United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge.
Martese Johnson filed this action against the Virginia
Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, its Director, and
three of its agents, alleging claims under both 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and state law. The case is presently before the
court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs amended
complaint. For the following reasons, the court will grant in
part and deny in part the motion.
following summary of the facts, taken from the plaintiffs
amended complaint, is accepted as true for purposes of the
defendants' motion to dismiss. See Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control ("ABC") is
an agency funded solely through its own revenues and tasked
with controlling the distribution of alcoholic beverages and
enforcing state laws pertaining to alcoholic beverages. Am.
Compl. ¶ 11. ABC is run by a board that directs its
operations, including promulgating its own regulations and
appointing its employees. Id. Defendant Shawn Walker
is the Director of ABC ("Director Walker").
Defendants Jared Miller, Thomas Custer, and John Cielakie
(collectively, the "Agents") are special agents at
time of the events giving rise to the complaint, plaintiff
Martese Johnson ("Johnson") was a twenty-year-old
University of Virginia ("UVA") student. In the
early morning hours of March 18, 2015, Johnson and a friend
went to Trinity Irish Pub ("Trinity"). Trinity is
located in an area adjacent to UVA's campus, known as
"the Corner." In Virginia, persons under the age of
twenty-one are permitted to enters bars after presenting a
valid form of identification. After waiting in a line that
spanned approximately half the block, plaintiff presented his
valid I.D. to the owner of Trinity, who then asked him to
recite his zip code. Because plaintiff had recently moved, he
did not recite the correct zip code and was denied entry into
Trinity. Id. ¶ 20-21. Johnson did not appear
intoxicated. Id. ¶ 22. After being denied
entry, Johnson and the owner of Trinity spoke for a few
minutes about the high school to which they had mutual ties.
Id. ¶ 23.
Miller, Custer, and Cielakie were surveilling Trinity, and
they witnessed the exchange between plaintiff and the owner
of Trinity. Id. ¶ 24. They did not hear the
exchange between plaintiff and the owner, which plaintiff
describes as a "cordial" interaction. Id.
at ¶ 23-25. The Agents did not know why Johnson was
denied entry into the bar, did not see any signs of
intoxication, and did not witness Johnson acting in a
belligerent manner. Id. ¶ 25-27. However, as
Johnson walked away from Trinity, Agent Miller approached him
from behind and grabbed his arm. Id. at ¶ 28.
Miller did not identify himself as a law enforcement agent,
and due to the manner in which Miller approached him, Johnson
did not realize that Miller was a law enforcement agent.
Id. ¶ 31.
plaintiff pulled his arm away and tried to keep walking.
Id. ¶ 31. Agent Miller grabbed plaintiffs arm
again and demanded to see what Miller called plaintiffs
"fake" I.D. Id. ¶ 32. Miller then
"aggressively attempt[ed] to twist Martese's arm
behind his back." Id. Miller still had not
identified himself as a law enforcement agent. Id.
¶ 32-33. At or around this point in time, plaintiff saw
Miller's law enforcement badge. Id. ¶ 35.
He then attempted to cooperate with Miller. He also attempted
to free himself to reach his I.D. Id. ¶ 35.
Custer witnessed the interaction, approached the two men, and
grabbed plaintiffs left arm. Id. ¶ 36. This
prevented plaintiff from complying with Agent Miller's
orders. Without provocation, Agents Miller and Custer
"slammed" plaintiff to the ground, causing
plaintiff to suffer a severe laceration to his forehead and
scalp. Id. ¶ 40. Agent Custer then proceeded to
"roughly and aggressively" place handcuffs around
plaintiffs left wrist. Soon after, Agent Cielakie, who had
observed the entire altercation, placed a second pair of
handcuffs around plaintiffs right wrist and connected them to
the handcuffs surrounding plaintiffs left wrist. Agent
Cielakie also placed leg shackles around plaintiffs ankles.
Id. ¶ 42, 46, 49. Plaintiff alleges that he was
"not yelling, did not appear intoxicated, and was not
aggressive towards the Agents" throughout the entire
course of events. Id. ¶ 37. Plaintiff was not
armed, and the agents did not suspect him to be. Id.
at ¶ 38. After the incident, Agent Miller obtained a
warrant for obstruction of justice and public intoxication.
Both charges were subsequently dropped.
complaint alleges that, prior to this altercation, ABC had a
history of aggressive, excessive, and unjustified behavior
which was exemplified in an April 2013 incident where ABC
agents, including Agent Cielakie, surrounded the car of UVA
student Elizabeth Daly (the "Daly Incident"). The
agents slammed on her windows with steel flashlights and
punched her windshield based on the belief that a case of
water in Daly's car was a case of beer. Daly was arrested
and spent several hours in jail, but the charges against her
were eventually dropped. Johnson contends that, because of
the Daly Incident and other incidents not specified, Walker
had specific knowledge of the policy, custom, or widespread
use of unconstitutional seizures by ABC agents. Id.
¶ 62. Moreover, this problem was so widespread that
other law enforcement agencies had reduced ABC's access
to joint operations. Id. ¶ 63.
filed his original complaint on October 12, 2015, alleging
violations of his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the
United States Constitution, as applicable to the Commonwealth
of Virginia through the Fourteenth Amendment. Johnson also
asserts several violations of various state tort laws. On
November 16, 2015, defendants filed their first motion to
dismiss. On January 21, 2016, after a hearing, the court
granted plaintiffs motion for leave to file an amended
complaint. On February 1, 2016, plaintiff filed his first
amended complaint, adding new factual allegations and new
claims. Defendants filed a motion to strike the plaintiffs
first amended complaint, which the court denied.
amended complaint asserts three causes of action arising
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and four state law claims. In
Counts I through III, the plaintiff claims that Agents
Miller, Custer, and Cielakie violated his rights to be free
from unreasonable seizures and that defendants ABC and
Director Walker failed to train and supervise the Agents.
Counts IV, VI, and VII allege that defendants Miller, Custer,
and Cielakie acted with gross negligence and assaulted and
battered the plaintiff; Count V asserts a claim of negligent
supervision and training against Director Walker. Defendants
have moved to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe
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 complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is
plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
instant complaint is filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
and state law. Although not a source of substantive rights
itself, § 1983 provides "a method for vindicating
federal rights elsewhere conferred." Baker v.
McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979). To state a claim
under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts
to establish two essential elements: (1) that a right secured
by the Constitution or laws of the United States was
violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by
a person acting under color of state law. West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Defendants have moved to
dismiss all seven claims asserted against them. The court
will address each claim in turn.
Claims Against Agents Miller, ...