. ¶ 31.) As he was leaving, he took a garbage can from his home to the curb. (Id. ¶ 32.) Jackson got in his car to leave, and Brown and several other Durham police officers moved their vehicles to block Jackson's exit from his driveway. (Id. ¶ 33.) Brown then searched through the garbage Jackson had taken to the curb and found a cigar butt. (Id. ¶¶ 34-36.) Plaintiffs allege that Brown told Pearsall he had found no evidence of a crime, but that he had found a cigar butt. (Id. ¶ 36.) Brown left to get a warrant based on the cigar butt found in Jackson's trash. (Id.)
While Brown was away, the officers continued to prevent Jackson from leaving the premises. (Id. ¶ 37.) At some (unspecified) point, Jackson left his car and reentered his home. (Id. ¶ 43 (alleging that later "Jackson and his family decided to try to leave their home").) Pearsall directed Officer Van de Water to guard the front door, which he did, then Pearsall shouted "Lock it down!" and the remaining officers moved to the front of the house. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.) The officers stayed at the front of the house until Brown returned. (Id. ¶ 38.)
While inside his home, Jackson called 911 twice to report the officers' conduct. (Id. ¶¶ 39-41.) A responding officer arrived at Jackson's home and spoke with the other officers there. (Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiffs allege that this (unidentified) officer knew the other officers had no probable cause or reasonable suspicion to detain Jackson and yet did not intervene. (Id.) The responding officer left the scene. (Id.)
When Jackson tried to leave the house, officers handcuffed him and had him sit on the front steps. (Id. ¶ 43.) About fifteen minutes later, Officer Stanhope put Jackson in his patrol car, turned up the heat and music volume to their maximum levels, and shut the door, locking in Jackson, who was still handcuffed. (Id. ¶ 44.) Two hours later, Brown returned with a warrant, which he allegedly obtained by "fabricating probable cause, " making false statements, and omitting material facts. (Id. ¶¶ 45, 46.) Jackson asked to see the warrant, but the officers refused. (Id. ¶ 48.)
Two K9 units arrived and searched Jackson, his car, and the interior and exterior of his home, but they did not alert to anything. (Id. ¶¶ 49-52.) The officers then disassembled Haynes' car, which Jackson had been driving. (Id. ¶ 53.) Stanhope removed the back seats from the car, put them on the driveway, and jumped up and down on them. (Id.) Brown and other officers tested parts of the car for controlled substances; those tests were negative. (Id. ¶ 54.) Brown seized the vents and other parts of Haynes' car for further testing. (Id. ¶ 55.) Some of the Defendants accused Jackson of destroying evidence, and he was taken to the Durham County Jail for processing. (Id. ¶ 58.) He was charged with felony possession of cocaine, felony possession of heroin, and a traffic infraction. (Id.)
Plaintiffs allege that none of Defendants' searches and tests, including later forensic tests conducted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, revealed any trace of controlled substances. (Id. ¶¶ 56-57, 59-61.) Eventually, the State of North Carolina voluntarily dismissed all charges against Jackson. (Id. ¶ 133.)
Plaintiffs filed their complaint on October 7, 2012, asserting thirteen causes of action. The City answered. (Doc. 13.) The Officer Defendants now move to dismiss several of Plaintiffs' claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docs. 23, 24.) Plaintiffs have responded (Doc. 28), and the Officer Defendants have replied (Doc. 29). The motion is now ripe for consideration.
A. Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint must contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter... to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible "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 . (citing Twombly , 550 U.S. at 556). A 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss "challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint considered with the assumption that the facts alleged are true." Francis v. Giacomelli , 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted).
B. Claims Against City Supervisors
Plaintiffs assert several claims against unnamed "City Supervisors" in their official capacities. (Compl. ¶¶ 97-113, 138-43.) They describe these "City Supervisors" as "the individuals employed by the City as supervisors of the individual defendants named in this action." (Id. ¶ 10.) The Officer Defendants now move to dismiss the claims against these unidentified supervisors as duplicative, because they are being sued only in their official capacities, and the City is also being sued. (Doc. 24 at 10.) Plaintiffs appear to have abandoned their claims against the "City Supervisors"; they are not mentioned once in Plaintiffs' response. (Doc. 28.)
The claims against these "City Supervisors" in their official capacities are indeed duplicative of the claims against the City. See infra II.D. These individuals are also not identified in the complaint, not listed as party in the complaint's caption, and not served in the action. Moreover, Plaintiffs appear to have abandoned their claims against them. Therefore, the claims will be dismissed, but because it is unclear whether Plaintiffs can cure the pleading deficiency, the dismissal will be without prejudice.
C. Claims Against Reaves and Yount
Reaves and Yount move to dismiss all claims against them on the grounds the complaint fails to state any specific wrongful action by either of them. (Doc. 24 at 7.) They contend that their mention in "broad recitations of the elements of numerous causes of action" and the general allegation of Yount's improper supervision are insufficient. (Id. at 7-8.) Plaintiffs respond that both "[p]articipated in and [r]atified" the various violations alleged in the complaint. (Doc. 28 at 11.) They cite specific paragraphs of the complaint in support of this contention. (Id. at 11-13.)
Reaves and Yount are correct that, as to them, the complaint is short on facts and long on legal conclusions. Neither Defendant is mentioned in the complaint's "Facts" section. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-61.) Virtually every mention of them is limited to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. The only fact alleged relating to them is that some or all of the events complained of occurred "in their presence." (Compl. ¶¶ 63, 101 (Yount only), 86 (Reaves and Yount).) Such factual allegations relate only to indirect theories of liability (id. ¶¶ 63, 101 (supervisory liability), 86 (bystander liability)) and are insufficient to support any cause of action based on direct acts, such as common-law malicious prosecution (id. ¶¶ 131-37) or § 1983 claims based on unlawful search and seizure (id. ¶¶ 68-72), malicious prosecution (id. ¶¶ 73-78), or concealment of evidence (id. ¶¶ 79-83).
In their response, Plaintiffs seek to avoid this result by again reciting legal conclusions regarding what Reaves and Yount did (Doc. 28 at 11-13), but Plaintiffs have done no more than insert Reaves' and Yount's names into elements of causes of action. For example, Plaintiffs allege that
... Yount and Reeves [sic] both tacitly or expressly agreed to and, in fact, did unlawfully search and seize Jackson's person, Jackson's home, and Haynes' car without a warrant, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or any other legally sufficient justification[.]... Reaves and Yount initiated criminal proceedings against Jackson without probable cause, reasonable suspicion, or any other legally sufficient justification;... they acted with malice and deliberate indifference to Jackson's constitutional rights[.]
(Id. at 11-12.) Plaintiffs have the obligation of alleging "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. Plaintiffs' "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. Therefore, all ...