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Reynolds v. City of Daytona Beach

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

May 22, 2019

HATTIE MAE REYNOLDS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF DAYTONA BEACH and AUSTIN CLAYTON, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LESLIE R. HOFFMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         TO THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT:

         This cause came on for consideration without oral argument on the following motion file d herein:

MOTION: DEFENDANTS, CITY OF DAYTONA BEACH AND AUSTIN CLAYTON'S, MOTION TO DISMISS AMENDED COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6), FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, THE DEFENSE OF QUALIFIED IMMUNITY, AND STATE LAW IMMUNITY UNDER § 768.28(9), FLA. STAT. (Doc. No. 21)
FILED: March 13, 2019
THEREON it is RECOMMENDED that the motion be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND.

         Plaintiff Hattie Mae Reynolds (“Reynolds”) filed a complaint in state court against Defendants Daytona Beach Police Officer Austin Clayton (“Officer Clayton”) and the City of Daytona Beach (“the City”), (collectively “Defendants”), following her arrest in May 2018 by Officer Clayton. Doc. No. 1-1. Defendants removed the case to this Court on November 8, 2018, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441, 1443, and 1446. Doc. No. 1.

         On November 16, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. Doc. No. 4. The Court granted that motion, finding that Reynolds's complaint failed to state a claim, and permitted Reynolds leave to amend. Doc. No. 15. See Reynolds v. City of Daytona Beach, No. 6:18-cv-1921-Orl-28KRS, 2019 WL 463435, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 6, 2019).

         On February 20, 2019, Reynolds filed an amended complaint, asserting the same causes of action as the initial complaint: (1) Count I - false arrest under the Florida constitution and Florida tort law against Officer Clayton; (2) Count II - negligent infliction of emotional distress (“NIED”) against the City; (3) Count III - false arrest in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against both Officer Clayton and the City; (4) Count IV - municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City; and (5) Count V - false imprisonment under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City. Doc. No. 17. Included with the amended complaint are: (1) a copy of a News Release by the Daytona Beach Police Department regarding Reynolds's arrest; and (2) the charging affidavit associated with Reynolds's arrest. Doc. No. 17-1.

         On March 13, 2019, Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint. Doc. No. 21. Reynolds has filed a response in opposition. Doc. No. 22. The motion was referred to the undersigned for issuance of a Report and Recommendation, and the matter is ripe for review.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD.

         Defendants move to dismiss the amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Doc. No. 21. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a [pleading] 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. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While this pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A pleading must contain “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. Although a court must accept as true well-pled allegations, it is not bound to accept a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. For purposes of this analysis, exhibits attached to the amended complaint are part of the pleading for “all purposes.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c); see also Saunders v. Duke, 766 F.3d 1262, 1270 (11th Cir. 2014) (“[D]ocuments attached to a complaint or incorporated in the complaint by reference can generally be considered by a federal court in ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).”).

         III. ALLEGATIONS OF THE AMENDED COMPLAINT.[1]

         Reynolds alleges that the City maintains a policy under its Departmental Standards Directive whereby law enforcement officers are instructed to make an arrest during an investigation of a domestic dispute. Doc. No. 17 ¶ 66. Officers are to determine what crime occurred; if the relationship is domestic; and the primary aggressor. Id. If the officer determines that there is probable cause, the officer shall effect an arrest of the primary aggressor without a warrant. Id. With this policy, Reynolds alleges that the City permitted, encouraged, tolerated, and ratified a pattern and practice of permitting officers to engage in misconduct and to make arrests without probable cause. Id. ¶ 67.

         Officer Clayton is a law enforcement officer with the City of Daytona Beach. Id. ¶ 14. Reynolds is a 95-year-old African American female who resides in Daytona Beach. Id. ¶¶ 5, 15. On May 5, 2018, Officer Clayton responded to an initial call made by Reynolds seeking assistance in removing her 46-year-old granddaughter from her home. Id. ¶ 17.[2] Reynolds had advised the operator that her granddaughter was “sassing her” and refused to comply with Reynolds's demands that she leave the home. Id. ¶ 18. Reynolds made a subsequent call requesting help removing the granddaughter from the home because the granddaughter refused to get out of Reynolds's bed. Id. ¶ 19. When Officer Clayton arrived on the scene, he did not observe Reynolds and her granddaughter in a physical altercation. Id. ¶ 20. Reynolds advised Officer Clayton that the granddaughter did not reside at the home. Id. ¶ 21.

         Officer Clayton interviewed Reynolds, who denied any physical touching between herself and the granddaughter. Id. ¶ 22. Officer Clayton thereafter interviewed the granddaughter, who initially did not mention that any physical touching had occurred between herself and Reynolds. Id. ¶ 23. Officer Clayton knew that he must determine a primary aggressor in compliance with the City's policy; therefore, Officer Clayton proceeded to coax the granddaughter to say that Reynolds had physically accosted her-Officer Clayton repeatedly asked her if there was any physical altercation, to which the granddaughter finally responded that Reynolds “threw a bedroom slipper.” Id. ¶ 24. Officer Clayton then asked her if she was “hit or smacked by [Reynolds] today.” Id. ¶ 25. The granddaughter then responded that Reynolds “took the bedroom slipper off of [the granddaughter's] foot and slapped her with it.” Id.[3] After hesitation, the granddaughter stated that Reynolds struck her “on the left side of [her] face.” Id. Officer Clayton observed that the granddaughter had no physical injury to her face. Id. ¶ 27; see also Doc. No. 17-1, at 3 (“V1 had no marks or bruising on her face where D1 smacked her with the shoe.”). Officer Clayton confirmed that the granddaughter had never resided with Reynolds. Doc. No. 17 ¶ 28.

         Reynolds was arrested on the date of the incident after Officer Clayton determined that she was the primary aggressor. Id. ¶¶ 40, 41. She was released on May 6, 2019. Id. ¶ 40. A nolle prosequi was filed on May 10, 2018. Id. ¶ 43. The charges remain public record, and Reynolds has no prior criminal history. Id. ¶ 44. After her arrest, Reynolds was the subject of media publications, which were reported on the radio, in the newspaper, and on television; her mugshot and/or her name are also available on the internet and through other media sources throughout the United States. Id. ¶ 39.

         Reynolds alleges that Officer Clayton knew or should have known that the granddaughter was being untruthful because of her hesitation and because she gave Officer Clayton three different versions of the story. Id. ¶¶ 26, 29. Moreover, Officer Clayton observed no physical injury to the granddaughter's face. Id. ¶ 27. In addition, Reynolds had repeatedly told Officer Clayton that her granddaughter was being untruthful about any physical touching. Id. ¶ 30. Likewise, Officer Clayton knew that Reynolds was “old and frail, and therefore, unlikely able to take a shoe from [the granddaughter's] foot who is much younger and mobile.” Id. ¶ 31. Officer Clayton observed that Reynolds was barely able to ambulate. Id. Officer Clayton also knew that the granddaughter did not reside with Reynolds and had never resided with her in the past. Id. ¶¶ 21, 28, 36. Although Officer Clayton knew or should have known that the granddaughter was being untruthful because she was hesitant and kept changing her story, Reynolds alleges that the City's policy required him to arrest someone irrespective of whether probable cause was present. Id. ¶ 26.

         Reynolds alleges that in Officer Clayton's police report, he intentionally fabricated and wrote the false statement that “D1 took her shoe and smacked her on the left side of her face, ” and falsely wrote that Reynolds said, “she began to start yelling and smacked V1 in the face with the shoes she had on.” Id. ¶ 33-34. She claims that Officer Clayton lacked probable cause to arrest her, and that Reynolds was falsely charged with the crime of domestic battery. Id. ¶¶ 48, 84. She asserts that Officer Clayton unreasonably relied on the City's training and policy regarding response to domestic violence calls, which required him to arrest an individual without discretion. Id. ¶ 15.

         Reynolds alleges that as a result of the incident, she has suffered extensive mental anxiety, physical and emotional distress, and she had to undergo three blood transfusions on May 14, 2018. Id. ¶ 45. She also claims that she suffered “shock, fright, apprehension, embarrassment, and humiliation, and loss of liberty and freedom.” Id. ¶ 52. In addition, she alleges that she suffered “dizziness, headaches, numbness and tingling and visual disturbance, and anemia immediately following the arrest and incarceration.” Id. ¶ 59.

         In addition to the City's policy concerning domestic violence arrests, Reynolds claims that the City has established a permanent and well settled practice and custom of permitting officers like Officer Clayton to fabricate arrest reports. Id. ¶ 14. Reynolds further claims that the City permitted, encouraged, tolerated, and ratified a pattern or practice of intentionally fabricating statements and allowing officers to make arrests without probable cause by failing to properly train and supervise officers and failing to discipline officers for executing police reports containing false statements. Id. ¶ 13. To support these allegations, Reynolds cites to other civil rights complaints for false arrests that were asserted against the City and were allegedly successful, and asserts that other law enforcement officers currently employed by the City have numerous complaints against them for failure to truthfully and accurately complete affidavits or citations. Id. ¶ 14.

         IV.DISCUSSION.

         A. Federal Claims.

         1.Count III - False Arrest Pursuant to § 1983 - Officer Clayton.

         In Count III of the amended complaint, Reynolds asserts a claim of false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against both Officer Clayton and the City. Doc. No. 17, at 11. I first address Reynolds's allegations against Officer Clayton individually.

         Defendants seek dismissal of Reynolds's claim in Count III against Officer Clayton based on the defense of qualified immunity. Doc. No. 21, at 9-15. Defendants submit that the amended complaint lacks factual allegations demonstrating that at any point, Officer Clayton falsified his report or lacked probable cause or even arguable probable cause to arrest Reynolds pursuant to Florida's domestic violence statute, Fla. Stat. § 741.28. Id.

         “Qualified immunity provides protection for government officials performing discretionary functions and sued in their individual capacities as long as their conduct violates no clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Brannon v. Finkelstein, 754 F.3d 1269, 1278 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting Storck v. City of Coral Springs, 354 F.3d 1307, 1313 (11th Cir. 2003)). There is no dispute that Officer Clayton was performing discretionary functions when he interacted with Reynolds. See Doc. No. 21, at 12, n.4. See also Bercini v. City of Orlando, No. 6:15-cv-1921-Orl-41TBS, 2016 WL 11448994, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2016) (“[A]n officer making an arrest is acting within his discretionary duty.” (citing Crosby v. Monroe Cty., 394 F.3d 1328, 1332 (11th Cir. 2004))). Accordingly, in order to ascertain whether the qualified immunity defense applies to this case, the Court must determine: “(1) whether the facts alleged make out a violation of a constitutional right; and (2) whether that right was ‘clearly established' at the time of the alleged misconduct.” Bratt v. Genovese, No. 8:13-cv-3210-T- 36AEP, 2015 WL 12835684, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 23, 2015), aff'd, 660 Fed.Appx. 837 (11th Cir. 2016) (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)).

         Turning to the clearly-established prong first, [4] the law is clear that “[a] warrantless arrest without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment and forms a basis for a section 1983 claim. ” Ortega v. Christian, 85 F.3d 1521, 1525 (11th Cir. 1996) (citing Marx v. Gumbinner, 905 F.2d 1503, 1505 (11th Cir. 1990)); see also Medley v. City of Orlando, No. 6:08-cv-1456-Orl-18DAB, 2009 WL 10706233, at *6 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 12, 2009) (citation omitted) (“[I]t is clearly-established that an arrest made without probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment.”). The same standard for determining whether probable cause exists applies under both Florida and federal law-“whether ‘a reasonable man would have believed [probable cause existed] had he known all of the facts known by the officer.'” Rankin v. Evans, 133 F.3d 1425, 1433 (11th Cir. 1998) (quoting United States v. Ullrich, 580 F.2d 765, 769 (5th Cir. 1978)). Probable cause exists “when law enforcement officials have facts and circumstances within their knowledge sufficient to warrant a reasonable belief that the suspect had committed or was committing a crime.” DeGraw v. Coats, No. 8:11-cv-720-EAK-MAP, 2011 WL 2270398, at *3 (M.D. Fla. June 6, 2011).

         In addition to the probable cause standard, the Defendants also point to the lesser “arguable probable cause” theory, which requires a determination as to “whether ‘reasonable officers in the same circumstances and possessing the same knowledge as the Defendant[] could have believed that probable cause existed to arrest.” Skop v. City of Atlanta, GA, 485 F.3d 1130, 1137 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Lee v. Ferraro, 284 F.3d 1188, 1195 (11th Cir. 2002)). However, the law is again clearly established that the absence of arguable probable cause also violates the Fourth Amendment. See Id. at 1143 “([A]n arrest made without arguable probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.”). Moreover, the law is equally clear that law enforcement officers “are not entitled to qualified immunity if they fabricated or unreasonably disregarded certain pieces of evidence to establish probable cause or arguable probable cause . . . .” Gurrera v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 657 Fed.Appx. 886, 889-90 (11th Cir. 2016) (citation and quotation marks omitted).[5] Whether probable cause or arguable probable cause exists depends on the elements of the alleged offense and the particular facts of the case. Davis v. City of Apopka, 356 F.Supp.3d 1366, 1377 (M.D. Fla. 2018) (quoting Brown v. City of Huntsville, Ala., 608 F.3d 724, 735 (11th Cir. 2010)).

         Based on the elements of the alleged offense and the particular facts alleged in the amended complaint, all of which must be accepted as true, I find that Reynolds has sufficiently alleged both that Officer Clayton did not have probable cause or arguable probable cause to arrest her and that Officer Clayton inserted fabrications in his arrest report such that Defendants' motion to dismiss should be denied as to this claim.

         Officer Clayton reported that Reynolds engaged in domestic violence under Florida law, specifically Fla. Stat. § 741.28, which provides:

(2) “Domestic violence” means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one ...

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