United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division
FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
HARRIS TOLIVER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and the district judge's
Order Referring Case, Doc. 37, this case has been
referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge
for pretrial management. The cause is now before the Court
for a recommendation on Defendants' Second Motion
& Brief to Dismiss. Doc. 21. For the reasons set
forth herein, it is recommended that the motion be
April 2019, Plaintiff filed the operative complaint - his
third amended - raising a number of claims against (1) the
City of Alvarado (the “City”); (2) the City
Police Department (the “APD”); (3) APD Chief Brad
Anderson (“Chief Anderson”); and (4) APD police
officers Matthew Dill, Solomon Omotoya, and Chad Marshall.
Doc. 20. Plaintiff alleges that prior to the events that
underlie this dispute, he purchased a “homemade”
trailer that had been issued license plates for more than ten
years, but had no vehicle identification number
(“VIN”). Doc. 20 at 3. After the purchase,
Plaintiff conveyed the trailer to his corporation JKD
Industries, Inc. (“JKD”), which registered it and
then bailed it to Plaintiff at an unspecified time. Doc. 20
November 2018, Plaintiff was towing the trailer through the
City with his grandfather and children and stopped to refuel
his truck on their way out of town. Doc. 20 at 3. While
Plaintiff was pumping gas, Officers Dill and Omotoya
allegedly approached him without any legal cause and asked
who the owner of the trailer was and if he had any
“papers” for it. Doc. 20 at 4. Plaintiff
responded that he was the owner, produced a registration
receipt, and informed the officers that he had purchased the
trailer homemade and there was no VIN that he knew of. Doc.
20 at 4. Officer Dill informed Plaintiff that if the trailer
did not have a VIN, it was presumed to be stolen and
Plaintiff would have to take it to the APD. Doc. 20 at 4-5.
Dill and Omotoya then asked Plaintiff what was in the trailer
and proceeded to search it for the next 30 minutes. Doc. 20
at 5. After they determined that the trailer had no VIN, they
escorted Plaintiff to the APD where they informed him they
were going to “seize the trailer.” Doc. 20 at 5.
Plaintiff went inside to speak to Chief Anderson who informed
him that he would rely on Officer Dill's decision
concerning the seizure because Officer Dill was the
“authority on the legalities of trailers.” Doc.
20 at 5. After some time, Plaintiff and his family continued
on their trip in a borrowed trailer and left Plaintiff's
trailer at the APD where it remains. Doc. 20 at 5-6.
avers that his trailer has never had a VIN and was not
required to because it was homemade, rather than
manufactured. Doc. 20 at 3, 10-11. As such, Plaintiff
contends that the trailer was not contraband subject to
seizure, yet Officer Dill commenced a forfeiture proceeding
in Justice of the Peace Court in Johnson County (“JP
Court”). Doc. 20 at 6. Plaintiff also contends that
around this time, Officer Marshall obtained an arrest warrant
for Plaintiff, which was subsequently recalled, and then
filed a misdemeanor charge against Plaintiff for having a
fictitious license plate. Doc. 20 at 10. Plaintiff alleges,
on information and belief, that (1) Defendants have a history
of “bringing spurious and groundless criminal charges
against persons such as Plaintiff, ” and (2) Officers
Dill and Marshall “routinely file forfeiture
proceedings in [JP Court] even though they are not attorneys,
” which forfeitures benefit the City or the APD. Doc.
20 at 10-12.
detailing his specific causes of action, Plaintiff states
that (1) the fact that his trailer had no VIN did not raise a
presumption that it was stolen or otherwise illegal and,
because there existed no “articulable facts that
create[d] some reasonable inference of criminal conduct,
” the search and seizure of the trailer violated his
Fourth Amendment rights; and (2) Defendants' attempts to
forfeit his rights in the trailer violate the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines. Doc. 20
at 7, 11-12. Plaintiff seeks actual and punitive damages, a
declaratory judgment to the effect that his trailer is not
stolen or contraband and that he is the legal owner thereof,
and attorneys' fees and costs. Doc. 20 at 12-13.
Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint for
failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Doc. 21.
plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief under Rule
12(b)(6) when the complaint does not contain “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). In order to overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion,
a plaintiff's complaint should “contain either
direct allegations on every material point necessary to
sustain a recovery . . . or contain allegations from which an
inference may fairly be drawn that evidence on these material
points will be introduced at trial.” Campbell v.
City of San Antonio, 43 F.3d 973, 975 (5th Cir. 1995)
(quotation omitted). The complaint should not simply contain
conclusory allegations, but must be pled with a certain level
of factual specificity, and the district court cannot
“accept as true conclusory allegations or unwarranted
deductions of fact.” Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean
Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498 (5th Cir. 2000) (quotation
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). To
state a claim under section 1983, Plaintiff must allege facts
that show that he has been deprived of a right secured by the
Constitution and the laws of the United States, and the
defendants were acting under color of state law. See
Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155
doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials
‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their
conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S.
223, 231 (2009) (citation omitted). The qualified immunity
inquiry involves two prongs that the Court must answer
affirmatively before an official is subject to liability: (1)
whether the facts that a plaintiff has alleged make out a
violation of a constitutional right and (2) whether the right
at issue was “clearly established” at the time of
defendant's alleged misconduct. Id. at 232. A
court may begin its assessment with either prong.
Id. at 236 (overruling in part Saucier
v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194 (2001)).
municipality does not automatically incur section 1983
liability for injuries caused solely by its employees, and it
cannot be held liable under section 1983 on a respondeat
superior theory. Monell v. Dept. of Social Services
of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691, 694 (1978);
Johnson v. Deep East Tex. Reg'l Narcotics, 379
F.3d 293, 308 (5th Cir. 2004). Rather, to establish municipal
liability, a plaintiff must show that (1) an official policy
(2) promulgated by a municipal policymaker (3) was the moving
force behind the violation of a constitutional right.
Hicks-Fields v. Harris Cty., 860 F.3d 803, 808 (5th
Cir. 2017) (citations omitted).
policy or custom can be either (1) a policy statement or rule
that is officially promulgated by the county's lawmaking
officers or a delegated official; or (2) a persistent,
widespread practice of county officials or employees, which
is so common and well settled as to constitute a custom that
fairly represents county policy. Bennett v. City of
Slidell, 735 F.2d 861, 862 (5th Cir. 1984). In
describing the term “custom, ” the Supreme Court
has used such phrases as “persistent and widespread . .
. practices, ” “systematic
maladministration” of the laws, practices that are
“permanent and well settled, ” and “deeply
embedded traditional ways of carrying out . . .
policy.” Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398
U.S. 144, 167-68 (1970). A municipality is almost never
liable for an isolated unconstitutional act on the part of an
employee. Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 237 F.3d
567, 578 (5th Cir. 2001).
on the part of a policymaker that a constitutional violation
will most likely result from a given policy or custom is an
essential condition underlying section 1983 municipal
liability. Burge v. St. Tammany Parish, 336 F.3d
363, 370 (5th Cir. 2003). A plaintiff thus must demonstrate
either actual or constructive knowledge of the custom, which
is attributable either to the governing body of the
municipality or to an official who has been designated as a
policymaker. Bennett, 735 F.2d at 862. Where an
official policy or practice is unconstitutional on its face,
it is assumed that a policymaker is aware of both the policy
and that a constitutional violation will most likely occur.
Burge, 336 F.3d 370. Where, however, an alleged
policy or custom is facially innocuous, a plaintiff is
required to show that “it was promulgated with
deliberate indifference to the known or obvious consequences
that constitutional violations would result.”
Piotrowski, 237 F.3d at 579 (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted). Finally, to show that the policy at
issue was the moving force behind the ...