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Frazier v. Baxter

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

September 15, 2014



W. EARL BRITT, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the court on defendants Jeffrey Baxter, Charles Farrar, and the City of Greenville's motion to dismiss (DE # 21); defendants Jesse Dickinson, Jerry Seighman, Isaac Barrett, and the City of Washington's motion to dismiss (DE # 39); and plaintiff Keith Frazier's motion for summary judgment (DE # 34).


In 2013, plaintiff Keith Frazier ("Frazier") commenced this pro se 42 U.S.C. § 1983[1] action against the City of Greenville, two Greenville police officers (Baxter and Farrar), the City of Washington, and three Washington police officers (Dickinson, Seighman, and Barrett). (DE # 5.) Frazier alleges various constitutional violations arising from five incidents involving the Washington and Greenville police officers between 21 February 2011 and 7 April 2011. (Id.) Specifically, Frazier alleges that his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process and Equal Protection rights, as well as his Fourth Amendment rights, were violated. (Id. at 2, 5.)[2]

After U.S. Magistrate Judge James E. Gates reviewed Frazier's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), (DE # 16), defendants Baxter, Farrar, and the City of Greenville (collectively "Greenville defendants") filed an answer and a motion to dismiss on 1 May 2014. (DE ## 20, 21.) Frazier filed a response to the motion to dismiss, (DE # 37), to which the Greenville defendants replied, (DE # 54).

Defendants Dickinson, Seighman, Barrett, and the City of Washington (collectively "Washington defendants") filed an answer and a motion to dismiss on 9 June 2014. (DE ## 38, 39.) Frazier filed a response, (DE # 52), to which the defendants replied, (DE # 56). Frazier then filed a sur-reply. (DE # 59.)

Frazier filed a motion for summary judgment on 30 May 2014 as to his claims against the Greenville defendants. (DE # 34.) Those defendants responded, (DE # 36), and Frazier then replied, (DE # 43). Although the summary judgment motion did not address the claims against the Washington defendants, they nevertheless filed a response. (DE # 46.)


Defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This rule permits a court to dismiss an action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To state a claim, a complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A 12(b)(6) motion should only be granted if "it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro , 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, a complaint that proffers only "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" with no "further factual enhancement" is insufficient. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555, 557 (2007). To survive dismissal, a party must come forward with "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 548. The plausibility standard is met "when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009). The court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and must draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Venkatraman v. REI Sys., Inc. , 417 F.3d 418, 420 (4th Cir. 2005); Myan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari , 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993). Additionally, a pleading of a pro se plaintiff must be liberally construed, but the court is not required to "conjure up [facts] never squarely presented to [it]." Beaudett v. City of Hampton , 775 F.2d 1274, 1277-78 (4th Cir. 1985).

Defendants have alternatively moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The same standard applies to both Rule 12(c) and Rule 12(b)(6) motions: "Taking the nonmoving party's allegations as true, dismissal is inappropriate unless it appears beyond doubt that the non-moving party can prove no facts sufficient to support his claim for relief." See Eagle Nation, Inc. v. Market Force, Inc. , 180 F.Supp.2d 752, 754 (E.D. N.C. 2001) (internal citations omitted). Because both sets of defendants filed their answers and motions simultaneously, the motions will be construed as Rule 12(c) motions. See Walker v. Kelly , 589 F.3d 127, 139 (4th Cir. 2009) (stating that when an answer and motion to dismiss are filed simultaneously, the motion is technically one for judgment on the pleadings). The only practical difference is that the court will consider the answer in addition to the complaint. See, e.g., Continental Cleaning Serv. v. U.P.S., No. 1:98CV1056 , 1999 WL 1939249, at *1 (M.D. N.C. Apr. 13, 1999). At this stage, while a court may generally consider only matters presented within the pleadings, a court may take judicial notice of items in the public record. See Papasan v. Allain , 478 U.S. 265, 268 n.1 (1986); Walker , 589 F.3d at 139 ("[A] federal court may consider matters of public record such as documents from a prior state court proceeding in conjunction with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.").


The Greenville defendants initially failed to serve a paper copy of their motion to dismiss on Frazier, as required by the Electronic Case Filing Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual. The court ordered them "to properly serve Frazier with their motion no later than 23 May 2014, " (DE # 33), but they did not serve it until 30 May 2014, due to inadvertence of counsel, (DE # 35). Frazier urges the court to deny the Greenville defendants' motion on this basis. (DE # 37, at 2 ¶¶ 4-9.) However, Frazier has alleged no prejudice due to the late service. While emphasizing the importance of respecting court orders, the court will consider the Greenville defendants' motion.

A. Claims arising from the 21 February 2011 and 3 March 2011 traffic stops

Frazier alleges that on both 21 February 2011 and 3 March 2011, Seighman, a City of Washington police officer, violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (DE # 5, at 5.) The Fourth Amendment, as incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, prohibits state actors from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV, XIV. When police stop an automobile, a "seizure" has occurred for Fourth Amendment purposes, no matter how brief the detention. See United States v. Branch , 537 F.3d 328, 335 (4th Cir. 2008). Thus, a stop must be "reasonable" under the circumstances. Id . Sufficient justification for a stop exists if an officer observes a traffic violation or has probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. Id . A traffic stop may also be "reasonable" if the there is reasonable suspicion "that criminal activity may be afoot." Terry v. Ohio , 392 U.S. 1, 30 (1968); see also United States v. Arvizu , 534 U.S. 266, 273 (2002). Thus, a traffic stop not justified at its inception by reasonable suspicion or probable cause runs afoul of the Fourth Amendment.

Frazier alleges that Seighman stopped his vehicle on 21 February 2011 although he had committed "no traffic offense or any other offense." (DE # 5, at 3.) He states that Seighman pulled him over "solely to identify who [he] was." (Id.) Frazier alleges that Seighman forced him to submit to a breathalyzer test, which returned a result below the legal limit, and that "no charges stemmed from this altercation." (Id. at 3.) Frazier further alleges that on 3 March 2011, Sieghman again stopped his vehicle although he had ...

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