United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
Hannan Lauck United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on three motions: Defendant
City of Petersburg, Virginia's ("Petersburg")
Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Marietta Patrick's Amended
Complaint (the "Petersburg Motion to Dismiss"),
(ECF No. 11); Defendant Deborah Broughton's Motion to
Dismiss Patrick's Amended Complaint (the "Broughton
Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF No. 12); and, Patrick's
First Motion for Summary Judgment (the "Patrick Motion
for Summary Judgment"), (ECF No. 21). The motions to
dismiss have been filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). The Motion for Summary Judgment has
been filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
does not oppose the Petersburg Motion to Dismiss. (ECFNo.
17.) Patrick has responded to the Broughton Motion to
Dismiss, (ECF No. 19), and Broughton has replied, (ECF No.
20). Broughton has responded to the Motion for Summary
Judgment. (ECF No. 26.) Patrick has not replied, and the time
to do so has expired. The Court dispenses with oral argument
because the materials before it adequately present the facts
and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the
decisional process. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant
to 28U.S.C. §1331.
reasons that follow, the Court will: (1) grant the Petersburg
Motion to Dismiss; (2) grant the Broughton Motion to Dismiss;
and, (3) deny as moot the Patrick Motion for Summary
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency
of a complaint; importantly, it 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) (citing 5 A
Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1356 (1990)). In
considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim,
a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and
the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d
1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993); see also Martin,
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require only 'a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to 'give
the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.'" BellAtl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (omission in original)
(quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).
Plaintiffs cannot satisfy this standard with complaints
containing only "labels and conclusions" or a
"formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action." Id. (citations omitted); see
also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679
(2009). Instead, a plaintiff must assert facts that rise
above speculation and conceivability to those stating a claim
that is "plausible on its face." Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Therefore, in
order for a claim or complaint to survive dismissal for
failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must "allege
facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her
claim." Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours &
Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citations
Procedural and Factual Background
Deborah Broughton, in her official capacity as the Animal
Control Officer for the Petersburg; Deborah Broughton, in her
individual capacity; and, Petersburg (collectively, the
"Defendants"), removed this case from the City of
Petersburg General District Court. (ECF No. 1.) In the City
of Petersburg General District Court, Patrick filed a Warrant
in Debt, alleging on a standard state court form that the
Defendants owe her $25, 000 for "trespass" and a
"[violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §
1983." (ECF No. 1-1.) After the Defendants filed a
Motion for a More Definite Statement, (ECF No. 3), this Court
ordered Patrick to file an amended complaint, (ECF No. 6).
brings her Amended Complaint against the Defendants, alleging
a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States
Constitution. (ECF No. 7.) Patrick seeks $25, 000 in
compensatory damages and $100, 000 in punitive damages.
Petersburg moved to dismiss the constitutional claim against
it on the basis that Patrick fails to allege that Petersburg
had a policy or custom of inadequate training. (ECF No. 14.)
Patrick does not oppose the Petersburg Motion to Dismiss.
(ECF No. 17.)
has moved to dismiss the claims against her in both her
individual and official capacities on the basis that Patrick
fails to allege a constitutional violation. (ECF No. 13.)
Broughton additionally contends that Patrick failed to
plausibly plead punitive damages. Finally, Broughton argues
that she is entitled to sovereign immunity in her official
capacity and qualified immunity in her individual capacity.
Patrick has responded to the Broughton Motion to Dismiss,
(ECF No. 19), and Broughton has replied, (ECF No. 20).
the motions to dismiss still pending, Patrick filed the
Patrick Motion for Summary Judgment on Broughton's
"claim of 'qualified immunity' leaving only to
be determined the amount of [Patrick's] damages under her
filed [Amended] Complaint." (Mot. Summ. J. 1, ECF No.
21.) Broughton has responded. (ECF No. 26.) Patrick has not
replied, and the time to do so has expired.
Summary of Allegations in the Complaint
owns real property at 2029 Colston Street in Petersburg,
Virginia, where she resides with several dogs. On or about
February 25, 2014, Broughton came to Patrick's residence
to investigate an injured dog in the backyard. Broughton then
sought a search warrant for the property, alleging
dogfighting and cruelty to animals under Virginia Code
§§ 3.2-6571 and 3.2-6570,  respectively.
Broughton provided an affidavit that stated the following:
On February 215, 2014[J Petersburg Animal Control was
dispatched to 2029 Colston Street for two dog fighting [sic].
Upon arrival at 1759 hours, I met with officers at the scene
at the residence to the left of 2029 and went into the
backyard where we could see over the privacy fence and see a
canine lying on the ground not moving, barely breathing,
covered in blood; this dog has expired at the emergency
veterinarian center. There were approximately 7 or 8 dogs in
the back yard with the before mentioned canine. Another
canine that is red and white in color had blood all over its
head, neck and chest. I then entered into the back yard and
retrieved the injured canine. I observed injuries on that
canine that are consistent with dog fighting.
(Am. Compl. ¶ 15.) Broughton swore in the affidavit that
she had personal knowledge of the facts set forth and that
she had been Chief Animal Control Officer with the Petersburg
Bureau of Police since 2012.
Amended Complaint alleges that Broughton "had absolutely
no experience in investigating and [obtaining] search
warrants in 'dog fighting' cases" and that
"[h]er training consisted of nothing more than
approximately [five] hours of classroom time."
(Id. ¶ 18.) As a result, Patrick asserts,
Broughton "knew... that there was no evidence of any
'dog fighting operation.'" (Id. ¶
18.) The Amended Complaint further alleges that the Attorney
General's Office for the Commonwealth of Virginia
provided to Broughton a video that featured a dogfighting
operation on Washington Street, which Broughton had been told
was not the 2029 Colston Street residence. Broughton did not
provide this information to the magistrate, who then issued
the search warrant.
February 25, 2014, members of the Petersburg Bureau of Police
conducted a search of Patrick's house while Broughton
waited outside. Broughton permitted Amy Taylor,
 a member of the Virginia Animal
Fighting Task Force, to independently search the house.
Taylor concluded that there was no evidence of abuse or
neglect of the dogs in the house or the yard. During the
search, Taylor informed Animal Control Officer Kelly Garcia
that "this was not the location that Broughton told me
about" and "this was supposed to be Washington
Street from the video." (Id. ¶ 23.)
Broughton then seized all of Patrick's dogs, claiming
they were not properly cared for. Members of the search team
seized Patrick's tax returns and personal financial
records that were not listed on the search
warrant. Petersburg returned the seized dogs
to Patrick after she paid $1, 200 and incurred $1, 500 in
case presents an atypical procedural posture. Patrick filed
the Patrick Motion for Summary Judgment before the Court
issued its decisions on the motions to dismiss. Stated
differently, Patrick has asked the Court to enter judgment in
her favor before determining whether she
states a claim upon which relief can be granted. Common sense
advises that the Court should address the motions to dismiss
Patrick Concedes Her Claims Against the Petersburg
Court first assesses the Petersburg Motion to Dismiss. In her
response, Patrick concedes her claims against Petersburg. She
provides: "[Patrick] does not contest the City
of Petersburg's Motion to Dismiss [because she] must in
any case prove [her] case against... Broughton and that if
successful in that action, the source of compensation or
possible compensation would be the same." (Pl's
Resp. to Petersburg's Mot. Dismiss 1 (emphasis added).)
Expressing a strategic desire to balance the costs of
litigating some claims over others,  Patrick notes
that she "does not oppose the dismissal case [sic]
against the City of Petersburg." (Id. at 2.)
doing so, Patrick expresses more than a simple intention not
to respond to the legal arguments set forth by Petersburg.
Some courts have ruled that a plaintiffs failure to respond
to the opposition's argument for dismissal constitutes an
abandonment of the challenged claim.The Court need not
make such a finding here. Patrick expressly conveys that she
does not "contest" the Petersburg Motion to Dismiss
or "oppose the dismissal [of the] case" against
Petersburg. (Id. at 1-2.) Her strategic decision to
conserve fees by pursuing one claim over another extends
beyond merely neglecting to respond to Petersburg's
arguments. The Court will grant the Petersburg Motion to
Dismiss and dismiss all claims against Petersburg.
Patrick Does Not State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be
Granted Against Broughton
Court next evaluates the Broughton Motion to Dismiss. The
Court will grant the Broughton Motion to
Dismiss. Patrick brings her Fourth Amendment
claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a
private right of action for a violation of constitutional
rights by persons acting under color of state
law. To plausibly allege a constitutional
violation pursuant to § 1983, the Complaint must
establish that: (1) Broughton engaged in conduct that
deprived Patrick of a federal constitutional right; (2)
Broughton was acting under color of state law; and, (3)
Broughton's acts proximately caused Patrick's
damages. See Daniczek v. Spencer, 156 F.Supp.3d 739,
747 (E.D. Va. 2016) (citing Amato v. City of
Richmond, 875 F.Supp. 1124, 1132-33 (E.D. Va. 1994),
affd, 78 F.3d 578 (4th Cir. 1996)).
points to the search of her house in the absence of probable
cause as the violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be
free from search and seizure. With respect to
Broughton's involvement, Patrick acknowledges that
Broughton did not partake in the physical search of the
property. Indeed, the Amended Complaint alleges that
Broughton remained outside the house as other individuals
conducted the search. Nonetheless, Patrick contends that
Broughton caused the allegedly unconstitutional
search and seizure by submitting a deficient and misleading
affidavit to the magistrate. Broughton argues that
the neutral magistrate's issuance of a warrant
affords Broughton a "shield of immunity." (Deborah
Broughton's Br. Supp. Mot. Dismiss ("Broughton Br.
Supp.") 8.) Even assuming the well-pleaded facts of the
Amended Complaint to be true, Broughton's position
prevails. For the reasons stated below, the doctrine of
qualified immunity bars Patrick's Fourth Amendment claim
against Broughton in her individual capacity.
Qualified Immunity Standard
doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials
'from liability for civil damages insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.'" Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223,
231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S.
800, 818 (1982)). This protection "applies regardless of
whether the government official's error is 'a mistake
of law, a mistake of fact, or a mistake based on questions of
law and fact.'" Id. (citation omitted).
immunity gives government officials breathing room to make
reasonable but mistaken judgments, and protects all but the
plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the
law." Messerschmidt v. Millender, 132 S.Ct.
1235, 1244 (2012) (citations and internal quotations
omitted). This allowance for reasonable mistakes balances
"two important interests- the need to hold public
officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly
and the need to shield officials from harassment,
distraction, and liability when they perform their duties
reasonably." Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231.
'"[W]hether an official protected by qualified
immunity may be held personally liable for an allegedly
unlawful official action generally turns on the
"objective legal reasonableness" of the action,
assessed in light of the legal rules that were "clearly
established" at the time it was taken.'"
Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at 1245 (alteration in
original) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S.
635, 639 (1987)).
Qualified Immunity Bars Patrick's Claim Against Broughton
In Her Personal Capacity
qualified immunity principles to Fourth Amendment cases
involving a search or seizure pursuant to a warrant, the
Supreme Court of the United States has explained that
"the fact that a neutral magistrate has issued a warrant
is the clearest indication that the officers acted
in an objectively reasonable manner or, as we have sometimes
put it, in 'objective good faith.'"
Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at 1245 (emphasis added)
(citing United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 922-923
(1984)). The United States Court of Appeals for "[t]he
Fourth Circuit... has held that '[w]hen a police officer
protects a suspect's rights by obtaining a warrant from a
neutral magistrate, the officer should, in turn, receive some
protection from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.'"
Godbey v. Simmons, No. I:llcv704, 2014 WL 345648, at
*6 (E.D. Va. Jan. 30, 2014) (quoting Torchinsky v.
Siwinski, 942 F.2d 257, 262 (4th Cir. 1991)),
aff'd, 577 F.App'x 239 (4th Cir. 2014).
"That is so because a 'magistrate's
determination of probable cause provides additional support
for the claim that [the officer] acted with objective
reasonableness.'" Id. (quoting
Torchinsky, 942 F.2d at 262); see also Malley v.
Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 346 n.9 (1986) ("[W]here a
magistrate acts mistakenly in issuing a warrant but within
the range of professional competence of a magistrate, the
officer who requested the warrant cannot be held
fact that a neutral magistrate has issued a warrant
authorizing the allegedly unconstitutional search or seizure,
" however, "does not end the inquiry into objective
reasonableness." Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at
1245. An exception exists "when 'it is obvious that
no reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a
warrant should issue.'" Id. (quoting
Malley, 475 U.S. at 341); see also
Daniczek, 156 F.Supp.3d at 749 ("The fact that a
magistrate erroneously issues a warrant based on a
constitutionally deficient affidavit does not protect the
affiant where a reasonably well-trained affiant would have
recognized that the affidavit did not demonstrate probable
cause."). Nonetheless, "the threshold for
establishing this exception is a high one, and it should
be." Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at 1245.
"'In the ordinary case, ... [i]t is the
magistrate's responsibility to determine whether the
officer's allegations establish probable cause and, if
so, to issue a warrant comporting in form with the
requirements of the Fourth Amendment.'" Id.
(quoting Leon, 468 U.S. at 921).
by these principles, the Court need not determine whether
Broughton's affidavit actually established probable
cause to search Patrick's residence
for evidence relating to dogfighting or dog abuse. 
Messerschmidt, 132 S.Ct. at 1249 ("Whether any
of these facts, standing alone or taken together, actually
establish probable cause is a question we need not
decide."); see also Torchinsky, 942 F.2d at 261
("The standard for probable cause ... is more stringent
than is the requirement for qualified immunity.").
Rather, the Court must determine whether no reasonable
officer could have reached the conclusion that a warrant
should have issued. Id. ("[W]e have recognized
an exception allowing suit when 'it is obvious that no
reasonably competent officer would have concluded that a
warrant should issue.'" (quoting Malley,
475 U.S. at 341)). In order to make this determination, the
Court will look to the criminal statutes that underlined the
bases for Broughton's affidavit, Broughton's
affidavit itself, and the facts known to Broughton at the
time she pursued the warrant.
Criminal Statutes Referenced In the ...