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Thomas Patterson v. Gibbons

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

February 10, 2017

THOMAS PATTERSON, et al., Plaintiff,
v.
BILL GIBBONS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          J. RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on motions to dismiss filed by two of the defendants in this case. Defendant Bill Gibbons (“Gibbons”) filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, [Doc. 7]. The plaintiff filed a response, [Doc. 10], opposing the dismissal. Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance Company (“Auto-Owners”) filed a motion to dismiss the complaint [Doc. 19]. The plaintiff has responded, [Doc. 38], and Auto-Owners has replied. [Doc. 41]. Defendant Auto-Owners filed a motion for summary judgment, [Doc. 43]. In response, the plaintiff filed a motion to defer ruling on the motion for summary judgment, [Doc. 47], to which defendant Auto-Owners responded. [Doc. 48]. The matters are ripe for review.

         I. FACTS

         This suit was originally brought in the Middle District of Tennessee. However, the District Court in the Middle District found that the plaintiff (“Patterson”) failed to sufficiently allege venue and transferred the case to this district. According to the complaint, Patterson owns a 1994 Ford truck. [Id. ¶ 46]. On July 15, 2015, defendant Marshall Hicks, a Bradley County sheriff's deputy asked the plaintiff for the keys to his truck. [Id. ¶ 50]. Patterson gave Hicks the keys and Hicks informed Patterson that the truck was being seized for allegedly using the vehicle in conjunction with the transport and sale of illegal narcotics. [Id. ¶¶ 51-52]. According to the complaint, “it is alleged that on July 29, 2014, Plaintiff and another person drove to a house in Plaintiff's truck and while the other person was in the house the other person sold a pill in the presence of a confidential informant for $20.00.” [Id. ¶ 47]. Hicks provided Patterson a Notice of Seizure. [Id. ¶ 56]. On August 17, 2017, 32 days after the truck was seized, Hicks obtained a forfeiture warrant after presenting an affidavit to a state judge. [Id. ¶ 58].

         Patterson was notified on September 17, 2015, that the forfeiture warrant had been issued. [Id. ¶ 61]. An administrative forfeiture hearing was “established” on November 13, 2015 and the hearing was set for December 14, 2015. [Id. ¶ 62]. On December 14, 2015, Patterson appeared for the forfeiture hearing but the hearing was continued, allegedly over Patterson's objection. [Id. ¶ 67]. Patterson alleges that at the time the complaint was filed, no new hearing date had been set. [Id. ¶ 67].

         Patterson's first claim is that the defendants “seized and are continuing to seize Plaintiff's vehicle without a warrant” in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Patterson requests the return of his vehicle, attorney fees, and “an injunction prohibiting Tennessee law enforcement officers from seizing non-contraband property from private property without a warrant or where there is a ‘specifically established and well delineated exception' to the warrant requirement.” [Id. ¶ 94-95]. Patterson's second claim alleges that Tennessee's criminal forfeiture statute, Tennessee Code Annotated § 53-11-541(B)(4) is facially unconstitutional and unconstitutional as applied. Patterson also alleges the defendants have violated the defendant's civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1988. Patterson seeks a declaratory judgment regarding the unconstitutionality of the forfeiture statute.

         According to the plaintiff's complaint, plaintiff Thomas Patterson (“Patterson”) brings this action in his individual capacity, [Complaint ¶ 18], and on behalf of the “State of Tennessee on Relationship of Thomas Patterson, ” [Id. ¶ 14]. Patterson has brought suit against Bill Gibbons, the Tennessee Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security, in his individual capacity. [Id. ¶ 25]. Patterson also sues “John and Jane Doe State Officers and Employees Covered by Tennessee's blanket security bond” as officers, directors, managers, and employees of the State of Tennessee. [Id. ¶ 30]. “Defendant Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland is sued as the surety for Defendants Gibbons and each John and Jane Doe covered by Tennessee's blanket surety bond.” [Id. ¶ 31]. Defendant Marshall Hicks is a Bradley County, Tennessee sheriff's deputy. [Id. ¶ 43]. Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance is sued “as the surety for Marshall Hicks on his bond for the violations of the obligations of the bond.” [Id. ¶ 45].

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) eliminates a pleading or portion thereof that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Moreover, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires the complaint to contain a “short plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) requires the Court to construe the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all the complaint's factual allegations as true. Meador v. Cabinet for Human Res., 902 F.2d 474, 475 (6th Cir. 1990). The Court may not grant a motion to dismiss based upon a disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations. Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1199 (6th Cir. 1990). The Court must liberally construe the complaint in favor of the party opposing the motion. Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 377 (6th Cir. 1995). However, the plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007), and to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, this Court need not “‘accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see also Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. Lastly, this Court may consider documents central to the plaintiff's claims to which the complaint refers and incorporates as exhibits. Amini v. Oberlin College, 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of jurisdiction may be either an attack on the face of the complaint or on the factual basis of jurisdiction. Golden v. Gorno Bros., Inc., 410 F.3d 879, 881 (6th Cir. 2005). A factual attack challenges the existence of jurisdiction, apart from the pleadings. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1334 (citing Mortensen v. First Federal Savings and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1977)). When a factual issue exists in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the district court is “free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as the existence of its power to hear the case.” Id. (citing Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 890-91). The court is “empowered to resolve factual disputes” arising out of a Rule 12(b)(1) challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. Id. (citing Rogers v. Stratton Industries, Inc., 798 F.2d 913, 915 (6th Cir. 1986)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         a. Bill Gibbons and State of Tennessee's Motion to Dismiss

         The State of Tennessee through the Attorney General, filed the motion on behalf of Gibbons to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted. Gibbons argues the complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Younger abstention, because the plaintiff lacks standing to initiate a quo warranto suit without authorization, and finally because the plaintiff has failed to allege that Gibbons was personally involved in the alleged § 1983 conduct.

         Gibbons submits that the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed pursuant to the Younger abstention doctrine because, at the time the complaint was filed, the plaintiff was litigating the state court administrative forfeiture proceeding at the heart of the issues in this case. In response, the plaintiff argues that he does not seek to enjoin the state court administrative forfeiture proceeding nor does he currently have any state court ...


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