United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Waycross Division
AMY CORBITT, individually and as parent and natural guardian of SDC; JERRY RICH, individually; ELIZABETH BOWEN, as parent and natural guardian of AMB; TONYA JOHNSON, as parent and natural guardian of ERA; DAMION STEWART, individually and as parent and natural guardian of JDS and as parent and natural guardian of MS, Plaintiffs,
DOYLE WOOTEN, individually; and MICHAEL VICKERS, individually, Defendants.
LISA GODBEY WOOD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 4)
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
This Motion has been fully briefed and orally argued, and is
now ripe for review. For the following reasons, the Motion to
Dismiss is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part.
stage of the case, the facts are taken from the Complaint and
assumed to be true pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). On July 10, 2014, Defendant Michael
Vickers ("Vickers") and other officers of the
Coffee County Sheriff's Department and the Georgia Bureau
of Investigation participated in an operation to apprehend
criminal suspect Christopher Barnett. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 23.
They entered Plaintiff Amy Corbitt's
("Corbitt") property at 145 Burton Road, Lot 19 and
ordered all persons to get down on the ground. Id.
¶ 24. Inside the property were Plaintiff Corbitt and
non-party minors JVR and ST. Id. Outside the
property were Plaintiff Stewart and minor Plaintiffs Rich,
JDS, MS, SDC, AMB, and ERA. Id. Officers handcuffed
Plaintiff Stewart and placed the barrel of a gun in his back
in the presence of his two children under the age of three.
Id. Those children roamed the adjacent street,
screaming and crying. Id. at ¶ 25. The
remaining minors were each held at gunpoint, lying on the
ground, when Defendant Vickers intentionally fired two shots
at the family pet named "Bruce." Id. at
¶ 27, 28. The first shot missed. Id; at ¶ 28. The
second shot missed the pet and hit ten-year-old SDC in the
back of his right knee. Id. at ¶¶ 28, 32.
the Plaintiffs had ever met the criminal suspect Christopher
Barnett. Id. ¶ 23. All of the plaintiffs
followed Defendant Vickers's orders. Id. ¶
32. The complaint alleges that no officer at the scene was
required to discharge a firearm. Id. ¶ 29. At
the time he fired two bullets at the pet, Vickers was armed
with a gun, a Taser, and pepper spray. Id. ¶
41. Before Vickers shot at Bruce, neither he nor any other
agent attempted to restrain the animal, whether directly or
otherwise. Id. ¶ 28. Vickers was only eighteen
inches from SDC when he shot the child. Id. ¶
run at Coffee Regional Medical Center and the University
Medical Center in Savannah, GA confirmed multiple bullet
fragments throughout the area of SDCs wound, and, at the time
the Complaint was filed, SDC was under evaluation by an
orthopedic surgeon for the removal of the bullet fragments.
Id. ¶ 33-34.
Plaintiffs filed suit, asserting various state and federal
claims against the County, the sheriff, and Vickers. The only
remaining claims are by all Plaintiffs against Vickers in his
individual capacity and by Plaintiffs ERA, Stewart, JDS, and
MS against Wooten in his individual capacity.
Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a plaintiff's
complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). In order to state a claim for relief, a
plaintiff s complaint must include "enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court accepts the allegations
in the complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences
in favor of the plaintiff. Ray v. Spirit Airlines,
Inc., 836 F.3d 1340, 1347 (11th Cir. 2016). However, the
Court does not accept as true threadbare recitations of the
elements of the claim and disregards legal conclusions
unsupported by factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678-79. At a minimum, a complaint should "contain
either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the
material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some
viable legal theory." Fin. Sec. Assurance, Inc. v.
Stephens, Inc., 500 F.3d 1276, 1282-83 (11th Cir. 2007)
(per curiam) (quoting Roe v. Aware Woman Ctr. for Choice,
Inc., 253 F.3d 678, 683 (11th Cir. 2001)).
have brought 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims asserting that
Vickers and Wooten deprived them of their constitutional
rights to be free from excessive force. In response, Vickers
and Wooten have raised the defense of qualified immunity and
argued that Plaintiffs have failed to state claims upon which
relief may be granted.
Supreme Court has held that "all claims that law
enforcement officers have used excessive force-deadly or
not-in the course of [a] 'seizure' of a free citizen
should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its
'reasonableness' standard." Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989). The Fourth Amendment
provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in
their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against
unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated." U.S. Const, amend. IV. "To assert a
Fourth Amendment claim based on the use of excessive force,
the plaintiffs must allege (1) that a seizure occurred and
(2) that the force used to effect the seizure was
unreasonable." Troupe v. Sarasota Cnty., Fla.,
419 F.3d 1160, 1166 (11th Cir. 2005).
has raised the defense of qualified immunity. "The
defense of qualified immunity requires courts to enter
judgment in favor of a government employee unless the
employee's conduct violates clearly established statutory
or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would
have known." Morse v. Frederick, 551 U.S. 393,
429 (2007). "[T]he burden is on the plaintiff to show
that, when the defendant acted, the law established the
contours of a right so clearly that a reasonable official
would have understood his acts were unlawful." Post
v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 7 F.3d 1552, 1557 (11th Cir.
the affirmative defense of qualified immunity is advanced . .
., [u]nless the plaintiff's allegations state a claim of
violation of clearly established law, a defendant pleading
qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal before the
commencement of discovery.'" Cottone v.
Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1357 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Marsh v. Butler Cnty., 268 F.3d 1014, 1022 (11th
Cir. 2001) (en banc)). "Absent such allegations, [i]t is
. . . appropriate for a district court to grant the defense
of qualified immunity at the motion to dismiss
stage.'" Id. (quoting Gonzalez v.
Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, at *3 (11th Cir. 2003)).
defense of qualified immunity presents a two-step inquiry.
First, the government official must prove that he was acting
within his discretionary authority. Lee v. Ferraro,
284 F.3d 1188, 1194 (11th Cir. 2002). Then, the burden shifts
to the plaintiff to show that the defendant's actions
violated a constitutional right, and that such right was
clearly established. Id. Vickers argues throughout
his brief that no Fourth Amendment violation occurred because
he did not intend to shoot SDC. He does not articulate
whether he means that no seizure occurred or that the force
was not excessive, so the Court will address the argument
under both prongs.
Fourth Amendment seizure occurs "when there is a
governmental termination of freedom of movement through
means intentionally applied." Id.
(quoting Brower v. Cnty. of Inyo, 489 U.S. 593, 597
(1989) (emphasis in original)). A seizure is an
"intentional acquisition of physical control" by a
government actor. Brower, 489 U.S. at 596.
person is "'seized' within the meaning of the
Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all of the circumstances
surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have
believed that he was not free to leave." United
States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554 (1980).
"Examples of circumstances that might indicate a
seizure, even where the person did not attempt to leave,
would be the threatening presence of several officers [and]
the display of weapons by an officer . . . ."
Id. "A seizure occurs even when an unintended
person or thing ...