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Swartzel v. Sheriff of Columbia County

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

October 17, 2017

MINDI SWARTZEL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SHERIFF OF COLUMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, MARK HUNTER; and JUAN CRUZ, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [1]

          JOEL B. TOOMEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendant Sheriff Mark Hunter's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim (“Hunter Motion”) (Doc. 17), Defendant Deputy Sheriff Juan Cruz's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim (“Cruz Motion”) (Doc. 18), and Plaintiff's Responses thereto (Docs. 25 & 26). The Motions were referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation regarding an appropriate resolution. (Doc. 23.) For the reasons set forth herein, the undersigned respectfully RECOMMENDS that the Cruz Motion be GRANTED, Count II of the Amended Complaint (Doc. 16) be DISMISSED with prejudice, Count I of the Amended Complaint be DISMISSED without prejudice to refiling in state court, and the Hunter Motion be DENIED as moot.

         I. Background

         The Amended Complaint alleges in substance that following two interviews with Defendant Cruz regarding gang-related thefts that occurred when Plaintiff was a minor, Plaintiff was arrested based on “‘probable cause' of a violation.” (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff was “booked, ordered to change clothing, informed she would be given a bond amount, . . . placed in a cell, ” and “confined in the jail until she was bonded.” (Id.) She was subjected to her bond restrictions thereafter, and she now “has an inappropriate adult arrest record.” (Id. at 4-5.)

         Plaintiff asserts a state law claim for false imprisonment against Defendant Hunter, and a deprivation of rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Cruz, based on their alleged failure to treat her as a juvenile following her arrest. (Id. at 5-7.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that although she subsequently obtained the age of majority, she should have been processed and released as a juvenile pursuant to Florida law because she was a minor at the time the alleged offenses occurred. (Id. at 3-7.) Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docs. 17 & 18.)

         II. Standard

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must determine whether the Amended Complaint sets forth sufficient factual allegations to establish a claim upon which relief can be granted. In evaluating whether Plaintiff has stated a claim, the Court must determine whether the Amended Complaint satisfies Rule 8(a)(2), which requires that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To satisfy this standard, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007).

         III. Analysis

         Plaintiff argues that, after being lawfully arrested based on probable cause, she should have been processed and released as a juvenile because the alleged offenses occurred when she was a minor. Section 985.03(7), Florida Statutes, states: “‘Child' or ‘juvenile' or ‘youth' means any person under the age of 18 or any person who is alleged to have committed a violation of law occurring prior to the time that person reached the age of 18 years.” Section 985.115 states in part: “A child taken into custody shall be released from custody as soon as is reasonably possible, ” and that “a law enforcement officer may deliver the child, for temporary custody not to exceed 6 hours, to a secure booking area of a jail . . . .” Fla. Stat. §§ 985.115(1) & (3). Both of Plaintiff's claims are based on Defendants' alleged violation of Chapter 985, Florida Statutes.

         A. Section 1983 Claim

         “Section 1983 . . . provides a remedy for deprivations of federal statutory and constitutional rights.” Almand v. DeKalb Cty., Ga., 103 F.3d 1510, 1512 (11th Cir. 1997) (emphasis added). Thus, “[a] successful section 1983 action requires that the plaintiff show she was deprived of a federal right by a person acting under color of state law.” Id. at 1513. “The Fourth Amendment protects ‘[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons . . . against unreasonable . . . seizures.'” Manuel v. City of Joliet, 137 S.Ct. 911, 917 (2017). Specifically, it “prohibits government officials from detaining a person in the absence of probable cause, ” and it “governs a claim for unlawful pretrial detention . . . .” Id. at 918, 920.

         Plaintiff argues that she “has alleged a specific violation of her Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable seizure in the form of unlawful pre-trial detention in the County Jail.” (Doc. 25 at 4.) Specifically, Plaintiff contends that she was “illegally detained” because she “should have been released within six hours [as a juvenile]; not jailed.” (Id.) Additionally, Plaintiff argues that “[t]he fact that the Defendant had probable cause to take her into custody does not cancel her right to be free of illegal pretrial detention in the jail.” (Id. at 3.)

         As noted above, Plaintiff's allegations that her seizure was unreasonable are based solely on Defendant Cruz's alleged failure to treat her as a juvenile following her arrest in violation of Florida law. Specifically, the Amended Complaint alleges that “[t]he arrest, booking, and incarceration of Ms. Swartzel in the Columbia County Jail, when she should have been released [as a juvenile], constituted a seizure, ” and that “[t]he seizure of Ms. Swartzel was unreasonable in that the Florida Legislature expressly prohibited the seizure.” (Doc. 16 at 7.) Plaintiff does not allege that her detention was unreasonable in any other respect. Moreover, Plaintiff concedes that at the time she was arrested, “the Detectives had ‘probable cause' of a violation” and that “she was lawfully taken into custody.” (Id. at 4; Doc. 25 at 4.) Plaintiff does not, and cannot plausibly, allege that her post-arrest detention was not based on probable cause. Rather, Plaintiff alleges only that her detention was unreasonable because it violated Florida law.

         Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Eleventh Circuit have rejected similar arguments in holding that an arrest based on probable cause, which otherwise violates state law, does not give rise to a Fourth Amendment violation. See Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164, 166 (2008) (rejecting argument that “a police officer violates the Fourth Amendment by making an arrest based on probable cause but prohibited by state law”); Knight v. Jacobson, 300 F.3d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 2002) (rejecting “the proposition that an arrest supported by probable cause in circumstances where arrest is not permitted under state law violates the Fourth Amendment”). Although neither side cites a case directly on point, it appears that the same would be true for post-arrest detentions. See Manuel, 137 S.Ct. at 918 (stating that the Fourth Amendment “prohibits government officials from detaining a person in the absence of probable cause”); Moore, 553 U.S. at 173, 178 (stating that “when States go ...


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