United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
MALLORY C. JONES and TROY A. MOSES, Plaintiffs,
RAMONE LAMKIN, individually and in his official capacity as Marshal of the and Magistrate Courts of Richmond County, Georgia, and AUGUSTA-RICHMOND COUNTY, GEORGIA, Defendants.
RANDAL HALL CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
allege that Defendants fired them in violation of their First
Amendment rights. Defendant Augusta moves to dismiss
Plaintiffs' complaint. (Doc. 7.) Based on the arguments
made at this stage of the litigation, the Court allows the
claims against Augusta to proceed and DENIES Augusta's
are former deputies of the Augusta Marshal's Office.
(Doc. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) In 2016, Defendant Ramone
I Lamkin challenged the incumbent Marshal, Steve Smith.
(Id. ¶ 5.) During the campaign, Plaintiffs
openly supported Smith. (Id. ¶ 6.) Lamkin
ultimately defeated Smith, and following the election, fired
Plaintiffs. (Id. ¶¶ 5, 11.)
response, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, alleging that Lamkin and Augusta violated
Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights because they fired
Plaintiffs for supporting Smith. Augusta now moves to
dismiss, arguing (1) that Augusta cannot, as a matter of law,
be held liable for | Lamkin's actions, and (2) that
Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights were not violated.
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the
Court tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint.
Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The
Court must accept as true all facts alleged in the complaint
and construe all reasonable inferences in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. See Hoffman-Pugh v.
Ramsey, 312 F.3d 1222, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002). The Court,
however, need not accept legal conclusions as true, only
well-pleaded facts. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678-79 (2009) .
complaint also must "contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'" Id. at 678 (citing
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). The plaintiff is required to plead "factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Id. "The plausibility standard
is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it
asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully." Id.
noted, Augusta argues that Plaintiffs' claims against it
should be dismissed for two reasons. First, Augusta argues
that it cannot be held liable for Lamkin's actions
because Lamkin is not a final policymaker for Augusta.
Second, it argues that Plaintiffs' claims fail because
Plaintiffs could be fired based on their political patronage.
Augusta's Municipal Liability
"The Supreme Court has placed strict limitations on
municipal liability under § 1983." Grech v.
Clayton Cty., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th Cir. 2003) (en
banc). "[A] county 'is liable only when the
county's 'official policy' causes a
constitutional violation." Id. (citing
Monell v. Dep't of Soc. j Servs., 436
U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). There are two methods for establishing
an official policy: a plaintiff can show either "(1) an
officially promulgated county policy or (2) an unofficial
custom or practice of the county shown through the repeated
acts of a final policymaker for the county."
Id. Under either approach, a plaintiff (1) must show
that the local government "has authority and
responsibility over the governmental function in issue and
(2) must identify those officials who speak with final
policymaking authority for that local governmental entity
concerning the act alleged to have caused the particular
constitutional violation in issue." Id. at
allege that Lamkin was acting as a final policymaker for
Augusta when he fired them. Augusta, on the other hand,
argues that it has no control over the Marshal's Office
and thus cannot be held liable for Lamkin's actions. It
contends that, under Georgia law, the Court should treat the
Marshal's Office like it would treat a sheriff's
office and thus should hold that Lamkin was not acting as a
final policymaker for Augusta when he fired Plaintiffs.
Augusta points out, sheriffs are often too independent from
the counties they serve to be considered policymakers for
those counties. See, e.g., Grech, 335 F.3d
at 1330-41. In Grech, for example, the Eleventh
Circuit addressed whether a Georgia sheriff was a policymaker
for the county he served when performing certain
law-enforcement duties. The court looked at, among other
things, how state law treats sheriffs in Georgia,
sheriffs' functions in Georgia, and the control counties
have over sheriffs in Georgia. See id. at 1332-38.
In short, the court concluded that the sheriff was not a
county policymaker with respect to the relevant