United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.
Benjamin Burruss filed this action against defendants
Albemarle County, Virginia (the "County") and
several police officers with the Albemarle County Police
Department ("ACPD"), alleging violations of 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. The case is presently
before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss. For
the following reasons, the court will grant in part and deny
in part the motion to dismiss.
following facts, taken from plaintiffs complaint, are
accepted as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss.
See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
Burruss is a 58-year-old resident of the County. On the
morning of November 21, 2013, Burruss was staying at the
Comfort Inn (the "Inn"), located within the County.
At the time, Burruss was preparing to embark on a camping and
hunting trip in Montana. This trip was intended to
"relieve stress he had been encountering due to
difficulties at his job and in his marriage." Compl.
¶ 14. That morning, Burruss' employer contacted the
ACPD and requested a welfare check on him. The employer told
the ACPD that Burruss was at the Inn, and that Burruss
intended to go hunting and might have a firearm, but that he
had not made any statements that he wanted to hurt himself or
10:40 a.m., Officer Jatanna Rigsby arrived at the Inn.
Officer Rigsby spoke to some employees at the Inn and learned
that Burruss had spoken with a manager at 9:00 a.m. and had
informed the front desk that he was checking out. At this
point, Officer Rigsby alerted other ACPD officers that
Burruss was leaving the Inn. At 10:50 a.m., Officer Robert
Warfel arrived. Burruss then left the Inn and walked towards
his truck, which was located in the Inn's parking lot.
Officers Rigsby and Warfel approached Burruss-who was wearing
a t-shirt, camouflage pants, and an orange hunting cap-and
asked to speak with him; however, Burruss told the officers
that he did not want to talk and asked if they had a warrant.
At some point thereafter, Officers Garnett "Chip"
Riley and Ken Richardson arrived at the Inn. Officer Riley
attempted to speak with Burruss, who reiterated that he did
not want to talk. Officer Peter Mainzer then arrived. Burruss
started his truck and put it in reverse to leave, but Officer
Riley ordered him to stop and put the car in park. Burruss
complied with the orders.
order to prevent Burruss from leaving, Officers Riley and
Richardson instructed Officers Warfel and/or Rigsby to deploy
a "stinger" device behind Burruss' truck.
Id. ¶ 24. A stinger is a portable strip with
upward-facing spikes that can puncture and flatten a
vehicle's tires if a person attempts to drive over it.
Burruss was told that his tires would be damaged if he
attempted to leave. In addition to the stinger, the complaint
alleges that Burruss was prevented from leaving the parking
lot due to the placement of four ACPD vehicles and the
presence of Officers Warfel, Riley, Rigsby, and Richardson.
Burruss' truck battery also died because Officer
Richardson kept the passenger's door of the truck open
during this encounter.
then informed Officer Riley that he had a gun in the backseat
of his truck, but indicated that he had been hunting. Burruss
further related that the gun was not loaded, and that he was
unaware of any ammunition in the truck. The complaint alleges
that, during this conversation, the gun was in plain sight.
Burruss also told Officer Riley that the gun was for his
upcoming hunting trip in Montana. In response, Officer Riley
ordered Burruss not to reach into the back seat of the truck;
Burruss complied with these orders. Nevertheless, Burruss
still refused to leave his truck and said that he was not
going to harm anyone, but that he simply wanted the officers
to leave so that he could "think for himself."
Id. ¶ 31. Burruss did, however, inform Officer
Riley that he had recently changed his medications for
depression, and that he was upset that his wife told him that
she no longer loved him.
point, Officer Rigsby contacted Burruss' wife, Kelly
Burruss, who confirmed that Burruss had not made any threats
to harm himself or others. Mrs. Burruss also indicated that
Burruss had sent her a text, saying that he was going out
west to hunt. The complaint alleges that, upon receiving this
information from Mrs. Burruss, Officer Riley said to the
other officers, "We got nothin', " and told
Burruss that they were going to let him leave. Id.
¶ 32. Specifically, Officer Riley informed Burruss that
he "just need[ed] to check things" to "make
sure everything [was] good[, ]" and then Burruss would
be "good to go." Id Officer Riley also
told the other officers that he had "no reason to hold
[Burruss], " explaining that Burruss had not made any
threats to harm himself or others, and that his depression
was no different from any other person's.
to the complaint, the officers then explored other grounds to
justify holding Burruss. Officer Riley told the other
officers to call Burruss' doctor and attempt to get an
Emergency Custody Order ("ECO") for Burruss.
Id ¶ 34. Officer Rigsby also advised Mrs.
Burruss to go to the Magistrate's Office in order to
obtain an ECO. When Burruss reiterated that he wanted to
leave and did not need any help, Officer Riley said that his
boss would not allow him to let Burruss leave. Shortly
thereafter, Officer Rigsby told the other officers that Mrs.
Burruss was on her way to obtain an ECO.
11:45 a.m., Magistrate Rovelle Brown issued an ECO,
authorizing the officers to seize Burruss pursuant to
Virginia Code § 37.2-808. The ECO indicated that it was
issued upon "a sworn petition" and facts from Mrs.
Burruss. Id. ¶ 43. Once the ECO was obtained,
the officers ordered a SWAT team to extract Burruss from his
truck, although they knew that Mrs. Burruss was on her way
with a key. The SWAT team used a flash grenade, broke the
driver's side window of the truck, and dragged Burruss
from the vehicle by his arms. They proceeded to handcuff and
search Burruss. The removal caused damage to Burruss'
hands, which required on-site medical treatment. Burruss was
then transported to the University of Virginia Hospital for a
November 18, 2015, Burruss filed a three-count complaint
against the County; Officers Riley, Rigsby, Warfel, Mainzer,
and Kanie D. Richardson (the "Officer Defendants");
and John Doe defendants. He alleges that defendants violated
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. Specifically, Burruss
claims that his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments were violated by his unlawful seizure and
detention (Count I). He also asserts claims for false
imprisonment (Count II) and battery (Count III) under
Virginia law. Burruss seeks nominal, compensatory, and
punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, as
well as attorney's fees and costs, and any other
appropriate relief. On January 26, 2016, defendants filed a
motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court held a
hearing on the motion on April 14, 2016. The motion has been
fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition.
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a
party to move for dismissal of a complaint for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive
dismissal for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must
establish "facial plausibility" by pleading
"factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009). In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, all
well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are taken as true
and all reasonable factual inferences are drawn in the
plaintiffs favor. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178
F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, "[a]t bottom, a
plaintiff must 'nudge [her] claims across the line from
conceivable to plausible' to resist dismissal."
Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart, 680 F.3d 359, 364-65
(4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The complaint must contain
sufficient facts "to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level" and "state a claim to relief
that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555, 570. Although a complaint need not contain
detailed factual allegations, it must contain more than
"labels and conclusions" and "a ...