United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
ADELINA MCCULLEY, CLARENCE J. MCCULLEY, and JOHN M. RICHMOND, Plaintiffs,
DETECTIVE JEFFREY JONES (PCSO), individually, and GRADY JUDD, in his official capacity as Sheriff of the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Defendants.
RICHARD A. LAZZARA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
THE COURT is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss
Complaint (Dkt. 9), and Plaintiff's Response in
Opposition with Exhibit A attached (Dkt. 16). After careful
consideration of the allegations of the Complaint (Dkt. 1),
the amended arrest warrants attached to the motion (Dkt.
9-1), and the applicable law, the Court concludes the motion
is due to be granted as to the federal claims.
circumstances giving rise to the arrests of the three
Plaintiffs involved the theft of approximately 80 citrus
hauling trailers valued at between $5, 000 and $10,
000.Three other individuals, including Donald
Mosley, were identified in the actual theft of the
trailers. Mr. Mosley admitted in his
post-Miranda statement that some of the trailers
were sold to T&M Salvage (T&M), a licensed secondary
metals recycler owned by Plaintiff Adalina
McCulley. Plaintiff John Richmond was the scale
operator of T&M, and Plaintiff Clarence McCulley was the
manager of American Salvage and Trading, a business that
shared office space with T&M.
T&M, Mr. Mosley dealt only with Bernhard Powell, who was
the buyer of materials there. When Mr. Mosley was asked for
paperwork, he responded that he bought the trailers from
individuals who did not have titles for the
trailers. According to Plaintiffs, the stolen
trailers were “barely in working order” and were
“missing multiple tires.” Nevertheless, when the Polk
County Sheriff's Office asked for the records of T&M,
all Plaintiffs cooperated and also gave statements to
Defendant Detective Jones.
respect to Mr. Richmond, there was allegedly no evidence that
Mr. Richmond made management decisions for
T&M. The complaint even alleges that the
“evidence suggests and the discovery is expected to
show that Mr. Richmond was charged to extract favorable
testimony from him against the
McCulley's.” Although not expressly alleged in the
complaint, Plaintiffs contend that none of the individuals at
the other two scrap yards to which Mr. Mosely sold the
trailers were ever arrested. Out of the 80 trailers stolen,
Plaintiffs were charged with acquiring 40 of
them. Each Plaintiff and Mr. Powell were
charged with 40 counts of unlawful purchase of a motor
vehicle, 40 counts of grand theft of motor vehicle, and 40
counts of dealing in stolen property. The grand
theft charges against the Plaintiffs were dropped, and six of
the remaining 80 counts were dropped. Mrs. McCulley
was found not guilty at her jury trial.Eventually all
the charges were dropped against Mr. Richmond and Mr.
Powell. Mr. McCulley pleaded guilty to one
misdemeanor count of transferring a trailer without
delivering a certified title.
Jones reviewed the records of T&M which contained
photographs of the transactions. The records did not contain
certificates of title, salvage certificates, certificates of
destruction, or derelict vehicle certificate applications
from the sellers of the trailers. The records showed that
T&M classified the trailers as “unprepared
steel.” Each Plaintiff and Mr. Powell stated that they
bought the trailers as scrap metal and did not obtain any
paperwork or titles nor did they obtain a derelict motor
vehicle certificate application from the sellers. Detective
Jones further noted that the Plaintiffs and Mr. Powell cut
the trailers up into scrap metal and resold the metal to
other secondary metals recyclers to eliminate the possibility
of inspecting the trailers for identifying numbers or
markings. Each arrest affidavit has a dated signature of the
assistant state attorney in the economic crimes division. The
Defendants urge this Court to dismiss the complaint because
each Plaintiff was arrested pursuant to a valid arrest
warrant and there was probable cause for the arrests.
Detective Jones argues that the § 1983 claim should be
dismissed based on qualified immunity because there was no
constitutional violation and there was arguable probable
cause for the arrests.
of the Complaint
complaint must allege “enough” facts, accepted as
true and construed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, to “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009);
Bell Alt. Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570,
127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 1974, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).
“While 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 do.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65
(internal citations omitted). Legal conclusions
“couched” as facts need not be accepted as true.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. The
conclusory legal allegations must first be separated out, and
then “the remaining well-pleaded factual
allegations” may be accepted as true and determined
whether they state a plausible entitlement to relief.
Franklin v. Curry, 738 F.3d 1246, 1251
(11th Cir. 2013). Determining whether the claim is
plausible is “a context-specific task that requires the
reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common
sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. at
1950. The factual allegations “must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
only the four corners of the complaint may be considered in
ruling on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).
Cline v. Tolliver, 434 F. App'x 823, 824
(11th Cir. 2011) (unpublished opinion) (citing
Speaker v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Servs.
Ctrs. for Disease Control and Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371,
1379 (11th Cir. 2010)). The court may consider
exhibits if referenced in the complaint and attached to the
defendant's motion to dismiss. Brooks v. Blue Cross
& Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1369
(11th Cir. 1997). The court may “consider an
extrinsic document if it is (1) central to the
plaintiff's claim, and (2) its authenticity is not
challenged.” SFM Holdings, Ltd. v. Banc of Am.
Secs., LLC, 600 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir.
2010). The Rule 12(b) motion need not be converted into a
Rule 56 summary judgment motion “where certain
documents and their contents are undisputed.”
Speaker, 623 F.3d at 1379.
qualified immunity inquiry is intertwined with the Rule
12(b)(6) standard at the dismissal stage. Keating v. City
of Miami, 598 F.3d 753, 760 (11th Cir. 2010).
Qualified immunity shields government officials from
individual liability as long as the acts were committed
within their discretionary authority “unless the
official's conduct violates clearly established [federal]
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable
person would have known.” Id., 598 F.3d at 762
(citations and internal quotation marks
omitted). An arrest falls within the officer's
discretionary function and requires only “arguable
probable cause” to fulfill the clearly-established
element. Case v. Eslinger, 555 F.3d 1317, 1327
(11th Cir. 2009) (citing Lee v. Ferraro,
284 F.3d 1188, 1195 (11th Cir. 2002)).
“Arguable probable cause exists ‘where reasonable
officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same
knowledge as the Defendant could have believed that probable
cause existed to arrest.'” Case, 555 F.3d
at 1327 (citation omitted).
establishing that the public official was acting within the
scope of his discretionary authority, then the plaintiff must
show that the official violated a constitutional right and
the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged
violation. Fish v. Brown, 838 F.3d 1153, 1162
(11th Cir. 2016) (citations omitted). It does not
matter which factor is considered first. Fish, 838
F.3d at 1162 (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 236, 129 S.Ct. 808, 172 L.Ed.2d 2009)).
I, IV, and VII § 1983 FALSE ARREST AGAINST DETECTIVE
alleges three separate counts as to each Plaintiff for false
arrest pursuant to § 1983. Plaintiffs specifically
allege that the Plaintiffs were unlawfully arrested when
Detective Jones “caused and authorized” their
detention “when he submitted an arrest affidavit . . .
and applied for an arrest warrant, which led to [the]
arrest” of Plaintiffs.
allege the arrest was without arguable probable
cause. According to Plaintiffs, the facts and
circumstances within Detective Jones' knowledge
“would not cause a prudent person to believe”
that Plaintiffs had committed an offense.
“[B]ased on the condition of the trailers and ambiguity
of the law no criminal intent to violate the law could have
been perceived by a reasonable officer” in the same
circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as Detective
not addressed by either party, the § 1983 count is
labeled false arrest and not malicious prosecution.
Plaintiffs were arrested pursuant to arrest warrants and
therefore, even if the arrest warrants were invalid, their
claim is one of malicious prosecution. Carter v.
Gore, 557 F.App'x 904, 906 (11th Cir.
2014) (citing Whiting v. Traylor, 85 F.3d 581, 585
(11th Cir. 1996)). Although the complaint does
not use the term “maliciously prosecuted” as it
did in Carter, it alleges that Detective Jones
caused the arrest warrants to be issued without arguable
probable cause. “[A]n officer's liability for
malicious prosecution flows from initially securing an
invalid warrant . . . .” Carter, 557
F.App'x at 907. The complaint therefore technically
alleges a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim, which must
be decided on the existence of arguable probable cause
Detective Jones raises the affirmative defense of qualified
immunity in the motion to dismiss. The arrests occurred
within the scope of his discretionary authority as a deputy
with the sheriff's office investigating the crimes
associated with the citrus trailer thefts. Plaintiffs admit
there is no dispute that Detective Jones was acting within
his discretionary authority when he arrested
Plaintiffs. The burden now rests with the Plaintiffs
to show that Detective Jones violated a constitutional right
and that the constitutional right was clearly established at
the time of the alleged violation, in either order.
Fish, 838 F.3d at 1162 ...