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Burke v. Miami Dade County

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

September 18, 2017

TANNIE BURKE, Plaintiff
v.
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Florida, and CLIFTON BALDWIN and JULIO MARTOS, residents of the State of Florida, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DONALD L. GRAHAM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendants Miami-Dade County, Clifton Baldwin, and Julio Martos' Motion to Dismiss Counts II and V of the Complaint (“Motion to Dismiss”) [D.E. 10]. Plaintiff Tannie Burke subsequently filed his Response to Motion to Dismiss Counts II and V of the Complaint (“Response”) [D.E. 17], to which the Defendants filed their Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss Counts II and V of the Complaint (“Reply”) [D.E. 18].

         THE COURT has reviewed the record and is otherwise fully advised in the premises. As set forth herein, the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted as to Counts II and V.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Burke contends that on August 27, 2014, Officers Baldwin and Martos, while engaged in their duties as police officers, found a single marijuana cigarette on the floor of a second-floor landing and arrested him and two other Black men. Burke did not have any marijuana in his possession, and he was not smoking marijuana. Burke submits that two of the men were released after the officers gave them notices to appear in court, however, he was placed in handcuffs and forced to walk down the stairs without police assistance. Notably, Burke suffers from Coats' disease[2], is legally blind in his left eye, and is only able to see shapes and greater detail within inches of what he is trying to see with his left eye. With his right eye, he can only see light and make out shapes and his right eyebrow and side of his forehead are swollen and protrude over his right eye. Burke states that there is no way of looking at his face without being alerted to the fact that he has a physical disability.

         Burke alleges his stepfather, Marvin Armstrong, has often criticized the police for profiling Black and African-American males in his neighborhood based upon race. Burke further alleges that Mr. Armstrong has frequently videotaped police activity, enraging local police. Indeed, Officers Baldwin and Martos knew that Burke and Mr. Armstrong were related and, in fact, Mr. Armstrong was videotaping the police at the time this incident occurred.

         After arrest, instead of taking Burke to jail or to the police station, Officers Baldwin and Martos placed him in the front passenger seat of an unmarked vehicle. While trying to sit down, Burke's body collided with the top frame of the vehicle. Mr. Amrstrong, irate that Burke was being falsely arrested and unassisted because he is blind, said the following to the police as they were loading him into the car: “He blind dumbass. Y'all don't tell him y'all walk him to the car, how the fuck he gonna know? Stupid.” Officers Baldwin and Martos then entered the police vehicle with Burke and drove away.

         Officers Baldwin and Martos claim that they received a radio transmission over an official frequency that a suspect was fleeing in the area and decided to assist with the search. Burke, however, never heard the alleged audio transmission. Coincidentally, all relevant radio-transmission records were destroyed before the Miami-Dade Police Department Professional Compliance Bureau investigators began their investigation. With Burke in the car, Officers Baldwin and Martos allegedly complained repeatedly about Mr. Armstrong's actions, as opposed to making comments about a fleeing suspect or any other search. Burke specifically recalls the officers saying, “Your stepfather got a lot of mouth. You know we don't like that.”

         After driving around for a while, Officers Baldwin and Martos decided to release Burke with a promise to appear. They directed him to exit the car and walk to its rear. As he is blind, Burke was only able to do so by moving his hands across the car to guide himself. The officers then presented Burke with a document to sign. When Burke told them that he could not see the document, they placed a large light on it. Burke repeatedly told Officers Baldwin and Martos that he was unable to see and described his sight limitations to them.

         When it became clear that the officers intended to leave Burke out in the dark, rural, lightless area, Burke asked them to drive him back to his neighborhood. He also told the officers that he could not be dropped off at a bus stop or busy street because of his condition. Officers Baldwin and Martos refused. Instead, they drove onto a dark, secluded, rural street without any lighting and dropped Burke off on the edge of some darkened farmland tract miles from his home. For the better part of an hour, Burke trudged along the roadside. He followed the asphalt's edge or the white stripe to maintain his direction as he sought to find his way home. Burke claims he was in constant danger of being hit by vehicles or attacked by criminals. While walking, Burke eventually came upon a Good Samaritan who helped him navigate his way home. Burke states that Officers Baldwin and Martos did this to him as an act of retaliation against Mr. Armstrong because his stepfather had the audacity to question their activities. Burke attests that he has been traumatized, stigmatized, and left in fear as to when something like this will occur again. He contends that he has suffered mental and psychological damage, damage to his reputation, and is in fear for his life by being placed in a circumstance where his safety and life were in peril.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Rule 8, allegations within a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). When a complaint is challenged under Rule 12(b)(6), a court will presume that all well-pleaded allegations are true, and view the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Am. United Life Ins. Co. v. Martinez, 480 F.3d 1043, 1066 (11th Cir. 2007). The Supreme Court of the United States has held that although a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not suffice. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         The complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, 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., 550 U.S. at 570). For a claim to have facial plausibility and survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must 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 “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. Therefore, “threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. In ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the court is generally limited to the four corners of the complaint and pertinent attached documents. Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Counts II and V of Burke's Complaint are dismissed for the following reasons: (1) Burke fails to allege a deliberate indifference to serious medical needs claim while in custody; (2) Burke fails to allege a deliberate indifference to an extremely great risk of serious injury claim after his release from custody; (3) assuming Burke successfully alleged a constitutional violation, Officers Baldwin and Martos are entitled to qualified immunity; and (4) Burke fails to allege a claim under Title II of the ADA. Before the Court analyzes the issues at bar, it briefly discusses whether Officers Baldwin and Martos were sued in their individual or official capacity.

         Burke brings this suit against Miami-Dade County and Officers Baldwin and Martos, but he does not specify whether he is suing the officers in their individual or official capacity. For the sake of clarity, the Court briefly discusses the context in which Burke sues the officers.

         When a plaintiff's identification of a defendant's capacity is unclearly stated in the complaint, “the course of proceedings typically indicates the nature of the liability sought to be imposed.” Jackson v. Ga. Dep't of Transp., 16 F.3d 1573, 1575 (11th Cir. 1994). The standard for an official-capacity suit is that the entity's “policy or custom” must have played a role in the alleged constitutional violation. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). For an individual-capacity suit, however, the plaintiff must seek to impose liability against the official for actions taken under color of state law. Id. at 166 (“On the merits, to establish personal liability in a § 1983 action, it is enough to show that the official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right.”).

         Although Burke states in his Complaint that Officers Baldwin and Martos were both “acting in their official capacity as employees of Miami-Dade County, ” this assertion is not located in the qualified immunity section of the briefing. Indeed, none of Burke's arguments reference the official-capacity standard; rather, his arguments reference the individual-capacity standard. Burke does not allege that the officers were following a Miami-Dade Police Department policy or custom when they dropped him off on the side of the road away from his home. Burke also argues that the officers' actions were taken under color of state law. Additionally, the case's stylization does not state that Officers Baldwin and Martos are being sued in their official capacity. Instead, it states that Burke is suing them as “residents of the State of Florida.” As such, the Court reads the Complaint to sue Officers Baldwin and Martos in their individual capacity. See generally Kentucky, 473 U.S. at 166; Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. Jewel, 996 F.Supp.2d 1268, 1272-73 (S.D. Fla. 2013); Louisius v. Fla. Dep't of Corr., No. 6:14-cv-931-Orl-40GJK, 2015 WL 667973, at *4 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 17, 2015).[3]

         A. Count II - Deliberate Indifference Claim

         In their Motion to Dismiss, Officers Baldwin and Martos argue that the Court should dismiss Count II because the “facts alleged in the Complaint fail to support the elements of a ‘failure to render aid' claim.”[4] Specifically, the officers submit that Burke cannot allege that he suffered a serious medical need as defined by the Eleventh Circuit. Additionally, they argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity because Burke did not suffer a constitutional violation and, even if he did, that right was not clearly established at the time the alleged violation occurred.

         In his Response, Burke states for the first time that the acts of Officers Baldwin and Martos constituted an unjustified intrusion of bodily integrity. Specifically, Burke alleges that “[s]uch conduct can be nothing less than actionable negligence, ” which shocks the conscience. Burke also argues that Officers Baldwin and Martos are not entitled to qualified immunity because they were not acting within their discretionary authority and their conduct violated clearly established constitutional law. Peculiarly, Burke cites White v. Rochford, 592 F.2d 381 (7th Cir. 1979), and Matheny v. Boatright, 970 F.Supp. 1039 (S.D. Ga. 1997), for the proposition that the officers conduct, leaving Burke on a dark, rural road, violated clearly established constitutional law at the time of the incident. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, however, has traditionally held that only cases from three courts, the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit, and the Florida Supreme Court, can clearly establish law in this jurisdiction. See Loftus v. Clark-Moore, 690 F.3d 1200, 1204 (11th Cir. 2012).

         In their Reply, Officers Baldwin and Martos state that they acted within their discretionary authority when they took Burke into custody, transported, and released him. Additionally, they assert that Burke fails to identify facts that abrogate the officers' entitlement to qualified immunity. Specifically, Officers Baldwin and Martos aver that Burke fails to cite any pertinent Supreme Court, Eleventh Circuit, ...


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