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Pritt v. Washington County, Arkansas

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division

January 9, 2017

ANDREW PRITT PLAINTIFF
v.
WASHINGTON COUNTY, ARKANSAS; et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Currently before the Court is a Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 20) filed by Defendant Greg Lingar. The Motion and an accompanying Brief in Support (Doc. 21) were filed on November 28, 2016, and Plaintiff Andrew Pritt has not filed any response to date. The Court held a Case Management Hearing on January 5, 2017, during which counsel for Pritt stipulated that the Motion was appropriate on all grounds except as to Pritt's negligence claim against Lingar. The Court, accordingly, granted the Motion from the bench except as to that claim. Turning to that claim, the Court found that the Complaint failed to state a claim against Lingar under the Twombly I Iqbal pleading standard, but instead of dismissing the claim, the Court gave Pritt two weeks to amend the Complaint. To the extent that anything in the Court's pronouncement from the bench differs with this Order, this Order controls. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant Greg Lingar's Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 20) is GRANTED, except as to Pritt's negligence claim against Lingar.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are recited in the light most favorable to Pritt, the non-moving party. On September 4, 2015, Pritt was travelling from his home in North Little Rock, Arkansas to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. On the way, he stopped at a Dollar General Store just outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Outside of the store, Lingar, an Arkansas State Trooper, asked to see Pritt's driver's license, and he complied. During a subsequent conversation, Lingar informed Pritt that there was a 2002 arrest warrant out of Washington D.C. for an Andrew C. Pritt. Pritt denied that he was the Andrew C. Pritt in question, and asked Lingar whether there was any additional identifying information- such as a picture or a social security number-accompanying the warrant. Rather than further researching whether Pritt was the Andrew C. Pritt named in the warrant, Lingar brought Pritt to the Washington County Detention Center, where he remained in custody for the next eighteen days. Throughout this time, Pritt maintained that he was not the Andrew C. Pritt referenced by the warrant, pled with his jailers to investigate the matter, sought legal assistance, and requested to be taken before a judge. On the fifth day of his confinement, he was brought before a judge for an apparent extradition hearing. Thirteen days later, he was brought before the Hon. Erin L. Setser, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, for an initial appearance, and Judge Setser ordered his immediate release.[1]

         Pritt filed his Complaint (Doc. 1) in the Eastern District of Arkansas on August 31, 2016. The Complaint names the following Defendants: Washington County, Arkansas; Stephen Weir, as an Officer of Washington County Sheriffs Department, and in his individual capacity; Christopher Smith, as an Officer of Washington County Sheriffs Department, and in his individual capacity; Tim Helder, as the Sheriff of Washington County, and in his individual capacity; Greg Lingar, as an Officer with the Arkansas State Police, and in his individual capacity; and John Does 1-3. It asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of the Fourth Amendment and of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as state tort claims for false imprisonment and negligence.

         Defendants Helder, Smith, Weir, and Washington County filed an Answer (Doc. 3) on September 30, 2016, generally denying the claims against them. On October 25, 2016, Lingar filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and Improper Venue (Doc. 11). After Pritt filed a Response (Doc. 13), the Eastern District of Arkansas Court[2] granted in part and denied in part Lingar's Motion. See Doc. 15. It denied without prejudice or analysis his request for dismissal, but granted his motion to transfer venue, finding this Court to be the appropriate venue to litigate the case. This Court then received the case on November 15, 2016.

         On November 18, 2016, Lingar filed an Answer (Doc. 18) to Pritt's Complaint, generally denying the claims against him. Then, on November 28, 2016, Lingar filed the instant Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, to which Pritt has declined to respond. That Motion is now ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         As an initial matter, the distinction between a motion for judgment on the pleadings brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) and a motion to dismiss brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) "is purely formal, because we review [a] 12(c) motion under the standard that governs 12(b)(6) motions." Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990). To survive Lingar's Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, Pritt's Complaint must present "a short and plain statement of the claim that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The intention of this is to "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 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In evaluating the sufficiency of the Complaint, the Court assumes that "all factual allegations in the pleadings are true and interprets] them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Bell v. Pfizer, Inc., 716 F.3d 1087, 1091 (8th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation omitted).

         Even so, the Amended Complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (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." Id. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). In short, "the pleading standard that Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Lingar's Motion asks the Court for judgment on the pleadings as to three sets of Pritt's claims. First, he argues that Pritt's § 1983 claims for damages against him in his official capacity should be dismissed because state employees acting in their official capacities are not subject to damages suits under § 1983, and also because sovereign immunity prohibits such claims. Second, he asks the Court to dismiss Pritt's request for injunctive relief because Pritt lacks standing to bring the claim; the claim cannot be brought against him in his individual capacity, as it pertains only to official conduct; and sovereign immunity bars the claim. Third, Lingar contends that Counts Two and Three of the Complaint-alleging violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, false imprisonment, and negligence-fail to state a claim against him, as they only pertain to Washington County and its employees. If Lingar's positions are correct, only Pritt's Fourth Amendment claim against Lingar in his individual capacity, and associated request for damages, would remain pending against him.

         Respecting Lingar's first contention, the Court initially notes that the last paragraph of Pritt's Complaint states that he is seeking "compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants who are sued in their individual capacity." (Doc. 1, p. 19 (emphasis added)). To the extent that the Complaint does assert a claim against Lingar in his official capacity, however, that claim is dismissed. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of [law] ... of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured ...

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