United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court has reviewed Defendants, S.A. Whitt, D. Snuffer,
and City of Beckley's Motion to Dismiss (Document
7), Defendants, S. A. Whitt, D. Snuffer, and City of
Beckley's Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion to
Dismiss (Document 8), the Plaintiffs' Response
to Defendant S. A. Whitt, D. Snuffer, and City of
Beckley's Motion to Dismiss (Document 9), and
Defendants S. A. Whitt, D. Snuffer, and City of
Beckley's Reply to Plaintiffs' Response to Their
Motion to Dismiss (Document 11). In addition, the Court
has reviewed the Plaintiffs' Complaint (Document
1). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the
motion to dismiss should be granted in part and denied in
Plaintiffs, Ashley Roberts, Steven Rumbold, and Leann
Rumbold, initiated this action with a complaint filed on
August 18, 2017. They named as Defendants S.A. Whitt, S.
Snuffer, D. Pack, and the City of Beckley. Mr. Whitt and Mr.
Snuffer were police officers with the Beckley Police
Department, and Mr. Pack was a corporal employed by the West
Virginia State Police. The officers were part of the Beckley
Raleigh County Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force Unit
August 18, 2015, members of the Task Force executed a search
warrant at the residence of Mr. and Ms. Rumbold, where Ms.
Roberts was staying. Although the search warrant did not
authorize a no-knock entry, the Defendants kicked in the
unlocked front door without knocking or announcing
themselves. Ms. Roberts, who was eight months pregnant, was
in the bathroom when the officers entered. They
“grabbed plaintiff Roberts off the toilet, threw her to
the ground on her stomach, yelling at her to ‘get on
your fucking stomach.'” (Compl. at ¶ 12.) An
officer “placed either his knee, or his boot, on her
back while she was handcuffed, leaving visible
bruises.” (Id.) An officer eventually helped
her sit on the couch, but she remained distressed that her
baby had been harmed.
Rumbold was sleeping at the time of the officers' entry.
The Defendants pulled him from bed and began beating him,
“knocking his teeth out and breaking his nose.”
(Id. at ¶ 15.) He was not resisting or
threatening the officers. The Defendants also subjected Ms.
Rumbold to physical force, “including purposefully
stepping on her back to the point that a foot print was left
on her back.” (Id. at ¶ 17.)
Plaintiffs assert the following claims: Count One - Excessive
Force in Violation of the Fourth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. §
1983, Count Two - Bystander Liability, Count Three -
Unreasonable Search and Seizure in Violation of the Fourth
Amendment, and Count Four - State Law Negligence, alleging
improper training and supervision. They seek damages for
medical expenses, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of
life, psychological and emotional distress, other
compensatory damages, punitive damages against the individual
Defendants, and reasonable attorney fees and costs.
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint or pleading. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588
F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v.
Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). Additionally, allegations “must be simple,
concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1).
“[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not
require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it
demands more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(quoting Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007)). In other words, “a complaint must
contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Moreover, “a complaint [will not] suffice if it tenders
naked assertions devoid of further factual
enhancements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Court must “accept as true all of the factual
allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson
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. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
679. 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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
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, 588 F.3d at 193
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plaintiff
must, using the complaint, “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.
Defendants assert that the City of Beckley cannot be
liable for 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims under a respondeat
superior theory, and the Plaintiffs failed to plead facts
supporting a claim that their injuries were proximately
caused by an official policy or custom of the City of
Beckley. They further argue that the Plaintiffs failed to
identify which officers allegedly used force against each
Plaintiff, and so the § 1983 claims contained in Counts
One and Three should be dismissed. Similarly, the Defendants
assert that the Plaintiffs did not specifically allege that
each officer was aware of another officer's acts
depriving the Plaintiffs of a constitutional right, and chose
not to act despite having the opportunity to prevent harm.
The Defendants further argue that the negligence claim must
be dismissed because state law immunizes them from claims of
damages related to execution of lawful search warrants.
Finally, the Defendants argue that state law bars any award
of punitive damages against a political subdivision and its
employees, and that state law provides Defendants Snuffer and
Whitt with immunity.
response, the Plaintiffs clarify that Counts One through
Three are asserted only against the individual officers, and
Count Four is asserted only against the City of Beckley. The
Plaintiffs note that the Defendant officers were all present
through the entire search and were present and participated
in the improper use of force. They argue that courts,
including this Court, have found similar allegations
sufficient to state a claim for bystander liability in
previous cases. The Plaintiffs further cite cases indicating
that immunity for execution of search warrants and for
political subdivisions is less far-reaching than claimed by
the Defendants, and argue that the negligent supervision and
training claims should ...