United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MARLENE K. REED, Plaintiff,
RICKEY SELL, SR.; MASTERFUL DESIGNS, LLC; and BRANDON CLYDE, individually and in his official capacity; Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS SELL AND MASTERFUL DESIGNS'
MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. NO. 48] AND DEFENDANT OFFICER
CLYDE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO.
M. KEELEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
plaintiff, Marlene K. Reed (“Reed”), filed a
second amended complaint on November 21, 2016, in which she
alleged that the defendants had violated her constitutional
rights and also were liable for fraud and conversion (Dkt.
No. 35). Now pending is the motion to dismiss that complaint
filed by the defendants, Rickey Sell Sr. (“Sell”)
and Masterful Designs, LLC (“Masterful Designs”)
(Dkt. No. 48). Also pending is the motion for summary
judgment filed by the defendant, Town of Barrackville Police
Officer Brandon Clyde (“Officer Clyde”) (Dkt. No.
50). For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS in
part and DENIES in part the
Court's recitation of the facts is taken from Reed's
second amended complaint (Dkt. No. 35), which the Court
construes in the light most favorable to Reed. See
De'Lonta v. Johnson, 708 F.3d 520, 524 (4th Cir.
2013). In 2008, Reed purchased a home in Barrackville, West
Virginia, with financing secured from First Exchange Bank. At
the time she purchased the home, Reed worked in the food
service industry. After suffering a stroke in July 2014, she
ultimately was forced to stop working in May 2015. While Reed
was hospitalized, her home was referred to foreclosure
without her knowledge. On June 26, 2015, the home was
auctioned to Masterful Designs at the Marion County
Courthouse for the sum of $62, 500.
2015, Sell, the owner and operator of Masterful Designs, set
about taking possession of Reed's home. On July 9, 2015,
without filing an unlawful detainer action or giving Reed
notice of the transfer of property, he went to her home
“and told her he had closed on her house that day, and
that she had to vacate the premises.” He further
advised Reed that she had “to vacate the property
within a few days” because his crew planned to begin
working on the house four days later.
next day, July 10, 2015, Sell returned with several men, who
began going through Reed's house and outbuilding. As Reed
and her family and friends were packing her belongings, Sell
continually harassed her to work faster and “told her
that if she was not out by the following day, he would have
her arrested.”Later that evening, Officer Clyde arrived
at the home and, after conversing with Sell, told Reed that
he would arrest her if she was not off the property by the
next day. This led Reed to believe that Sell and Masterful
Designs were acting lawfully, and that she would be subject
to arrest if she did not comply with Sell's demands. In
addition, Sell changed the locks on Reed's house despite
telling her that she would have until the next day to vacate
on July 11, 2015, Sell returned to the house as Reed
frantically attempted to pack the remainder of her
belongings. Sell made this task more difficult by blocking
the driveway and refusing to permit Reed to remove a portable
air conditioner she recently had purchased. Thereafter, Sell
made a phone call, and Officer Clyde again arrived at the
property to inform Reed that he would arrest her if she was
not gone by that night.
Officer Clyde's threat of arrest to be genuine, Reed left
the house that evening, and, in the process, abandoned a
significant amount of personal property, including a love
seat, four televisions, dishes, clothing, two lawn mowers,
and many items of personal value. Because Reed was staying
with her next door neighbor, she was able to observe Sell and
his wife search through her personal property,
“discarding some items and loading others into their
car.” She estimates that the value of this property
exceeds $12, 000. Reed has remained homeless since being
forced from her house, and has had to store her belongings at
a cost of $160 per month.
14, 2016, Reed filed a complaint against Sell, Masterful
Designs, the Town of Barrackville, Police Officer William
Piggot (“Officer Piggot”), and Police Chief Chuck
Wilson (“Chief Wilson”), alleging violations of
her federal constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, violations of her civil rights under the West Virginia
Constitution, and state tort claims of fraud and conversion
(Dkt. No. 1).
scheduling conference held on October 25, 2016, the parties
expressed doubt about whether the defendant Officer Piggot
actually had been at Reed's home during the dates in
question. Perceiving that the presence and involvement of
state actors presented a threshold question regarding its
federal question jurisdiction, which turns on the viability
of Reed's claims pursuant to § 1983, the Court
ordered a period of limited discovery on the jurisdictional
issue and extended the schedule for Reed's responses to
the defendants' then-pending motions to dismiss (Dkt. No.
on November 21, 2016, with leave of Court, Reed filed a
second amended complaint, substituting Officer Clyde for
Officer Piggot (Dkt. No. 35). Her claims are as follows: 1)
violation of civil rights under § 1983 and the Fourth
Amendment, 2) violation of civil rights under § 1983 and
the Fourteenth Amendment, 3) violation of civil rights
guaranteed by Article III, § 6, of the West Virginia
Constitution, 4) violation of civil rights guaranteed by
Article III, §§ 10 and 17, of the West Virginia
Constitution, 5) fraud, and 6) conversion. Id. at
6-9. The Town of Barrackville, Officer Clyde, and Chief
Wilson all answered the second amended complaint on December
23, 2016 (Dkt. No. 41), but the parties later stipulated to
the dismissal of the Town of Barrackville and Chief Wilson on
February 9, 2017 (Dkt. No. 44).
February 10, 2017, in light of the filing of Reed's
second amended complaint, the Court denied the pending
motions to dismiss as moot, and directed the defendants to
file any further motions to dismiss (Dkt. No. 45). On March
3, 2017, Sell and Masterful Designs moved to dismiss the
second amended complaint for failure to state a claim (Dkt.
No. 48), and Officer Clyde moved for summary judgment,
claiming statutory immunity regarding Reed's state law
claims, and that the second amended complaint failed to state
a claim against him (Dkt. No. 50). Both motions are fully
briefed and ripe for review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Civ. P. 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move for dismissal on
the grounds that a complaint does not “state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” When reviewing the
sufficiency of a complaint, a district court “must
accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in
the complaint.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp.,
508 F.3d 181, 188 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). “While a
complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a
plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds'
of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than
labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)
(internal citation omitted). A court is “not bound to
accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265,
order to be sufficient, “a complaint must contain
‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Anderson, 508
F.3d at 188 n.7 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547).
“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). A motion to dismiss “does not
resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a
claim, or the applicability of defenses.”
Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943,
952 (4th Cir. 1992).
Federal Constitutional Claims
alleges that the defendants deprived her of the right to be
free from unreasonable seizures and the right to receive
procedural due process (Dkt. No. 35 at 6-7). Because these
claims present a federal question and form the only possible
basis for the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, the
threshold issue is whether Reed's second amended
complaint contains allegations sufficient to state a claim
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the violation of her Fourth
or Fourteenth Amendment rights.
1983 provides a cause of action against persons who, under
color of state law, deprive a citizen of “rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or
laws.” “Section 1983 ‘is not itself a
source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides a
method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere
conferred.” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266,
271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137,
144 n.3 (1979)). To state a claim for relief under §
1983, Reed must allege both 1) that she was “deprived
of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States, ” and 2) “that the alleged deprivation
was committed under color of state law.” Am. Mfrs.
Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999).
§ 1983 imposes liability only for acts taken
“under color of state law, ” Reed's
allegations against Sell and Masterful Designs - both private
parties - inject an inherent tension into her federal claims.
See Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922,
930 (1982). The questions raised by these allegations include
whether Reed has stated a claim for deprivation of rights
secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and if so,
whether the defendants allegedly were acting under color of
state law at the relevant time.
Deprivation of Constitutional Rights
Fourth Amendment Rights
One of Reed's complaint alleges that the defendants
violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully
seizing her real and personal property (Dkt. No. 35 at
Officer Clyde argues that no Fourth Amendment violation
occurred in this case because he never handled Reed's
“personal property or seized any item of property from
her house” (Dkt. No. 51 at 17).
Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to
be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects
against unreasonable searches and seizures.” U.S.
Const. amend. IV. Whether Reed has alleged a violation of her
Fourth Amendment rights thus depends on 1) whether her
property was seized, and, if so, 2) whether that seizure was
unreasonable. See Altman v. City of High Point, N.C.
, 330 F.3d 194, 200-05 (4th Cir. 2003).
all personal property constitutes an “effect”
within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. See id.
at 203. “A ‘seizure' of property occurs when
there is some meaningful interference with an
individual's possessory interests in that
property.” United States v. Brown, 701 F.3d
120, 125 n.7 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v.
Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113 (1984)). Permanent
deprivation of one's personal property qualifies as
meaningful interference with a possessory interest.
Altman, 330 F.3d at 205 (reasoning that killing a
dog is a seizure because it is the permanent deprivation of
Reed alleges that, on at least two occasions, Officer Clyde
came to her home and threatened to arrest her if she did not
vacate the property by July 11, 2015 (Dkt. No. 35 at 4-5).
Due to these threats, Reed believed that Sell's actions
were lawful and she would be subject to arrest if she did not
follow Sell and Officer Clyde's directions. Id.
Thus, when Reed left her home for the final time on July 11,
2015, she abandoned numerous items of personal property that
she did not have time to remove. Id. at 5.
these allegations in the light most favorable to Reed,
De'Lonta, 708 F.3d at 524, she clearly contends
that the defendants permanently deprived her of valuable
personal property by forcing her to abandon it through the
threat of arrest. Reed thus has alleged the
“seizure” of her “effects” within the
meaning of the Fourth Amendment. See Altman, 330
F.3d at 205.
second question is whether the alleged seizure was
reasonable, as the Fourth Amendment only proscribes
“unreasonable searches and seizures, ”
and “[t]he ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment
is ‘reasonableness.'” Kentucky v.
King, 563 U.S. 452, 459 (2011) (alteration in original)
(quoting Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403
(2006)). “A seizure of personal property conducted
without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable.”
Altman, 330 F.3d at 205 (citing United States v.
Place, 462 U.S. 696, 701 (1983)).
determine whether such a seizure is objectively reasonable,
however, “a court must ‘balance the nature and
quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth
Amendment interest against the importance of the governmental
interests alleged to justify the intrusion.”
Id. (quoting Place, 462 U.S. at 703). For
instance, if “officers [are] acting pursuant to a court
order . . . a showing of unreasonableness . . . would be a
laborious task.” Soldal, 506 U.S. at 71.
the reasonableness balancing test weighs heavily in favor of
Reed. On the one hand, Reed allegedly has suffered the
permanent deprivation of at least $12, 000 of personal
property, including a love seat, four televisions, dishes,
clothing, two lawn mowers, and many items of personal value.
This is undoubtedly a significant intrusion on her right to
be free from such seizures under the Fourth Amendment. On the
other hand, the defendants have not asserted any
important governmental ...