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Brown v. City of Franklin

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

November 28, 2016

CITY OF FRANKLIN et al., Defendants.


          ALETAA.TRAUGER United States District Judge.

         Before the court are two Motions to Dismiss: the first filed by defendants Jeff Long and Williamson County (Doc. No. 20) and the second, by the City of Franklin, Deborah Faulkner, Samantha Brooks, Jeff Carson, Chris Harris, Cory Kroger, Scott Legieza, Jeff Rowe, Craig Wright, and Don Zelaya (Doc. No. 22).

         The motions have been fully briefed by both parties and are ripe for review. For the reasons set forth herein, the court will grant both motions.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         For purposes of reviewing the defendants' motions, the court accepts as true the factual allegations in the Complaint, summarized here in relevant part.

         Plaintiff Meagan Renee Brown is a resident and citizen of Williamson County, Tennessee. Defendants Brooks, Harris, Kroger, Legieza, Rowe, Wright, and Zelaya (the “Franklin police officer defendants”) are police officers employed by the City of Franklin, Tennessee. Faulkner is Chief of Police of the Franklin Police Department and, as such, responsible for the supervision and training of Franklin police officers as well as for formulating and implementing policies and practices employed by Franklin police officers. Jeff Long is Sheriff of Williamson County. The City of Franklin and Williamson County are political subdivisions of the State of Tennessee.

         Brown alleges that, on June 8, 2015, the Franklin police officer defendants knowingly presented false evidence to the Williamson County Grand Jury that resulted in the wrongful indictment of Brown. As a consequence of the indictment, on June 11, 2015, the Williamson County courts issued a capias warrant naming Brown and setting bail at $50, 000. On June 12, 2015, while Brown was returning home from a trip to the grocery store, she was the passenger in a vehicle pulled over by an unidentified police officer in Fairview, Tennessee. The unidentified Franklin police officer ran the identities of the driver and Brown and discovered the active warrant for Brown. The officer arrested Brown and transported her to the Williamson County jail.

         Although she references it in her Complaint, the plaintiff did not include a copy of the capias warrant with her pleading. Williamson County and Jeff Long, however, filed a verified copy of it along with their Motion to Dismiss. (See Doc. No. 21-1.) This document, titled “Grand Jury Capias, ” directs the Sheriff of Williamson County to take “Megan Renee Brown” into custody and to present her before the Judge of the Circuit Court for Williamson County, Tennessee on June 29, 2015, to answer to charges specified in the warrant. The document reflects that “Judge Johnson” set the bond in the amount of $50, 000. (Id.)

         According to the Complaint, Brown appeared for her arraignment on June 29, 2015, at which time she was appointed counsel and pleaded not guilty. She remained in custody from June 12, 2015 through September 11, 2015, when, at her first opportunity for bond review, she was released on her own recognizance. On October 9, 2015, Assistant District Attorney General Sean Duddy dismissed all charges against Brown.

         Brown alleges that the defendants' wrongful and illegal actions caused her to suffer severe mental and physical pain, to lose her residence and personal belongings, and to lose access to three of her minor children, custody of whom she was in the process of regaining at the time of her wrongful indictment and arrest.

         Brown filed her Complaint on June 13, 2016, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Tennessee law as follows:

         In Count I, Brown asserts a claim under § 1983 against all defendants for the knowing presentation of false evidence to a grand jury and for seeking a warrant without probable cause, in violation of the plaintiff's rights protected by the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, including the rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the right not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law, the right not to be deprived of property without due process of law, the right to be free from false arrest, the right to just compensation for the taking of property, and the right to be free from excessive bail. Count I appears essentially to summarize or incorporate the claims set forth in all of the other counts.

         Count II asserts a claim under § 1983 against Deborah Faulkner and the City of Franklin based on their having “adopted and implemented a careless and reckless policy, custom, or practice of allowing employees of the Franklin Police Department to present false information to the Williamson County Grand Jury” (Compl. ¶ 43) and for having failed to adequately train the Franklin police officer defendants, which the plaintiff alleges amounted to deliberate indifference to Brown's right to be free from unconstitutional seizures.

         Count III is a § 1983 claim against Defendants Wright, Brooks, Kroger, Carson, Legieza, Rowe, Zelaya, and Harris for “committing acts under color of state law leading to the false arrest and detention of Plaintiff, ” in violation of her rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. No. 1, at 49.)

         Count IV purports to state a § 1983 claim against all defendants on the basis that the false arrest and false imprisonment proximately caused Brown to lose her apartment and all her belongings, which amounted to a deprivation of property in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

         There is no Count V. In Counts VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X, Brown asserts claims against all defendants under state common law and the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (“TGTLA”) for false imprisonment, negligence, negligent supervision (against Faulkner only), conspiracy, and conversion. (Compl. ¶¶ 37-75.)

         The defendants all filed Answers denying liability before filing their Motions to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff thereafter filed a Motion to Strike Defendants' Unlawful Motions to Dismiss (Doc. No. 26), arguing that the motions were improperly filed under Rule 12(b)(6), which clearly governs pre-answer motions. The court denied the Motion to Strike (Doc. No. 32) and indicated that it would construe the filings as motions for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c), subject to the same standard of review as that applied to Rule 12(b)(6) motions. The plaintiff was directed to respond to the Motions to Dismiss no later than September 16, 2016. After an extension of that deadline, the plaintiff has now responded to both motions.

         II. Legal Standard

         A motion under Rule 12(b) “must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed.” Conversely, Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Rule 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings and Rule 12(b)(6) motions are evaluated under the same standard of review. Fritz v. Charter Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010).

         For both, the court must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007); Inge v. Rock Fin. Corp., 281 F.3d 613, 619 (6th Cir. 2002). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that a plaintiff provide “a short and plain statement of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). The court must determine only whether “the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims, ” not whether the plaintiff can ultimately prove the facts alleged. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

         The complaint's allegations, however, “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To establish the “facial plausibility” required to “unlock the doors of discovery, ” the plaintiff cannot rely on “legal conclusions” or “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action” but, instead, must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678- 79 (2009). “[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         III. Motion to Dismiss Filed by Sheriff Jeff Long and Williamson County

         In her response to the Williamson County defendants' motion, the plaintiff does not address its substantive arguments. Instead, she moves the court to vacate the Order denying her Motion to Strike, which the plaintiff characterizes as the “requiring conversion [of the defendants' motion] from a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss to a 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings.” (Doc. No. 33, at 1.) The plaintiff argues that: (1) the court exceeded its authority under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in “converting” the Williamson County defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a Rule 12(c) motion (Doc. No. 33, at 1-2); (2) construed under Rule 12(c), the motion is premature because the confidential informant defendant has not filed an answer, so the pleadings are not “closed” as required by Rule 12(c) (id. at 2); and (3) even assuming the court “properly converted an untimely Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a Rule 12(c) motion, ” the court is now obligated to convert the motion into one for summary judgment under Rule 56, because the defendants “attached to their motion the critical ...

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