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Hal v. City of Waller

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

June 27, 2017

Robert Hall, Plaintiff,
City of Waller, et al., Defendants.


          Gray H. Miller United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is a memorandum and recommendation filed by Magistrate Judge Nancy K. Johnson (“M&R”). Dkt. 16. The M&R recommends granting in part and denying in part defendant City of Waller's (“City”) motion to dismiss (Dkt. 10) and denying the City's earlier motion to dismiss as moot (Dkt. 4). Id. The City filed objections to the M&R. Dkt. 17. After considering the M&R, the record, the objections, and the applicable law, the court is of the opinion that the objections should be OVERRULED. The court ADOPTS IN FULL the M&R.

         I. Background

         This is a civil rights case against the City and a police officer. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On October 6, 2014, the City of Waller Police Department dispatched defendant Officer Adolphus Cannon (“Officer Cannon”) to a block party near the Brookside Meadows Apartments. Dkt. 7. There, plaintiff Robert Hall, a resident of Brookside Meadows Apartments, filmed Officer Cannon's efforts to disperse the crowd. Id. Hall alleges that Officer Cannon approached him without provocation, sprayed him with pepper spray, shoved him to the ground, and handcuffed him. Id. Hall's film includes footage of the pepper spraying incident. Id.

         Hall alleges that Officer Cannon pushed him against a police car, took Hall's wallet, and placed him in the back of the police car for over an hour. Id. Hall alleges that Officer Cannon offered to release Hall on the condition that Hall would not distribute the video of Officer Cannon pepper spraying him. Id.

         On October 6, 2016, Hall filed a petition in state court against the City and Officer Cannon. Dkt. 2-1. That action was removed to federal court. Dkt. 2. On November 10, 2016, the City filed its first motion to dismiss. Dkt. 4. On December 13, 2016, Hall amended the complaint, rendering the City's earlier motion to dismiss moot. Dkt. 7. On December 19, 2016, the court referred all pretrial management of this case to Judge Johnson pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). Dkt. 9. On December 19, 2016, the City filed a motion to dismiss the live complaint. Dkt. 10. On June 5, 2017, Judge Johnson's M&R recommended that the City's motion be granted in part and denied in part and that the City's earlier motion to dismiss (Dkt. 4) be denied as moot. Dkt. 16.

         Judge Johnson recommends that (1) the court should order Hall to serve Officer Cannon with service of process within thirty days of the court's order adopting the M&R or else the court should dismiss him from the case; (2) the court should allow Hall leave to file an amended complaint to correct the pleading deficiencies as it relates to his allegation of “a lack of a city policy to evaluate the qualifications, training, demeanor and fitness-for-duty of its police officers.” Id. at 11. Judge Johnson also recommends that two of Hall's allegations should survive the City's motion to dismiss: that the City failed to train its officers on how to disperse large crowds and the proper use of pepper spray. Id. On June 16, 2017, the City filed objections to the M&R, seeking dismissal of all of Hall's claims against the City. Dkt. 17.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Reviewing a M&R

         For dispositive matters, the court “determine(s) de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). “The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.” Id. “When no timely objection is filed, the court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Comm. Note (1983). For nondispositive matters, the court may set aside the magistrate judge's order only to the extent that it is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The court must review factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard and legal conclusions de novo. Moore v. Ford Motor Co., 755 F.3d 802, 806 (5th Cir. 2014).

         Here, the court will review all issues to which objections were filed de novo and will consider whether there is any clear error with regard to portions of the M&R to which no party objected and to the City's nondispositive objection to granting Hall leave to amend his complaint.

         B. Motion to Dismiss

         “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss a complaint, courts generally must accept the factual allegations contained in the complaint as true. Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d 1045, 1050 (5th Cir. 1982). The court does not look beyond the face of the pleadings in determining whether the plaintiff has stated a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). “[A] complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, [but] a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] 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 (citations omitted). The “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. The supporting facts must be plausible-enough to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal further supporting evidence. Id. at 556.

         As long as the complaint, taken as a whole, gives rise to a plausible inference of actionable conduct, plaintiff's claims should not be dismissed. Id. at 555-56. Evaluating a motion to dismiss is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw ...

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