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Deavers v. Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Department

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

July 2, 2014

ALICIA DEAVERS, Plaintiff,
v.
SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT and HOMERO VASQUEZ, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION (DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS) [1]

HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

This is essentially a civil rights action filed against a Spotsylvania County deputy sheriff, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a number of Fourth Amendment violations and related common law claims. The underlying incident involves Plaintiff's alleged false arrest for being drunk in public and the use of unnecessarily harsh force to detain her.

This case is presently before the Courton the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Defendant, Deputy Sheriff Homero Vasquez, challenges both the substantive sufficiency of the Complaint and, alternatively, seeks to invoke qualified immunity. Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant have filed memoranda of law supporting their respective positions. Since the task at hand is constrained by the four corners of the Complaint, oral argument is unnecessary at this stage of the proceedings.

According to the Complaint, Spotsylvania County Deputy Sheriff Homero Vasquez ("Deputy Vasquez") was dispatched to the Plaintiff's residence during the early morning hours of May 18, 2013 for a complaint of excessive noise. "Plaintiff was in her garage at the time with her garage door open. Deputy Vasquez advised Plaintiff and some friends gathered at her house they could not be in public view while drinking and instructed everyone to go inside, and Plaintiff did." (Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1-1.) When some of the persons present attempted to close the garage door, Deputy Vasquez "placed his foot inside the door to prevent it from being closed." ( Id. ) Several minutes after she entered her home, Deputy Vasquez allegedly requested that she "come back outside." ( Id. ¶ 5.)

When Plaintiff complied, Deputy Vasquez stepped into her dwelling and yanked her outside and informed her she was being arrested for being drunk in public. Deputy Vasquez then grabbed Plaintiff's phone out of her hand, threw it down and handcuffed Plaintiff so tight that Plaintiff had bruises on her wrists and lost feeling in her right thumb. Additionally, Plaintiff suffered bruising on her upper arms due to Deputy Vasquez squeezing them so hard in the process of handcuffing her. Deputy Vasquez then called for backup and 6 police cars even though Plaintiff had not resisted the unlawful arrest he had no reason to feel threatened.[2]

( Id. )

Plaintiff further states in her Complaint that Deputy Vasquez "went through the text messages on Plaintiff's cell phone... accidentally called Plaintiff's 14 year old daughter and hung up, causing her daughter to worry unnecessarily." ( Id. 16.) Plaintiff also maintains that

Upon arrival at the magistrate's office, Deputy Vasquez told the magistrate Plaintiff had stepped out of her garage and become belligerent, prompting her arrest; this was untrue and Plaintiff has video evidence to prove it. Plaintiff informed the magistrate she did not step out of her garage or become belligerent; Deputy Vasquez, unaware of the video evidence, told Plaintiff to"shut up."

( Id. )

Lastly, Plaintiff alleges that she reported Deputy Vasquez's conduct to the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Department and provided them with video evidence. ( Id. ¶ 17.) The charges were eventually dismissed. ( Id. ¶ 12.)

This Court's review of a motion to dismiss filed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) focuses on the facial sufficiency of the well-pleaded facts contained in the complaint. At this preliminary stage, the Court does "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, Plaintiff's 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).

Therefore, in reviewing the complaint for facial sufficiency, this Court must parse out the legal conclusions and extraneous commentary. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit pointed out in Francis v. Giacomelli, "naked assertions of wrongdoing necessitate some factual enhancement within the complaint to cross the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The standard of review articulated above applies as well to the defense of qualified immunity. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 594-95 (1998) (rejecting heighten burden of proof standards where qualified immunity is defense). This Court is aware of the U.S. Supreme Court's admonition that qualified immunity should be addressed at the earliest possible stage-if the record before the court is sufficient. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009).

Since Defendant's Motion to Dismiss raises no challenge at this stage to the sufficiency of Count One, alleging malicious prosecution, this Court will therefore begin its analysis with Count Two, generically styled" 1983 Action." As is characteristic of the Complaint generally, Count Two is rich in its conclusions but lean in supporting facts. Its core components appear to be claims of arrest without probable cause and use of unreasonable and excessive force. Viewing the Complaint in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, as the Court must at this stage, Plaintiff contends that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was arrested without probable cause for being drunk in public. According to the Complaint, "Plaintiff had stepped out of her garage and become belligerent, prompting her arrest...." (Compl. ¶ 6.) However, even under the deferential standard of review accorded Plaintiff under Rule 12(b)(6), nowhere in the Complaint does she unequivocally deny that she was intoxicated at the time of arrest or provide any factual basis to infer that she was not in a public area at the time.[3] Therefore with respect to the arrest without probable cause element of Count Two, that claim fails to survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny. In Crislip v. Commonwealth , the Court of Appeals of Virginia concluded ...


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