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Lynchburg fails to dismiss excessive force claims

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 1, 2023

Lynchburg fails to dismiss excessive force claims

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//June 1, 2023

Where a man suing the City of Lynchburg for excessive force alleged facts making it plausible that the city condoned a practice so persistent and widespread as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law, his claim survived the city’s motion to dismiss. The man also plausibly alleged claims for failure to train and failure to discipline against the city.


Calvin Wesley filed suit against the City of Lynchburg, as well as against specific Lynchburg police officers, in their individual capacities, arguing that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force when apprehending and arresting him. Additionally, he brings common law civil claims. The city has filed a motion to dismiss.

Policy or custom

Liability attaches to the municipality directly in cases where the municipality causes the deprivation “through an official policy or custom.” Here, Wesley has sufficiently alleged that the city condoned a practice so persistent and widespread as to constitute a custom or usage with the force of law.

Wesley has alleged three examples that could be construed as excessive use of force by canines similar enough to Wesley’s alleged two experiences that “municipal employees could reasonably infer from [them] tacit approval of the conduct at issue.” And courts within the Fourth Circuit have allowed claims regarding an unconstitutional custom or practice by police to proceed when plaintiffs have alleged a similar number of incidents demonstrating such a custom or practice. Thus, Wesley’s § 1983 claims brought based on a theory of unconstitutional custom or policy will survive the motion to dismiss.

Failure to train

Wesley has also sufficiently alleged facts supporting Monell liability based on a failure to train theory. Wesley alleges that “[t]he LPD maintains a facially constitutional policy that limits t[he] use of police canines to cases in which a physical threat or violence is imminent,” but “LPD officers are not adequately trained to comply with their own facially constitutional use of force policy.”

The Fourth Circuit has recognized that training deficiencies can include “tacit authorizations” of unconstitutional conduct. The city did not specifically challenge the failure to train claim, and Wesley’s allegations, if true, support reasonable inferences that the city was “put on notice that a new [training] program is called for.” Thus, his failure to train claims will survive the motion to dismiss.

Failure to discipline

“When addressing a failure to discipline claim, ‘an unconstitutional policy or custom based on evidence of a failure to discipline generally requires a showing of a pattern of misconduct in which there has been such a failure.’”

The city did not specifically challenge this claim either. And the court concludes Wesley has sufficiently alleged that officers “were tacitly encouraged to continue self-developed practices of [excessive force] by the deliberate failure of responsible municipal officials to exercise discipline or corrective supervision to halt the widespread, known practices.” Thus, his failure to discipline claims will also survive the motion to dismiss.


Wesley has alleged sufficient facts for claims based in the city’s ratification of the officers’ actions, his final theory of Monell liability. Wesley contends that the city ratified its officers’ acts by determining they were “within policy” Though the city contends that it cannot have been a moving force behind the alleged excessive force in this case because the LPD’s alleged determination occurred after the use of force, Fourth Circuit precedent forecloses this argument.

Injunctive relief

Wesley also seeks to “enjoin [the city] from engaging in unconstitutional use of force by the deployment of police dogs against subject[s] who pose no threat of harm.” However, Wesley lacks standing to seek such an injunction.

His standing to seek this relief would “depend[] on whether he was likely to suffer future injury from the use of the [canines] by police officers.” To establish that, he would have to establish that “he would have another encounter with the police” and “either (1) that all police officers in [Lynchburg] always” use canines against anyone they encounter, or “(2) that the City ordered or authorized police officers to act in such manner.”

As Wesley has not done so, his claim for injunctive relief will be dismissed. Finally, Wesley has conceded that his common law claims against the city should be dismissed, and they will be.

City’s motion to dismiss granted in part, denied in part.

Wesley v. City of Lynchburg, Case No. 6:23-cv-00012, May 18, 2023. WDVA at Lynchburg (Moon). VLW 023-3-267. 10 pp.

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