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Hill v. Goodwin

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

April 10, 2018



         Now before this Court is Defendants Perry Goodwin, Macel Appleton, and Dennis Hopper's motion to dismiss [7]. Pro se Plaintiff Frankie Wayne Hill, a commercial truck driver, alleges Goodwin, a Mississippi Department of Transportation officer, and Appleton and Hopper, Goodwin's supervisors, violated his constitutional rights by falsely arresting him and searching his truck after Hill refused to participate in a roadside safety inspection. Because Hill was required to submit to the roadside inspection, no constitutional violation occurred when Goodwin arrested Hill, and so, the motion should be granted.[1]

         Factual and Procedural Background

         According to the complaint[2], on the morning of January 22, 2015, Hill was driving his truck down 1-55 south of Batesville, Mississippi, when Goodwin pulled him over. Compl. [1] at p. 1. Goodwin approached the vehicle and told Hill that he intended to perform an inspection on Hill's truck. Id

         Hill initially complied by providing Goodwin with his permit book. Id. at p. 4. Hill told Goodwin that he did not oppose Goodwin inspecting the truck, but that he would not assist in the inspection by operating any controls. Id. Goodwin informed Hill that he was required to submit to the inspection under Mississippi law, but Hill still refused to operate any vehicle controls for the inspection. Id.

         Goodwin, after speaking to Appleton and Hopper, decided to place Hill under arrest for refusing the inspection. Id. at p. 6. Goodwin proceeded to search the truck, and the truck was thereafter impounded.

         Hill subsequently brought the present suit alleging that Defendants violated his constitutional rights. Defendants now move to dismiss the suit, asserting they are entitled to qualified immunity. Hill has responded, and the matter is ripe for review.

         Legal Standards

         1. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         Motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) "are viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted." Kocurek v. Cuna Mut. Ins. Soc' y, 459 Fed.Appx. 371, 373 (5th Cir. 2012) (citing Gregson v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 883, 885 (5th Cir. 2003)). 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. Walker v. Webco Indus., Inc., 562 Fed.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 therefore '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, 522F. App'x238, 24l (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 Fed.Appx. 372, 372 (5th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955).

         2. Qualified Immunity

         "Qualified immunity 'gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions.' " Lane v. Franks, ____ U.S.___, ___, 134 S.Ct. 2369, 2381, 189 L.Ed.2d 312 (2014) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 179 L.Ed.2d 1149 (2011)). "The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be legal." Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 370 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc).

         Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense. However, the "plaintiff has the burden to negate the assertion of... immunity once properly raised." Collier v. Montgomery, 569 F.3d 214, 217 (5th Cir.2009). " 'When a defendant invokes qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate the inapplicability of the defense.' " Beaulieu v. Lavigne, 539 Fed.Appx. 421, 424 (5th Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting Club Retro, LLC v. Hilton, 568 F.3d 181, 194 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing McClendon v. City of Columbia, Miss., 305 F.3d 314, 323 (5th Cir. 2002) (en banc))). The pleading standard for claims brought under § 1983 is heightened and the complaint must state "claims of specific conduct and actions giving rise to a constitutional violation." Mitchell v., Okolona Sch. Dist, No. 1:10-CV-135-D-D, 2011 WL 1226023, at *2 (N.D. Miss. Mar. 29, 2011) (citing Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 195 (5th Cir. 1996)).

         "'[A] plaintiff seeking to defeat qualified immunity must show: "(1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was 'clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct." ' " Da Vinci Inv., Ltd. P'ship v. Parker, 622 Fed.Appx. 367, 374 (5th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (quoting Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 371 (5th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (quoting al-Kidd, 563 U.S. at 735, 131 S.Ct. 2074)). The plaintiffs complaint must allege facts that, if true, demonstrate that the defendant violated his rights by acting in a way that he or she should have known was unlawful. See Behrens v. Pelletier, 516 U.S. 299, 309, 116 S.Ct. 834, 133 L.Ed.2d 773 (1996). "Dismissal is warranted 'only if it appears that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.' " DeLeon v. City of Dallas, Tex., 141 Fed.Appx. 258, 261 (5th Cir. 2005) (per curiam) (quoting Morin v. Caire, 77 F.3d 116, 120 (5th Cir. 1996)).


         Hill alleges that Defendants violated his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and 34 U.S.C. § 12601[3] by 1) initiating the stop without probable cause; 2) falsely arresting him; 3) failing ...

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