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Sena v. Adams County

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 19, 2019

DAVID SENA, Plaintiff,
v.
ADAMS COUNTY, ADAMS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, and TYLER BENJAMIN, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 23. In this lawsuit, Plaintiff asserts one claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Defendants argue the Complaint should be dismissed, because Plaintiff does not state a claim against the entity Defendants and Deputy Tyler Benjamin (“Benjamin”) is entitled to qualified immunity. The Court heard the motion on July 10, 2019 and has reviewed the briefs and operative pleading. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motion.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The following are factual allegations (as opposed to legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory allegations) made by Plaintiff in the Complaint, which are taken as true for analysis under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) pursuant to Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         On November 18, 2016, Plaintiff was driving a pickup truck that was pulling a flatbed trailer heading southbound on Brighton Road in Commerce City, which is located in Adams County, Colorado. ECF No. 1 ¶ 12. Deputy Benjamin saw the vehicle and decided to “check[] the license plate” on the trailer, which revealed that it did not have a DMV record. Id. ¶ 13. He initiated a traffic stop, and Plaintiff pulled over into a parking lot. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Plaintiff was otherwise obeying all traffic laws. Id. ¶ 13.

         After stopping, Plaintiff exited his vehicle. Id. ¶ 15. Benjamin instructed Plaintiff to get back in the truck, but Plaintiff discovered he had locked himself out. Id. Benjamin then directed Plaintiff to turn around and put his hands behind his back, and Plaintiff complied. Id. ¶ 16. As Benjamin approached Plaintiff, he noticed that Plaintiff had a pocketknife clipped to his pants, and Benjamin took Plaintiff to the ground. Id. ¶ 17. He then struck Plaintiff in the face multiple times. Id. ¶ 18. Plaintiff suffered a broken jaw, retinal detachment, and a traumatic brain injury as a result of the blows to his face. Id. ¶ 22. After these events, “officers” noticed that a butterfly knife was sitting in plain view in Plaintiff's truck. Id. ¶ 19. “Officers” broke a window to get into the truck and towed the vehicle. Id.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         “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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility, in the context of a motion to dismiss, means that the plaintiff pled facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Twombly requires a two-prong analysis. First, a court must identify “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” that is, those allegations that are legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Id. at 678-80. Second, the Court must consider the factual allegations “to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681. If the allegations state a plausible claim for relief, such claim survives the motion to dismiss. Id. at 680.

         Plausibility refers “to the scope of the allegations in a 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.” SEC v. Shields, 744 F.3d 633, 640 (10th Cir. 2014) (quoting Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d 1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012)). “The nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on context.” Safe Streets All. v. Hickenlooper, 859 F.3d 865, 878 (10th Cir. 2017) (quoting Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2011)). Thus, while the Rule 12(b)(6) standard does not require that a plaintiff establish a prima facie case in a complaint, the elements of each alleged cause of action may help to determine whether the plaintiff has set forth a plausible claim. Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1191.

         However, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. The complaint must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or merely “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” so that “courts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief 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. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, ” the complaint has made an allegation, “but it has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants first argue that Adams County and the Adams County Sheriff's Office should be dismissed, because Plaintiff fails to state a claim against any entity Defendant under § 1983.[1]Defendants also contend that Benjamin should be dismissed, because he is entitled to qualified immunity. The Court will address each argument as presented.

         I. Adams County & Adams County Sheriff's Office

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff does not plausibly state a claim against either of the entity Defendants, because he fails to allege that they caused Plaintiff's injury under § 1983. The Supreme Court has determined that “[a] municipality or other local government may be liable under [§ 1983] if the governmental body itself ‘subjects' a person to a deprivation of rights or ‘causes' a person ‘to be subjected' to such deprivation.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011). “But, under § 1983, local governments are responsible only for ‘their own illegal acts.'” Id. (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986)). “[A] local government may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). Thus, ...


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