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Carraway v. Perez

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

November 8, 2019

TERRY CARRAWAY, as personal representative for the estate of his deceased son, KENTRILL CARRAWAY, Plaintiff,
v.
JUAN J. PEREZ, in his official capacity as Chief of Police of Miami Dade County, Florida; GEORGE EUGENE; and MIAMI DADE COUNTY, apolitical subdivision of the State of Florida, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          JAMES LAWRENCE KING UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Miami-Dade County (the "County") and Juan J. Perez ("Director Perez") on August 21, 2019 (DE 16) (the "Motion").[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         The case arises from a May 2016 incident in which Kentrill Carraway was allegedly shot and killed by Miami-Dade County police officer George Eugene. Compl. ¶ 2, DE 1. Plaintiff, as personal representative of Kentrill Carraway's estate, now brings this action against the County, Director Perez, and Officer Eugene asserting claims for deprivation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, wrongful death, among others. According to the allegations in the Complaint, on May 19, 2016, Kentrill, Carraway was congregating with friends in the backyard of a property in Miami-Dade County when a police car "charged up a vacant lot toward the backyard where these young black men were congregating." Id. ¶¶ 17-18. "With guns drawn, the Miami Dade Police, including [Officer Eugene], began to yell commands . . . ordering them to halt and put their arms • up." Id. ¶ 18. Carraway began to run from the officers. Id. ¶ 19. After Carraway had run approximately fifteen yards, two officers "opened fire," and Officer Eugene "shot Carraway in the back twice, killing him." Id.

         Plaintiff filed this action on August 2, 2017. See DE 1. On February 5, 2018, the Court stayed the action pending resolution of the underlying criminal and administrative proceedings related to the incident. See DE 8. On August 1, 2019, the Court lifted the stay, reopened the case for further proceedings, and ordered the County and Director Perez to respond to the Complaint. See DE 15.[2]

         Defendants then filed the instant Motion seeking dismissal of several counts in Plaintiffs Complaint for failure to state a claim. First, they argue that all claims against Director Perez in his official capacity (Counts I, IV, VIII, and X) should be dismissed as duplicative of the claims against the County itself. As to the § 1983 claim against the County (Count III), Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to plead sufficient facts showing (a) that Officer Eugene used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment or (b) that the County had a "policy, custom, or practice" that caused any such Fourth Amendment violation as required to hold the County liable under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Finally, Defendants seek dismissal of the remaining state law tort claims (Counts VII, VIII, IX, and X), arguing that such claims are subsumed by Plaintiffs wrongful death claim as a matter of law, and that they fail to allege the requisite elements under Florida law in any event.

         In response, Plaintiff concedes that the claims against Director Perez "should be dismissed as redundant" and that the state law tort claims should be "subsumed into the wrongful . death claim," thus warranting dismissal of Counts I, IV, VII, VIII, IX, and X. See Resp. ¶ 4.[3]However, Plaintiff maintains that the Motion should be denied as to the § 1983 claim against the County, arguing that (a) the "facts alleged in the Complaint support the contention that the use of deadly force was unreasonable and excessive," id. ¶ 5, and (b) the Complaint adequately alleges that "Miami Dade Police has the custom of not properly training and disciplin[ing] officers, in particular with regard to the proper use of firearms, communication skills, tactics skills, and decision making skills," id. ¶ 22.[4]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint 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)). To meet this "plausibility" standard, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. While this "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 complaint 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; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice."). As such, "conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal." Oxford Asset Mgmt., Ltd. v. Jaharis, 297 F.3d 1182, 1188 (11th Cir. 2002).

         III. DISCUSSION

         "To impose section 1983 liability on a municipality, a plaintiff must show: (1) that his constitutional rights were violated; (2) that the municipality had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy or custom caused the violation." Casado v. Miami-Dade Cty., 340 F.Supp.3d 1320, 1326 (S.D. Fla. 2018) (quoting McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004)). Here, the Complaint alleges that Carraway's Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force was violated when Officer Eugene shot him in the back, see Compl. ¶ 66, and that the County had a "policy, custom or usage" whereby it "hired officers who were substandard and who were not properly trained and disciplined, including [Eugene], who lacked sufficient training on the proper use of firearms, communication skills, defective tactics skills, and decision making skills," id. ¶ 70.

         Where, as here, the alleged constitutional violation is excessive force under the Fourth J Amendment, .the claim must be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment's "reasonableness" standard. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). Thus, the issue is "whether the officers' actions are 'objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." Cordoves v. Miami-Dade Cty., 92 F.Supp.3d 1221, 1235 (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 397). This "requires careful consideration of a number of factors, including 'the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.'" Id. (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396).

         Based on the well-pled allegations in the Complaint, the Court finds that Plaintiff has adequately alleged excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. According to the Complaint, Kentrill Carraway was congregating with friends in the backyard of a Miami-Dade County property when the officers charged up toward them. The Complaint alleges that the . officers did not have a warrant to arrest Carraway, and nothing else in the Complaint suggests that Carraway was suspected of having committed a crime, much less a serious one. Moreover, the Complaint alleges that Carraway was running away from the officers when he was shot twice in the back, which suggests that he did not pose an immediate danger to the officers at the time of the shooting. Taking these allegations as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that Officer Eugene's use of deadly force was unreasonable under the circumstances.

         In support of their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants argue that "merely running away from officers does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that a suspect posed no threat." Reply at 3. But the standard on a motion to dismiss is whether such a conclusion is plausible, not inevitable. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Defendants also argue that the Complaint fails to allege that Carraway was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Reply at 3-4. However, Defendants cite no case law holding that a plaintiff must allege that he was unarmed as a prerequisite to stating an excessive force claim, and the Court declines to adopt such a bright-line rule in the Fourth Amendment context, where the use of force must be evaluated on a "case-by-case basis 'from the perspective of a ...


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