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Hickson v. City of Carrollton

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

July 17, 2019

NATALIE HICKSON on behalf of the Estate of Malcom Loren Hickson, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CARROLLTON, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court for recommendation is Defendants City of Carrollton and Caleb West's Partial Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint and Brief, filed December 20, 2018 (doc. 18). Based on the relevant filings and applicable law, the motion should be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Natalie Hickson and Lapresha Roquel Stanley, on behalf of herself and her minor son, and as the personal representative of the Estate of Malcom Hickson (Plaintiffs), sue the City of Carrollton (the City) and Carrollton Police Department (CPD) Officer Caleb West (Officer) in his official and individual capacities (collectively, Defendants) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Malcom Loren Hickson's (Hickson) Fourth Amendment rights; they also assert state law survival and wrongful death claims. (doc. 13 at 1-3, 12-13.)[2] They seek actual damages, exemplary damages, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, court costs, and attorney's fees. (Id. at 14-15.)

         Plaintiffs allege that on October 26, 2016, Hickson and his girlfriend were in a room at the InnTown Suites Extended Stay Residences in Carrollton, Texas. (doc. 13 at 4.) Hickson's girlfriend left the room to retrieve a backpack from his vehicle, and she was immediately detained by CPD officers and placed in a CPD vehicle. (Id.) Hickson was unaware that “[t]here were multiple CPD officers and CPD vehicles” waiting outside “armed with rifles, handguns, and other weapons and restraints, ” and the officers “did not attempt to breach the door of the unit after his girlfriend's exit, rather; they waited for Hickson's departure.” (Id.) After his girlfriend did not return, Hickson “exited the unit and made his way to the parking lot of the InnTown Suites building, ” where he saw “multiple armed CPD officers with weapons drawn and pointed at [him] . . . .” (Id.) Hickson raised his hands in the air and surrendered without making “any furtive movements . . . .” (Id. at 5.) While his hands were in the air, clearly visible to Officer and the other CPD officers on the scene, he “was unexpectedly and without legal justification, shot by [Officer].” (Id.) None of the CPD officers on the scene attempted to detain or restrain Hickson, or to use non-lethal force to subdue him. (Id.) Hickson was transported to the hospital but pronounced dead approximately 30 minutes after the shooting. (Id.)

         Plaintiffs allege that “Hickson did not pose a threat of harm to CPD officers, ” and that the officers “could have lawfully detained [him] using restraints or other non-lethal force.” (Id.) They further allege that it was unnecessary and unreasonable to use lethal force given the circumstances because “Hickson was surrounded by multiple CPD officers with weapons drawn and [he] posed no immediate danger to [any of them].” (Id.) They assert that the City, through the CPD, failed to provide Officer adequate training in the use of deadly force, in proper arrest and confrontation techniques, and in appropriate methods and techniques to control these types of situations, and that it “knew or should have known that” Officer's training was inadequate. (Id. at 5-6.) They contend that Officer's “unlawful and unwarranted acts, lack of training and the official customs of the [City and the] CPD caused Hickson's wrongful death.” (Id. at 6.) They further contend that they have “sustained substantial damages and pecuniary loss” as a result of Defendants' conduct.” (Id.) They claim that the City, through the CPD, “has not implemented policies and procedures to aggressively curtai[l] certain death and/or injuries as a result of the improper use of deadly force and have not disciplined officers involved in the same.” (Id. at 7.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs' federal claims against the City and Officer in his official capacity, all of their state law claims, their claim for punitive damages against the City, and their joint and several liability claims under Rule 12(b)(6). (doc. 18 at 2, 8-9.)[3]

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Pleadings must show specific, well-pleaded facts, not mere conclusory allegations to avoid dismissal. Guidry v. Bank of LaPlace, 954 F.2d 278, 281 (5th Cir. 1992). The court must accept those well-pleaded facts as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). “[A] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of [the alleged] facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (citation omitted). Nevertheless, a plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555; accord Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (emphasizing that “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions”). The alleged facts must “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In short, a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it fails to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570 (emphasis added).

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. 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. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'”

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations omitted). When plaintiffs “have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; accord Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (noting that “[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense”).

         A. Municipal Liability

         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' federal claims against the City should be dismissed because they “have failed to adequately plead a cause of action for municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” (doc. 18 at 15-22.)

         Section 1983 “provides a federal cause of action for the deprivation, under color of law, of a citizen's ‘rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States.” Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 132 (1994). It “afford[s] redress for violations of federal statutes, as well as of constitutional norms.” Id. To state a claim, a plaintiff must allege facts that show (1) he has been deprived of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States and (2) the deprivation ...

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