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Estate of Frerichs v. Knox County

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

July 25, 2017

THE ESTATE OF AMOS MATTHEW FRERICHS, by Beverly Dunn as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Amos Matthew Frerichs, Plaintiff,
v.
KNOX COUNTY, TENNESSEE, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS A. VARLAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This civil matter is before the Court on several motions: (1) plaintiff's[1] Motion for Scheduling Conference to Expedite Declaratory Judgment and Motion to Stay Other Proceedings Pending Issuance of Declaratory Judgment [Doc. 6], (2) plaintiff's Motion for This Court to Certify Under 28 U.S.C. § 2403 [Doc. 7], (3) defendant Evan Rogers's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Standing, and Failure to State a Claim [Doc. 12], (4) defendant Knox County's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 13], (5) the State of Tennessee's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 17], and (6) defendant's Supplemental Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 23]. The parties have filed several responses and replies to the pending motions [Docs. 21-22, 24-26].

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will: (1) deny as moot plaintiff's Motion for Scheduling Conference to Expedite Declaratory Judgment and Motion to Stay Other Proceedings Pending Issuance of Declaratory Judgment [Doc. 6], (2) deny as moot plaintiffs Motion for This Court to Certify Under 28 U.S.C. § 2403 [Doc. 7], (3) grant defendant Evan Rogers's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Standing, and Failure to State a Claim [Doc. 12], (4) grant defendant Knox County's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 13], (5) grant the State of Tennessee's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 17], and (6) deny as moot defendant's Supplemental Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 23].

         I. Background [2]

         This action arises from events occurring on December 18, 2015, ultimately resulting in the death of Amos Matthew Frerichs (“Frerichs”), whose estate brings this action. Frerichs was shot and killed in the parking lot of Academy Sports following an altercation with defendant Evan Rogers (“Rogers”) and Rogers's partner, Geziel DosSantos (“DosSantos”) [Doc. 1 ¶¶ 40-69].

         Defendant Sheriff J.J. Jones (“Jones”) created a Knox County Sheriffs Office Holiday Task Force to operate during the holiday season for the past several years [Id. ¶ 36]. Plaintiff asserts that Jones negligently hires and trains officers, including deputy sheriffs and reserve officers, to investigate and arrest alleged shoplifters while dressed in plain clothes as a means of policing shoplifting during the holiday season [Id. ¶¶ 36-39].

         According to plaintiff, Rogers and DosSantos served on the Holiday Task Force and were in plain clothes on December 18, 2015 [Id. ¶ 38]. On that day, Rogers and DosSantos received a phone call from a loss prevention employee at Academy Sports who told them to arrest Frerichs [Id. ¶ 40]. The officers waited outside of the store and confronted him [Id. . 41].

         Frerichs began to run into the parking lot and the officers chased him [Id. ¶ 44]. Rogers drew his gun as he ran and pointed it at Frerichs [Id. ¶ 45]. Frerichs then got into his vehicle and began to operate it [Id. ¶ 47]. The officers reached the car only a few seconds afterwards, and they began physically striking Frerichs [Id. ¶¶ 48-49]. Rogers employed his taser on Frerichs, and then struck him in the face with the butt of the taser [Id. ¶¶ 51-52]. Rogers then dropped his taser and instructed DosSantos to tase Frerichs, which DosSantos did [Id. . ¶¶ 53-55].

         The complaint further alleges that as DosSantos's taser was cycling, delivering an electric current through Frerichs's body, Frerichs drove the car in reverse [Id. ¶ 56]. The officers were pulled backwards by the driver-side door and fell to the left of the car [Id. ¶ 57]. Frerichs stopped reversing and attempted to drive away [Id. ¶ 59]. Rogers then stood back up, repositioned himself toward the front of the car, and fired six shots into the driver-side window, killing Frerichs [Id. ¶¶ 60-62]. Plaintiff asserts that Rogers fired the six shots in the direction of Academy Sports, and there were approximately 100 people inside of the store [Id. ¶ 64].

         Plaintiff provides that Rogers himself admitted that he fired the shots because “his training kicked in” [Id. ¶¶ 84-85]. Plaintiff contends that had Knox County and Jones properly trained Rogers in the use of force, Frerichs would still be alive [Id. ¶ 71]. As provided in the complaint, DosSantos did not fire his weapon because of the risk of hitting others [Id. ¶¶ 73-74]. Plaintiff asserts that Knox County and Jones took no reprimanding actions against Rogers [Id. ¶ 76].

         On December 14, 2016, Beverly Dunn (“Dunn”), Frerichs's mother, was appointed the administrator ad litem of the Estate [Doc. 5]. Dunn and Frerichs's biological father, Elton Frerichs, Jr. (“Frerichs, Jr.”), are the sole heirs to the Estate, the only asset of which is this wrongful death action [Doc. 5-1 p. 1].

         As a result of the alleged actions giving rise to Frerich's death, Dunn brings suit in her capacity of administrator on behalf of Frerichs's estate (“the Estate”) against Rogers, Knox County, and Jones [Doc. 1 ¶¶ 7-9]. In the complaint, she seeks relief in the form of a declaratory judgment and damages.

         As to declaratory judgment, Count One of the complaint seeks a declaration that the fee-shifting provisions in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-113 are unconstitutional [Id. ¶¶ 17- 34]. Section 29-20-113 provides:

if a claim is filed with a Tennessee or federal court . . . against an employee of . . . a governmental entity of the state in the person's individual capacity, and the claim arises from actions or omissions of the employee acting in an official capacity or under color of law, and that employee prevails in the proceeding as provided in this section, then the court or other judicial body on motion shall award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred by the employee in defending the claim filed against the employee.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-113(a). Plaintiff alleges that this statute violates the Supremacy Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution [Doc. 1 ¶¶ 14- 15, 17-34]. Plaintiff further contends that she cannot make an informed decision as to whether she should bring this action against Rogers individually for federal and state law claims until and unless the constitutionality of § 29-20-113 is settled [Id. ¶ 12]. All three defendants are parties to the declaratory judgment claim [Id. ¶ 16].

         As to damages, plaintiff brings claims pursuant to 18 U.S.C §§ 1983 and 1988 for violations of Frerichs's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights against Knox County, Rogers in his official capacity, and Jones in his official capacity. Plaintiff also brings such claims against Rogers in his individual capacity, but states that the individual capacity claims are conditioned upon the Court determining that § 29-20-113 is unconstitutional [Id. ¶ 138]. Plaintiff further requests in the complaint that the Court “stay proceedings in this action until the Court issues declarations as to the constitutionality of Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-113” [Id. ¶ 139]. Plaintiff also brings various state law claims against defendants.

         The State of Tennessee (“Tennessee”) filed a motion to intervene to defend the constitutionality of § 29-20-113 [Doc. 14], which Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley, Jr. granted [Doc. 16]. Now pending before the Court are several motions to dismiss [Docs. 12-13, 17, 23]. Defendants and Tennessee move to dismiss plaintiffs claims under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The Court will first address the arguments pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), and then the Court will turn to the Rule 12(b)(6) arguments.

         II. Analysis Under Rule 12(b)(1)

         In Count One of her complaint, plaintiff seeks a judgment from the Court declaring that the fee-shifting statute, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-113, is unconstitutional. Defendants and Tennessee assert that dismissal of this claim under Rule 12(b)(1) is appropriate, as the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim because plaintiff has no standing to bring the claim, the claim is moot, and the claim is not ripe for review. The Court will begin its analysis of this argument by addressing the appropriate standard of review.

         A. Standard of Review

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, ” possessing “only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Therefore, subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue, which the Court must consider prior to reaching the merits of a case. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (stating that “[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action”). Unlike a motion to dismiss on the merits under Rule 12(b)(6), “where subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(1)[, ] . . . the plaintiff has the burden of proving jurisdiction in order to survive the motion.” RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996) (quoting Rogers v. Stratton Indus., Inc., 798 F.2d 913, 915 (6th Cir. 1986)).

         “Motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction fall into two general categories: facial attacks and factual attacks.” United States v. Ritchie, 15 F.3d 592, 598 (6th Cir. 1994). “A facial attack is a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleading itself.” Id. In considering whether jurisdiction has been established on the face of the pleading, “the court must take the material allegations of the petition as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 235-37 (1974)).

         “A factual attack, on the other hand, is not a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleading's allegations, but a challenge to the factual existence of subject matter jurisdiction.” Id. In considering whether jurisdiction has been proved as a matter of fact, “a trial court has wide discretion to allow affidavits, documents, and even a limited evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts.” Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990). In evaluating a factual attack, “no presumptive truthfulness applies to the factual allegations, and the court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Ritchie, 15 F.3d at 598 (internal citation omitted).

         Here, rather than attacking plaintiff's pleadings, defendants and Tennessee argue that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's declaratory judgment claims because they are not ripe, are moot, and plaintiff lacks standing to bring them. To support these arguments, defendants Tennessee point to, among other things, defendants' representations that they do not intend to seek attorneys' fees against plaintiff, and that to do so would be fruitless because the Estate is insolvent. Thus, the Court finds that the jurisdictional challenge is a factual attack with respect to plaintiff's declaratory judgment claims. See Ritchie, 15 F.3d at 598. Consequently, the Court will evaluate all submitted documentation and will weigh the evidence to determine the factual existence of subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's declaratory judgment claim, giving no presumptive truthfulness to plaintiff's allegations with respect to this claim. See id.

         B. Law Governing Standing, Ripeness, and Mootness

         Article III standing is a threshold question in every federal case. Wuliger v. Mfrs. Life Ins. Co., 567 F.3d 787, 793 (6th Cir. 2009). It “enforces the Constitution's case-or-controversy requirement.” Loren v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mich., 505 F.3d 598, 607 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 11 (2004)). “The burden of establishing standing is on the party seeking federal court action.” Rosen v. Tenn. Comm'r of Fin. & Admin., 288 F.3d 918, 927 (6th Cir. 2002).

         To establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must demonstrate:

(1) it has suffered an injury in fact that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) it is likely, as opposed to merely ...

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