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Smith v. Ford

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

September 6, 2019

RAYMOND SMITH, on behalf of the Estate of deceased Rainer Smith, on behalf of Rainer Smith, Jr.; and AMY RYLES[1], on behalf of Abigail Smith; Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN FORD, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS

          TILMAN E. SELF, III, JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim [Doc. 2]. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion as to Plaintiffs' conspiracy claims;[2] their § 1983 claim against the City of Byron; their § 1983 claims against Officers Ford, Wynn, Farmer, and Patterson, and Captain Lavender in their official capacities; and their punitive damages claim. In contrast, the Court DENIES Defendants' Motion as to Plaintiffs' state-law claims against the City of Byron and Officers Ford, Wynn, Farmer, and Patterson, and Captain Lavender in their official capacities.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of the fatal shooting of Rainer Smith (“Smith”), the son of Raymond Smith, [3] by Defendants Ford, Wynn, and Farmer, all of whom are members of the City of Byron Police Department and Byron Peach County Drug Enforcement Unit. [Doc. 1-2 at ¶¶ 1-8]. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Ford, Wynn, Farmer, Patterson, and Lavender (“the Officers”), on or about December 12, 2016, at 2 AM, arrived in multiple vehicles, cut a locked gate, and entered onto Smith's property. [Id. at ¶¶ 1, 13]. Plaintiffs further allege that Smith's fiancée woke him up and told him that people were trespassing. [Id. at ¶ 15]. In response, Smith threw on some sweat pants, took up a defensive position, and armed himself to defend his fiancée, child, and home. [Id. at ¶¶ 15-16].

         Plaintiffs allege the Officers were “wholly unidentified and unidentifiable as law enforcement officers” and failed to announce themselves as law enforcement or announce that they had a warrant. [Id. at ¶ 17]. Plaintiffs contend that, without knocking, “Defendants entered the home and shot Rainer Smith to death, despite not having an arrest warrant for Rainer Smith, announcing themselves as police officers, or even giving orders to Rainer Smith.” [Id. at ¶¶ 18, 36]. Plaintiffs also allege Defendants Ford, Wynn, and Farmer admitted to firing their guns at Smith, and Defendants Patterson and Lavender assisted in the entry and killing of Smith. [Id. at ¶¶ 19-20].

         Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on July 5th, 2019, in the Superior Court of Peach County, in which they claim to have complied with ante litem notice requirements for their claims. See [id. at ¶ 11]. After Plaintiffs filed their Complaint, Defendants filed their Answer [Doc. 1-10] and removed the case to this Court on August 5, 2019. See generally [Doc. 1-9]. That same day, Defendants filed this Motion. Despite the opportunity, Plaintiffs never responded to Defendants' Motion.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         When ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept the facts set forth in the complaint as true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 572 (2007). A complaint survives a motion to dismiss only if the plaintiff alleges sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, and he must state more than “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusations.” McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1333 (11th Cir. 2018) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)). He must also “plead more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” id., such that the factual allegations contained in the complaint are “enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         When assessing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court employs a two-step framework. McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333. First, the Court identifies and disregards allegations that are “no more than mere conclusions, ” since “[c]onclusory allegations are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Second, the Court “assume[s] any remaining factual allegations are true and determine[s] whether those factual allegations ‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         B. Plaintiffs' § 1983 Claims Against the Officers

         Plaintiffs assert claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Officers both in their individual capacities and in their official capacities as members of the City of Byron Police Department. See [Doc. 1-2 at ¶¶ 1-4]. “[S]uits against a municipal officer sued in his official capacity and direct suits against municipalities are functionally equivalent, ” thus obviating the need to sue local government officials in their official capacity. Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 776 (11th Cir. 1991). The Plaintiffs named the City of Byron as a defendant in this lawsuit, and asserted § 1983 claims against the City of Byron, as well as against the Officers. See [Doc. 1-2 at ¶¶ 33-35]. Therefore, Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims against the Officers-in their official capacities-are duplicative of their § 1983 claims against the City of Byron. Thus, the Court DISMISSES Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims against the Officers in their official capacities.

         C. Plaintiffs' § 1983 Claim Against the City of Byron

         Plaintiffs also assert § 1983 claims against the City of Byron for the actions of its officers. See [Doc. 1-2 at ¶¶ 33-35]. “[T]o impose § 1983 liability on a municipality, a plaintiff must show: (1) that his constitutional rights were violated; (2) that the municipality had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy or custom caused the violation.” McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). A plaintiff may show a policy by identifying either “(1) an officially promulgated [city] policy or (2) an unofficial custom or practice of the [city] shown through repeated acts of a final policymaker of the [city].” Grech v. Clayton Cty., 335 F.3d 1326, 1329-30 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978)). Due to the fact that a city will rarely have an officially-adopted policy that permits a particular constitutional violation, “most plaintiffs . . . must show that the [city] has a custom or practice of permitting it and ...


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