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Erickson v. Manatee County Sheriff's Department

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

December 9, 2019

JOANNA ERICKSON and STEVEN ERICKSON, husband and wife, and THE CHURCH WITHOUT LIMITS, INC. d/b/a/ NO LIMITS LEARNING ACADEMY, a Florida not-for-profit company, Plaintiffs,



         This matter is before the Court on “Defendant Rick Wells' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint and Supporting Memorandum of Law, ” filed by counsel on October 2, 2019. (Doc. # 31). On November 11, 2019, Plaintiffs, through counsel, filed a response in opposition to the motion. (Doc. # 37). After reviewing the motion, response, court file, and the record, the Court finds as follows:


         Plaintiffs Steven and Joanna Erickson are the husband and wife pastors of The Church Without Limits, who previously owned and operated a daycare/preschool known as No. Limits Learning Academy. On or around July 6, 2017, an incident occurred at the school where a six-year-old boy asked a four-year-old girl to pull her pants down, and she did (the children were observed by teachers as the boy was in the process of pulling his pants down). After the incident, the Director of the Academy informed Joanna Erickson that she had reported the incident to the authorities and was resigning.

         Authorities from the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) and Child Protection Services (“CPS”) visited the Academy and gathered incident reports. On July 11, 2017, DCF cited the Academy for the incident. On July 18, 2017, Lisa Montera, a duly authorized CPS Investigator, went to the daycare accompanied by a Manatee County Sheriff's Department deputy and served Joanna Erickson and the Academy with a “Denial of Access to Daycare” form pursuant to section 39.302, Florida Statutes. As a result of this action, the Academy was immediately evacuated, and Plaintiffs allege “chaos ensued.” Plaintiffs also claim that after the evacuation, the media learned of the event, which resulted in a media frenzy. The Academy remained closed until August 2, 2017, when the investigation was completed. Plaintiffs claim that Montera's actions continue to haunt the Academy, which has now permanently closed.


         Plaintiffs originally filed a three-count complaint in state court seeking damages for a violation of § 39.302(2)(a), F.S. (Count I), defamation (Count II), and negligent supervision (Count III). On May 2, 2018, the state court entered an order dismissing the complaint without prejudice. On December 21, 2018, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, asserting four claims for relief - a violation of section 39.302(2)(a), F.S. (Count I), defamation (Count II), defamation per se (Count III), and negligent supervision (Count IV). On March 15, 2019, the state court entered an order dismissing with prejudice Count I, and dismissing without prejudice Count IV.

         On April 1, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their second amended complaint, asserting four claims for relief against Defendant Rick Wells, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Manatee County, Florida, and Dennis Romano, in his official capacity as Captain of the Child Protection Services of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office - defamation (Count I), defamation per se (Count II), negligent supervision (Count III), and a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV). Subsequently, the action was timely removed by Defendants. In a detailed opinion outlining the deficiencies of the second amended complaint, this Court dismissed Counts I and II with prejudice, all claims against Defendant Dennis Romano with prejudice, and Counts III and IV without prejudice.

         Plaintiffs filed their third amended complaint on September 24, 2019, reasserting the prior complaint's remaining causes of action - violation of § 1983 (Count I) and negligent training and supervision (Count II). (Doc. # 30). Sheriff Wells filed the instant motion to dismiss on October 2, 2019. (Doc. # 31). On November 11, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their response in opposition to the motion to dismiss. (Doc. # 37).


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the [plaintiff] is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). “Although Rule 8(a) does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' it does require ‘more than labels and conclusions'; a ‘formulaic recitation of the cause of action will not do.'” Young v. Lexington Ins. Co., No. 18-62468, 2018 WL 7572240, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 6, 2018), report and recommendation adopted, No. 18-62468-CIV, 2019 WL 1112274 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 9, 2019) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, factual allegations must be sufficient “to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, review is generally limited to the four corners of the complaint. Rickman v. Precisionaire, Inc., 902 F.Supp. 232, 233 (M.D. Fla. 1995). Furthermore, when reviewing a complaint for facial sufficiency, a court “must accept [a] [p]laintiff's well pleaded facts as true, and construe the [c]omplaint in the light most favorable to the [p]laintiff. Id. (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). A district court should grant the plaintiff one opportunity to amend its complaint before dismissing the case with prejudice, when a more carefully drafted complaint might state a claim. Eiber Radiology, Inc. v. Toshiba Am. Med. Sys., Inc., 673 Fed.Appx. 925, 929 (11th Cir. 2016). However, after a court provides a plaintiff with instructions concerning deficiencies and the plaintiff squanders that opportunity, the court is under no duty to give the plaintiff a second bite at the apple, especially when the plaintiff is represented by counsel. See Id. (“We have never required district courts to grant counseled plaintiffs more than one opportunity to amend a deficient complaint, nor have we concluded that dismissal with prejudice is inappropriate where a counseled plaintiff has failed to cure a deficient pleading after having been offered ample opportunity to do so.”).


         In its August 22, 2019, Order Granting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint, this Court specifically identified numerous deficiencies that Plaintiffs needed to cure to state a valid claim. (Doc. # 26). Sheriff Wells argues that Plaintiffs ...

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