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Wadkins v. Werner

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

June 17, 2015



GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for judgment on the pleadings [17] filed by Defendants Keisha Elizabeth Werner and John Allen Werner, III ("Defendants"). Plaintiffs Jonathan Franklin Wadkins, Sandra Kay Wadkins, and Franklin Martin Wadkins ("Plaintiffs") have filed a response, and Defendants have filed a reply. On June 11, 2015, the Court held a hearing on the motion to give the parties an opportunity to present oral argument on the motion. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part as set forth below.

A. Legal Standards

Defendants characterize their motion as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A Rule 12(c) motion is governed by the same standards as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion-that is, the Court must determine upon a review of the pleadings whether the plaintiff has stated a valid claim for relief. See Brown v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 472 F.Appx. 302, 303 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. v. Williamson, 224 F.3d 425, 440 n.8 (5th Cir. 2000)).

"After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion brought pursuant to [Rule] 12(c) is designed to dispose of cases where the material facts are not in dispute and a judgment on the merits can be rendered by looking to the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts." Hebert Abstract Co. v. Touchstone Props., Ltd., 914 F.2d 74, 76 (5th Cir. 1990) (per curiam) (citing 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367, at 509-10 (1990)). So, too, when deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court is limited to the allegations set forth in the complaint and any documents attached to the complaint. See Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 F.Appx. 215, 216-17 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (citing Kennedy v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 369 F.3d 833, 839 (5th Cir. 2004)).

"[A plaintiffs] complaint... must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."'" Phillips v. City of Dallas, Tex., 781 F.3d 772, 775-76 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007))). A claim is facially plausible when the pleaded factual content "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "[P]laintiffs must allege facts that support the elements of the cause of action in order to make out a valid claim." Webb v. Morella, 522 F.Appx. 238, 241 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting City of Clinton, Ark. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 632 F.3d 148, 152-53 (5th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Id. (quoting Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir.1993) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "Dismissal is appropriate when the plaintiff has not alleged enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face' and has failed to raise a right to relief above the speculative level'" Emesowum v. Hous. Police Dep't, 561 F.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

The Fifth Circuit has explained the Iqbal/Twombly standard as follows:

In order for a claim to be plausible at the pleading stage, the complaint need not strike the reviewing court as probably meritorious, but it must raise more than a sheer possibility that the defendant has violated the law as alleged.... In determining whether a complaint states a claim that is plausible on its face, the court draws on its judicial experience and common sense.

Oceanic Exploration Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co. ZOC, 352 F.Appx. 945, 950 (5th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

Although the Court need not "accept as true conclusory allegations or unwarranted deductions of fact, " see Great Plains Trust Co., 313 F.3d at 313, dismissal is appropriate only "when it is clear that the plaintiff can prove no set offacts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief, " id. at 302-03. "The issue is not whether the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail, but whether they are entitled to offer evidence to support their claims." Ferrer v. Chevron Corp., 484 F.3d 776, 780 (5th Cir. 2007).

B. Discussion and Analysis

Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated several sections of the Federal Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq. [1] Plaintiffs also assert state-law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. Plaintiffs bring their claims under the auspices of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

With respect to the Federal Wiretap Act claims, first, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated 18 U.S.C. § 2511(1)(a) and (b) when they allegedly intercepted the private oral communications of Plaintiffs using a device that they had purchased in the District of Columbia and subsequently transported back to Mississippi in interstate commerce. Second, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated 18 U.S.c. § 2511(1)(c) when they disclosed the contents of the subject recordings to their attorney in the state-court proceeding. Finally, Plaintiffs allege that when Defendants' attorney in the state-court proceeding disclosed the contents of the subject recordings to Plaintiffs' attorney in discovery in the ongoing state-court child custody case, Defendants were endeavoring to use the contents of the intercepted oral communication and were in violation of 18 U.S.c. § 2511 (1)(d).

Defendants make several arguments in support of dismissal, including that Plaintiffs' complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and seeks to improperly involve the federal court in a child custody proceeding that does not fall within the purview of the Federal Wiretap Act. Defendants further argue that the recordings of communications, which are the subject of this litigation, occurred solely in the State of Mississippi, and Defendants' act of purchasing the recording device outside of the State of Mississippi does not establish the federal nexus requirement of claims brought under the Federal Wiretap Act-though Defendants acknowledge they could locate no Fifth ...

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