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Ahrens v. The City of Dallas

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

November 28, 2017




         Before the court is The City's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, filed June 30, 2017 (Doc. 10). Having considered the pleadings, motion, response, reply, and applicable law, the court, sua sponte, holds that Plaintiff's federal law claim must be dismissed because it is not ripe, and the court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's pendent state law claims. Accordingly, the court denies as moot The City's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 10) and dismisses without prejudice this action.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Katrina Ahrens (“Plaintiff” or “Mrs. Ahrens”) is a detective in the Crimes Against Persons Division of the Dallas Police Department (“DPD”). She is also the widow of Senior Corporal Lorne Ahrens (“Sr. Cpl. Ahrens”), also of the DPD. On July 7, 2016, after over fourteen years of service with the DPD, Sr. Cpl. Ahrens was shot in the line of duty during an ambush on protesters in downtown Dallas, Texas. He passed away the following morning, leaving behind his wife (Plaintiff) and their two minor children.

         Plaintiff alleges that the City possesses extensive records related to the July 7th attack and its aftermath, including “videos, audio recordings, statements, notes, and other records, depicting or otherwise documenting the shooting of Sr. Cpl. Ahrens and his injuries and suffering leading to his death (hereinafter ‘Sensitive Death Records').” Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 9 (“Complaint”). Plaintiff further alleges that, pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act, the media have made numerous requests for information that include the Sensitive Death Records. Plaintiff alleges she asked the City not to release the Sensitive Death Records, but the City refused her request. Plaintiff attaches to her Complaint a letter dated May 2, 2017, from Assistant City Attorney James B. Pinson to Casey Griffith, Esq., Plaintiff's counsel, which states:

To our knowledge, the City has released no crime scene photos or other information related to the criminal investigation regarding the sniper attack on July 7, 2016. The investigation is still pending. After the investigation is closed, any crime scene photos that are responsive to an open records request will be reviewed and redacted in accordance with the [Public Information Act]. The City will not disclose any sensitive crime scene images to nonenumerated persons without seeking an attorney general ruling on whether they are confidential under Government Code section 552.1085. Nor will the City disclose any confidential information in the personnel file without seeking an attorney general ruling.

         Compl, Ex. A (emphasis added).

         Based on these alleged fact, Plaintiff brings federal and state law claims against the City. With respect to her federal law claim, Plaintiff alleges the City threatens to violate her substantive due process right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment by publicly disclosing “Sensitive Death Records or other material relating to Sr. Cpl. Ahrens[.]” Compl. 5. She seeks a declaratory judgment, pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, that she has privacy rights under the Fourteenth Amendment in the Sensitive Death Records that prohibit the City's disclosure of the records in its possession. Plaintiff also asserts as pendent state law claims that the same threat of disclosure violates her right to privacy under Texas Constitution article 1, her common-law right to privacy, and her right to prohibit disclosure of confidential information under Texas Government Code section 552.101. In addition to her request for a declaratory judgment, Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief against disclosure and “[a]ll relief to which [she] is entitled under Tex. Govt Code § 552.001 et seq.” Compl. 8.

         With respect to her request for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief, Plaintiff invokes the court's subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. See Compl. § 3. She also alleges subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2201, the Declaratory Judgment Act. Id. Notably, “the Declaratory Judgment Act is not an independent source of federal jurisdiction[, ] [and] the availability of such relief presupposes the existence of a judicially remediable right[.]” Schilling v. Rogers, 363 U.S. 666, 677 (1960) (internal citation omitted). As to her state law claims, Plaintiff invokes the court's supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367. See Compl. § 3.

         The City has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that dismissal is required because, among other things:

The Complaint fails to state a plausible § 1983 claim against the City because it fails to plead facts sufficient to support an inference that (1) the Dallas City Council promulgated or ratified (2) a specific official policy or custom having the force of official policy (3) that is the moving force behind the threatened violation of a constitutional right[.]

City's Mot. to Dismiss 7. The City further argues that once the court dismisses Plaintiff's federal claim, it should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her remaining pendent state law claims and dismiss them without prejudice.

         In response to the City's motion to dismiss, Plaintiff clarifies that she is not seeking to state a claim against the City for section 1983 violations. Instead, she states:

Mrs. Ahrens seeks a declaratory judgment recognizing her Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy in the Sensitive Death Records. This is made clear in her First Amended Complaint. She does not, at this time, contend her rights have been violated or seek damages under § 1983, or otherwise. The City, however, incorrectly contends Mrs. Ahrens seeks “redress for violations” of her Fourteenth Amendment rights. And its entire Motion is based on this false understanding of Mrs. Ahrens' lawsuit. She did not mistakenly fail to include reference to § 1983 in her First Amended Complaint. It was intentionally avoided because, again, Mrs. Ahrens asks the Court for a declaratory judgment before disclosure of Sensitive Death Records occur. No plaintiff ...

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