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Daly v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

June 17, 2014

ELIZABETH K. DALY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION (DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS)

HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

This case involves the arrest of a University of Virginia student by special agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The incident occurred in the parking lot of the Harris Teeter food store in Charlottesville, Virginia. Unfortunately, the agents mistook a case of canned sparkling water for illegally purchased beer.

Although the Complaint contains a number of common law claims, it is essentially a suit seeking damages for civil rights violations. The case is presently before the Court on the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss asserting that the Complaint fails to state an actionable claim or, alternatively, that the arresting agents are entitled to qualified immunity on the constitutional claims.

Both parties have filed memoranda of law supporting their respective positions. The Court heard oral argument on June 3, 2014. For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

This Court's review of a motion to dismiss filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is both informed and constrained by the well-pleaded facts contained in the complaint. The task at hand is to determine the sufficiency of the complaint, "not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). In considering a motion to dismiss, plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true, and the complaint must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater & Son, Inc. v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004). Legal conclusions, however, enjoy no such deference by the reviewing court. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, a complaint need only contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

Net of legal conclusions, the Complaint alleges that on April 11, 2013, the Plaintiff, a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and two of her roommates, Anne T. Downey ("Downey") and Anna C. Wade ("Wade"), entered the Harris Teeter food store at approximately 9:54 p.m. Traveling in the Plaintiffs Chevrolet Trailblazer, they parked approximately 15 to 20 parking spaces from the entrance to the grocery store. The Complaint describes the area around the front doors of the grocery store as very well lit with numerous active security cameras. (Compl. ¶ 29, ECF No. 1, Ex. 1.)

After shopping for approximately ten minutes, Plaintiff purchased cookie dough and sherbet. The two young ladies with her purchased "jalapeno pepper jelly, cream cheese, and a case of canned LaCroix sparkling water in clearly marked blue colored box." ( Id. ¶ 30.) As they exited the store, one of the young ladies, Wade, carried the case of LaCroix sparkling water openly in her arms, "without concealing the case in any way." ( Id. ¶ 33.) At this point in time, the Complaint alleges, "it was dark outside, but the parking lot of Harris Teeter was well-lit." ( Id. ¶ 34.) The parking lot was almost empty. ( Id. ¶ 35.)

As the young women proceeded through the parking lot, seven special agents of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control ("ABC") were conducting stationary surveillance from a distance of approximately 100 to 150 feet. According to the Complaint,

On information and belief, the ABC agents had no reason to believe Harris Teeter was in violation of any laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, including sales of alcohol to underage individuals, and, in the past fourteen years of available records, there are no reports of ABC license violations at Harris Teeter. Likewise, the ABC agents had no reason to suspect that the Plaintiff or her companions had violated ABC laws.

( Id. ¶ 39.)

It is further alleged in the Complaint that at approximately 10:10 p.m., Defendants Special Agents Armon Brown ("Brown") and Lauren E. Blanks ("Blanks"), "both dressed in extremely casual attire without any markings representative of a law enforcement agency or organization on their clothing, pursued the young women on foot to their car." ( Id. ¶ 42.) In the interim, the young women entered Plaintiff's Chevrolet Trailblazer. Plaintiff occupied the driver's seat, Wade the front passenger seat, and Downey the rear passenger seat. Wade placed the sparkling water on the passenger side floor. ( Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) The Complaint details the following events that occurred next.

45. Plaintiff looked up from her cell phone and noticed a woman (Blanks) and a short African-American male in a Volcom t-shirt and khaki cargo shorts (Brown) approach her vehicle.
46. Without warning, both Blanks and Brown began to bang on the windows of the vehicle.
47. Brown banged on the passenger side window, shone a flashlight in the car, and requested Wade to roll down the passenger side window.
48. Both Blanks and Brown allegedly displayed their badges hanging from necklaces which at the time and under the circumstances were not clearly visible or readable.
49. Again, Brown banged on the passenger side window and shouted, "Roll ...

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