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Head v. Cullen

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

September 16, 2019

DERIEL HEAD, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER DALE D. CULLEN AND AUTHOR L. PRATER, III,[1] Defendants.

          ORDER

          MARCIA MORALES HOWARD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Status

         Deriel Head, an inmate of the Florida penal system, initiated this action on January 16, 2018, by filing a pro se Civil Rights Complaint (Doc. 1). He filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 7) on March 6, 2018, and a Second Amended Complaint (SAC; Doc. 10) on March 13, 2018.[2] In the SAC, Head names the following Defendants: (1) Dale D. Cullen, an officer of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO), and (2) Author L. Prater, III, a JSO officer. He asserts that the Defendants violated his federal constitutional rights when they unlawfully stopped the vehicle he was driving, falsely arrested him, and illegally searched the vehicle on the morning of August 3, 2016. As relief, he seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

         Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (Motion; Doc. 15). The Court advised Head that granting a motion to dismiss would be an adjudication of the case that could foreclose subsequent litigation on the matter, and gave him an opportunity to respond. See Order (Doc. 12). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the Motion. See Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Response; Doc. 17); Reconsider Plaintiff's Conclusion to Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Supplemental Response; Doc. 18).[3]Head attaches the following documents to his Response: State of Florida v. Deriel Head, case number 2016-CF-006867, Head's Amended Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements (Doc. 17-1), May 11, 2017 Order Denying the State's Motion for Rehearing on Head's Amended Motion to Suppress Evidence and Statements (Doc. 17-2 at 2), Head's medical records (Docs. 17-2 at 3-20), and Cullen and Prater's Depositions (Docs. 17-3, 17-4).

         The Honorable Monte C. Richardson, United States Magistrate Judge, entered a Report and Recommendation (Report; Doc. 50) on August 15, 2019. In the Report, the Magistrate Judge recommends that Defendants' Motion be denied as to Counts I and II, and granted to the extent that the SAC be dismissed with prejudice as to Count III.[4] See Report at 30.

         Specifically, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court conclude that the Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity as to Head's claims relating to the alleged unlawful stop (Count I). See id. at 23. Next, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court find that Defendants' arguments relating to Head's claims concerning the asserted illegal search (Count II) "are better suited for summary judgment." Id. at 25. Last, the Magistrate Judge recommends that the Court conclude that the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as to Head's claims that the Defendants falsely arrested (Count III) him "because Defendants had arguable probable cause to arrest [Head] after locating the weapon and contraband in the black bag . . . ." Id. at 29. On August 27, 2019, Head filed objections to the Report. See Plaintiff's Motion to Object to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation (Objections; Doc. 55). In the Objections, Head urges the Court to reject the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendation as to Count III. See Objections at 3-7. He asserts that the Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity as to his false arrest claims against them. See id. at 7.

         The Court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). If no specific objections to findings of facts are filed, the district court is not required to conduct a de novo review of those findings. See Garvey v. Vaughn, 993 F.2d 776, 779 n.9 (11th Cir. 1993); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the district court must review legal conclusions de novo. See Cooper-Houston v. Southern Ry. Co., 37 F.3d 603, 604 (11th Cir. 1994) (per curiam).

         II. Plaintiff's Assertions [5]

         As to the underlying facts of his claims, Head asserts that Defendants Cullen and Prater "randomly check[ed]" the vehicle's license tag when he had not committed a traffic infraction. SAC at 7. According to Head, Defendants maintained that they saw Head's vehicle cross over to another lane two or three times in a one- minute period.[6] See id. at 8. Head states that he "pulled over" without any "difficulty" or "impairment." Id. He avers that he neither evaded the officers nor destroyed any evidence. See id. He also asserts that he gave Prater his license and registration without any "difficulty," and neither officer tried to determine if he was impaired or medically distressed. Id. at 12. According to Head, Prater claimed that he "smelled a burnt odor of marijuana," and Cullen said that he saw "in plain view" a black bag under Head's leg. Id. Prater then removed Head from the vehicle based on Cullen's verbal directive. See id. Head asserts that Prater handcuffed and arrested him, and then placed him in a locked patrol car while the two officers searched his vehicle. See id. at 12-13. Head states that Cullen and Prater found contraband during the search. See id. at 13. He avers that he answered one of Cullen's questions, and then invoked his right to counsel. See id. The officers later transported him to the pretrial detention facility. See id. According to Head, law enforcement officers "never determined to whom the car was registered," and there were not any items in the black bag (where they found the contraband) that identified Head. Id. He complains that the citation for his alleged failure to drive in a single lane was not written until approximately an hour later. See id. According to Head, the state-court trial judge set an excessive bond that same day, and he retained private counsel a few weeks later. See id. Ultimately, Head maintains that the trial judge granted his motion to suppress the evidence. See id. at 14.

         III. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002); see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2010). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while "[s]pecific facts are not necessary[, ]" the complaint should "'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         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 (internal quotations omitted); see also Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that "conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal") (internal citation and quotations omitted). Indeed, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[, ]" which simply "are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth." See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'" Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). And, while "[p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed," Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998), "'this leniency does not give the court a license to serve as de facto counsel for a party or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.'" Alford v. Consol. Gov't of Columbus, Ga., 438 Fed.Appx. 837, 839 (11th Cir. 2011)[7] (quoting GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted), overruled in part on other grounds as recognized in Randall, 610 F.3d at 706).

         A court considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule(s)), is generally limited to the facts contained in the operative complaint and any attached exhibits, including documents referred to in the complaint that are central to the plaintiff's claims. See Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949, 959 (11th Cir. 2009). Nevertheless, when reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a document outside the four corners of the complaint may still be considered if it is central to the plaintiff's claims and is undisputed in terms of authenticity." Maxcess, Inc. v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 433 F.3d 1337, 1340 n.3 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1135 (11th Cir. 2002)); Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1275-76 (11th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

         IV. Judicial Notice

         At any stage of the proceeding, a court may take judicial notice of "a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it: (1) is generally known within the trial court's territorial jurisdiction; or (2) can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has cautioned that judicial notice should be employed sparingly because it "bypasses the safeguards which are involved with the usual process of proving facts by competent evidence." Shahar v. Bowers, 120 F.3d 211, 214 (11th Cir. 1997). "[T]he kinds of things about which courts ordinarily take judicial notice are (1) scientific facts: for instance, when does the sun rise or set; (2) matters of geography: for instance, what are the boundaries of a state; or (3) matters of political history: for instance, who was president in 1958." Id.

         Recently, in a habeas corpus case in which the district court addressed the issue of timeliness, the Eleventh Circuit held that the dates that the district court noticed from the online state-court dockets constituted "judicially noticed facts under Rule 201." Paez v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 931 F.3d 1304, 1307 (11th Cir. 2019). Moreover, the Eleventh Circuit has determined that a court may take judicial notice of public records when ruling on a motion to dismiss. See Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Fla., 713 F.3d 1066, 1077 at n.9 (11th Cir. 2013) (taking judicial notice of state court documents for purposes of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss in a § 1983 case). Generally, the Eleventh Circuit has distinguished between taking judicial notice of the fact that court records or court rulings exist and taking judicial notice of the truth of the matters stated within those court records or court filings. See Grayson v. Warden, Comm'r, Ala. DOC, 869 F.3d 1204, 1225 (11th Cir. 2017). Thus, judicial notice of related court cases can only be taken either to recognize the judicial act that the order represents or the subject matter of the litigation. See Thomas v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 644 Fed.Appx. 887, 888 (11th Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (taking "judicial notice of another ...


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