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Washington v. City of North Charleston

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

February 7, 2019

Amonee Washington, Plaintiff,
v.
City of North Charleston; North Charleston Police Department; John Glenn, individually and in his Official capacity; and Anthony Russ, individually and in his Official capacity, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRISTOW MARCHANT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This action was originally filed by the Plaintiff in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas, Ninth Judicial Circuit (Charleston County). The case was subsequently removed to this United States District Court by the Defendants based on federal question jurisdiction pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1343.

         This case arises out of the arrest of the Plaintiff on or about June 5, 2017 on a fraudulent check charge. According to the Complaint, after spending almost twenty-four (24) hours in jail, the charges were dismissed at a preliminary hearing for lack of probable cause. Plaintiff has sued the individual City of North Charleston police officers who arrested her, along with the City of North Charleston and the North Charleston Police Department. Plaintiff asserts five causes of action in her Complaint, as follows: Gross Negligence/Negligence/Negligence per se as to Defendants NCPD and City (First Cause of Action), False Imprisonment as to all of the Defendants (Second Cause of Action), Malicious Prosecution as to all Defendants (Third Cause of Action), Violation of Plaintiff's Constitutional Rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all of the Defendants (Fourth Cause of Action), and Supervisory Liability against the Defendants City and NCPD pursuant to § 1983 (Fifth Cause of Action).

         Following removal of this case to Federal Court, the Defendants filed a Rule 12 motion to dismiss seeking 1) dismissal of the North Charleston Police Department as a party Defendant, as the NCPD and the City of North Charleston are “one and the same for purposes of this litigation such that this action may not be brought against both”, 2) dismissal of Plaintiff's state law claims to the extent they are asserted against the Defendants Glenn and Russ individually, on the ground that the South Carolina Tort Claims Act (SCTCA), SC Code Ann. § 15-78-10, et seq., provides that the agency or political subdivision for which the employees were acting is the proper party Defendant for such claims, 3) dismissing any federal claims Plaintiff is asserting against the City of North Charleston pursuant to § 1983 on the basis of respondeat superior because § 1983 does not allow for liability on a respondeat superior theory, 4) dismissing Plaintiff's § 1983 Monell[1] claim against the city based on a purported failure to supervise or train the individual police officer defendants, on the ground that the Plaintiff has failed to set forth sufficient factual allegations to state a claim under this theory of liability, and 5) dismissing Plaintiff's request for punitive damages because both § 1983 and the SCTCA provide that governmental entities are immune from liability for punitive damages.

         Plaintiff filed a response to the Defendants' motion in which she 1) agreed to dismiss the North Charleston Police Department from this lawsuit, 2) agreed to dismiss the Defendants Glenn and Russ individually as Defendants under her state law claims, 3) agreed to dismiss the City of North Charleston as a party Defendant under her Fourth Cause of Action, and 5) agreed to dismiss all claims for punitive damages against the Defendant City, although she continues to seek punitive damages against the Defendants Russ and Glenn in their individual capacities. Therefore, the only issue remaining to be decided from the Defendants' motion to dismiss is Defendants' contention that Plaintiff's Fifth Cause of Action asserting a Monell claim against the Defendant City of North Charleston should be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

         With respect to this remaining issue, when considering whether dismissal of a claim pursuant to Rule 12 is appropriate, the Court is required to accept the allegations in the pleading as true and draw all reasonable factual inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion. As such, Defendants' motion can be granted only if the Plaintiff has failed to set forth in her Fifth Cause of Action sufficient factual allegations to state a plausible claim for relief “on its face”. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009); see also Vogt v. Greenmarine Holding, LLC, 318 F.Supp.2d 136, 144 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) [“[O]n a motion to dismiss, the Court does not weigh the strength of the evidence, and simply considers whether the [claim] alleges sufficient facts which, if true, would permit a reasonable fact finder to find [the party seeking dismissal of the claim] liable.”]. Under Monell and its progeny, local government entities such as the City of North Charleston can only be liable under § 1983 for a deprivation of constitutional rights caused by “an official policy or custom” of the county. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-691; Crowley v. Town of Enfield, No. 14-1903, 2015 WL 4162435, at * 5 (D.Ct. July 9, 2015) [“under Monell local government units can be sued directly for damages . . . .”], citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167, n. 14 (1985); Carter v. Morris, 164 F.3d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1999). Hence, assuming arguendo that Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated by one or more of the police officers named as Defendants in this case, Plaintiff can maintain her § 1983 claim against the Defendant City of North Charleston only if the allegations of her complaint are sufficient to set forth a “plausible” claim that the officers' unconstitutional actions “implement[ed] or execute[d] a policy, statement, ordinance, regulation or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers”. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-691; Spell v. McDaniel, 591 F.Supp. 1090, 1380 (4th Cir. 1984).

         Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that the Defendants Russ and Glenn were at all times relevant to her claims officers with the North Charleston Police Department and were acting with authority on behalf of the City of North Charleston. Complaint, ¶ ¶ 2-5. Plaintiff alleges that she took a check (the authenticity of which she had a question about) to a bank to inquire as to whether the check was real or not, that at no time did she attempt to cash the check or otherwise make any representations as to the authenticity of the check, that when the Defendants Glenn and Russ responded to the bank to investigate the possibly fraudulent check she was cooperative with the investigative process throughout, but that notwithstanding Plaintiff never endorsing the check or otherwise ever attempting to cash the check, the Defendants Glenn and Russ, on behalf of the City of North Charleston, placed her under arrest, publically handcuffed her and forced her to walk in public with her hands behind her back as citizens looked on, was taken to the County Detention Center and booked for forgery, and thereafter spent almost twenty-four (24) hours in jail. Id., ¶¶ 6- 13. Plaintiff further alleges that her arrest was in violation of her constitutional rights as well as South Carolina statutory provisions concerning arrests, which the Defendants either knew or should have known. Id., ¶ ¶ 13-17. Plaintiff alleges that her arrest was the result of the Defendants Glenn and Russ having performed very few fraudulent check investigations, that they even specifically discussed their lack of fraudulent check experience with each other prior to making their determination to arrest the Plaintiff on behalf of the City of North Charleston, and that as a result of her arrest she has suffered various negative and harmful consequences. Id., ¶¶ 21-23, 25, 27-32. Plaintiff further alleges that subsequent to her arrest by the Defendant police officers, a formal internal investigation was conducted on behalf of the Defendant City of North Charleston which determined that the Defendants Glenn and Russ misused their authority/position when wrongfully arresting the Plaintiff, all of which was in violation of her rights and was as a result of the Defendant City of North Charleston's failure to adequately train, supervise and discipline their police officers in order to protect members of the public, including the Plaintiff, from being harmed. Id., ¶ ¶ 33-36, 68-70.

         These allegations are sufficient to survive Defendants' Rule 12 motion to dismiss this claim. Municipal liability may be imposed where, for example, the municipality through its written ordinances and regulations, affirmative decisions of individual policy making officials, omissions by policy making officials that manifest deliberate indifference to the rights of citizens, or practices so persistent and widespread and so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage, are found to exist. Carter, 164 F.3d at 218. Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts in her Complaint to set forth a “plausible” constitutional violation, that this violation occurred due to a lack of proper training of the police officers by the Defendant City, and that the City of North Charleston may therefore be responsible for these officers' actions due to policies and/or procedures or the lack thereof of the city police department which encouraged, allowed, and/or ratified such conduct by virtue of the City improperly training its police officers, tolerating such conduct, and/or failing to properly investigate or discipline police officers. Carter, 164 F.3d at 218; see Slade v. Hampton Roads Regional Jail, 407 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir. 2005) [“Courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim unless ‘after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the Plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief'”]; Francis, et al, v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. Dec 2, 2009)[Plausibility standard met where the Plaintiff “articulate[s] facts, when accepted as true, ” that state a plausibility of entitlement to relief].

         Although the Defendants fault the Plaintiff for not detailing specific acts of prior misconduct or evidence of individual knowledge by city administrators of such problems in the city police department, the undersigned concludes that Plaintiff's allegations are sufficient at this time to survive a Rule 12 motion to dismiss. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) [A complaint attacked by a Rule 12 motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations; rather, the factual allegations must only be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level]. Therefore, while Plaintiff will still have to submit evidence sufficient to establish that the Defendant City of North Charleston should be liable for any improper conduct by Officers Glenn and Russ, the allegations of the Complaint are sufficient to allow these claims to go forward at this time. Vogt, 318 F.Supp.2d at 146 [Finding that Plaintiffs had asserted sufficient facts to allege improper conduct by the named defendants, and that “[w]hether plaintiffs will be able to demonstrate the truth of those facts after discovery is an entirely different question, but plaintiffs are entitled to make the attempt”]; see also Austen v. Cattertion Partners V, LP, 709 F.Supp.2d 172 (D.Conn. 2010) [Iqbal's plausibility standard does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal conduct].

         Conclusion

         Based on the foregoing, it is recommended that the Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Fifth Cause of action against the Defendant City of North Charleston be denied for the reasons stated. In all other respects, and with the consent of the Plaintiff, Defendants' motion to dismiss should be granted.

         If this recommendation is adopted by the Court, the case will continue with Plaintiff s First, Second and Third Causes of Action being pursued against the Defendant City of North Charleston only, Plaintiffs Fourth Cause of Action will proceed against the Defendants Glenn and Russ in their individual capacities only, and Plaintiffs Fifth Cause of Action will proceed against the Defendant City of North Charleston only. The Defendant North Charleston Police Department should be dismissed as a party Defendant in this case, in toto.

         The parties are referred to the Notice Page attached hereto.

         Notice of Right to File Objections to Report ...


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