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Lambert v. Hall

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division

July 5, 2017

KEVIN E. LAMBERT, Plaintiff,
v.
R. E. HALL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court has reviewed Defendant R.E. Hall's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint in Lieu of Answer (Document 4), the Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of His Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) (Document 5), Plaintiff Kevin E. Lambert's Response to Defendant R.E. Hall's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint in Lieu of Answer (Document 7), and the Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Document 8). The Court has also reviewed the Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 1). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motion to dismiss should be granted in part and denied in part.

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS[1]

         The Plaintiff, Kevin Lambert, alleges that Defendant R.E. Hall, a Raleigh County Sheriff's Deputy, violated his constitutional and common law rights by “provid[ing] inaccurate and false information causing the indictment and arrest of Plaintiff.” (Compl. at ¶ 7.) The Plaintiff asserts that, while investigating a crime on or about May 11, 2015, Mr. Hall identified Kevin Emory Lambert as a suspect. The Kevin Lambert identified as a suspect had a twenty-seven (27) year old son named Justin Keith Lambert. The Plaintiff is not related to or acquainted with Justin Keith Lambert, was not in Raleigh County at the time of the crime, and resided in Franklin County, Virginia, at the time. However, Mr. Hall provided false information to the Raleigh County Grand Jury that led to the Plaintiff's indictment. The Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Hall's report and allegations were “clearly unjustified in light of the circumstances existing at the time of the report, ” and that Mr. Hall “took no actions to avoid the false report and resulting indictment, arraignment and arrest of Plaintiff Kevin E. Lambert.” (Compl. at ¶¶ 27-28)

         The Plaintiff voluntarily appeared for arraignment on February 5, 2016, and was arrested. He borrowed money in order to post bond of $750 and return home to his two young sons, of whom he has sole custody. The charges against him were dismissed with prejudice on June 13, 2016. He alleges that he experienced severe emotional distress until the charges were dismissed. The Plaintiff asserts civil rights violation, violations of 42 U.S.C. §1983, violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, and false arrest in Count One, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in Count Two.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). “[T]he legal sufficiency of a complaint is measured by whether it meets the standard stated in Rule 8 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] (providing general rules of pleading) . . . and Rule 12(b)(6) (requiring that a complaint state a claim upon which relief can be granted.)” Id. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, the Court must “accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erikson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). The Court must also “draw[ ] all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, statements of bare legal conclusions “are not entitled to the assumption of truth” and are insufficient to state a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Furthermore, the Court need not “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice… [because courts] ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.) In other words, this “plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than ‘a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.) In the complaint, a plaintiff must “articulate facts, when accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff has stated a claim entitling him to relief.” Francis, 588 F.3d at 193 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557.) “Determining whether a complaint states [on its face] a plausible claim for relief [which can survive a motion to dismiss] will ... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         DISCUSSION

         The Defendant argues that the complaint should be dismissed because he is entitled to qualified immunity and because the Plaintiff's complaint does not allege sufficient facts to support the legal claims.[2] The Defendant asserts that he and other officers took reasonable measures to identify the suspect, and that other officers were primarily responsible for decisions that led to the mistaken identification. The Defendant avers that the Plaintiff previously settled a claim against the West Virginia State Police and the officer who bore primary responsibility for the identification. The Defendant argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity because he was performing discretionary duties within the scope of his employment as a deputy. He further argues that he is entitled to statutory immunity as to the state common-law intentional infliction of emotional distress claim.

         The Plaintiff argues that “the Defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity because his conduct violated clearly established laws and rights and his conduct was fraudulent, malicious and oppressive.” (Resp. at 2.) He argues that the factual issues surrounding the Defendant's role in the Plaintiff's identification and arrest cannot properly be resolved in a motion to dismiss. The Plaintiff asserts that discovery is necessary because he lacks access to the evidence, such that he cannot verify the Defendant's version of the facts contained in the Defendant's motion to dismiss.

         A. Count One

         Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense intended to shield public officials from civil suits arising out of their performance of job-related duties. See, e.g., Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231-32 (2009). Defendants asserting a qualified immunity defense first bear the burden of “demonstrating that the conduct of which the plaintiff complains falls within the scope of the defendant's duties.” In re Allen, 106 F.3d 582, 594 (4th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted.) The defense of qualified immunity is available unless the official “knew or reasonably should have known that the action he took within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the plaintiff….” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815 (1982) (internal emphases omitted). Officials are protected even if they make reasonable mistakes of fact or law, so long as they do not violate a clearly established statutory or constitutional right. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 231-32. “A constitutional right ...


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