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Brown v. Belt

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

March 21, 2019

DAN BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT BELT, Deputy Sheriff, Clay County Sheriff's office; GARRETT SAMPLES, JR., Sheriff, Clay County Sheriff's Office; TYLER CARUTHERS, Deputy Sheriff, Clay County Sheriff's Office; CLAY COUNTY COMMISSION; COLONEL C.R. “JAY” SMITHERS, Superintendent, WV State Police; STEVEN DEMASKE, Trooper, WV State Police; and TYLER DANA MCFEELEY, Trooper, WV State Police, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          John T. Copenhaver, Jr. Senior United States District Judge.

         Pending is defendants Tyler Dana McFeeley (“Trooper McFeely”) and C.R. “Jay” Smithers's (“Colonel Smithers”) (collectively, the “State Defendants”) motion to dismiss, filed June 5, 2018. A third state defendant, Trooper Steven Demaske, is not shown to have been served with process and has not appeared.

         Also pending is the State Defendants' motion to designate their motion to dismiss as unopposed and dismiss plaintiff's claims for failure to prosecute, filed July 30, 2018, which motion is denied as moot, as hereinafter noted.

         I. Facts as Alleged

         Plaintiff Dan Brown is a resident of Clay, West Virginia. First Am. Compl. (“Compl.”) ¶ 4. On July 26, 2013, defendant Deputy Robert Belt, a deputy sheriff of Clay County, West Virginia saw Mr. Brown on the side of the road with a flat tire. Id. ¶ 10. Deputy Belt then approached Mr. Brown, allegedly without any reasonable suspicion, began to conduct a traffic stop for driving under the influence (“DUI”) and searched his vehicle. Id. ¶ 11. Mr. Brown alleges that Deputy Belt caused the blowout of his tire that resulted in the officer pulling him over, Id. ¶ 33, and that Deputy Belt knew of Mr. Brown's whereabouts due to information obtained from Shonda Tanner, a mutual acquaintance, Id. ¶¶ 30-33. When Deputy Belt ordered Mr. Brown to undergo three field sobriety tests, the “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, ” the “Walk and Turn, ” and the “One-Leg Stand, ” Mr. Brown pointed out that he suffered from several physical disabilities that prevented him from being able to adequately complete the tests. Id. ¶¶ 12-17. In particular, he has long had nystagmus, an eye condition, as well as a leg injury that makes him unable to place weight on his leg. Id. ¶¶ 15-16. Mr. Brown has been determined by the United States Social Security Administration to be fully disabled. Id. ¶ 25. Although Mr. Brown told Deputy Belt that he was “100% disabled” and “could not take the normal tests for DUI, ” Deputy Belt continued to administer the three tests without offering accommodations. Id. ¶¶ 12, 21. Following the tests, Deputy Belt arrested Mr. Brown for DUI. Id. ¶ 21.

         Mr. Brown did take a preliminary breath test, and the result showeda blood alcohol level of 0.0. Id. ¶ 18. He asked to be given a blood test to provide further proof of his sobriety, but Deputy Belt failed to request or administer one. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

         The DUI charge was later dismissed, and when Mr. Brown contested the revocation of his driver's license in an administrative hearing, Deputy Belt admitted to being negligent when filling out the DUI information sheet. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Also at this hearing, Deputy Belt is said to have stated that he had never received training on compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or on how to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled individuals whose disability impairs their ability to pass field sobriety tests. Id. ¶ 23.

         Over a year and a half after the July 2013 incident, on or about February 20, 2015, Mr. Brown reported a robbery of over $40, 000 worth of tools from his property. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Deputy Belt responded to Mr. Brown's call to the authorities yet did not file a police report or investigate the robbery. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Because Deputy Belt did not file a police report, Mr. Brown's insurance claim was made more difficult to support. Id. ¶¶ 28-29. Additionally, the tools were never recovered. Id. ¶ 29. Mr. Brown believes this failure to investigate to be retaliation for the original DUI charge being dismissed. Id. ¶ 26.

         On May 22, 2015, Mr. Brown was once again arrested for DUI. Id. ¶ 36. Mr. Brown alleges on good faith information and reasonable belief that Deputy Belt communicated to members of the West Virginia State Police to “target” the plaintiff and charge him with DUI. Id. ¶ 35. West Virginia State Troopers Huff, Tallman and defendant Demaske were the arresting officers for charges of DUI, left of center driving, and no proof of insurance. Id. ¶ 36. Mr. Brown informed the officers of his disability and subsequently failed the three standard field sobriety tests. Id. ¶¶ 64, 67. He later took a breath test which revealed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.0. Id. ¶ 65. All three charges were later dismissed after the officers failed to appear or present any proof of impairment. Id. ¶ 37.

         On January 15, 2016, Mr. Brown called the police to report a man invading his home and battering him. Id. ¶ 38. Defendant Trooper McFeeley, a West Virginia State Trooper, responded to the call and arrested Mr. Brown for burglary, destruction of property, and providing false information to the state police, all without prosecuting the alleged crimes that Mr. Brown called to report. Id. ¶ 39. Mr. Brown asserts that this arrest was in retaliation for filing the original complaint in this lawsuit on July 27, 2015 against defendants Deputy Belt, Clay County Sheriff Garrett Samples, Jr., and the Clay County Commission (“the Commission”). Id. at 21-22.

         Later, on July 5, 2016, Mr. Brown was driving in downtown Clay when he was in a minor car accident. Id. ¶ 43. Deputy Belt responded to the accident along with Deputy Tyler Caruthers, a fellow Clay County deputy sheriff. Id. ¶ 44. They conducted DUI field sobriety tests and charged Mr. Brown with DUI. Id. ¶¶ 44-45, 48. Mr. Brown had informed the deputies that he was physically unable to pass the field sobriety tests, yet the officers continued to conduct the same three field sobriety tests as had been conducted by Deputy Belt at a previous stop. Id. ¶¶ 47-48, 67. Mr. Brown participated in a breath test which again showed that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.0. Id. ¶ 65. Mr. Brown admitted to taking his daily prescription medications but also stated that no one had ever told him they might impair his ability to drive. Id. ¶ 49. Mr. Brown requested a blood test to prove that he had only taken his prescribed medications, but the officers refused. Id. ¶ 50. Upon arriving at the police station, Mr. Brown was taken to a dark closet and held there for approximately four hours while waiting for an expert from the Charleston, West Virginia detachment who was to conduct specialized testing of the plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 46, 51-52. During that time, he was placed under a “red light” for further testing of impairment. Id. ¶ 52. This treatment triggered a migraine, and the officers would not allow Mr. Brown to take his medication to alleviate it. Id. This charge for DUI was still pending as of plaintiff's filing of his motion to amend the complaint on September 15, 2016. Id. ¶ 54.

         On July 23, 2016, Trooper McFeeley arrested Mr. Brown for another burglary. Id. ¶ 53. Mr. Brown claims that upon arrest, Trooper McFeeley elected not to believe Mr. Brown's story regarding the incident and that the officer's choice was motived by retaliatory intent for the filing of this lawsuit on July 27, 2015. Id. ¶¶ 105, 151

         II. Procedural Posture

         On July 27, 2015, plaintiff filed his original complaint with the court against Deputy Belt, Sheriff Samples, and the Commission for the actions taken by Deputy Belt during the July 26, 2013 DUI arrest. The complaint contained five “causes of action” which the court treated as Counts 1 through 5, namely, Count 1, failure to provide reasonable accommodation under Title II of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12132, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; Count 2, negligent hiring, supervision, and/or training; Count 3, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment due process violations; Count 4, wrongful arrest; and Count 5, intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). On October 13, 2017, the court ruled on the joint motion to dismiss of Deputy Belt, the Commission and Sheriff Samples, the only defendants then charged in the complaint. ECF No. 26. Pursuant to that motion, the court dismissed the negligent hiring prong of Count 2 and all of Counts 4 (wrongful arrest) and 5 (IIED) but did not dismiss any other claims. Id. at 15.

         On September 15, 2016, the plaintiff filed for leave to amend the complaint. The court granted the motion on March 30, 2018, and the First Amended Complaint with the named defendants as set forth in the case caption above was deemed filed on that same day, thereby adding as defendants Deputy Caruthers, Trooper Demaske, Trooper McFeeley, Colonel Smithers and Magistrate Jeffrey Boggs. The court at the same time ordered that the negligent hiring claim, now in Count 4, be dismissed; that the July 26, 2013 action for wrongful arrest against Deputy Belt, now in Count 6, was time barred due to the one-year statute of limitations and was dismissed; and that Magistrate Boggs, named in several counts, be dismissed from the action. ECF No. 29, at 6.

         In the plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, he asserts for the first time claims against Trooper McFeeley and Colonel Smithers. He also alleges claims against the West Virginia State Police, not named as a party to this action and for whom the plaintiff has not issued a summons. Accordingly, the court does not address claims against that entity, but does treat the reference to the West Virginia State Police as an indication that the named state defendants are being sued in their official capacity. As noted, the plaintiff also asserts claims against Trooper Steven Demaske and issued summons to him on April 19, 2018, but there is no proof that service has been perfected.

         The First Amended Complaint raises sixteen “causes of action, ” which the court treats as Counts 1 through 16. One or more of Trooper Demaske, Trooper McFeeley or Colonel Smithers is the subject of the following ten counts: Count 2, failure to provide reasonable accommodations under Title II of the ADA and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act during the second DUI traffic stop, on May 22, 2015, against Trooper Demaske, Colonel Smithers, a supervising officer of the West Virginia State Police, and naming the West Virginia State Police; Count 4, negligent supervision and/or training arising from the May 22, 2015 DUI arrest against Colonel Smithers and naming the West Virginia State Police; Count 5, violation of Due Process Rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising from the May 22, 2015 DUI arrest against Colonel Smithers, Trooper Demaske and naming the West Virginia State Police; Count 7, wrongful arrest for DUI on May 22, 2015 against Trooper Demaske; Count 8, wrongful arrest for burglary, destruction of property and providing false information to state police on January 15, 2016 against Trooper McFeeley; Count 10, wrongful arrest for burglary on July 23, 2016 against Trooper McFeeley; Count 12, retaliation claim under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for “targeting” Mr. Brown in the DUI arrest on May 22, 2015 against Trooper Demaske, Colonel Smithers and naming the West Virginia State Police; Count 13, retaliation claim under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for wrongful arrest for burglary, destruction of property, and providing false information to state police on January 15, 2016 against Trooper McFeeley; Count 15, retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for wrongful arrest for burglary on July 23, 2016 against Trooper McFeeley, Colonel Smithers and naming the West Virginia State Police; and Count 16, intentional infliction of emotional distress/outrage against all State Defendants for all of the allegations contained in the First Amended Complaint against them.

         The State Defendants filed, on June 5, 2018, a motion to dismiss the claims against them in the First Amended Complaint, and later, on June 11, 2018, Deputy Belt, Deputy Caruthers, Sheriff Samples and the Commission (collectively, the “County Defendants”) did the same. The plaintiff did not initially respond to these motions, but the court ordered him to file a response by a certain date, which he failed to do. Ultimately, the plaintiff filed his response, which the court permitted and each group of defendants filed their own reply.

         Regarding the State Defendants' motion to dismiss and supporting memorandum, the court notes in particular the confusing language in the abbreviated motion to dismiss as set forth in the phrase: “Plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations and inapplicable to Defendants Smithers and McFeeley.” Defs. Smithers & McFeely's Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 36, at 1 (underlining supplied). Additionally, in their memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss, the State Defendants attempt to “incorporate by reference the Motion to Dismiss arguments of any co-defendants to the extent that those argument[s] apply to Plaintiff's claims against all Defendants.” Defs. Smithers & McFeely's Mem. Supp. Mot. Dismiss (“State Defs.' Mem.”), ECF No. 37, at 16 n.3. The court declines to consider any such later-filed County Defendant arguments that were merely, at best, imagined at the time of the filing of the State Defendants' motion to dismiss. Accordingly, the court will only evaluate the arguments actually made in the State Defendants' briefings in support of their motion to dismiss.

         Before plaintiff filed his response to the motions to dismiss, Colonel Smithers and Trooper McFeeley filed a motion to designate their motion to dismiss as unopposed and to dismiss plaintiff's claim for failure to prosecute. ECF No. 49. Inasmuch as the court granted plaintiff's motion to extend the time for him to file a response, ECF No. 51, an order with which the plaintiff eventually complied, this motion is moot.

         III. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleader provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing . . . entitle[ment] to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007). Rule 12(b)(6) correspondingly permits a defendant to challenge a complaint when it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         The required “short and plain statement” must provide “‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), overruled on other grounds, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563); see also Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 188 (4th Cir. 2007). In order 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.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 386 (4th Cir. 2009).

         Application of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard requires that the court “‘accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint . . . .'” Erickson, 127 S.Ct. at 2200 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965); see also South Carolina Dept. Of Health And Environmental Control v. Commerce and Industry Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 245, 255 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Franks v. Ross, 313 F.3d 184, 192 (4th Cir. 2002)). The court must also “draw[] all reasonable . . . inferences from th[e] facts in the plaintiff's favor . . . .” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Statute of Limitations

         1. Effect of Granting the Motion to Amend the Complaint

         Colonel Smithers and Trooper McFeeley argue that the claims asserted against them in Counts 2, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, and certain claims in Count 16 should be dismissed because those claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations periods. State Defs.' Mem., ECF No. 37, at 5-9. The claims to which the statute of limitations defense is being raised arise from ...


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