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Lucas v. Henrico County Public School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

November 6, 2019

KANDISE LUCAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
HENRICO COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOL BOARD, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (DEFENDANTS' RENEWED MOTIONS TO DISMISS

          Henry E. Hudson Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on remand from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (ECF No. 59).[1]On September 19, 2018, this Court issued a Memorandum Opinion, dismissing the entirety of Plaintiffs'-Kandise Lucas, Maria Crawford, and Toni Hunter-Davis ("Plaintiffs")-Complaint on various grounds (ECF No. 48). On April 12, 2019, the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded this Court's dismissal of Plaintiffs' federal civil rights claims as to Defendants Henrico County Public School Board ("HCPS Board"), Superintendent Patrick Kinlaw ("Kinlaw"), Principal Kirk Eggleston ("Eggleston"), Henrico County Police Department ("HCPD"), Police Chief Humberto Cardounel ("Cardounel"), and Police Sergeant P.F. Crook ("Crook").[2] The Fourth Circuit also vacated and remanded the dismissal of Plaintiffs' state law claims.

         Following the Fourth Circuit's remand, these Defendants filed their Renewed Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim on May 20, 2019 (ECF No. 61). Plaintiffs filed their Response on June 7, 2019 (ECF No. 69).[3] The Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions have been adequately presented to the Court. See E.D. Va. Local Civ. R. 7(J).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 11, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a seven-count Complaint with this Court against nine Defendants, alleging various violations of federal and state law.[4] (See Compl., ECF No. 1.) This Court dismissed the entirety of Plaintiffs' Complaint by Memorandum Opinion. (ECF No. 48.) On Plaintiffs' appeal, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the majority of this Court's ruling dismissing all of Plaintiffs' claims. However, the Fourth Circuit vacated and remanded Plaintiffs' federal civil rights claims as to Defendants HCPS Board, Kinlaw, Eggleston, HCPD, Cardounel, and Crook, under Plaintiffs' First Second Cause of Action ("Count II").[5] This Court had dismissed those claims on the grounds that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman [6] doctrine, or in the alternative, that it was required to abstain under the Younger [7] doctrine. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, and remanded the federal civil rights claims to this Court for a determination that was consistent with the Fourth Circuit's opinion. However, the Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the federal civil rights claims as to Defendants Shannon Taylor ("Taylor"), Tania Kregar ("Kregar"), and Judge L. Neil Steverson ("Steverson"), as those claims are barred by prosecutorial and judicial immunity. Finally, because this Court dismissed the state law claims by declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction in the absence of any remaining federal cause of action, the Fourth Circuit remanded those claims as well.

         Accordingly, this Court will review Plaintiffs' Complaint, along with the accompanying Renewed Motions to Dismiss, [8] as to only the federal civil rights claims alleged in Count II-specifically 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986[9]-and as alleged against only Defendants HCPS Board, Kinlaw, Eggleston, HCPD, Cardounel, and Crook, and the state law claims alleged in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Causes of Action ("Counts IV-VT).

         For the reasons stated, the Court will grant Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 61) as to the remaining claims in Count If under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), and will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction as to Counts IV-VI. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Complaint will be dismissed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only 4a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations," but must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. at 555 (citations omitted). Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" to one that is "plausible on its face," rather than merely "conceivable." Id. at 555, 570.

         "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (citing.Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In considering such a motion, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true, and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater & Son, Inc. v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         The Court also acknowledges that pro se complaints are afforded a liberal construction. Laber v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 413 n.3 (4th Cir. 2006). The Court, however, need not attempt "to discern the unexpressed intent of the plaintiff." Id. Nor does the requirement of liberal construction excuse a clear failure in the pleading to allege a federally cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990). As the Fourth Circuit articulated in Beaudett v. City of Hampton, "[principles requiring generous construction of pro se complaints are not... without limits." 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). "Though [pro se] litigants cannot, of course, be expected to frame legal issues with the clarity and precision ideally evident in the work of those trained in law, neither can district courts be required to conjure up and decide issues never fairly presented to them." Id. at 1276.

         While a motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a complaint, courts may consider documents that are either "explicitly incorporated into the complaint by reference" or "those attached to the complaint as exhibits." Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd, 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016). "[I]n the event of conflict between the bare allegations of the complaint and any exhibit attached ..., the exhibit prevails." Id. at 166 (quoting Fayetteville Inv'rs v. Commercial Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991). This is based on "the presumption that the plaintiff, by basing his claim on the attached document, has adopted as true the contents of that document." Id. at 167. However, "before treating the contents of an attached or incorporated document as true, the district court should consider the nature of the document and why the plaintiff attached it," and it should consider whether plaintiff relied on the attachment for its truthfulness. See Id. at 167-69; see also Wallace v. Baylouny, No. 1:16-cv-0047, 2016 WL 3059996, at *4 (E.D. Va. May 31, 2016).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendant HCPD is an Improper Party

         Defendant HCPD is an improper party in this action, as HCPD is not an entity capable of being sued. State law determines whether a governmental body has the capacity to be sued in federal court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 17(b). "In Virginia, departments of municipal governments are not capable of being sued in their own names." Allmond v. Sec. 8 Dep't of Hous., No. 03-894-A, 2003 WL 23784041, at *2 (E.D. Va. Sept. 25, 2003). Notably, several courts in this Circuit have dismissed claims against police departments in Virginia, holding that they lack the capacity to be sued. See, e.g., Harrison v. Prince William Cty. Police Dept, 640 F.Supp.2d 688, 711 (E.D. Va. 2009); Muniz v. Fairfax Cty. Police Dept, No. 1:05CV466, 2005 WL 1838326, at *2 (E.D. Va. Aug. 2, 2005); Estate of Harris v. Arlington Cty., No 99-cv-1144, 2000 WL 34477900, at *3 (E.D. Va. Jan. 14, 2000) (granting summary judgment in favor of the Arlington County Police Department as to plaintiffs §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985 claims based on its finding "that the police department is not an entity capable of being sued"); Hearn v. Hudson, 549 F.Supp. 949, 952 n.1 (W.D. Va. 1982) ("It appears that nothing in Virginia law recognizes municipal police departments as entities separate from their respective municipalities. Nor does anything in Virginia law support a direct action against a police department as an entity separate from the municipality itself.").

         This Court similarly finds that the claims against HCPD must be dismissed because HCPD does not exist as a separate legal entity from Henrico County and is not capable of being sued.

         Even if Plaintiffs attempted to bring suit against Henrico County, instead of HCPD, such attempt would be futile under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978).[10] In Monell, the Supreme Court held that vicarious liability, under a theory of respondeat superior, is not available for claims brought under § 1983. 436 U.S. at 691. Because it appears that Plaintiffs are only bringing suit against HCPD due to alleged actions of its officers-that is, a vicarious liability claim-any suit against Henrico County for such alleged actions would be foreclosed under Monell. See Id. at 691, 694 ("[A] local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.").

         Therefore, the claims against Defendant HCPD will be dismissed.

         B. The Claims Against Defendant HCPS Board Fail Under Monell

         Plaintiffs have failed to sufficiently allege facts in their Complaint that Defendant HCPS Board implemented and executed an unlawful policy or custom that was responsible for Plaintiffs' alleged deprivation of constitutional rights.

         In Monell, the Supreme Court held that municipalities and local government units, like school boards, can be sued directly under § 1983, where "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers." Id. at 690. That is, "[u]nder Monell, a municipality's liability arises only where the constitutionally offensive actions of employees are taken in furtherance of some municipal policy or custom. Thus, [plaintiffs are] obliged to identify a municipal policy or custom that caused their injury." Walker v. Prince George's Cty., 575 F.3d 426, 431 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Furthermore, the plaintiff "must demonstrate a direct causal link between the municipal action and the deprivation of federal rights." Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997).

         In this case, it appears that Plaintiffs have made only a single allegation against Defendant HCPS Board in Count II. (Compl. ¶ 107 ("Plaintiffs allege that Police Chief Cardounel and Sergeant Crooks failed to prevent defendant HCPS from obtaining an unenforceable and unlawful summons knowing that no violation had occurred in violation of the parties [sic] Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.").) Viewing the Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs have failed to identify a School Board policy, custom, or practice that caused their injuries. See Walker, 575 F.3d at 431. As such, Plaintiffs have failed to plead a viable claim under Monell against Defendant HCPS Board.

         Notably, it seems that Plaintiffs have named Defendant HCPS Board as a defendant in their Complaint in order to hold the School Board liable for the alleged misconduct of Defendants Kinlaw and Eggleston.[11] However, as the Court previously addressed above, vicarious liability is not available for § 1983 claims. See Monell, 436 U.S. at 691.

         As such, the claims against Defendant HCPS Board will be dismissed.

         C. Plaintiffs Fail to State a § 1983 Claim

         Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against Defendants for civil conspiracy under § 1983. Notably, it is unclear from Plaintiffs Complaint-which governs this Court's analysis-which counts are alleged violations of § 1983, and which ones are instead alleged violations of § 1985. However, because Plaintiffs have named both §§ 1983 and 1985 in Count II, the Court will address both statutes.

         To state a claim for conspiracy under § 1983, a plaintiff "must present evidence that [(1)] the [defendants] acted jointly in concert and [(2)] that some overt act was done [(3)] in furtherance of the conspiracy [(4)] which resulted in [plaintiffs'] deprivation of a constitutional right" Hinkle v. City of Clarksburg, 81 F.3d 416, 421 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Hafner v. Brown, 983 F.2d 570, 577 (4th Cir. 1992)). "While [plaintiffs] need not produce direct evidence of a meeting of the minds, [they] must come forward with specific circumstantial evidence that each member of the alleged conspiracy shared the same conspiratorial objective." Id. Plaintiffs' evidence must "reasonably lead to the inference that [defendants] positively or tacitly came to a mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan." Id; see also Ruttenberg v. Jones, 283 Fed.Appx. 121, 132 (4th Cir. 2007) (unpublished) ("[Plaintiffs] were required to allege 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face'.... [which] requires a 'plausible suggestion of conspiracy."' (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 566, 570)); Brown v. Angelone, 938 F.Supp. 340, 346 (E.D. Va. 1996) ("The plaintiff must allege facts which show that the defendants shared a 'unity of purpose or common design* to injure the plaintiff.... The mere fact that each of [the] actors played a part in the events is not sufficient to show such a unity of purpose." (quoting Am. Tobacco Co. v. United States, 328 U.S. 781, 810 (1946))). Plaintiffs "have a weighty burden to establish a civil rights conspiracy." Hinkle, 81 F.3d at 421; see also Simmons v. Poe, 47 F.3d 1370, 1377 (4th Cir. 1995) ("[C]ourts have [] required that plaintiffs alleging unlawful intent in conspiracy claims under § 1985(3) or 1983 plead specific facts in a nonconclusory fashion to survive a motion to dismiss." (quoting Gooden v. Howard Cty., 954 F.2d 960, 969-70 (4th Cir. 1992) (alterations in original))).

         Most evidently, Plaintiffs have failed to sufficiently allege facts of any deprivation of a constitutional right. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Kinlaw, Eggleston, Cardounel, and Crook conspired amongst themselves (and with Defendants Taylor, Kregar, and Steverson) to unlawfully serve, prosecute, and convict Plaintiffs of trespassing on school grounds under Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-128, in violation of Plaintiffs' First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.[12] However, Plaintiffs have failed to show that Defendants ...


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