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Wilkes v. Raleigh County

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

March 27, 2018

IRENE WILKES, Plaintiff,
v.
RALEIGH COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          IRENE CBERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court has reviewed the Defendants Raleigh County and the Raleigh County Sheriff's Department's Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 10) and Memorandum of Law in Support (Document 11), the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (Document 14), and the Defendants' Reply (Document 18). The Court has also reviewed the Defendant, Beckley Police Department's Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 12) and Memorandum of Law in Support (Document 13), the Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (Document 15), and the Defendant's Reply (Document 19). Finally, the Court has reviewed the Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 1) and all attached exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Defendants' motion should be granted.

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The Plaintiff, Irene Wilkes, initiated this action with a complaint filed in this Court on July 13, 2017. The Plaintiff originally named the following entities as Defendants: Raleigh County, a municipal corporation organized under the laws of the State of West Virginia, Raleigh County Sheriff's Department, a law enforcement agency established, maintained, and controlled by Raleigh County, Beckley Police Department (BPD), a law enforcement agency established, maintained, and controlled by the City of Beckley and the West Virginia State Police (WVSP), a state law enforcement agency organized under the laws of the State of West Virginia, operating as the Beckley/Raleigh County Drug and Violent Crime Unit. (Compl. at ¶ 1-8.) The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants' acts were done “under the color and pretense of [the law] of the State of West Virginia and under the authority of the office” by which they were employed. (Id. at ¶ 8.)

         Ms. Wilkes, a “long-time resident of Raleigh County, West Virginia and a respected member of her community, ” owned a 2011 Chrysler 200 automobile that she “often allowed her grandson, [1] who was in his early twenties and a recent college graduate, ” to use. (Id. at ¶ 12-13.) On June 23, 2015, while driving said automobile with his cousin, law enforcement officers stopped her grandson, searched the car, and subsequently arrested him and his cousin for narcotics violations. After the arrest, the Defendants seized the Plaintiff's car and subsequently searched the Plaintiff's home without a warrant. The defendants filed no charges against Ms. Wilkes regarding any illegal activity and she was never engaged in the trafficking or use of illegal drugs.

         On July 13, 2015, the Defendants initiated a forfeiture proceeding pursuant to West Virginia law to permanently take ownership of the Plaintiff's automobile. Ms. Wilkes received notice of the initiation of the proceedings on August 4, 2015, but the Defendants did not provide her with a copy of the petition. On August 24, 2015, Ms. Wilkes filed a “Notice of Claim in Response to the Petition for Forfeiture” wherein she stated that she “was the registered owner of the vehicle seized by the Defendants” and gave notice that she had a claim to the property. (Id. at ¶ 28.) The Defendants never scheduled a hearing on the petition after her response, but also never withdrew their petition. Finally, in June 2017, after her grandson was acquitted of the charges filed against him during the 2015 arrest, the Defendants returned the automobile to Ms. Wilkes. Throughout that time, Ms. Wilkes “made all monthly payments for the vehicle and [for the] continuation of insurance related to the same.” (Id. at ¶ 34.)

         Shortly thereafter, Ms. Wilkes filed her complaint in this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, wherein she sets forth three counts. Count I alleges unlawful seizure and pursuit of forfeiture, Count II alleges deprivation of property without due process of law and under color of law, and Count III alleges conversion.

         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

         Defendants Raleigh County and the Raleigh County Sheriff's Department move for dismissal of the Plaintiff's complaint on several grounds.

         A. ...


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