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Addington v. Blake

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

March 20, 2019

TODD STEPHEN ADDINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN BLAKE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before this Court is a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Steven Blake (“Defendant”). (ECF No. 8.) For the reasons explained more fully herein, Defendant's motion, (ECF No. 8), is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Todd Stephen Addington (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and West Virginia state law, alleging that Defendant, a West Virginia State Trooper, unlawfully beat him during his arrest and broke his jaw. (ECF No. 1.) Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for West Virginia constitutional violations and for negligence because they fail to state a claim for relief. (ECF No. 8; see ECF No. 1.)

         Defendant filed his motion to dismiss on November 27, 2018. (ECF No. 8.) Plaintiff timely responded on December 11, 2018. (ECF No. 14.) Defendant filed a timely reply on December 18, 2018. (ECF No. 15.) As such, Defendant's motion to dismiss, (ECF No. 8), is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In general, a pleading must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); see McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015) (stating that this requirement exists “to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests” (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007))). However, to withstand a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must plead enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Stated another way, the factual allegations in the complaint “must be sufficient ‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Woods v. City of Greensboro, 855 F.3d 639, 647 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A complaint that alleges enough facts “to satisfy the elements of a cause of action created by [the relevant] statute” will survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 648 (quoting McCleary-Evans, 780 F.3d at 585).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, this Court first “identif[ies] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. This Court then “assume[s] the[] veracity” of the complaint's “well-pleaded factual allegations” and “determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Review of the complaint is “a context-specific task that requires [this Court] to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. “[T]o satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff is not required to plead factual allegations in great detail, but the allegations must contain sufficient factual heft to allow a court, drawing on judicial experience and common sense, to infer more than the mere possibility of that which is alleged.” Nanni v. Aberdeen Marketplace, Inc., 878 F.3d 447, 452 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. State-Law Due Process Claim

         Defendant asserts that Plaintiff's claim made pursuant to Article III, Section 10 of the West Virginia Constitution must be dismissed because he makes a claim under Article III, Section 6 of the West Virginia Constitution. (ECF No. 9 at 6-9.) Defendant argues that Plaintiff cannot bring a substantive due process claim when another, more specific constitutional provision covers the allegedly violated right. Count II of Plaintiff's complaint is based on Defendant's use of “excessive and unlawful force . . . during the detainment and arrest of Plaintiff on July 15, 2017, resulting in serious bodily injuries.” (ECF No. 1 at 5.) It alleges claims based on Article III, Section 10 of the West Virginia Constitution, which corresponds with the federal Constitution's due process clause, and Article III, Section 6 of the West Virginia Constitution, which corresponds with the federal Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. (See id.)

         Plaintiff contends that West Virginia law recognizes a private right of action for state constitutional violations, including claims brought pursuant to Article III, Section 10. (ECF No. 14 at 2-4.) However, Plaintiff's response fails to address the Supreme Court's instruction that “all claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force-deadly or not-in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other ‘seizure' of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its ‘reasonableness' standard, rather than under a ‘substantive due process' approach.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989) (emphasis in original); see United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 272 n.7 (1997) (Graham . . . requires that if a constitutional claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision . . . the claim must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that specific provision, not under the rubric of substantive due process.”).

         Although the West Virginia Constitution may in some circumstances provide additional protections beyond those provided by the United States Constitution, State v. Osakalumi, 461 S.E.2d 504, 512 ( W.Va. 1995), “the protections afforded West Virginia citizens under [Article III, Section 6 of the state constitution] are co-extensive with those provided in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, ” State v. Clark, 752 S.E.2d 907, 920- 21 ( W.Va. 2013). Therefore, this Court concludes that the rule stated in Graham and reinforced in Lanier applies to state constitutional claims as well; that is, the protections afforded by substantive due process are “at best redundant” of those afforded by the more specific provisions of Article III, Section 6. Graham, 490 U.S. at 395 n.10. This Court has no reason to believe that the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would apply a different rule in its construction of Article III, Section 10. As such, insofar as Count II relies on Article III, Section 10 of the West Virginia Constitution, it is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         B. ...


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