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Newberry v. Champion

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

March 17, 2017




         Alleging that he was wrongfully incarcerated for approximately two years due to his wrongful conviction on drug possession charges, Weissenger Newberry, III sued John W. Champion, Patrick Steven Jubera, and the State of Mississippi, seeking damages for, among other things, lost wages and profits, emotional anguish, medical expenses, legal fees, and pain and suffering, as well as punitive damages. Doc. #2. Before the Court are the motion to dismiss filed by Champion and Jubera, Doc. #4; and the motion to dismiss filed by the State of Mississippi, Doc. #9.

         I Procedural Background

         On May 2, 2016, Newberry, proceeding pro se, filed a verified “Complaint for Damages” in the Circuit Court of Desoto County, Mississippi, against Champion and Jubera (“Individual Defendants”), [1] and the State of Mississippi. Doc. #2. Newberry asserted federal and state claims arising out of his indictment, conviction, and resulting imprisonment in 2012 for driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, and possession of cocaine, and his subsequent retrial and partial acquittals in 2015. Id. Specifically, Newberry asserts three causes of action: (1) “Violation of Civil Rights [42 U.S.C. §1983];” (2) “Conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights;” and (3) “False Arrest and Imprisonment.”[2] Id. at 5-6. On June 24, 2016, the Individual Defendants removed the state action to this Court, invoking federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Doc. #1. The State did not join in the removal.[3]

         On June 27, 2016, the Individual Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, citing Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. #4; Doc. #5 at 2. On July 18, 2016, Newberry filed a response in opposition. Doc. #7. That same day, the State filed a motion to dismiss, also citing Rule 12(b)(1). Doc. #9; Doc. #10 at 2.[4] On July 25, 2016, the Individual Defendants replied in support of their motion, Doc. #11; and, on August 1, 2016, Newberry responded in opposition to the State's motion, Doc. #12. The State replied in support of its motion on August 3, 2016. Doc. #13. Newberry then filed two unauthorized sur-replies-one on August 10, 2016, to the Individual Defendants' motion; and another on August 18, 2016, to the State's motion. Doc. #14; Doc. #15.[5]

         II Standards

         A. Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         “Motions filed under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a party to challenge the subject matter jurisdiction of the district court to hear a case.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). “Because sovereign immunity deprives the [federal] court of jurisdiction, … claims barred by sovereign immunity can be dismissed only under Rule 12(b)(1) and not with prejudice.” Warnock v. Pecos Cty., 88 F.3d 341, 343 (5th Cir. 1996).

         A court may dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on: “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Crane v. Johnson, 783 F.3d 244, 251 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting Wolcott v. Sebelius, 635 F.3d 757, 762 (5th Cir. 2011)). “[A]s a general rule a claim cannot be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because of the absence of a federal cause of action.” Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 416 (5th Cir. May 1981). Rather,

[w]here the defendant's challenge to the court's jurisdiction is also a challenge to the existence of a federal cause of action, the proper course of action for the district court … is to find that jurisdiction exists and … force[ the defendant] to proceed under Rule 12(b)(6) … or Rule 56 … both of which place greater restrictions on the district court's discretion.

Id. at 415. “The exceptions to this rule are narrowly drawn, and are intended to allow jurisdictional dismissals only in those cases where the federal claim is clearly immaterial or insubstantial.” Id. at

         B. Failure to State a Claim

         A properly stated claim must comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) and the standard governing Rule 12(b)(6). Claims subject to a non-jurisdictional immunity defense, such as qualified or prosecutorial immunity, may be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Moore v. Miss. Gaming Comm'n, No. 1:15-CV-13, 2016 WL 5477673, at *3 (N.D. Miss. Sept. 29, 2016) (citing Loupe v. O'Bannon, 824 F.3d 534, 536 (5th Cir. 2016)).

         1. Rule 8(a)(2)

         Complaints violating Rule 8(a)(2) are called “shotgun complaints” and are “subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).” Griffin v. HSBC Mortg. Servs., Inc., No. 4:14-CV-00132, 2015 WL 4041657, at *5 (N.D. Miss. July 1, 2015). “The unifying characteristic of all types of shotgun pleadings is that they fail … to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them and the grounds upon which each claim rests.” Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1323 (11th Cir. 2015).

         There are four types of complaints that come into conflict with Rule 8(a)(2):

The most common type-by a long shot-is a complaint containing multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts, causing each successive count to carry all that came before and the last count to be a combination of the entire complaint. The next most common type … is a complaint that … [is] replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action. The third type of shotgun pleading is one that commits the sin of not separating into a different count each cause of action or claim for relief. Fourth, and finally, there is the relatively rare sin of asserting multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.

Id. at 1321-23 (footnotes and citations omitted).

         2. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, “the complaint ‘does not need detailed factual allegations, ' but it must provide the plaintiff's grounds for entitlement to relief.” Taylor v. City of Shreveport, 798 F.3d 276, 279 (5th Cir. 2015) (quoting N. Cypress Med. Ctr. Operating Co. v. Cigna Healthcare, 781 F.3d 182, 191 (5th Cir. 2015)). But, because Rule 8(a)(2) requires notice to the defendant, for a claim to survive under the Rule 12(b)(6) standard, it must also include factual allegations that, when assumed to be true, “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 319 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In addition, a claim may also be dismissed if a “successful affirmative defense appears on the face of the pleadings.” U.S. ex rel. Long v. GSDMIdea City, L.L.C., 798 F.3d 265, 274 (5th Cir. 2015). Under these standards, “a plaintiff seeking to overcome” a defense of immunity to suit “must plead specific facts that … allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that … defeat[s]” the defense. Backe v. LeBlanc, 691 F.3d 645, 648 (5th Cir. 2012) (regarding qualified immunity). Though “the official seeking absolute immunity bears the burden of showing that such immunity is justified for the function in question, ” a plaintiff nevertheless must “plead with specificity when absolute immunity is asserted, just as with qualified immunity.” Cole v. Carson, 802 F.3d 752, 776 (5th Cir. 2015), cert. granted and judgment vacated sub nom. on other grounds, Hunter v. Cole, 137 S.Ct. 497 (2016).[6]

         III State's ...

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