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Fletcher v. Brown

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

March 24, 2016

ANGELA FLETCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
MITCH BROWN, Defendant.

Michael A. Bragg, Bragg Law, Abingdon, Virginia, for Plaintiff;

Katie M. DeCoster, Assistant Attorney General, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES P. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

In this action for damages brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff alleges violations of her Fourth Amendment rights by a Virginia State Trooper in connection with her removal from her home for an involuntary psychological evaluation. The defendant has moved to dismiss, which motion has been briefed and orally argued. I find that application of qualified immunity is inappropriate at this stage of the case. Reviewing the plaintiff’s allegations in the light most favorable to her, I hold that two of the causes of action of the Complaint state plausible claims for relief, while one does not.

I.

The Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must accept as true for purposes of deciding the Motion to Dismiss.

The plaintiff, Angela Fletcher, was married to a Deputy Sheriff of Scott County, Virginia. Fletcher and her husband were experiencing marital difficulties. “Her husband had told her previously that he, by virtue of his public law enforcement position, ha[d] personal relationships which he could rely upon, and that she would lose the children and all the marital property.” (Compl. ¶ 3.)

On August 10, 2013, Fletcher and her husband had an argument, and her husband requested that the police come to the marital home. The defendant, Mitch Brown, is a Virginia State Police trooper who responded to the call. Brown arrived at the home accompanied by his supervisor, Brian Hubbard. According to the Complaint, both Brown and Hubbard were friends of Fletcher’s husband.

Fletcher’s husband told Brown and Hubbard that Fletcher had threatened to harm herself. Fletcher admitted to Brown and Hubbard that she had made such a statement during the argument with her husband, but stated that she did not actually intend to harm herself and had made the statement only in the context of the argument and out of concern that she may lose custody of her children.

Brown told Fletcher that he was taking her into custody for psychiatric evaluation. Fletcher refused to go with Brown, and Brown forcibly restrained her, dragged her to the police car, and placed her into the car with her hands and feet restrained. While she was in the car, Brown struck Fletcher with a police baton, injuring her leg.

Brown took Fletcher to the Scott County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office. He later took her to Lonesome Pine Hospital, where she underwent an involuntary psychiatric evaluation and was found not to be a danger to herself. She did not request medical treatment of her leg injury while at the hospital.

Next, Trooper Brown sought an arrest warrant for the charge of resisting arrest. According to the Complaint, he falsely told the magistrate that Fletcher had been placed under arrest when he had taken her into custody for psychiatric evaluation. The criminal charge against Fletcher was eventually dismissed with prejudice. However, prior to dismissal of the charge, Brown’s allegedly false statements were used against Fletcher in domestic relations proceedings involving the custody of her children.

Fletcher was held in jail for several days before her bond was set and she was released. While in custody at the jail, she complained about the injury to her leg, but she was not given any medical treatment.

As a result of Brown’s actions, Fletcher alleges that she suffered bodily injury, pain and suffering, humiliation, and emotional distress. She has asserted three Fourth Amendment claims against Brown under § 1983: (1) unlawful seizure without probable cause; (2) use of excessive force; and (3) making false statements to secure an arrest warrant.

Brown has moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. He argues that none of the Complaint’s claims are legally cognizable. In addition, he ...


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