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Tucker v. Decker

United States District Court, D. Vermont

December 17, 2014

MARTHA TUCKER, Plaintiff,
v.
LYLE DECKER, Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. 4)

J. GARVAN MURTHA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Martha Tucker brings claims against Defendant Lyle Decker, a Vermont state police officer, for malicious prosecution, defamation, and invasion of privacy, torts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state common law. (Doc. 1.) Decker moves to dismiss, arguing the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and he has qualified immunity. (Doc. 4.)

II. Factual Background

Plaintiff Tucker was Superintendent of Schools for the Caledonia Central Supervisory Union ("CCSU") from July 2008 through June 2014. (Complaint ¶ 3.) On April 29, 2013, J.B., a student at the Danville Union High School, alleged to Melissa Johnson, a support staff employee at the school, that teacher Jason Brigham had touched her bottom and rubbed her chest with his arm. (Id. ¶ 6.) Johnson reported to Principal Noah Noyes who then reported the matter to Tucker. (Id. ¶ 9.) Noyes did not discuss all of the specifics of J.B.'s allegations and advised Tucker that J.B. had a history of being untruthful and that he did not believe there was credible evidence to support J.B.'s allegations. (Id.) The school's investigation concluded with a finding that there was no harassment. (Id. ¶ 10.) J.B.'s parents were notified in writing by Noyes of the incidents and the school's investigation. (Id.) Tucker did not report J.B.'s allegations to the Department of Children and Families ("DCF").

J.B.'s parents reported the matter to DCF, which contacted Vermont State Police. (Id. ¶ 11.) Defendant Decker, a Vermont state police officer (Id. ¶ 2), was assigned to investigate J.B.'s allegations for a possible criminal prosecution. (Id. ¶ 13.) In the course of his investigation, Decker interviewed Noyes, Johnson, Tucker, Brigham, J.B., J.B, 's parents, student witnesses, and Mary Cassidy, another adult from Brigham's classroom. (Id. ¶ 14.) Tucker alleges none of these interviewees gave Decker any reason to believe there had been reasonable grounds to conclude Brigham had engaged in abuse or neglect. (Id. ¶ 15.) Tucker also alleges Decker originally characterized Brigham's alleged contact with J.B.'s bottom as an "attaboy kind of slap" while later characterizing the contact as a "grab." (Id. ¶ 16.)

Decker charged Tucker with neglect of duty by a public officer under 13 V.S.A. § 3006, a misdemeanor offense, and with violating her duty as a mandatory reporter under 33 V.S.A.§ 4913. (Id. ¶ 20.) Upon issuing Tucker citations, Decker fingerprinted and photographed her and submitted the information to a national database, where it remains. (Id. ¶ 21.) Tucker alleges 20 V.S.A. § 2061 did not authorize Decker to photograph her and that the State admitted this when charges against Tucker were dismissed. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 23.) Decker released photographs of Tucker to the press along with a statement that Tucker had violated the reporting law. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Caledonia Superior Court dismissed criminal charges against Tucker on April 1, 2014. (Id. ¶ 24.) Negative publicity about the criminal charges prompted Tucker to resign her position. She alleges she has been rejected for a comparable position due to the stigma associated with the charges. (Id. ¶ 26.)

Tucker raises claims for malicious prosecution, defamation, and invasion of privacy and seeks "recovery for violation of her federal rights under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983." (Id. ¶¶ 27-40.) Decker moves to dismiss based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) and qualified immunity under 12(b)(6).

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

A case is properly dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. See Doyle v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 722 F.3d 78, 80 (2d Cir. 2013). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "[A] defendant presenting an immunity defense on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion instead of a motion for summary judgment must accept the more stringent standard applicable to this procedural route." McKenna v. Wright, 386 F.3d 432, 436 (2d Cir. 2004).

On both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) motions, the Court must "accept all of the plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint as true and draw inferences from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Seemann v. U.S. Postal Serv., No. 2:11-cv-206, 2012 WL 1999847, at *1 (D. Vt. June 4, 2012) (quoting Starr v. Georgeson S'holder, Inc., 412 F.3d 103, 109 (2d Cir. 2005)).

B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

The plaintiff bears the burden of proof of establishing jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). Absent diversity or a statutory basis, a case should be dismissed under Ruler 12(b)(1) if the ...


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