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McDowell v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

October 3, 2019




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendants Jose Gonzalez and David Colon's (“Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss the Complaint or, Alternatively, for a More Definite Statement, ECF No. [21] (“Motion to Dismiss”), and Defendants' Motion to Stay Discovery and for Relief from Pretrial Deadlines Pending Ruling on Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. [23] (“Motion to Stay”), (collectively, “Motions”). Plaintiff Christopher Maurice McDowell (“Plaintiff”) filed responses to each Motion, ECF Nos. [25] & [26], to which Defendants replied, ECF Nos. [31] & [33]. The Court has carefully reviewed the Motions, all opposing and supporting submissions, the record in this case, and the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part; the Motion to Stay is denied as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Pro se Plaintiff initiated this action on July 26, 2019, ECF No. [1] (“Complaint”), which appears to allege facts surrounding a false arrest, assault, and unlawful detention, against Defendants Jose Gonzalez, an officer of the Miami-Dade Police Department (“MDPD”), and David Colon, an MDPD sergeant. See ECF No. [1] at 25. Plaintiff's Complaint describes incidents that transpired on March 19, 2019, at a Dunkin' Donuts. Id. at 4-8. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he entered the Dunkin' Donuts to purchase coffee and, after repeatedly attempting to purchase coffee but being denied, engaged in a verbal altercation with the cashier, which ultimately resulted in Plaintiff being asked to leave the store. Id. at 6-8. Plaintiff was later apprehended by MDPD officers after they received a complaint alleging that a man had entered Dunkin' Donuts, stolen $7.00 out of the tip jar, and fled on foot. Id. at 28-29. The victim positively identified Plaintiff as the individual who removed the $7.00 from the tip jar. Id. at 29. Accordingly, Plaintiff was arrested, charged with petit theft, and held in jail overnight until he appeared before a state court judge, who released him on his own recognizance. Id. at 16-17, 29.

         Plaintiff describes numerous conversations with Officer Gonzalez, during which he repeatedly stated that he had not stolen any money from the tip jar and that the surveillance cameras at Dunkin' Donuts - which, Plaintiff alleges, Officer Gonzalez indicated having already watched at the time of the arrest - would clearly establish Plaintiff's innocence. Id. at 10-13. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that he was illegally arrested and detained for a crime he did not commit and that, while being arrested, he was assaulted several times. Id. at 25. However, Plaintiff's Complaint does not set forth any of his asserted causes of action or the law under which he brings these causes of action. See id.

         In the instant Motion to Dismiss, Defendants move for dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), based on their qualified immunity, because they had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim to support any violation of clearly established constitutional rights. ECF No. [21] at 1-2. In the alternative, Defendants request that, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), the Court order Plaintiff to amend his Complaint to provide a more definite statement because Defendants are unable to decipher what claims are asserted or how many claims are asserted. Id. at 3. Moreover, in their Motion to Stay, Defendants request for this Court to stay all discovery pending the resolution of their qualified immunity claims in their Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. [23].


         A. Motion to Dismiss

          Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 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). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, ” it must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (explaining that Rule 8(a)(2)'s pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”). In the same vein, a complaint may not rest on “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration in original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. These elements are required to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, which requests dismissal for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” When reviewing a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court generally must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and evaluate all plausible inferences derived from those facts in plaintiff's favor. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v. S. Everglades Restoration All., 304 F.3d 1076, 1084 (11th Cir. 2002). “‘Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys' and are liberally construed.” Bingham v. Thomas, 654 F.3d 1171, 1175 (11th Cir. 2011) (quoting Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998)). “Yet even in the case of pro se litigants this leniency does not give a court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party, or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.” Campbell v. Air Jamaica Ltd., 760 F.3d 1165, 1168-69 (11th Cir. 2014) (quoting GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. Of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998)).

         Nonetheless, courts “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Thaeter v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 449 F.3d 1342, 1352 (11th Cir. 2006). Moreover, “courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint ‘obvious alternative explanations,' which suggest lawful conduct rather than the unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Am. Dental Ass'n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682). On a 12(b) motion, courts are generally limited to the facts contained in the complaint and attached exhibits, including documents referred to in the complaint that are central to the claim. Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949, 959 (11th Cir. 2009); see also Maxcess, Inc. v. Lucent Techs., Inc., 433 F.3d 1337, 1340 n.3 (11th Cir. 2005) (“[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.” (citing Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1135 (11th Cir. 2002))).

         B. Motion for a More Definite Statement

         Under Rule 12(e), “a party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). Because courts liberally construe the pleading standard under Rule 8(a), “a short and plain statement” will be enough, unless, upon motion, a party establishes that the pleading “is so ambiguous that [they] cannot reasonably” respond. Betancourt v. Marine Cargo Mgm't, Inc., 930 F.Supp. 606, 608 (S.D. Fla. 1996).


         A. Failure ...

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