United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division
JACKSON L. KISER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendant Todd Moser's
(“Moser”) Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 12] and
Defendant Aundrea Claughton's (“Claughton”)
Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 14]. Clerk's default has
already been entered against Defendants Nicholas Jones and
Dre Tucker. [ECF No. 24.] The matter was fully briefed by the
parties, and I heard oral arguments on the motions on June
12, 2018. After considering the allegations in the Complaint
and the arguments of the parties, this matter is now ripe for
disposition. For the reasons stated herein, Moser's
Motion to Dismiss will be granted with respect to Counts 5
and 8, and Claughton's Motion to Dismiss will be denied.
STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL
December 20, 2017, while Plaintiff Christen Waddle
(“Plaintiff”) was driving down the road in
Halifax County, Virginia, she encountered an emaciated dog
running loose in the middle of the road. The dog was
“lethargic and shaking. Its ribs were visible and it
had obvious facial scratches.” (Compl. ¶ 10.) She
called Animal Control, but no one answered.
inspecting the dog, she noticed a tracking collar with
Defendant Nicholas Jones's name and phone number.
Plaintiff called him, but no one answered.
she was on the phone, the dog moved to the driver's side
door and, with “labored effort, ” pawed its way
into the floorboard. Being of a compassionate mind, she moved
the dog to the passenger side. Her intent, according to the
Complaint, was to take the dog to Animal Control.
located Jones's Facebook page and left him a message. She
told him she found his dog and that, if he wanted him back,
the dog would be at Animal Control. She described the
dog's condition to Jones as “pathetic.”
Plaintiff began driving the dog to Animal Control but needed
to stop for gas. While she was pumping, she saw a pickup
truck with dog kennels and two dogs in the back “race
by the gas station.” As the truck came on the lot,
Plaintiff began to fear for her safety and called 911. The
truck stopped next to her car and five men exited the truck
and surrounded her car.
five men, including Defendants Tucker and Jones, began
calling her vulgar names and threatening to break her windows
if she did not immediately turn over the dog. The dispatcher
told her to get in her car, but Plaintiff feared that if she
unlocked her car to get in, the men would simply open the
door and take the dog. She confirmed to the dispatcher that
the dog belonged to “them, ” but that the dog was
starved. Plaintiff asked the dispatcher to have Animal
Control come to the scene.
Halifax County Sheriff's deputy drove up (apparently
unrelated to Plaintiff's 911 call), the pickup truck and
three of the men promptly left before engaging with a deputy.
Claughton, an assistant animal control officer in Halifax
County, arrived on the scene. Claughton picked up the dog and
told Plaintiff and Jones, “I'm taking this dog with
me; he is starved and underweight.” At Animal Control,
“A. Conner” inspected the dog. Jones, the
dog's owner,  was given a “cruelty warning”
and directed to take the dog to a vet within 24 hours. Conner
released the dog to Jones less than an hour after Plaintiff
first encountered the animal.
spoke with Claughton at 12:59 p.m. that same day and
expressed her dismay that the dog was returned to Jones. She
told him she would not “let this go, ” and that
she would be reporting him to the “highest possible
authority” for his “dereliction of duty.”
p.m., Claughton had Jones and Tucker come to Animal Control
“for the purpose of cooking up bogus criminal charges
against” Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 36.) Jones and
Tucker prepared handwritten, unsworn statements at 3:37 p.m.
Plaintiff alleges that “[b]oth Jones and Tucker's
statements, as procured by Claughton, were false in that they
failed to properly describe what had happened at the gas
station.” (Id. ¶ 37.) “Their
statements intentionally left out the crucial fact which
[Plaintiff] had made clear-as confirmed on the 911 tape . . .
-that she was taking the dog to Animal Control because of its
obvious physical distress.” (Id.) Plaintiff
alleges “Claughton knew of [Plaintiff's] humane
intent . . ., but he nevertheless orchestrated the crafting
of Jones's and Tucker's written statements to make it
appear that [Plaintiff's] intent was to permanently
convert the dog to her ownership.” (Id.)
securing the statements, Claughton sought arrest warrants
from the magistrate, which were issued at 4:23 p.m. that day.
Plaintiff was charged with felony larceny for the
“taking” of the tracking collar and misdemeanor
larceny for the “taking” of the dog. According to
Plaintiff, “Claughton did so with full knowledge that
[Plaintiff] had not taken the dog with the intent of
acquiring permanent ownership, as required by law for a
larceny charge, but instead was only seeking to secure the
protection of Animal Control over the dog's well-being .
. . .” (Id. ¶ 38.) Plaintiff alleges
there was no probable cause to initiate larceny charges
against her, and that Claughton knew he could only secure
arrest warrants by omitting vital facts.
next day, on December 21, Claughton accompanied Jones and
Tucker to the vet. Given the dog's abject condition, it
Todd Moser, Claughton's supervisor, did nothing to see
that the now-pending criminal proceeding, “based on the
improperly issued warrants, was dismissed.”
(Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff does not allege when or
how Moser became aware of the situation with her, Claughton,
Jones, and the dog.
was served with the warrants on December 26, and was
instructed to appear for arraignment on January 3. She was
released on a $1, 500 unsecured bond.
news coverage of the incident, Moser stated that he stood
behind Claughton's decision to seek warrants against
Plaintiff and would not “second guess” his
officers. Moser did not inform the press that the dog was put
down. When asked why he did not disclose that information in
prior reporting on the incident, Moser responded: “[I]t
was not something I felt you needed to know.” As a
result of the “persecution” against her by
Claughton, which had been ratified by Moser, Plaintiff felt
“chilled” in her First Amendment right to speak
out. The actions of Claughton and Moser “caused
[Plaintiff] to withhold further public criticism of
[Claughton's] actions now that the reality of criminal
prosecution, and the threat of criminal conviction and
imprisonment, was real.” (Id. ¶ 49.)
January 3, 2018, Plaintiff appeared pro se at her
arraignment. At that time, Commonwealth Attorney Tracy
Quackenbush Martin dismissed the charges against Plaintiff.
In a public statement after the arraignment, Martin said
“the evidence did not indicate criminal intent as
required by law.” (Id. ¶ 52.) Martin did
not explain, however, “why Moser and Claughton had not
approached her to ...