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Safford v. Barnes

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

November 10, 2014

B.J. BARNES, Individually and in his official capacity as the duly elected Sheriff of Guilford County, North Carolina; and M.B. STEWART, Individually and in his official capacity as Deputy Sheriff of Guilford County, North Carolina, Defendants.


THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, District Judge.

Plaintiff William Safford brings suit against Defendants B.J. Barnes, Sheriff of Guilford County, and M.B. Stewart, a Deputy Sheriff of Guilford County, for alleged violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as violations of North Carolina law. Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss several of Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 6.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted in full.


The allegations of the complaint, viewed in the light most favorable to Safford, are as follows:

On March 30, 2011, Safford was in district courtroom number GB1C of the Guilford County Courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Compl. ¶ 11, Doc. 1.) Safford is a middle-aged male with severe physical ailments, including back problems requiring the use of a cane or other assistance. (Id. ¶ 9.) He faces difficulties sitting or standing for extended periods of time without experiencing considerable discomfort. (Id.)

After sitting in the courtroom for a protracted period of time to have a prior criminal charge against him dismissed, Safford's back "seized up, " causing him immediate, severe pain. (Id. ¶ 11.) To ease the pain, Safford stood up in the courtroom. (Id.) Stewart - a Deputy Sheriff of the Guilford County Sheriff's Department and the bailiff on duty in the courtroom at the time - approached Safford and ordered him to return to his seat. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10-11.) After informing Deputy Stewart of his back ailment and current physical pain, Safford requested that Deputy Stewart allow him to remain standing until the pain subsided in his back. (Id. ¶ 11.) According to Safford, the pain in his back and down his legs would not allow him to sit down or leave the courtroom at that time. (Id.) Deputy Stewart, however, took Safford "by his arms and dragged and forced him out of the courtroom, pushing him through double doors and into [a] hallway where [Deputy Stewart] slammed him forcefully into a wall and forced [Safford's] arm up and behind his back, " placing Safford in handcuffs. (Id.) That same day, Safford was placed under arrest for resisting a public officer, per either a magistrate's order or warrant obtained by Deputy Stewart. (Id. ¶ 13.) Sheriff Barnes - the other defendant in this case - is the Sheriff of Guilford County and Deputy Stewart's superior. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Deputy Stewart's actions "greatly aggravated" Safford's physical ailments. (Id. ¶ 12.) Safford underwent medical treatment, resulting in medical bills, and experienced pain and suffering. (Id.)

Safford filed his complaint on March 28, 2014, asserting six causes of action: Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations under § 1983 against Deputy Stewart; Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations under § 1983 against Sheriff Barnes; a North Carolina State law claim of false arrest and imprisonment against Sheriff Barnes and Deputy Stewart; a State law claim of battery against Deputy Stewart; vicarious liability claim against Sheriff Barnes incorporating all § 1983 and State-law claims; and a claim of "judgment against the person" under State law against Deputy Stewart.[1] (Doc. 1.) Sheriff Barnes and Deputy Stewart were named in both their official and individual capacities. In response to Safford's claims, Defendants concurrently answered and moved to dismiss part of Safford's complaint for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. (Docs. 6, 8.) Plaintiff responded (Doc. 10), and Defendants did not reply. The motion is now ready 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 Atl. 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 Rule 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. Fourteenth Amendment Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

In his first and second causes of action, Safford brings claims against Defendants under § 1983 for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, alleging use of excessive force and arrest without probable cause. Defendants argue that the facts alleged in the complaint plausibly state a claim only under the Fourth Amendment, not the Fourteenth Amendment. Safford appears to concede this point. (Doc. 10 at 6 ("Plaintiff asserts that this is a Fourth Amendment case.").) Nevertheless, he later contends that the alleged facts regarding the use of excessive force state a claim under both the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (Id. at 7.)

"In addressing an excessive force claim brought under § 1983, analysis begins by identifying the specific constitutional right allegedly infringed by the challenged application of force." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989). Claims of excessive force brought under § 1983 implicate either Fourth or Fourteenth Amendment rights. See Orem v. Rephann, 523 F.3d 442, 445-46 (4th Cir. 2008), abrogated on other grounds by Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 38-39 (2010). "The point at which Fourth Amendment protections end and Fourteenth Amendment protections begin is often murky." Orem, 523 F.3d at 446. The Fourth Amendment governs claims of excessive force "in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other seizure' of [a] person." Graham, 490 U.S. at 388; ...

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