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Skyles v. McCoy

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

April 6, 2017



          ROY B. DALTON JR United States District Judge

         In the instant civil rights action, Defendant City of Altamonte Springs moves to dismiss several counts of Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. 5.) Plaintiff responded on December 23, 2016. (Doc. 13.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background[1]

         Plaintiff Jennifer Skyles (“Plaintiff”) initiated this action on behalf of her deceased husband, Anthony Skyles (“Decedent”), who was shot and killed by a member of the Altamonte Springs Police Department (“the ASPD”) on June 15, 2014 (“Shooting”). (Doc. 3, ¶¶ 2, 8.)

         On the date in question, Plaintiff called the Seminole County Fire Department for assistance hospitalizing Decedent, who was exhibiting suicidal behavior and holding a knife to his throat. (Id. ¶ 18.) The Seminole County Fire Department responded by placing a call to the ASPD; in turn, the ASPD dispatched Officer Matthew Fowler (“Officer Fowler”) to the Skyles residence (“Residence”). (Id. ¶¶ 19-20, 22.) According to Plaintiff, this was not the first time that the ASPD had been called to the Residence; thus, the ASPD should have been aware that Decedent “suffered from a mental condition and had been previously released from a mental hospital facility.” (Id. ¶ 20.)

         But despite such history, upon his arrival, Officer Fowler approached the doorway “with his gun pulled and pointed at [Decedent].” (Id. ¶ 22.) Although Decedent's mental condition was “clear, ” and he “had not committed a crime or offense[, ] nor was he engaged in or planning to commit a crime, ” Officer Fowler kept his gun pointed at Decedent. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 24.)

         Skyles then informed Officer Fowler that he had a pocket knife and intended to place it on the table. (Id. ¶ 26.) At this time, Officer Fowler began shooting at Decedent, firing six shots, four of which struck Decedent. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.) Skyles was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene. (Id. ¶ 28.)

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff asserts: (1) a claim against Officer Fowler under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unreasonable seizure (“Count I”); (2) § 1983 claims for excessive force against Officer Fowler (“Count II”) and ASPD Chief of Police Michael McCoy (“Chief McCoy”) (“Count VI”); (3) state law claims for wrongful death against the City of Altamonte Springs (“the City”) (“Count III”) and Officer Fowler (“Count IV”); (4) state law claims for assault and battery against the City (“Count V”); and (5) state law claims for negligent hiring, retention, and supervision against the City (“Count VII”) and Chief McCoy (“Count VIII”). (Doc. 3.) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the City moves to dismiss all counts asserted against it and Chief McCoy. (Doc. 5.) Plaintiff responded (Doc. 13), and the matter is ripe for adjudication.

         II. Standards

         A. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) provides that a claimant must plead “a short and plain statement of the claim.” On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court limits its consideration to the “well-pleaded factual allegations.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). The factual allegations in the complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In making this plausibility determination, the Court must accept the factual allegations as true; however, this “tenet . . . is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009). A pleading that offers mere “labels and conclusions” is therefore insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Section 1983 provides aggrieved persons with a procedural mechanism to seek redress for constitutional violations that are committed while a defendant is acting under color of state law. Acts performed by law enforcement officers-even if illegal or unauthorized-are considered to have been performed under color of state law so long as the acts are done in the defendant's capacity as a law enforcement officer. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49-50 (1988). However, a § 1983 claim will fail if the plaintiff does not properly allege a constitutional violation. See Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Tex., 503 U.S. 115, 119 (1992) (“Although [§ 1983] provides the citizen with an effective remedy against those abuses of state power that violate federal law, it does not provide a remedy for abuses that do not violate federal law.”).

         III. Analysis

         A. Statute of Limitations

         As an initial matter, the City argues that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations (“SOL”). (Doc. 5, pp. 3-5.) Not so.

         State law dictates the SOL governing a § 1983 claim. Penoyer v. Briggs, 206 F.App'x 962, 964 (11th Cir. 2006). Under Florida law, “a cause of action for wrongful death accrues on the date of death, ” Fulton Cty. Adm'r v. Sullivan, 753 So.2d 549, 552 (Fla. 1999), and must be brought “against a state or one of its agencies or subdivisions” within two years after the claim accrues, Fla. Stat. §§ 768.28(14), § 95.11(4)(d).[2]

         But before an individual may institute a wrongful death action against a municipality, the claimant must present a claim to the appropriate agency and receive a written denial.[3] Fla. Stat. § 768.28(6)(a). Although these requirements are conditions precedent to maintaining a wrongful death action against a state agency, they do not affect the date on which the cause of action accrues. Fla. Stat. § 768.28(6)(a)(2)(b). Rather, the SOL is tolled for the period of time taken by the appropriate agency to deny the claim. Fla. Stat. § 768.28(6)(a)(2)(d). In wrongful death actions, the failure of the agency to make a final disposition of a claim within ninety days is deemed a denial. Id.

         In light of such tolling, the Court finds that the instant action is not barred by the SOL. Though Decedent's death occurred on June 15, 2014 (Doc. 3, ¶ 2), Plaintiff sent the Florida League of Cities (“the City Agency”) a “notice of intent to sue” on July 21, 2014 (“Filing Date”) (Doc. 13, p. 7).[4] Therefore, the SOL was tolled until the City Agency denied her claim, unless such time exceeded ninety days.

         Ultimately, the City Agency denied Plaintiff's claim on May 11, 2015.[5] (Id. at 10.) Because this disposition did not occur within ninety days of the Filing Date, Plaintiff's claim was deemed denied ...

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