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Washington v. City of North Charleston

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

March 11, 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, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge

         Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation ("R & R") of the Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 13) recommending the Court grant in part and deny in part the Defendants' motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 5). For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the R & R as the order of the Court and the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' motion to dismiss.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff alleges that she was arrested without probable cause on June 5, 2017, on a fraudulent check charge. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at ¶¶ 6 - 14.) Plaintiff alleges that because of the arrest, she spent almost twenty-four (24) hours in jail, and that the charges were ultimately dismissed for a lack of probable cause. (Id. at ¶¶ 13, 34.) The Defendants are the North Charleston Police Department ("NCPD"), City of North Charleston (the "City"), and the arresting officers. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) Plaintiff asserts five causes of action: gross negligence/negligence/negligence per se against NCPD and the City; False Imprisonment against all Defendants; Malicious Prosecution against all Defendants; a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against all Defendants, and; a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Monell claim against the NCPD and the City. (Id.)

         Defendants removed the case to this Court on September 26, 2018. (Dkt. No. 1.) Following removal, Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss. (Dkt. No. 5.) Plaintiff consented to four of Defendants' requests in the motion, but opposes dismissal of her § 1983 Monell claim against the NCPD and the City (fifth cause of action). (Dkt. No. 8.) On February 7, 2019, the Magistrate Judge issued an R & R which recommended granting the motion to dismiss to the extent Plaintiff consented to drop certain claims, but denying the motion as to Plaintiffs § 1983 Monell claim against the City. (Dkt. No. 13.) Defendants have not filed objections to the R & R.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Report and Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court that has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. See Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the R & R Plaintiff specifically objects. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). Where Plaintiff fails to file any specific objections, "a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation omitted). "Moreover, in the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the recommendation." Wilson v. S.C. Dept of Corr., No. 9:14-CV-4365-RMG, 2015 WL 1124701, at *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 12, 2015). See also Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 200 (4th Cir. 1983). Plaintiff did not file objections in this case, and the R & R is therefore reviewed for clear error.

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits the dismissal of an action if the complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Such a motion tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and "does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of the claim, or the applicability of defenses.... Our inquiry then is limited to whether the allegations constitute 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (quotation marks and citation omitted). In a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court is obligated to "assume the truth of all facts alleged in the complaint and the existence of any fact that can be proved, consistent with the complaint's allegations." E. Shore Mkts., Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). However, while the Court must accept the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, it "need not accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments." Id.

         To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570(2007). Although the requirement of plausibility does not impose a probability requirement at this stage, the complaint must show more than a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint has "facial plausibility" where the pleading "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

         III. Discussion

         To begin with, as the Magistrate Judge correctly noted, Plaintiff, agreed to: 1) dismiss the NCPD as it is the same as the City for the purposes of this lawsuit; 2) dismiss Defendants Glenn and Russ, the arresting officers, from her state law claims (the second and third causes of action); 3) dismiss the City as a Defendant under her fourth cause of action, a § 1983 claim, and; 4) dismiss all claims for punitive damages against the City. The Court will grant the motion to dismiss as to those parties and claims.

         Therefore, the only remaining issue is Defendants' motion to dismiss as to Plaintiffs fifth cause of action asserting a § 1983 Monell claim against the City.[1] Under § 1983, no municipality can be held liable on a theory of respondeat superior, and instead a city "is only liable under section 1983 if it causes such a deprivation through an official policy or custom." Carter v. Morris,164 F.3d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1999) citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 - 91, (1978). However, the Supreme Court has explained that a Plaintiff can make out a Monell claim were a municipality's "failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact." City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris,489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989) ("it may happen that in light of the duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different ...


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