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Ducksworth v. Rook

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

February 20, 2015

ZACHARY ROOK, et al., Defendants.


KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [3]. However, Plaintiff may, within fourteen days of the entry of this opinion, file an Amended Complaint which cures certain pleading deficiencies outlined below.


This is a Section 1983 case. Plaintiff alleges that he was assaulted by several officers of the Hattiesburg Police Department. He claims that an officer stopped him, grabbed him, and shoved him against his truck. Then "about a dozen officers" allegedly kicked, punched, and stomped on him as he lay on the ground. He alleges that they broke his arm, hog-tied him, hit him with a baton, and shot pepper spray in his eyes. He asserted claims under Section 1983 and state law. Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss [3], which the Court now addresses.


To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC v. La. State, 624 F.3d 201, 210 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). "To be plausible, the complaint's factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. (punctuation omitted). The Court must "accept all well-pleaded facts as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Id. But the Court will not accept as true "conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions." Id. Likewise, "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." PSKS, Inc. v. Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc., 615 F.3d 412, 417 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).


A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

To state a plausible claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must allege that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and that the person depriving Plaintiff of the right acted under color of State law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 101 L.Ed.2d 40 (1988); Daniel v. Ferguson, 839 F.2d 1124, 1128 (5th Cir. 1988).

First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff failed to specifically plead the constitutional rights which he alleges were violated. To be clear, Defendants do not contend that the bare facts of the Complaint are insufficient to allege violations of constitutional rights; rather, they argue that Plaintiff's invocation of Section 1983 without an accompanying citation of a specific constitutional right is insufficient to state a claim under Section 1983.

The Court certainly agrees that the Complaint could have been more artfully drafted. Neither a defendant nor the Court should be forced to guess the specific constitutional rights alluded to in a Section 1983 complaint. Nevertheless, Plaintiff specifically alleged that Defendants, "while acting under color of state law..., deprived Plaintiff of life, liberty, and the continued pursuit of happiness without both substantive and/or procedural due process of law...." Liberally construed, this is an allegation that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of a protected right or liberty interest without substantive or procedural due process. See U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; see also Stark v. Univ. of S. Miss., 8 F.Supp. 3d 825, 838-42 (S.D.Miss. 2014) (discussing procedural and substantive due process claims). Therefore, Plaintiff at least pleaded Section 1983 claims for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment rights to procedural and substantive due process. Plaintiff also alleged that he was wrongfully detained, which could plausibly constitute a claim that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights. See U.S. Const. amend. IV.

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)

"To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), a plaintiff must allege: (1) a conspiracy involving two or more persons; (2) for the purposes of depriving, directly or indirectly, a person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws; and (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; (4) which causes injury to a person or property, or a deprivation of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States." Hilliard v. Ferguson, 30 F.3d 649, 652-53 (5th Cir. 1994). The plaintiff must also allege "that the conspiracy was motivated by a class-based animus." Id. at 653.

Here, Plaintiff did not allege any facts indicating that Defendants' actions were motivated by "a class-based animus." Id. He did not even allege that he is a member of a protected class. Therefore, he failed to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), and that claim must be dismissed without prejudice.

C. § 1983 Municipal/Official Capacity Claims

Section 1983 claims may be brought against government employees "in their individual or official capacity, or against a governmental entity." Goodman v. Harris County, 571 F.3d 388, 395 (5th Cir. 2009). "[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985).

Municipal liability under Section 1983 requires that a plaintiff prove three elements: "a policymaker; an official policy; and a violation of constitutional rights whose moving force' is the policy or custom." Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Monell v. ...

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