United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
William L. Campbell, Jr. Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
civil rights action arises out of an altercation that took
place on October 14, 2017, involving pro se Plaintiffs Robert
Christopher Litton and Jennifer Marie Litton and their minor
daughter D.L. (Doc. No. 19.) The altercation resulted in Mr.
Litton's arrest for domestic assault of D.L.
(Id.) Now pending are Defendants Officer Eric
Richards's and the City of Millersville's motions to
dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a claim
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. Nos. 22,
27), to which the Littons have filed a response in opposition
(Doc. No. 31). Richards and the City have filed a combined
reply. (Doc. No. 32.) For the reasons that follow, the
Magistrate Judge will recommend that Richards's motion be
granted and that the City's motion be granted in part and
denied in part.
October 14, 2017, Mr. Litton, his ex-wife Ms. Litton, and
their daughter D.L. were spending time together at their home
in Millersville, Tennessee. (Doc. No. 19.) Mr. and Ms. Litton
gave D.L. permission to go get ice cream at Wendy's with
a friend and the friend's grandmother. (Id.)
When D.L. did not come home at the appointed hour, Mr. and
Ms. Litton found out that D.L. “instead had been picked
up by an unknown family and taken to the Highland Rim
Racetrack in Millersville . . . .” (Id. at
PageID#110, ¶ 5.4.) Mr. and Ms. Litton “had never
. . . permitted [D.L.] to go to this racetrack due to safety
concerns and the history of open drinking, fights and
dangerous crashes at the racetrack.” (Id. at
PageID# 111, ¶ 5.5.)
Litton went to the racetrack to find D.L. and bring her home
while Ms. Litton stayed home in case D.L. returned. (Doc. No.
19.) At the racetrack, Mr. Litton found D.L. and
“calmly told [her] it was time to go home . . .
.” (Id. at PageID# 111, ¶ 5.8.) D.L.
“began to get emotional and cry and refused to leave
and go home with her dad because she knew she was in so much
trouble because she had broken the rules and disobeyed her
mom and dad.” (Id.) Mr. Litton called Ms.
Litton and asked her to come to the racetrack to help take
D.L. home. (Doc. No. 19.) When Ms. Litton arrived, D.L.
“continued to cry and say she didn't want to go
home . . . .” (Id. at PageID# 111, ¶
5.10.) Mr. and Ms. Litton “both took [D.L.] by the arm
to get her to stand up . . . and began walking her to the
exit towards the parking lot that was several hundred feet
away.” (Id. at PageID# 111, ¶ 5.11.) D.L.
“continued to cry and resist being le[d] to the parking
lot . . . .” (Id. at PageID# 111, ¶
onlooker named Mr. Biles “began to yell and scream
belligerently at [Mr.] Litton to take his f[*]cking hands
off” of D.L. (Id.) “Biles looked very
angry and red in the face and his hands were balled up like .
. . someone who wanted to fight . . . .” (Id.)
Mr. Litton told Biles that D.L. was his daughter, that she
did not have permission to be at the racetrack, and that he
was taking her home. (Doc. No. 19.) But “Biles
continued to yell and aggressively followed [Mr.] Litton and
[Ms.] Litton as they both took [D.L.] to the parking
lot.” (Id. at PageID# 112, ¶ 5.14.) On
the way to the parking lot, D.L. “stopped walking
several times” and “Mr. and Ms. Litton had to
regain and maintain control of [her].” (Id. at
PageID# 112, ¶ 5.16.) Ms. Litton also “attempted
to talk to Mr. Biles and explained to him that [D.L.] had no
permission to be there and that she was her mother and was
taking her home.” (Id. at PageID# 112, ¶
5.15.) Ms. Litton later “discovered that it was Mr.
Bile[s]'s wife who had picked up [D.L.] from their
neighborhood and brought her to the racetrack . . . .”
(Id. at PageID# 113, ¶ 5.28.)
became very aggressive and started yelling and saying things
like, you don't know who you're messing with and you
don't know who I am.” (Id. at PageID# 112,
¶ 5.17.) “Biles then began to walk towards [Mr.]
Litton in an aggressive manner, with his fist balled up[, ]
and [he] was being held back by two or three people . . .
.” (Id. at PageID# 112, ¶ 5.18.) Mr.
Litton “felt he was about to be assaulted by Mr.
Biles[, ]” so he “released [D.L.] and let [Ms.]
Litton take [D.L.] by herself . . . .” (Id. at
PageID# 112, ¶ 5.19.) Ms. Litton attempted to put D.L.
into their car, but D.L. “resisted and tried to push
away from her mother and [Ms.] Litton had to use her hip to
maintain control of [D.L.] and keep her between the open door
and herself so that [D.L.] could not leave.”
(Id. at PageID# 112, ¶ 5.20.) “Biles then
screamed repeatedly at Mr. Litton, don't you f[*]cking
push her.” (Id. at PageID# 113, ¶ 5.21.)
Mr. Litton, who was at the back of the car, “showed his
hands to Mr. Biles and said he didn't push her.”
Millersville Police arrived, separated the parties, took D.L.
from her parents, “and put her in the back of a police
car and did not allow either parent to speak to her after
that.” (Id. at PageID# 113, ¶ 5.22.)
Defendant Officer George Aldridge asked Mr. Litton what
happened, and Mr. and Ms. Litton explained “that they
were there to pick up their juvenile daughter [D.L.] who had
been taken to the racetrack without their knowledge or
permission.” (Id. at PageID# 113, ¶
5.23.) Aldridge said that the police were there because they
got a call about an assault and child abuse. (Doc. No. 19.)
Mr. Litton assured Aldridge that D.L. had not been
“assaulted or abused and that he and her mother had
every right to remove their underage, minor daughter from a
place they felt was unsafe and dangerous for her to be . . .
.” (Id. at PageID# 113, ¶ 5.25.) He also
told Aldridge that he saw several people taking video of the
incident on their cell phones and suggested that Aldridge
“look at those videos to see that there was no
assault/abuse.” (Id. at PageID# 113, ¶
Litton told Aldridge that “she wanted Mr. and Mrs.
[Biles] arrested for custodial interference or
kidnapping” and Mr. Litton said he wanted Mr. Biles
“arrested for assault because he was in fear [that] Mr.
[Biles] was going to assault him.” (Id. at
PageID# 114, ¶¶ 5.29, 5.30.) Aldridge then spoke to
Mr. Biles and a few other witnesses, and Aldridge
“appeared to be smiling and laughing with Mr.
[Biles].” (Id. at PageID# 114, ¶ 5.31.)
“All the witnesses were sat together at one table and
given statement forms to fill out together.”
(Id.) Mr. Litton later asked Aldridge if he
“could separate [the] witnesses while they wrote their
statements because” Litton was concerned that the
witnesses would coordinate their stories “since it
appeared they knew each other[, ]” but “Aldridge
did not respond.” (Id. at PageID# 114, ¶
5.34.) At one point, Aldridge took D.L. out of the police car
and asked her if the real reason she did not want to go home
was because she was in trouble. (Doc. No. 19.) Ms. Litton
heard D.L. say “yes[, ] I'm going to be grounded
for the rest of my life.” (Id. at PageID# 114,
arrested Mr. Litton for domestic assault. (Doc. No. 19.) Mr.
Litton asked Aldridge if he had watched the cell phone
videos, and Aldridge said that “he looked at one
[video] and it did not show [Mr.] Litton doing anything wrong
and . . . he could hear Mr. [Biles] yelling in the
background.” (Id. at PageID# 114, ¶
5.36.) Aldridge said that “he received several cell
phone videos” and would either “look at them
later” or “just send them to the DA's office
to see if charges would be dropped.” (Id. at
PageID# 115, ¶ 5.37.) Mr. Litton alleges that Aldridge
submitted conflicting accounts of what happened at the
racetrack reporting both “that [D.L.] said her father
Robert Litton hurt her and she did not want to go home with
either her mother or father as she was afraid they would beat
her[, ]” and that D.L. “said either her father
Robert or her mother Jenny slammed her against the car”
and did not mention being hurt. (Id. at PageID# 115,
¶ 5.38.) “No ambulance was called or pictures
taken or documented in the police report of any visible or
other injuries.” (Id. at PageID# 115, ¶
5.39.) The Littons allege that D.L. told Aldridge that her
mom pushed her against the car, not her dad, and she never
told Aldridge that she was afraid she would be beaten if she
went home. (Doc. No. 19.)
Litton asked Aldridge and Richards, a “back up officer
and supervisor[, ]” if they were going to arrest her,
too, “because she did the same thing [Mr.] Litton did
to get their daughter to come home and he was
arrested.” (Id. at PageID# 115, ¶¶
5.42, 5.44.) Aldridge and Richards said “no, why would
we arrest you, you did nothing wrong” and told her that
“they only wanted her husband[.]” (Id.
at PageID# 115, ¶¶ 5.43, 5.45.) Ms. Litton asked to
have D.L. returned to her, but Richards refused. (Doc. No.
19.) Richards said that, because someone called in an
anonymous complaint of child abuse, he had to take D.L. to
the police department to talk to the Department of
Children's Services (DCS). (Id.) Richards took
D.L. to the police department, put her in a room by herself
to wait for DCS, and did not allow Ms. Litton any contact
with her daughter for the next several hours. (Id.)
Ms. Litton said she did not want her daughter talking to
anyone without an attorney, but DCS interviewed D.L. anyway.
(Id.) D.L. was released to her mother later that
Mr. Litton was arrested, he “had to make bond to be
released from jail, and had to hire an attorney to
successfully have the criminal charge against him
dismissed.” (Id. at PageID# 124, ¶ 13.4.)
The domestic assault charge against Mr. Litton was dismissed
during a preliminary hearing on March 5, 2018. (Id.
at PageID# 118, ¶ 6.5.)
Litton initiated this action on October 12, 2018. (Doc. No.
1.) His original pro se complaint alleged claims against
Aldridge and the City of Millersville under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 and state law for false arrest and malicious
prosecution. (Id.) Ms. Litton and D.L. were not
named as plaintiffs, and Richards was not mentioned or named
as a defendant. (Id.) Aldridge answered Mr.
Litton's complaint. (Doc. No. 12.) On January 28, 2019,
the City filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Litton's complaint
for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Mr. Litton had failed to
plead sufficient facts to show municipal liability under
§ 1983 and that it is immune from Mr. Litton's
state-law claims under the Tennessee Governmental Tort
Liability Act (TGTLA). (Doc. Nos. 13, 14.)
February 12, 2019, Mr. Litton moved for an extension of time
to respond to the City's motion to dismiss. (Doc. No.
17.) Mr. Litton asked for “an additional thirty (30)
days from the date of the entry [of the Court's order on
his motion] to respond and prepair [sic] an amended
complaint.” (Id. at PageID# 104.) The Court
granted Mr. Litton's motion on February 13, 2019 (Doc.
No. 18), and he filed an amended complaint on March 14, 2019
(Doc. No. 19). The amended complaint adds Ms. Litton and D.L.
as plaintiffs and adds Richards as a defendant.
(Id.) It also adds claims. (Id.) In Count
I, brought under § 1983, Mr. Litton alleges that
Aldridge violated his Fourth Amendment rights by arresting
him for domestic assault without probable cause and by
participating in or influencing his subsequent prosecution.
(Id.) Count II alleges that the City is liable under
§ 1983 for Aldridge's and Richards's violations
of all three plaintiffs' “rights to be free from
unreasonable seizures as guaranteed under the Fourth
Amendment” (id. at PageID# 118, ¶ 7.1)
because it “contemporaneously approved and ratified
[Aldridge's and Richards's] conduct and
actions” and “failed to adequately train its
police officers . . .” (id. at PageID# 119,
¶¶ 7.2, 7.4). Count III is comprised of Mr.
Litton's state-law claims against Aldridge for false
arrest and malicious prosecution. (Doc. No. 19.) Count IV is
brought on behalf of D.L. against Richards under § 1983
for violations of her Fourth Amendment rights, and Count V is
brought on behalf of D.L. against Richards and the City for
false arrest under state law. (Id.) Counts VI and
VII are brought by Mr. and Ms. Litton, respectively, against
Richards and the City under § 1983 for violation of
their fundamental parental rights “to oversee the care,
custody, and control[ ] of [their] child . . . .”
(Id. at PageID# 123, ¶ 11.1; id. at
PageID# 124, ¶ 12.1.) The amended complaint seeks
compensatory and punitive damages and costs. (Doc. No. 19.)
Aldridge answered the amended complaint (Doc. No. 26), and
Mr. Litton's claims against him in Counts I and III are
therefore not before the Court.
filed a motion to dismiss all claims against him in the
amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 22.) He
argues that Counts IV and V should be dismissed because Mr.
and Ms. Litton may not assert claims on behalf of D.L. while
appearing pro se and that Counts VI and VII should be
dismissed as untimely because the amended complaint was filed
after the relevant statutes of limitations had run and the
original complaint did not name Ms. Litton or Richards as
parties. (Doc. No. 23.) The City has also moved to dismiss
the amended complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 27.) It
argues that D.L.'s claims in Counts II and V should be
dismissed because Mr. and Ms. Litton may not represent D.L.
pro se, that Ms. Litton's claims in Counts II and VII
should be dismissed as untimely, and that Mr. and Ms.
Litton's claims in Counts II, VI, and VII should be
dismissed for failure to adequately allege municipal
liability under § 1983. (Doc. No. 28.) Richards and the
City also note that Mr. Litton filed the amended complaint
more than 21 days after the City filed its first motion to
dismiss and that Ms. Litton did not sign the amended
complaint. (Doc. Nos. 23, 28.)
plaintiffs filed a combined response in opposition to
Richards's and the City's motions to dismiss. (Doc.
No. 31.) They do not address Richards's or the City's
arguments about Mr. and Ms. Litton's ability to assert
claims on behalf of D.L. while appearing pro se. In response
to Richards's and the City's arguments about the
timeliness of Ms. Litton's claims, Mr. and Ms. Litton
argue that Ms. Litton's “name being left off [of
the] original complaint[']s header was a technical
error[, ]” that her claims “relat[e] back to
[the] same incident[, ]” and that “the defendants
were on notice” of her claims because of “the
frequency of . . . [Ms.] Litton['s] name in [the]
original complaint . . . .” (Doc. No. 31, PageID# 191.)
They also argue that they were unable to name Richards in the
original complaint because “they were unable to
identify [him] at the time due to . . . [the] improper
identification of Officer Richards on the arrest warrant . .
. as CPL Eric Roberts . . . .” (Id.) With
respect to their municipal liability claims against the City,
Mr. and Ms. Litton argue generally that the City's
“lack of any official policy or procedure”
regarding “domestic violence calls [and] child abuse
calls, ” notifying DCS, and juvenile arrests and
custody caused their constitutional injuries. (Id.
at PageID# 193.)
replies that, because Mr. Litton did not name “Eric
Roberts” or any other officer besides Aldridge as a
defendant in the original complaint, Mr. and Ms. Litton's
attempt to name Richards in the amended complaint is untimely
and there was no mistake of identity that would excuse that
untimeliness. (Doc. No. 32.) Similarly, Richards and the City
argue that, because the original complaint only asserted
claims relating to Mr. Litton's arrest and did not
advance any claims on behalf of Ms. Litton, her claims in the
amended complaint are untimely. (Id.) The City also
reiterates its arguments regarding municipal liability.
deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must “construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff,
accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint
as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiff.” Courtright v. City of Battle
Creek, 839 F.3d 513, 518 (6th Cir. 2016). Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only that a complaint
contain “a short and plain statement of the
claim[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, “[t]he
factual allegations in the complaint need to be sufficient to
give notice to the defendant as to what claims are alleged,
and the plaintiff must plead ‘sufficient factual