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Gaylord v. City of Beckley

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

July 25, 2018




         The Court has reviewed the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 7), the Defendants' Memorandum of Law in Support of Their Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 8), and the Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Complaint (Document 10). In addition, the Court has reviewed the Plaintiff's Complaint (Document 1). For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part.


         The Plaintiff, Raymond Joseph Gaylord, Jr., initiated this action with a complaint filed on January 30, 2018. He named as Defendants the City of Beckley, West Virginia, and Officer Dean R. Bailey.

         Mr. Gaylord was employed as a contracted special investigator for the federal Office of Personnel Management during the relevant time period. Although his primary residence was in North Carolina, he rented a temporary residence in Beckley, West Virginia, for his work. The lease agreement provided that the landlord would pay for utilities. On or about October 14, 2016, the utilities were cut off, and Mr. Gaylord contacted the landlord. The landlord became belligerent and threatened to call the police. Mr. Gaylord then discovered that the landlord did not own the property.

         The same day, Officer Bailey of the Beckley Police Department responded to a call about the issue, describing a verbal disturbance. Officer Bailey explained the procedure for seeking an eviction to the landlord, then proceeded to Mr. Gaylord's residence. Mr. Gaylord was standing in his doorway speaking to another officer when Officer Bailey arrived. He spoke to Officer Bailey through the screen door, but declined to exit his home when requested. Officer Bailey then “busted through the screen door and attacked Mr. Gaylord.” (Compl. at ¶ 10.) Mr. Gaylord suffered “a severe laceration to the head.” (Id.) Officer Bailey charged Mr. Gaylord with obstruction, which led to the termination of Mr. Gaylord's employment contract, although the charge was later dismissed.

         Mr. Gaylord asserts that Officer Bailey is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force, unlawful seizure of a person, and unlawful entry of home. He asserts a § 1983 claim against the City of Beckley Police Department for “engag[ing] in a pattern, practice or custom of using obstruction as a charge when no facts support it, ” to “provid[e] a pretextual reason for using excessive force and…to arrest without any criminal activity.” (Id. at ¶ 23-24.) Finally, Mr. Gaylord asserts state law claims of assault and battery and negligence against Officer Bailey, and state law claims of negligent hiring, retention, supervision, and general negligence against the City of Beckley.


         A 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, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” 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).

         The 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).

         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, 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.


         The Defendants argue that the complaint does not sufficiently detail the “specific force used by Defendant Bailey, how the Plaintiff sustained a laceration to his head, or how Defendant's conduct was objectively unreasonable.” (Def.s' Mem. at 6.) The Defendants next assert that the Plaintiff's unlawful seizure and unlawful entry claims are barred by a one-year statute of limitations. The Defendants argue that the § 1983 claim against the City of Beckley does not adequately allege an official policy to charge people with obstruction in order to conceal police misconduct. Next, the Defendants contend that the state law claims contain only bare legal conclusions without adequate factual allegations. If the Court finds the state law claims sufficient, Defendant Bailey asserts that he is immune from liability for such claims because he was acting within the scope of his employment and not with malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner. Finally, the Defendants seek dismissal of any claim for punitive damages.

         In response, Mr. Gaylord stresses that Officer Bailey was responding to a civil matter when he became aggressive and attacked and injured Mr. Gaylord. He argues that the factual allegations, in combination with reasonable inferences, are sufficient to state a plausible excessive force claim. Mr. Gaylord further contends that a two-year statute of limitations is applicable to §1983 claims in West Virginia. He argues that his allegations against the City of Beckley are sufficient to state a §1983 claim that the Beckley Police Department has a policy, established by training or general practice, of charging obstruction without probable cause. Mr. Gaylord next argues that his complaint contains sufficient factual allegations to support his state law causes of action against both Defendant Bailey and the City of Beckley. Finally, Mr. Gaylord argues that Defendant Bailey is not entitled to immunity for the state law claims because his ...

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