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Montgomery v. Hollins

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

May 8, 2019

RODNEY MONTGOMERY, Plaintiff,
v.
STERLING HOLLINS, ET AL., Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          DAVID L. HORAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Rodney Montgomery, through counsel, brought this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Dallas and eight current or former Dallas police officers, alleging that one officer, Defendant Sterling Hollins, used excessive force against him while other officers stood by. Montgomery's lawsuit has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and an order of reference from Chief Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn. See Dkt. No. 6.

         The City answered Montgomery's initial complaint. See Dkt. No. 7. After Defendants Hollins, Danquell Cameron, Marty Hotchkiss, Kristopher Mendoza, Rene Villanueva, Lawrence Christian, Fernando Del Rio, and Jacob Alanis (collectively the “Officer Defendants”) moved to dismiss the initial complaint, see Dkt. No. 17, Montgomery filed an amended complaint, see Dkt. No. 20, and a response to the Officer Defendants' motion to dismiss, see Dkt. No. 21. The amended complaint drops Alanis. See Dkt. No. 20 at 1-3.

         The Officer Defendants then filed a reply brief, see Dkt. No. 25, explaining that “the Plaintiff's bystander claims against Officers Cameron, Hotchkiss, Mendoza, Villanueva, Christian, and Del Rio continue to suffer from the same fatal pleading and legal flaws found in the original complaint” and requesting that the Court consider their motion to dismiss “as being directed solely towards the bystander liability claims alleged against them in the amended complaint, ” id. at 1 n.2.

         The same day, the City moved to dismiss the amended complaint, see Dkt. No. 26, and Hollins answered the amended complaint, see Dkt. No. 27. Montgomery responded to the City's motion to dismiss. See Dkt. Nos. 29, 30, 31, 32, & 33. And the City filed a reply. See Dkt. No. 34.

         Thus, before the Court now are the remaining Officer Defendants' motion to dismiss bystander liability claims asserted against them and the City's motion to dismiss the claims asserted against it.

         The undersigned enters these findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation that, to the extent and for the reasons explained below, the Court should grant in part and deny in part the Officer Defendants' motion to dismiss [Dkt. No. 17] and grant the City's motion to dismiss [Dkt. No. 26].

         Legal Standards

         In deciding motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the Court “accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205-06 (5th Cir. 2007). But a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), and must plead those facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” id. at 555.

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “A claim for relief is implausible on its face when ‘the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.'” Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 796 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679); see also Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. v. Lincoln Prop. Co., 920 F.3d 890, 899 (5th Cir. 2019) (“Where the well-pleaded facts of a complaint do not permit a court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not ‘show[n]' - ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting, in turn, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)))).

         While, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff must allege more than labels and conclusions, and, while a court must accept all of a plaintiff's allegations as true, it is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A threadbare or formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, will not suffice. See id. Instead, “to survive a motion to dismiss” under Twombly and Iqbal, a plaintiff need only “plead facts sufficient to show” that the claims asserted have “substantive plausibility” by stating “simply, concisely, and directly events” that the plaintiff contends entitle him or her to relief. Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 574 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014) (per curiam) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)-(3), (d)(1), (e)); see also Inclusive Communities Project, 920 F.2d at 899 (“‘Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief' is ‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; citing Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1248 (10th Cir. 2008) (“[T]he degree of specificity necessary to establish plausibility and fair notice, and therefore the need to include sufficient factual allegations, depends on context.”))).

         Aside from “matters of which judicial notice may be taken under Federal Rule of Evidence 201, ” Inclusive Communities Project, 920 F.2d at 900 (citations omitted), a court cannot look beyond the pleadings in deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Spivey v. Robertson, 197 F.3d 772, 774 (5th Cir. 1999). Pleadings in the Rule 12(b)(6) context include attachments to the complaint. In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007). Documents “attache[d] to a motion to dismiss are considered to be part of the pleadings, if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to her claim.” Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Venture Assocs. Corp. v. Zenith Data Sys. Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993)).

         While the United States Court of Appeals for “the Fifth Circuit has not articulated a test for determining when a document is central to a plaintiff's claims, the case law suggests that documents are central when they are necessary to establish an element of one of the plaintiff's claims. Thus, when a plaintiff's claim is based on the terms of a contract, the documents constituting the contract are central to the plaintiff's claim.” Kaye v. Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P., 453 B.R. 645, 662 (N.D. Tex. 2011). “However, if a document referenced in the plaintiff's complaint is merely evidence of an element of the plaintiff's claim, then the court may not incorporate it into the complaint.” Id.

         Discussion

          I. Bystander Liability

         Preliminarily, Montgomery's dropping Alanis in the amended complaint means that Alanis “is no longer part of this lawsuit.” Canal Ins. Co. v. Coleman, 625 F.3d 244, 246 n.2 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing King v. Dogan, 31 F.3d 344, 346 (5th Cir. 1994) (“An amended complaint supersedes the original complaint and renders it of no legal effect unless the amended complaint ...


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