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Schaefer v. Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Athens Division

June 1, 2015

SUSANNA SCHAEFER, Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNIFIED GOVERNMENT OF ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY, GEORGIA; ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT; Police Chief JOSEPH LUMPKIN, in his Individual and Official Capacity; Lieutenant CHRIS NICHOLS, in his Individual and Official Capacity; Sergeant CHARLIE WANG, in his Individual and Official Capacity; Lieutenant DAVID LEEDAHL, in his Individual and Official Capacity; and Sergeant JEFF CLARK, in his Individual and Official Capacity, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS

C. ASHLEY ROYAL, District Judge.

This civil rights action filed by pro se Plaintiff Susanna Schaefer pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 is currently before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 15]. Having reviewed the Motion, the response thereto, and the applicable law, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 15] is GRANTED because the Complaint fails to state a claim against the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin, and the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.

LEGAL STANDARD

On a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in a plaintiff's complaint.[1] To avoid dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 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.'"[2] A claim is plausible where the plaintiff alleges factual content that "allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged."[3] The plausibility standard requires that a plaintiff allege sufficient facts "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence" that supports a plaintiff's claims.[4]

In reviewing the sufficiency of the Complaint in this case, the Court remains mindful that " [p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys, and will, therefore, be liberally construed."[5] However, "[e]ven with pro se litigants, conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.'"[6]

BACKGROUND

For purposes of this Motion, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts in the Complaint and construes them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff.

On September 1, 2012, Plaintiff called Defendant Athens-Clarke County Police Department to report that someone had wedged a 10-foot board against her front door, leaving Plaintiff trapped inside her home.[7] Plaintiff managed to break the board free from the door before Defendant Sergeant Charlie Wang reported to Plaintiff's home to investigate the call.[8] When he arrived, Sergeant Wang pushed the board under the porch railing instead of taking a photograph of the board on the porch.[9]

When Sergeant Wang began questioning Plaintiff about the incident, Plaintiff informed him that she thought a man she met six years ago committed the crime.[10] Plaintiff explained that the man was not her boyfriend but instead described their relationship as a former friendship that did not end on the best of terms a couple of years earlier.[11] When Sergeant Wang asked why she thought this man committed the crime, Plaintiff stated "she did not have any real proof that he did."[12]

In addition to the board incident, Plaintiff informed Sergeant Wang that, at one point, the man appeared to lay in wait for her in his van.[13] When she came out of the house, he pulled up in his van, parked in front of her house, raised his arm with his hands and fingers in the shape of a gun, stared at her with a blank look on his face, and then drove away.[14] Plaintiff told Sergeant Wang she had not been worried about this "odd lurking and driveby behavior, " and, for a while, she found such gestures "almost kind of flattering."[15] Plaintiff, however, recently changed her mind about the potential harm of this activity because she read in the newspaper that the man had been arrested for trespassing on another woman's property.[16] In addition to these "odd lurking behaviors, " Plaintiff also noticed unusual tampering around her house: things on her porch were rearranged, and she started hearing noises outside her window at night.[17]

After hearing Plaintiff's description of the events, Sergeant Wang stated that the man was not stalking Plaintiff and advised her to write the man and tell him to stay off her property.[18] He then left without taking a crime report.[19] Plaintiff took Sergeant Wang's advice and emailed the man.[20]

Later that day or the next, Plaintiff contacted Sergeant Wang's supervisor to complain that Sergeant Wang had destroyed evidence, did not understand the meaning of stalking, and left without taking a report.[21] Sergeant Wang then came back to Plaintiff's house to take a report.[22] During his second visit, Plaintiff showed Sergeant Wang the email conversation with the man in which she told him to get help and leave her alone.[23]

Five days after Plaintiff initially called the police, on September 6, 2012, Defendant Lieutenant Chris Nichols called Plaintiff and introduced himself as the investigator assigned to her case.[24] During that conversation, Lieutenant Nichols asked Plaintiff if she took any medication, suffered from hallucinations, or saw anyone for a mental disorder.[25] Plaintiff informed him that she did not.[26] Lieutenant Nichols also questioned her about the man she suspected of committing the crime, but Plaintiff did not elaborate on her past with him and just said she had no real proof it was him.[27] Lieutenant Nichols advised her to get a "no contact order" so that the man could not write or call her anymore.[28] Plaintiff expressed doubt that a "no contact order" would be useful because the man did not write or call her; instead, he acted out in other ways.[29] Nevertheless, Lieutenant Nichols advised her that it was still a good option, and explained the process of obtaining a "no contact order."[30] Plaintiff said she would consider it.[31]

Four days later, on September 10, 2012, Plaintiff dropped off a copy of her prior email conversations with the man at the police station for Lieutenant Nichols.[32] Then, on September 25, 2012, Plaintiff called Lieutenant Nichols to report new stalking activity in her area.[33] Plaintiff told him she had started some late night surveillance in her car and finally saw the man driving a silver car.[34] Plaintiff gave Lieutenant Nichols the car's model, partial plate number, and county tag, and asked him to look into it.[35] Instead of looking in to this new information, Lieutenant Nichols continued asking Plaintiff about any mental health issues she had, and Plaintiff repeatedly told him she did not have any.[36]

Because Lieutenant Nichols acted dismissively to these new developments, Plaintiff complained to his manager, Defendant Lieutenant David Leedahl.[37] Lieutenant Leedahl, however, was also dismissive and, in response to Plaintiff's concern about the stalking activity, he jokingly said "maybe he just likes you."[38] When Plaintiff complained about Lieutenant Nichols' inappropriate questioning regarding her mental health issues, Lieutenant Leedahl himself asked Plaintiff if she took any medication or suffered from any hallucinations.[39] Plaintiff also complained about inaccuracies in Sergeant Wang's report, which Lieutenant Leedhahl read to her over the phone.[40] Specifically, Sergeant Wang mischaracterized the board as 10 "inches" instead of 10 "feet" and inaccurately described the crime.[41]

On September 29, 2012, Plaintiff called the police to report that she heard someone picking the lock on her front door.[42] By the time she looked out the window, no one was there.[43] An officer responded to the scene and left without taking a report.[44]

On November 4, 2012, Plaintiff reported to the police that her roommate saw a man who looked like the man Plaintiff described parked in front of her house in a silver sedan at night.[45] Then, on November 15, 2012, Plaintiff reported that her side bedroom window had been unlocked, and a plastic knife slipped under the closed window frame over the ...


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