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Z.F. v. Adkins

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Big Stone Gap Division

April 10, 2019

Z.F., AN INFANT, BY HIS NEXT FRIEND ALFRED FLEMING, Plaintiff,
v.
RYAN ADKINS, Defendant.

          Michael A. Bragg, Bragg Law, Abingdon, Virginia, for Plaintiff;

          Henry Keuling-Stout, Keuling-Stout, P.C., Big Stone Gap, Virginia, for Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones, United States District Judge

         In this action for violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff, a middle school student, alleges that the defendant, a deputy sheriff and resource officer at the plaintiff's school, violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiff contends that the defendant unlawfully seized his person and seized and searched his cell phone, and the defendant used excessive force in doing so. The defendant has moved to dismiss the Complaint and for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, I will deny the defendant's motions.

         I.

         The Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must accept as true for the purpose of deciding the Motion to Dismiss.[1]

         On April 17, 2018, while Z.F., a 14-year-old student at L. F. Addington Middle School in Wise County, Virginia, was eating lunch in the school cafeteria, Ryan Adkins, a Deputy Sheriff with the Wise County Sheriff's Department and a Resource Officer at the middle school, approached Z.F. and demanded that he give his cell phone to Deputy Adkins. Z.F. had been conducting himself in an orderly manner when Deputy Adkins approached him. Z.F. asked why Deputy Adkins wanted his cell phone, but Deputy Adkins would not tell him and repeated his demand. Deputy Adkins told Z.F. to stand, took him by his arm, and escorted him across the cafeteria and into the hallway outside the cafeteria. Z.F. alleges that he was removed from the cafeteria involuntarily and in the presence of his classmates, which caused him great embarrassment. School administrators were also standing nearby and observed this encounter.

         In the hallway, Deputy Adkins again demanded that Z.F. give his cell phone to him. Z.F. asked Deputy Adkins to explain why he needed the phone, but Deputy Adkins refused. Z.F.'s father had instructed him that in the event of an encounter with law enforcement in which he did not know how to respond, he should contact him, so Z.F. told Deputy Adkins that he was going to call his father. Z.F. turned away from Deputy Adkins and began dialing his father's phone number, but Deputy Adkins tackled Z.F. and threw him to the ground, lying on top of Z.F. to restrain him while he forcibly took his cell phone. The school administrators had followed Z.F. and Deputy Adkins into the hallway and observed these events.

         Z.F. was then taken to an office, where he alleges he was held against his will and not allowed to attend his classes or leave the school. Deputy Adkins searched the contents of Z.F.'s cell phone but did not find anything illegal. Z.F. and the cell phone were later released to Z.F.'s parents.

         Z.F. alleges that Deputy Adkins' seizure of his person in the cafeteria and again in the corridor, along with his seizure and search of Z.F.'s cell phone, were without probable cause and were done intentionally and maliciously in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He also alleges that Deputy Adkins intentionally and maliciously used excessive force against him in violation of the Fourth Amendment when he tackled him to the ground. Z.F. alleges that as a result of Deputy Adkins' actions, he suffered physical injuries, including an injury to his back that required medical care; emotional injuries, including emotional trauma that has required counseling; and embarrassment. He has brought this action for damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Deputy Adkins has filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and for Summary Judgment. The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for decision.[2]

         II.

         A.

         Federal pleading standards require that a complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must “state[] a plausible claim for relief” that “permit[s] the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct” based upon its “judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). In evaluating a pleading, the court accepts as true all well-pled facts and construes those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009).

         In order to prevail on a motion to dismiss a complaint alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “a defendant must satisfy the trial court that there is no set of facts which will support an allegation that he or it (1) acted under color of state law, and (2) deprived plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution and laws.” Dist. 28, UMWA, Inc. v. ...


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