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Polk v. Holmes

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

November 3, 2016

LEON POLK and MALCOLM COOK, Plaintiffs,
v.
ANDREW HOLMES, JOHN DOES 1-3, and ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         Leon Polk and Malcolm Cook filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Andrew Holmes, a police officer employed by the Albemarle County Police Department; three unknown police officers; and Albemarle County ("the County"). Holmes and the County have moved to dismiss the plaintiffs' amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [*] For the following reasons, Holmes' motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and the County's motion will be denied.

         Factual Background

         The following facts, taken from the plaintiffs' amended complaint, are accepted as true for purposes of the defendants' motions to dismiss. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

         During the day of June 30, 2015, Holmes executed a traffic stop of a motor vehicle near a Kmart store in Albemarle County. Polk was driving the vehicle, and Cook was riding in the passenger seat.

         After stopping the vehicle, Holmes ordered the plaintiffs out of the vehicle at gunpoint, and directed them to sit on a curb in the Kmart parking lot. Holmes and three other officers then conducted a warrantless search of the vehicle. No contraband or evidence of a crime was found during the search. Polk was ultimately issued a ticket for not having a front license plate, for excess window tinting, and for failure to have his registration in his possession. Polk and Cook were detained for approximately three hours before the ticket was issued by Holmes.

         Polk and Cook are African-American. They allege that Holmes, who is Caucasian, "has a history and practice of targeting African-American males for vehicle stops and intrusive searches, " and that "[t]he stop and the search at issue here were motivated, in significant part, by the race of plaintiffs." Am. Compl. ¶ 11. Prior to the incident at issue in this case, "[n]umerous complaints" had been lodged by African-American citizens of Albemarle County regarding Holmes' conduct in "improperly stopping cars and unlawfully searching people and places." Id. ¶ 13. The plaintiffs allege that no disciplinary or other corrective action was taken as a result of any of those complaints.

         Procedural History

         In February of 2016, Polk and Cook filed suit against Holmes in the Circuit Court of Albemarle County. Holmes removed the case to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         On April 8, 2016, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint against Holmes, three unknown police officers, and the County. The amended complaint asserts causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Count I, the plaintiffs claim that the length of their detention "constitute[d] an independent and unlawful seizure in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments." Am. Compl. ¶ 14. In Count II, the plaintiffs claim that the search of Polk's vehicle "violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches protected by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments." Id. ¶ 16. In Count III, the plaintiffs claim that the actions taken by Holmes "violated [their] right to equal protection of the law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment." Id. ¶ 18. In Count IV, the plaintiffs claim that Holmes "violated their right to be free from excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments." Id. ¶ 20. In Count Five, the plaintiffs assert a claim for municipal liability against the County.

         Holmes and the County have moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for review.

         Standard of Review

         "The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro. 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). When deciding a motion to dismiss under this rule, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable factual inferences in the plaintiffs' favor. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94; see also Vitol, S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co.. 708 F.3d 527, 539 (4th Cir. 2013). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, "a ...


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