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Washington v. Rogers

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

October 15, 2019

MICHAEL C. WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
TIMOTHY ROGERS, MICHAEL GILLESPIE, TRACI SIMPSON, KAY BAUMAN, THE CITY OF OKLAHOMA CITY, POLICE CHIEF BILL CITTY, LT. J. RODGERS, OFFICER H. BENNETT, OFFICER J. BUSCH, and OFFICER G. BELL, Defendants.

          ORDER

          TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Heather Bennett, Joseph Busch, and Gregory Bell (“Moving Defendants”) [Doc. No. 5]. Plaintiff has not filed a response nor requested additional time in which to do so. Also at issue is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Moving Defendants [Doc. No. 27], to which Moving Defendants have responded in opposition [Doc. No. 29]. The Court will first address the motion to dismiss because the case cannot proceed against Moving Defendants if Plaintiff has not adequately stated a claim for relief.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of Plaintiff's arrest on June 18, 2016, for disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct at a Juneteenth celebration[1] at the Ralph Ellison Library in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Plaintiff, a pro se litigant, filed his lawsuit in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, on December 7, 2017. [Doc. No. 1-1]. His Petition named Timothy Rogers, Michael Gillespie, Traci Simpson, and Kay Bauman as defendants. Id. On June 4, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Petition with the same case number but named a different set of defendants - the City of Oklahoma City, Police Chief Bill Citty, Lt. J. Rodgers, and Moving Defendants. [Doc. No. 1-21]. The Amended Petition identified new causes of action, including § 1983 claims under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. The case was removed to federal court based on an assertion of federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court denied Plaintiff's Opposition to Removal and Plaintiff's Motion to Remand [Doc. Nos. 18, 25].

         According to Plaintiff's Amended Petition, Plaintiff oversees a nonprofit organization, Empower People, Inc., which planned and was preparing to host a Juneteenth ceremony at the Ralph Ellison Library in Oklahoma City on June 18, 2016. The celebration had been approved by the library director, and Plaintiff had signed a contract with the library to lease certain spaces. However, prior to the time the event officially began, library staff called the police on Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff alleges that Lt. J. Rodgers and Moving Defendants responded to the call and spoke to library staff. Michael Gillespie, who was a library employee, signed a citation accusing Plaintiff of disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct. Attached to Defendant's motion to dismiss is a copy of the citation.[2] [Doc. No. 5-1]. According to Plaintiff, after the citation was signed, he was arrested, pat-searched, placed in handcuffs, and transported to the Oklahoma County Jail.

         Although Plaintiff alleges that no criminal charges were ever filed, Moving Defendants assert that Plaintiff was convicted of disturbing the peace by the Oklahoma City Municipal Court on March 9, 2017. [Doc. No. 5-2]. The Court takes judicial notice[3]of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals' order denying Plaintiff's request to appeal out of time his misdemeanor conviction for disturbing the peace in Case No. 16-7043329, which is attached as an exhibit to Moving Defendants' motion to dismiss. Id.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff asserts federal claims for violations of his constitutional rights stemming from his arrest: (1) false arrest and false imprisonment in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) retaliatory arrest based on freedom of speech and assembly under the First Amendment; and (3) unlawful arrest in violation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.[4] Plaintiff also asserts violations of his Oklahoma constitutional rights. Further, Plaintiff asserts negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims and tortious interference of his contractual rights against Moving Defendants. Plaintiff's claims are brought against Moving Defendants in their individual capacities. [Doc. No. 1-21 at 1].

         STANDARD OF DECISION

         Although Plaintiff's action was originally filed in state court, upon removal, Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the pleading standards announced in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) govern the sufficiency of his allegations. See Smith v. Bayer Corp., 564 U.S. 299, 304 n. 2 (2011) (“[F]ederal procedural rules govern a case that has been removed to federal court.”) (citation omitted); Wallace v. Microsoft Corp., 596 F.3d 703, 706 (10th Cir. 2010) (“After the removal of an action from state court … it has been settled by numerous cases that the removed case will be governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and all other provisions of federal law relating to procedural matters.”) (citation omitted).

         Further, since Plaintiff appears pro se, the Court is required to construe his filings liberally. Calhoun v. Attorney Gen. of Colo., 745 F.3d 1070, 1073 (10th Cir. 2014). However, it must not assume the role of advocate, United States v. Pinson, 584 F.3d 972, 975 (10th Cir. 2009), and is under no obligation to construct legal arguments on Plaintiff's behalf. Garrett v. Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], 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). “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. The “plausibility standard” announced in Twombly and Iqbal is not a “heightened standard” of pleading, but rather a “refined standard.” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (citing Kansas Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir. 2011)). Under the “refined standard, ” plausibility refers “to the scope of the allegations in the complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs ‘have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1191; see also Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         Further, the Tenth Circuit has noted that “[t]he nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context.” Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1191 (quoting Kansas Penn Gaming, 656 F.3d at 1215). “Thus, [it has] concluded the Twombly/Iqbal standard is ‘a middle ground between heightened fact pleading, which is expressly rejected, and allowing complaints that are no more than labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, which the Court stated will not do.'” Id. (quoting Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1247).

         “In other words, Rule 8(a)(2) still lives. There is no indication the Supreme Court intended a return to the more stringent pre-Rule 8 pleading requirements.” Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1191. It remains true that “[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949, 977 (9th Cir. 2009) (“Twombly and Iqbal do not require that the complaint include all facts necessary to carry the plaintiff's burden.”). However, “complaints in § 1983 cases against individual government actors pose a greater likelihood of failures in notice and plausibility because they typically include complex claims against multiple defendants.” Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1249. Thus, “[t]he Twombly standard may have greater bite in such contexts ….” Id. “[I]t is particularly important in such ...


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