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Myers v. Montgomery County Board of County Commissioners

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

June 21, 2019

JENNIFER MYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, et al. Defendants.

          ENTRY AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION OF DEFENDANTS MONTGOMERY COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS AND MONTGOMERY COUNTY SHERIFF ROB STRECK TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) (DOC. 12)

          THOMAS M. ROSE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. 12) of Defendants Montgomery County Board of County Commissioners and Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck (the “Motion”). The Motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 12, 14, 15, 17.) As explained in the Court's June 5, 2019 Order that allowed Plaintiff Jennifer Myers (“Myers”) to file a sur-reply to the Motion, the Court considers the Motion to be brought by the following parties to dismiss all claims against them: (1) Defendant Montgomery County Board of County Commissioners (the “County”)[1]; (2) Defendant Phil Plummer, Montgomery County Sheriff (“Plummer”); and (3) Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck (“Streck”). (Doc. 16.) As explained in that same Order, by virtue of succeeding Plummer as Montgomery County Sheriff, Streck was automatically substituted for Plummer with respect to claims brought against Plummer in his official-capacity (only) as Montgomery County Sheriff, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(d). (Id.) Defendant Franco Rodio Villella (“Villella”) is not a party to the Motion.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Motion. The Court dismisses all claims against Plummer, Streck, and the County, except for Myers' 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against the County for municipal liability with respect to excessive use of force or violation of bodily integrity on theories of (a) the existence of a policy of inadequate training or supervision, and (b) the existence of a custom of tolerance or acquiescence of federal rights violations. This case will proceed on Myers' remaining claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to the Complaint, on December 11, 2018, while an inmate at the Montgomery County Jail (“Jail”), Myers was raped by Villella in a bathroom stall at the Jail. At the time, Villella was on duty as a corrections officer employed by Montgomery County at the Jail. Myers alleges that Villella forced himself upon her and raped her, causing physical and emotional injuries. The Complaint states that Myers then “immediately reported the sexual assault to officers of the Montgomery County jail, ” but Villella and other officers denied Myers medical care for her injuries, instead placing her in a cold cell for hours with no blanket, mat, or pillow. (Doc. 1 at ¶¶13-15.) Myers further alleges that she was then taken to a room with a window and forced to completely undress while male officers watched her through a window, before being transported to a hospital for medical treatment.

         The Complaint also alleges that, at all relevant times, Plummer was the Sheriff of Montgomery County and a policy maker for the County with respect to customs, practices, policies, and procedures at the Jail. Myers asserts that policies, lack of training, lack of supervision, and/or lack of discipline for corrections officers have allowed assaults of inmates by corrections officers at the Jail, and that there has been a pattern of such assaults. A number of examples of alleged assaults by correction officers on those in custody at the Jail are referenced, and the Complaint also alleges that a pattern and practice of poor supervision allowed such assaults to take place. Myers further alleges that there is a custom, policy, and practice to allow serious acts of violence and nonconsensual sexual acts, such that the Jail's corrections officers believe that they can engage in those acts without repercussions or significant repercussion. The Complaint claims that the Defendants' actions were done with deliberate indifference, and that the practice and customs proximately caused Villella's misconduct.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” While this Rule “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations' . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 697 (2009), quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547. A claim is facially plausible when it includes “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. This standard is not the same as a probability standard, but “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554-55. “The Court need not accept as true, however, a legal conclusion couched as factual allegations.” Id. If a plaintiff has “not nudged [its] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed.” Id. at 570.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Myers filed her Complaint on December 18, 2018. It brings several claims against three defendants: (1) the County, through suing the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners; (2) Plummer; and (3) Villella. (Doc. 1.)

         The Complaint is not a model of clarity. It contains five causes of action (or counts), but breaks the first cause of action into six branches-each of which implicates 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”).[2] Those branches are: (1) “Excessive Use of Force”; (2) “Denial of Medical Care”; (3) “Substantive Due Process Right to Bodily Integrity”; (4) “Policies and Procedures”; (5) “Violation of Equal Protection Clause”; and (6) “Failure to Supervise and Discipline.” Myers brings her Section 1983 claims against all defendants both in their individual and official capacities, except that the claims against the Board (County) are only brought in the Board's official capacity. (Doc. 1 at PAGEID 8.)

         Counts two and five of the Complaint allege state law violations for “Malice and Gross, Wanton, Willful, and Reckless Wrongful Conduct” and “Intentional Inflict of Emotional Distress, ” respectively. Those two counts are brought only against Plummer and Villella in their individual capacities. (Id. at PAGEID 14, 16.) Counts three and four of the Complaint are brought only against Villella in his individual capacity; therefore, they are not currently at issue. (Id. at PAGEID 15.)

         A. Plaintiff's Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“First Cause of Action”)

         “Section 1983 provides a cause of action for deprivation, under color of state law, of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Horn v. Madison Cnty. Fiscal Court, 22 F.3d 653, 656 (6th Cir. 1994).[3] “To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must set forth facts that, when construed favorably, establish (1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States (2) caused by a person acting under the color of state law.” Sigley v. City of Parma Heights, 437 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)).

         Section 1983 individual-capacity claims differ from Section 1983 official-capacity claims. Peatross v. City of Memphis, 818 F.3d 233, 240-41 (6th Cir. 2016). “[A]n individual-capacity claim seeks to hold an official personally liable for the wrong alleged.” Id. at 241. On the other hand, “[a]n official-capacity claim against a person is essentially a claim against the municipality.” Id.; Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (“official-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.”) (internal quotations marks omitted).

         “[W]here the governmental entity itself is also a defendant, a claim against an official or employee of the entity in their official capacity is superfluous or redundant.” Day v. DeLong, 358 F.Supp.3d 687, 700 (S.D. Ohio 2019). “Here the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners is named, thus, Montgomery County stands accused” of the Section 1983 violations. Id. Myers' Section 1983 claim is also brought against both Plummer and Villella in their official capacities; those claims are construed as claims against the municipality, i.e., the County. Id., citing Kentucky v, Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (a claim or suit against an individual government employee in his or her official capacity is “another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent, ” and “is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.”). Therefore, the Section 1983 official capacity claims are superfluous and redundant. The Section 1983 official capacity claims against Streck (having been substituted in as a party for the official capacity claims against Plummer) are dismissed.[4] Faith Baptist Church v. Waterford Twp., 522 Fed.Appx. 322, 327 (6th Cir. 2013); Hines v. Town of Vonore, 912 F.Supp.2d 628, 640-41 (E.D. Tenn. 2012).

         The Motion argues that Plummer is entitled to qualified immunity on Myers' Section 1983 claims against him in his individual capacity. Qualified immunity generally shields government officials who are performing discretionary functions “from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). It is “an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability, ” Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985), and it protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986).

         To avoid the shield of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must properly plead “facts showing (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the challenged conduct.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 735 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[I]t is well-settled that qualified immunity must be assessed in the context of each individual's specific conduct.” Stoudemire v. Mich. Dep't. of Corrs., 705 F.3d 560, 570 (6th Cir. 2013).

         a. Excessive Use of Force and Violation of Bodily Integrity

         Branches 1, 3, 5, and 6 of the first cause of action (Section 1983) all involve allegations of excessive force or violation of bodily integrity. (Doc. 1 at PAGEID 9-10, 12-14.) They relate to Villella's assault of Myers. A claim for excessive use of force is brought under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which “protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n. 10 (1989); see also United States v. Budd, 496 F.3d 517, 530 (6th Cir. 2007). Likewise, a claim for violation of bodily integrity is brought under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which provides for a right “to personal security and to bodily integrity” from sexual abuse or sexual assault. Doe v. Claiborne Cnty., 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 1996).

         i. Analysis of Plummer's Individual Capacity Liability

         The Complaint does not allege that Plummer was personally present at, or involved in, the alleged assault of Myers by Villella. (Doc. 1.) Instead, Myers seeks to hold Plummer liable in his individual capacity under a ...


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