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King v. King

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

September 12, 2017

ANNE KING, Plaintiff,
v.
COREY KING, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARC T. TREADWELL, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the Defendants' partial motion to dismiss (Doc. 16). The Defendants argue (1) Washington County lacks control over sheriff's deputies and magistrates and thus cannot be held liable for their misconduct, (2) Defendants King and Burgamy are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as to federal claims against them in their official capacities, and (3) Defendants King and Burgamy are entitled to sovereign immunity as to state law claims against them in their official capacities. As discussed below, the motion (Doc. 16) is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Plaintiff, Anne King, has brought a suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Georgia state laws against Officer Corey King, Investigator Trey Burgamy, and Washington County. Doc. 13. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants (1) violated her First Amendment right to free speech; (2) retaliated against her in violation of the First Amendment; (3) violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures; and (4) maliciously prosecuted her, falsely arrested her, and committed civil conspiracy against her, in violation of Georgia law. Id. at ¶¶ 36-76. The Plaintiff alleges that Defendant King, who is the Plaintiff's former husband, conspired with Defendant Burgamy to arrest the Plaintiff and her friend in retaliation for a Facebook post and that a magistrate charged her with “criminal defamation.” Id. at ¶¶ 13-21. The Plaintiff argues that Washington County is liable because it “has done nothing to stop” similar unconstitutional criminal defamation arrests in the past and has failed to train its law enforcement officers and magistrates on First Amendment rights, and this failure to train and failure to supervise amounted to a custom or policy and constituted deliberate indifference to the Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Id. at ¶¶ 10, 45-48, 64-66.

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Defendants have moved to dismiss in part. Doc. 16. The Defendants argue that Washington County lacks control over sheriff's deputies and magistrates and therefore cannot be held liable for their actions. Doc. 16-1 at 3-6. The Defendants also argue that Defendants King and Burgamy are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as to the federal law claims against them in their official capacities and are entitled to sovereign immunity as to the state law claims against them in their official capacities. Id. at 6-8.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” To avoid dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “At the motion to dismiss stage, all well-pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Garfield v. NDC Health Corp., 466 F.3d 1255, 1261 (11th Cir. 2006) (quotation marks and citation omitted). However, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “[C]onclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). The complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotation marks and citation omitted). Where there are dispositive issues of law, a court may dismiss a claim regardless of the alleged facts. Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993) (citations omitted).

         B. Defendant Washington County

         Counties may be sued under § 1983 for their constitutional violations. Knight v. Miami-Dade Cty., 856 F.3d 795, 819 (11th Cir. 2017) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978)). To establish that the county carried out a constitutional violation, “a plaintiff ‘must identify 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. (quoting Grech v. Clayton Cty., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329 (11th Cir. 2003)). Unless an official county policy exists, the plaintiff “must show that the county has authority and responsibility over the governmental function in issue and must also identify those officials who speak with final policymaking authority for that local governmental entity.” Id. (citation omitted). On the other hand, “[counties] can never be liable under § 1983 for the acts of those whom the local government has no authority to control.” Turquitt v. Jefferson Cty., 137 F.3d 1285, 1292 (11th Cir. 1998). Whether an official is acting as a policymaker for the State or for the county depends on the function the official is serving and “on the definition of the official's functions under relevant state law.” McMillian v. Monroe Cty., 520 U.S. 781, 785-86 (1997) (citations omitted).

         The Defendants assert that Washington County cannot be held liable because the Plaintiff's amended compliant fails to state a plausible allegation that Washington County has control over sheriff's deputies or magistrates. Doc. 16-1 at 4-6.[1] The Court agrees.

         1. Control over Sheriff's Deputies

         The Plaintiff alleges that Defendants King and Burgamy were employed by the Washington County Sheriff's Office at the time they allegedly denied the Plaintiff her constitutional rights by arresting her. Doc. 13 at ¶¶ 4-5. Therefore, one issue for the Court is whether the complaint plausibly alleges that Washington County controls sheriff's deputies in their law enforcement duties.

         The Supreme Court has held that an Alabama sheriff represents the state, not the county, when acting in a law enforcement capacity. McMillian, 520 U.S. at 785-86. The Court considered the Alabama Constitution, Alabama state course cases, and the Alabama Code and held that “the weight of evidence is strongly on the side of the conclusion [that] Alabama sheriffs, when ...


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