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PB&J Towing Svc., I&II, LLC v. Hines

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

January 15, 2020

PB&J TOWING SVC., I&II, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
SAMUEL HINES, Individually and as Cmdr. of Traffic/Special Operations Division of the Memphis Police Department; DEBRA STREETER, Individually and as Member of Memphis Police Department Board; NATHANIEL JACKSON, Individually and as Member of Memphis Police Department Board; KAREN ARMSTRONG, Individually and as Member of Memphis Police Department Board; STACY SMITH, Individually and as Member of Memphis Police Department Board; MARK TAYLOR, Individually and as a Member of Memphis Police Department Board; and THE CITY OF MEMPHIS, Defendants.

          ORDER

          SAMUEL H. MAYS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff PB&J Towing Svc., I&II, LLC (“PB&J Towing”) brings this action for due process violations and civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) Before the Court is Defendants Samuel Hines, Debra Streeter, Karen Armstrong, Stacy Smith, Mark Taylor (the “Individual Defendants”) and the City of Memphis's (the “City”)(collectively, the “Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss, filed on August 6, 2019. (ECF No. 40.) PB&J Towing responded on September 3, 2019. (ECF No. 46.) The Individual Defendants and the City replied on September 12, 2019.[1] (ECF No. 50.)

         For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         The following facts are taken from PB&J Towing's Complaint and the ordinances of the City of Memphis:

         PB&J Towing is a towing company that operates its wrecker[2]service in Memphis, Tennessee. (ECF No. 1 ¶ I.) Defendant Samuel Hines is the Commander of the Traffic/Special Operations Division of the Memphis Police Department. (Id. ¶ 2.) Defendants Debra Streeter, Nathaniel Jackson, [3] Karen Armstrong, Stacy Smith, and Mark Taylor were members of a panel, formed by the Memphis Police Department, that reviewed the purported denial of PB&J Towing's application to provide emergency wrecker services for the City.[4](Id. ¶¶ 3-7.)

         The City of Memphis contracts with wrecker companies to provide emergency services in different areas or “zones” of the City. Memphis City Ord. § 6-88-29. Wreckers are dispatched to accidents and other situations that require prompt clearance of the roadway. Id. §§ 6-88-10 & -26(D). The City dispatches wreckers from what is known as a “police rotation list” (the “Rotation List”). Id. Wrecker companies must apply and comply with all applicable regulations to be placed on the Rotation List. Id. §§ 6-88-28(L) & -29(A). Once a wrecker service has been approved to be on the Rotation List, it is assigned to one of the City's zones and the City's Permit Office issues decals to be displayed on each wrecker vehicle assigned to the zone. Id. § 6-88-33.

         On May 19, 2017, PB&J Towing applied to provide emergency wrecker services for Zone 6 of the City of Memphis. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 14.) The City inspected PB&J Towing's lot in Zone 6 as part of the application process. (Id. ¶ 15.) After the inspection, the City raised issues about PB&J Towing's lot. (Id. ¶ 16.) PB&J Towing paid to fix those issues and, on June 30, 2017, PB&J Towing submitted a revised application. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.) After submission of the revised application, the City conducted a second inspection of PB&J Towing's lot in Zone 6. (Id. ¶ 18.) After that inspection, the City approved PB&J Towing's application to provide emergency wrecker services and issued emergency wrecker decals to PB&J Towing to be displayed on each wrecker vehicle assigned to Zone 6.[5] (Id. ¶ 19.) After receiving its emergency wrecker decals, PB&J Towing did not receive any emergency towing calls from the City. (Id. ¶ 21.) PB&J Towing inquired about the lack of calls. (Id.)

         On September 7, 2017, Samuel Hines wrote to PB&J Towing to inform it that its application had been denied “due to sustained citizen complaints.” (Id. ¶ 22.) Hines informed PB&J Towing that it had the right to appeal his decision within five days. (Id.) PB&J Towing timely appealed the decision, and, on September 28, 2017, Hines convened an appeal hearing before a panel consisting of Defendants Streeter, Jackson, Armstrong, Smith, and Taylor. (Id. ¶ 23.)

         At the appeal hearing, the Individual Defendants provided PB&J Towing with a list of alleged complaints and violations and asked PB&J Towing to respond. (Id. ¶ 24.) Because PB&J Towing was unprepared to respond, having heard them for the first time, it asked for a continuance. The hearing was reset to October 18, 2017. (Id.; ECF No. 27 ¶ 24.) At the second hearing, the panel, consisting of the same members, [6] voted to uphold Hines's decision to deny PB&J Towing's application to provide emergency wrecker services for the City. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 25-27.)

         On August 14, 2018, PB&J Towing filed this lawsuit against the City and Individual Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging due process violations and a civil conspiracy arising from PB&J Towing's removal from the Zone 6 emergency wrecker towing rotation. (ECF No. 1.) PB&J Towing asserts that it was deprived of its constitutionally protected procedural due process property interest under the Fourteenth Amendment when Hines removed it from the Rotation List without notice or hearing. (Id. ¶¶ 29-34.) PB&J Towing contends that, after its removal from the Rotation List, the Individual Defendants and the City conspired to continue PB&J Towing's deprivation by forming a panel for purposes of conducting a “perfunctory hearing” to review Hines's determination. (Id. ¶¶ 35-42; ECF No. 46-1 at 196.)[7]

         On August 6, 2019, the Individual Defendants moved to dismiss PB&J Towing's claims, arguing that they are entitled to qualified immunity or quasi-judicial immunity from PB&J Towing's due process claims, and that PB&J Towing fails to plead sufficient facts to support its conspiracy claim. (See ECF No. 40.)

         II. Jurisdiction

         The Court has federal question jurisdiction. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, district courts have original jurisdiction “of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” PB&J Towing asserts violations of its constitutional rights and seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 9.) Its claims arise under the laws of the United States.

         III. Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows dismissal of a complaint that “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion permits the “defendant to test whether, as a matter of law, the plaintiff is entitled to legal relief even if everything alleged in the complaint is true.” Mayer v. Mylod, 988 F.2d 635, 638 (6th Cir. 1993). A motion to dismiss tests only whether the plaintiff has pled a cognizable claim and allows the court to dismiss meritless cases that would waste judicial resources and result in unnecessary discovery. See Brown v. City of Memphis, 440 F.Supp.2d 868, 872 (W.D. Tenn. 2006).

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court must determine whether the complaint alleges “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). If a court decides in light of its judicial experience and common sense that the claim is not plausible, the case may be dismissed at the pleading stage. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above [a] speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         A claim is plausible on its face if “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. A complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations. However, a plaintiff's “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         IV. Analysis

         The Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss PB&J Towing's claims because: (1) the Individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity; (2) the Individual Defendants are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity; and (3) PB&J Towing does not sufficiently plead a civil conspiracy claim. (ECF No. 40.)

         PB&J Towing argues that its application to be added to the Rotation List was approved by the City and that the Permit Office's issuance of decals corroborates this. (See ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 30-31; No. 46-1 at 198-204.) Because PB&J Towing was properly accepted and added on to the Rotation List, Defendants acted to remove PB&J Towing from the list, and thus, deprived it of a vested property interest. (See id.)

         Defendants argue that PB&J Towing's application was never approved and that the issuance of the decals was an administrative accident. (ECF No. 27 ¶¶ 19, 21.) Because PB&J Towing's application was never approved, Defendants' actions only served to deny PB&J Towing's application. (See id.) Thus, Defendants argue, there was no constitutional violation because any property right PB&J Towing might have had never vested. (See id.)

         At the motion to dismiss stage, the court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Courtright v. City of Battle Creek, 839 F.3d 513, 518 (6th Cir. 2016); League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007). PB&J Towing has plausibly pled that its application was approved by the City. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 29-34.) That allegation is accepted as true.

         A. Qualified Immunity

         Qualified immunity does not protect Hines from PB&J Towing's due process claim because PB&J Towing plausibly alleges that Hines violated its clearly-established due process rights. PB&J Towing does not adequately allege that the ...


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