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Smith v. City of Dallas

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

July 18, 2019

CITY OF DALLAS, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court in this pro se civil rights lawsuit is a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 52) under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants, the City of Dallas, Texas (the “City”), and Dallas Police Officers Alexander Zabriskie, Sean Robinson, Ryan Cordova, and Jon Lumbley (collectively, the “Police Officers”) (together with the City, “Defendants”). For the reasons stated, the District Court should GRANT Defendants' motion.


         Plaintiff Morris Devon Smith's (“Smith”) claims arise out of a July 2016 incident at a Dallas Police Department (“DPD”) station where police officers stopped Smith as he attempted to enter the building to use the restroom.[1] Am. Compl. at 4 (ECF No. 49). The officers searched Smith for weapons and asked him why he was visiting the police station. Id. at 4. Smith told them he needed to use the restroom he believed was available to public citizens. Id. At one point, he told four police officers that he would stop coming to the police station if the police would only stop traveling down his residential street two to three times per day. Id. at 6. Under the authority of the Texas Mental Health Code, Smith was arrested without a warrant and taken to a mental health facility.[2] Smith alleges that, before, during, and after the arrest, he was wrongfully denied access to a public restroom and that the arrest was wrongful.

         This is at least the second attempt by Smith to state a claim for relief against the named Defendants. Smith originally sued the City, and DPD, as well as the individual Police Officers. Original Compl. at 1-2 (ECF No. 3). Defendants and DPD filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defs.' Mot. (ECF No. 7). The Magistrate Judge filed formal Findings, Conclusions, and a Recommendation (“FCR”) that the District Court grant DPD and Defendants' motion to dismiss and allow Smith to file an amended complaint. FCR at 8-9 (ECF No. 38). The District Court entered an Order Accepting the FCR (ECF No. 44), and Smith timely filed an Amended Complaint no longer naming DPD among the other Defendants. Defendants subsequently filed their renewed Motion to Dismiss in response to the Amended Complaint. Smith did not file a response to the Motion. Therefore, the Court considers the Motion without the benefit of a response.

         Legal Standard

          Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12, a party may move to dismiss an action when the plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “the district court must accept all 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) (citing McCartney v. First City Bank, 970 F.2d 45, 47 (5th Cir. 1992)). The well-pleaded facts must permit the court to infer more than just the mere possibility of misconduct. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         Iqbal requires the Court to conduct a two-part test: first, the Court must identify which allegations in the complaint are legal conclusions because the Court need not assume those conclusions are true; second, the Court must “consider the factual allegations in the complaint to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 680-81. This second determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679 (citation omitted). “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but is has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.' ” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).


         In their renewed Motion to Dismiss, Defendants contend the Court should dismiss Smith's Amended Complaint for two reasons: (1) Smith's claims against the Police Officers are “redundant of [his] claims against the City[;]” and (2) the “[c]omplaint fails to plead a plausible § 1983 claim against the City because Smith fails to plead facts supporting the existence of an official municipal policy or a City custom having the force of municipal policy which caused his injury.” Mot. at 2. Defendants raised both of these issues with respect to Smith's original Complaint. Def. Mot. (ECF No. 7). Indeed, the Court granted Defendants' first motion to dismiss on the same grounds asserted against Amended Complaint. Rather than address the issues previously identified by the Court, Smith used his opportunity to replead to add new details about his arrest and dispute the veracity of police incident reports he filed on the docket in this case. Pl.'s Notice at 15 (ECF No. 16). Smith persists in suing the Police Officers in their official capacities and again fails to plead any damages. Am. Compl. at 1-2. Even accepting the nonconclusory allegations in his Amended Complaint as true, Smith has again failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         The District Court should dismiss Smith's claims against the Police Officers in their official capacity because those claims are redundant of Smith's claims against the City. “Official capacity suits ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) (quoting Monell v. N.Y.C. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). Pleading an official capacity suit is redundant of a suit against the governmental entity. See Dreyer v. City of Southlake, 2007 WL 2458778, at *10 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 22, 2007) (“[A]n official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity. It is not as suit against the official personally, for the real party in interest is the entity.”) (emphasis in original), aff'd sub nom. Dreyer v. Yelverton, 291 Fed.Appx. 571 (5th Cir. 2008). Smith's official-capacity claims should be dismissed because those claims are actually claims against the City. See id. (quoting Thompson v. City of Arlington, 838 F.Supp. 1137, 1143 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 17, 1993)) (holding that “since the official-capacity claims are in reality claims against [the] City, the Court will dismiss those claims as to the individual defendants”).

         Next, Smith's claims against the City should be dismissed because his Amended Complaint fails to establish municipal liability under section 1983. Section 1983 does not create any substantive rights but instead provides a remedy for violations of federal statutory and constitutional rights. Sepulvado v. Jindal, 729 F.3d 413, 420 n.17 (5th Cir. 2013). To state a section 1983 claim, “a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person [or entity] acting under color of state law.” Whitley v. Hanna, 726 F.3d 631, 638 (5th Cir. 2013) (citing James v. Tex. Collin Cty., 535 F.3d 365, 373 (5th Cir. 2008)). Smith seeks to recover from the City for the alleged conduct of the Police Officers; however, a municipality cannot be liable under a theory of respondeat superior. Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d 567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Bd. of Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997)). Rather, a plaintiff claiming municipal liability under section 1983 must prove three elements: “(1) an official policy (2) promulgated by the municipal policy maker (3) was the moving force behind the violation of a constitutional right.” Peña v. City of Rio Grande City, 879 F.3d 613, 621 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Hicks-Field v. Harris Cty., 860 F.3d 803, 808 (5th Cir. 2017)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Official policy is defined as:

1. A policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision that is officially adopted and promulgated by the [city] lawmaking officers or by an official to whom the lawmakers have delegated policy-making authority; or
2. A persistent, widespread practice of city officials or employees which, although not authorized by officially adopted and promulgated policy, is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that fairly represents [city] policy. Actual or constructive knowledge of such custom must be attributable to the governing body of the ...

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