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West v. Hill

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

May 5, 2017




         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant City of Gulfport, Mississippi's Amended Motion to Dismiss [21] the claims asserted by Plaintiffs Li'Trendia West and Charmaine Hartfield in their Amended Complaint [18]. This Motion is fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that Defendant's Motion should be denied.


         This case arises out of an incident which allegedly occurred on June 8, 2014. Plaintiffs Li'Trendia West (“West”) and Charmaine Hartfield (“Hartfield”) (jointly, “Plaintiffs”) allege in their Amended Complaint [18] that they were subjected to “violent and abusive conduct” by Defendant Mario Hill (“Defendant Hill”) due to Defendant City of Gulfport's (the “City”) failure to “adopt and implement policies and procedures” to prevent such conduct. Am. Compl. [18] at 2-5.

         Specifically, they claim that after they called the Gulfport Police Department to report a disturbance at a business on Beach Boulevard in Gulfport, Mississippi, Defendant Hill, a police officer with the Gulfport, Mississippi, Police Department, responded and offered to drive them back to their hotel room. Id. at 2. Instead, Defendant Hill parked on a dark street, ordered West out of the patrol car, and then exposed himself, groped West, and sexually propositioned her. Id. Plaintiffs further claim that Defendant Hill exposed himself to Hartfield suggesting that she “touch it” while otherwise sexually propositioning her. Id. Plaintiffs advance 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Defendant Hill for actions taken “under the color of state law, ” and against the City for its deliberate indifference in failing “to investigate, train, supervise and discipline Defendant Hill” and in failing to adopt adequate policies and procedures that would have prevented Defendant Hill's conduct. Id. at 2-5.

         On November 18, 2016, the City filed an Amended Motion to Dismiss [21] on grounds that the Amended Complaint contains only conclusory allegations of violations of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights, and that the allegations against the City appear to be predicated upon a theory of vicarious liability. Am. Mot. to Dismiss [21] at 4-5. The City seeks dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b) and/or 56. Id. The City asserts that, based upon the Affidavit of Leonard Papania, Chief of Police for the City of Gulfport, the only “existing proof is that the City did conduct a thorough background check of Hill's past” which revealed no prior criminal activity and that no prior sexual harassment complaints had been lodged against any City law enforcement officer, including Defendant Hill, prior to those advanced by Plaintiffs.

         Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition [26] maintains that the Amended Complaint does make “sufficient allegations to state a claim for liability against the City under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Resp. in Opp'n [26] at 1. Plaintiffs contend that dismissal at this early stage of the litigation would be improper in that they have stated a sufficient factual basis to support their claims and have not had the benefit of discovery concerning the City's policies. Mem. [27] at 1-3.


         A. The Amended Motion to Dismiss.

         1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) standard.

         In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the “[C]ourt accepts ‘all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'” Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Specifically, a plaintiff must plead “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Wooten v. McDonald Transit Associates, Inc., 788 F.3d 490, 498 (5th Cir. 2015).

The purpose of this requirement is “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, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). The factual allegations in the complaint need only “be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).” Id. (footnote and citations omitted). “[D]etailed factual allegations” are not required, but the pleading must ...

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