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Burruss v. Riley

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

June 14, 2016

GARNETT RILEY, et al., Defendants.


          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Factual Background

         The 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).

         Benjamin 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 others.

         At 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.

         In 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.

         Burruss 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.

         At some 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.

         According 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.

         At 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 psychiatric evaluation.

         On 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.

         Standard of Review

         Rule 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 ...

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