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Koenigs L.L.C. v. City of Savannah

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

April 23, 2018

KOENIGS, L.L.C., Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SAVANNAH, TENNESSEE; GARRY WELCH, individually, and in his official capacity as City Manager of the City of Savannah, Tennessee; RICKY BRATTON; CURTIS MANSFIELD JR.; and JOHN ALBERTSON III, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART GARRY WELCH'S AND THE CITY'S SECOND MOTION TO DISMISS

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Second Motion (ECF No. 34) of Defendants[1] Garry Welch (“Welch”) and the City of Savannah, Tennessee, (the “City”) to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 24) of Plaintiff Koenigs, L.L.C. As was the case in the Court's February 1, 2018 Order (ECF No. 33) resolving Defendants' First Motion to Dismiss and the Second Motion to Dismiss of Defendants Ricky Bratton, Curtis Mansfield Jr., and John Albertson III, Plaintiff presents a number of constitutional claims for consideration. Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient, concrete facts that support any of the claims against them--neither in terms of setting forth constitutional violations nor in terms of satisfying the additional requirements for establishing the liability of a municipality or one of its officials. Plaintiff, however, argues that its allegations adequately support its constitutional claims and the additional hurdles for these particular Defendants. As to the requirements for municipal liability and an official's individual liability, the Court agrees with Plaintiff. But as to the actual claims of constitutional violations, the Court finds that Plaintiff has largely fallen short with one exception. For reasons set forth below, the instant Motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Plaintiff's procedural due process claims against Welch, in his personal capacity only, and the City survive this Motion, while all of Plaintiff's other claims against Defendants are hereby DISMISSED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court recently set forth the procedural posture of this case and the allegations of the Amended Complaint as against all Defendants in its prior Order. See Koenigs, L.L.C. v. City of Savannah, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16204, at *2-8 (W.D. Tenn. Feb. 1, 2018). In that Order, the Court denied Defendants' First Motion to Dismiss as moot but granted Defendants leave to file a new motion. And Defendants timely did so by filing the instant Motion. Plaintiff then filed a Response (ECF No. 36), to which Defendants filed a Reply (ECF No. 37).

         II. STANDARD OF LAW

         A defendant may move to dismiss a cause of action for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must treat all of the well-pleaded allegations of the Complaint as true, construing those allegations in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Saylor v. Parker Seal Co., 975 F.2d 252, 254 (6th Cir. 1992); see also Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) (“[I]t is well established that, in passing on a motion to dismiss, . . . the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader.”). Legal conclusions and unwarranted factual inferences, however, need not be accepted as true. Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987) (citing Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 858 (6th Cir. 1976); Davis H. Elliot Co. v. Caribbean Utilities Co., 513 F.2d 1176, 1182 (6th Cir. 1975); Blackburn v. Fisk Univ., 443 F.2d 121, 124 (6th Cir. 1971)). “To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations with respect to all the material elements of the claim.” Wittstock v. Mark A. Van Sile, Inc., 330 F.3d 899, 902 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003)). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although this standard does not require “'detailed factual allegations, ' it does require more than ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.'” Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 622 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (“[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.”). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege facts that, if accepted as true, are sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” and to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Thus, Plaintiff must have pleaded specific, concrete facts adequate to allow the Court to draw reasonable inferences that support the general allegations of Defendants' liability for each of Plaintiff's claims.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Municipal-Liability Claims Against the City

         A municipality may only be held liable under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 if its policies, customs, or procedures caused a violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights. Gohl v. Livonia Pub. Schs. Sch. Dist., 836 F.3d 672, 685 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978); Heyerman v. Cty. of Calhoun, 680 F.3d 642, 649 (6th Cir. 2012)). In Thomas v. City of Chattanooga, 398 F.3d 426 (6th Cir. 2005), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit listed four available avenues for a plaintiff to satisfy this requirement: “(1) the municipality's legislative enactments or official agency policies; (2) actions taken by officials with final decision-making authority; (3) a policy of inadequate training or supervision; or (4) a custom of tolerance or acquiescence of federal rights violations.” 398 F.3d at 429 (citing Pembaur v. City of Cincinatti, 476 U.S. 469, 480 (1986); Monell, 426 U.S. at 694; Stemler v. City of Florence, 126 F.3d 856, 865 (6th Cir. 1997); Doe v. Claiborne County, 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 1996)). Defendants argue that Plaintiff has merely recited the elements of this requirement rather than alleging the concrete facts necessary to satisfy it. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombley, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)) (“A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'”). But Plaintiff asserts in its Response that the Amended Complaint identified Welch as the City Manager and final policy maker for the City, and that Welch, using his authority thereto, removed Plaintiff from the City's towing list. Defendants nonetheless maintain in their Reply that Plaintiff's allegations are insufficient under the pleading standards of Twombley and Iqbal. Specifically, Defendants argue that there are no factual allegations that allow the Court “to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Garry Welch's and the City of Savannah's Reply to Plaintiff's Response to the Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, at 1-2, Mar. 26, 2018, ECF No. 37 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). While the Court has not yet concluded that Plaintiff has sufficiently pleaded a constitutional violation, the allegation that Welch removed Plaintiff from the City's towing list in his capacity as City Manager is sufficient for this particular hurdle. Plaintiff's allegations, setting forth the specific facts that Welch removed Plaintiff from the towing list and that Welch, in his position as City Manager, had final decision-making authority, satisfy one of the avenues for municipal liability under section 1983. Thus, regardless of whether the evidence will later support these allegations, the Court will not summarily dismiss all claims against the City at this stage.

         B. Individual-Capacity Claims Against Welch

         Defendants next argue that Plaintiff has failed to state an individual-capacity claim against Welch. It is well settled in section 1983 claims that a plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant's personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation. Copeland v. Machulis, 57 F.3d 476, 481 (6th Cir. 1995) (citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 375-76 (1976)) (“In order to prevail on [its] claim, [a plaintiff] must establish that [the defendant] is culpable because he was personally involved in [the violation].”); Dunn v. Tennessee, 697 F.2d 121, 128 (6th Cir. 1982) (“What is required is a causal connection between the misconduct complained of and the official sued.”); see also Albea v. Bunn, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 189466, at *14 (W.D. Tenn. Nov. 16, 2017) (citations omitted) (“Plaintiff[] ‘must [have] allege[d] with particularity[] facts that demonstrate what each defendant did to violate the asserted constitutional right.' . . . Plaintiff[] must demonstrate each Defendant's personal involvement in the violation.”). And Defendants assert that Plaintiff has failed to so. According to Defendants, Plaintiff's allegations--that Welch (1) received false information from another Defendant, (2) removed Plaintiff from the towing list, (3) was the decision maker and author of the letter informing Plaintiff of its removal from the towing list, and (4) deprived Plaintiff of its constitutional rights-contain “no factual allegations that establish a causal connection between Welch and a constitutional violation.” Gary Welch's and City's Mem. of Law in Supp. of Their Motion to Dismiss Koenigs, L.L.C.'s Am. Compl. for Failure to State a Claim, at 4, Feb. 15, 2018, ECF No. 34-1 (citing Am. Compl., at ¶¶ 23-24, 35-36, Aug. 29, 2017, ECF No. 24). As with the City, it remains to be seen whether the allegations regarding Welch sufficiently describe a constitutional violation, but Plaintiff's allegations are enough to establish a nexus between Welch and the purportedly unconstitutional conduct. Relying on the letter from Welch, Plaintiff alleges that Welch specifically removed Plaintiff from the towing list. Welch's alleged conduct is the very basis for Plaintiff's constitutional claims. Therefore, the Court declines to summarily dismiss all claims against Welch on the idea that Plaintiff insufficiently alleged Welch's personal involvement in the violations set forth in the Amended Complaint.

         C. Contracts Clause, First Amendment, Fifth-Amendment Due Process, Fifth-Amendment Equal Protection, and Equal Protection Clause Claims

         Any claims brought by Plaintiff against Defendants under the Contracts Clause, First Amendment, Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment, or Equal Protection Clause are hereby DISMISSED for the reasons discussed by the Court in its prior Order dismissing such claims against the other Defendants. Koenigs, L.L.C. v. City of Savannah, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16204, at *12-18, 30-31 (W.D. Tenn. Feb. 1, 2018). Plaintiff has withdrawn its First Amendment claim, stated that it never brought a Contracts Clause claim, and adopted its equal-protection arguments from its prior Response (ECF No. 29) to the other Defendants. Neither Welch nor the City is an agent or division of the Federal Government. Therefore, the Court sees no need to discuss these claims further.

         D. ...


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