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Waddle v. Claughton

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

March 5, 2019

CHRISTEN WADDLE, Plaintiff,
v.
AUNDREA CLAUGHTON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JACKSON L. KISER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Aundrea Claughton's (“Claughton”) Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 157] and Defendant Todd Moser's (“Moser”) Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 159]. The matter was fully briefed by the parties, and I heard oral arguments on the motions on February 5, 2019. After considering the allegations in the Amended Complaint and the arguments of the parties, this matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, I will deny both motions.[1]

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The facts are adequately recounted in my opinion on the Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Mem. Op. pgs. 1-6, June 6, 2018 [ECF No. 40].)

         Following my opinion granting in part Defendant Moser's original Motion to Dismiss and denying Claughton's original Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, asserting the following causes of action: violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights against Moser and Claughton, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 1); conspiracy to violate Plaintiff's First Amendment rights against Moser, Claughton, and the defaulted defendants, Nicholas Jones (“Jones”) and Dre Tucker (“Tucker”), in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 2); violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights by Claughton and Moser, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 3); conspiracy to violate Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights by Claughton, Moser, Jones, and Tucker, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count 4); state law malicious prosecution by Claughton and Moser (Count 5); state law conspiracy by Claughton, Moser, Jones, and Tucker (Count 6); state law defamation against Moser (Count 7); and a state law fighting words claim against Moser (Count 8). Defendants Claughton and Moser filed motions to dismiss on December 21. Plaintiff filed briefs in opposition on January 2, 2019 [ECF Nos. 169 & 170], and Defendants Claughton and Moser filed a joint reply on January 9 [ECF No. 172]. Following oral argument on February 5, the matter is now ripe for disposition.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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. In determining facial plausibility, the court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true. Id. The Complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” and sufficient “[f]actual allegations . . . to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the Complaint must “allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [the] claim.” Bass v. E.I. Dupont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003). Although “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, ” a pleading that merely offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Both Motions to Dismiss will be addressed in turn, as will the various arguments to dismiss certain counts of the Complaint.

         a. Claughton's Motion to Dismiss

         1. Counts 2, 4, and 6

         Claughton contends that the facts, as pleaded, insufficiently state a claim for conspiracy to violate Plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

         In order to state a claim for civil conspiracy under § 1983, Plaintiff must allege that Defendants “acted jointly in concert and that some overt act was done in furtherance of the conspiracy which resulted in . . . deprivation of a constitutional right . . . .” Hinkle v. City of Clarksburg, W.Va., 81 F.3d 416, 421 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Hafner v. Brown, 983 F.2d 570, 577 (4th Cir. 1992)). “In other words, [Plaintiff] must at least be able to show a deprivation of a constitutional right as a result of the alleged conspiracy. This is because ‘[t]he gist of the cause of action is the deprivation and not the conspiracy.'” Shooting Point, LLC v. Cumming, 243 F.Supp. 2d, 536, 537 (E.D. Va. 2003) (quoting Lesser v. Braniff Airways, Inc., 518 F.2d 538, 540 n.2 (7th Cir. 1975)). While § 1983 conspiracy claims are typically brought only against state actors, “a § 1983 claim may be proved by showing that a person acting under color of law collaborated or conspired with a private person to deprive the plaintiff of a constitutional right.” Singer v. Fulton Cnty. Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 119 (2nd Cir. 1995) (internal alterations and citations omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff has adequately alleged facts that, if proven, would establish a conspiracy to violate her constitutional rights. She alleges that Claughton, after learning of Plaintiff's displeasure with his performance of his duties, and her intentions to voice her complaints to the “highest possible authority, ” communicated extensively[2] with Moser over the next several hours. (Am. Compl. ¶ 53.) Following those conversations, which Plaintiff alleges were the beginning of the conspiracy to violate her rights, Claughton called Jones and Tucker and asked them to come in and draft unsworn statements for presentation to a magistrate. According to Jones, Claughton told him that the statements were necessary because “it got too deep, ” and that Claughton needed Jones to make a statement because Plaintiff “had went over top of him [to] try to get him fired or something.” (Id. ¶ 66.) Plaintiff further alleges that, at Claughton's direction, Jones and Tucker both prepared “untrue and unsworn” declarations which formed the ...


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