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Tanksley v. Bruce Rose

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

December 9, 2019

KARL ANTHONY TANKSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MAYOR C. BRUCE ROSE, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION (GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS)

          Henry E. Hudson Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is currently before the Court on Defendants'-Mayor C. Bruce Rose, Chief of Police Thomas Hopkins, Eric S. Kearney, the City of Wilson, and the Wilson Police Department[1]-Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 18), filed on May 21, 2019. Plaintiff Karl A. Tanksley ("Plaintiff), who proceeds pro se, filed this suit against fifteen defendants, stating eleven counts, of which nine are relevant here. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) The Wilson Defendants now seek to dismiss each of the nine claims pending against them on several bases, namely Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6).[2]

         All parties have filed memoranda supporting their respective positions. (ECF Nos. 18, 19, 40, 47.) The Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before it, and oral argument would not aid in the decisional process. See E.D. Va. Local Civ. R. 7(J). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In April 2013, Wilson County police officers pursued a missing person's report, filed on April 3, 2013, with the Northampton County Sheriffs Office. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. 2, ECF No. 19.) Their investigation led them to the body of Mr. Kirk Alan Lilly, whose last known address was 1390 Old Emporia Road, Gaston, North Carolina 27832. (Id. at 3.) This address is Plaintiffs residence. (Compl. ¶ 17; Defs.' Mem. Supp. 3.) Based upon this information, the officers applied for and obtained a search warrant for Plaintiffs home. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. 3.)

         On April 9, 2013, pursuant to the search warrant, Officer Eric S. Kearney, Special Agent Justin D. Godwin, and other members of the Wilson Police Department searched Plaintiffs home. (Compl. ¶ 17; Defs.' Mem. Supp. 3.) Following this search, warrants were issued for Plaintiffs arrest, stating charges for "Murder, Concealment of Death, Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon, Trafficking in Heroin/Possess, Trafficking in Heroin/Transport, and Larceny of a Motor Vehicle." (Defs.' Mem. Supp. 3.) On May 8, 2013, Plaintiff was arrested on these charges, and on May 9, 2013, Plaintiff was extradited from Virginia to North Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 20, 24; Defs.' Mem. Supp. 3.)

         Plaintiff was subsequently booked and held at the Wilson County Jail in North Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 35, 30.) On February 3, 2015, Plaintiff was released on bail. (Id. at¶49.) Throughout this process, Plaintiff maintained his innocence. (Id. at¶23.)

         Ultimately, each of the charges brought against Plaintiff was dismissed. (Defs.' Mem. Supp. 4.) Following their dismissal, this lawsuit ensued, in which Plaintiff brings claims against the Wilson Defendants for false imprisonment, false arrest, negligence, assault and battery, kidnapping, bribery, breach of duty, conspiracy against rights, and violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Wilson Defendants now seek to dismiss these claims.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) challenges the court's exercise of personal jurisdiction over a defendant. "When a court's personal jurisdiction is properly challenged . .. the jurisdictional question thereby raised is one for the judge, with the burden on the plaintiff ultimately to prove grounds for jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Akzo, N.V., 2 F.3d 56, 60 (4th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). "If the existence of jurisdiction turns on disputed factual questions the court may resolve the challenge on the basis of a separate evidentiary hearing." Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). When, as here, the court is asked to decide personal jurisdiction without an evidentiary hearing, it may do so based solely on the motion papers, supporting legal memoranda, and the relevant allegations of the complaint. Mylan Labs, 2 F.3d at 60. If the court proceeds in this fashion, "the plaintiff need prove only a, prima facie case of personal jurisdiction," with the court drawing "all reasonable inferences arising from the proof, and resolv[ing] all factual disputes, in the plaintiffs favor." Id. (internal citations omitted).[3]

         If Plaintiff makes the requisite showing, Defendant then bears the burden of presenting a "compelling case" that, for other reasons, the exercise of jurisdiction would be so unfair as to violate Due Process. Burger King v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 462, 477-78 (1985).[4] Thus, "for a district court to assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, two conditions must be satisfied: (1) the exercise of jurisdiction must be authorized under the state's long-arm statute; and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction must comport with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment." Careflrst of Md, Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003).

         The Virginia Supreme Court has interpreted Virginia's long-arm statute, Va. Code § 8.01-328.1(A), to confer jurisdiction "over nonresidents who engage in some purposeful activity in Virginia, to the extent permissible under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution of the United States." Nan Ya Plastics Corp. U.S.A. v. DeSantis, 377 S.E.2d 388, 391 (Va. 1989). Thus, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the statutory and constitutional inquiries merge, and the reviewing court is not required "to go through the normal two-step formula for determining the existence of personal jurisdiction." Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Rapid Am. Corp. (In re Celotex Corp.), 124 F.3d 619, 627-28 (4th Cir. 1997).

         "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 'a 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. (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. (citations omitted). 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 v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         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 a 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).

         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.

         III. ...


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