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Brickles v. Village of Phillipsburg

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

August 5, 2019

TINA BRICKLES, et al., Plaintiffs,

          Thomas M. Rose District Judge


          Sharon L. Ovington United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint describes nightmarish crimes perpetrated by Defendant Justin W. Sanderson, a former police officer in the Village of Phillipsburg, Ohio. Plaintiffs Tina Brickles and Kelsey Walker were victims of some of Sanderson's crimes-which he committed while working on duty as a Phillipsburg Police Officer. Defendant Mark Wysong hired Sanderson as a Phillpsburg Police Officer. Wysong was, at that time, Phillipsburg Police Chief.

         In August 2018, Sanderson was found guilty in state court of rape, sexual battery, gross sexual imposition, kidnapping, and civil-rights violations. See Doc. #s 9, 12. He is presently an inmate at the Lorain Correctional Institution serving a 43-year sentence. See Doc. #s 8, 13, 15.

         In the present case, Plaintiffs-including Tina Brickles' husband Roger Brickles- proceed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. They assert that Defendants Sanderson, Wysong, the Village of Phillipsburg violated their rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. They also bring claims under Ohio law.

         Defendants Village of Phillipsburg and Wysong presently seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' First Amendment Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). They contend that the Amended Complaint fails to raise a plausible claim against them. Defendant Sanderson is not a party to Defendants Phillipsburg and Wysong's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion.

         II. Factual Allegations

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations found in Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint are accepted as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Doing so discloses the following.

         Defendant Sanderson's work history in law enforcement was riddled with malfeasance from the start. He worked from 2008 to 2013 as a control-room operator at the Montgomery County Juvenile Detention Center. During this time, “[he] was disciplined and suspended for, among other things, accessing pornographic web sites from a government computer while on duty, allowing a male to enter the female housing unit in violation of facility policies, and leaving his post on multiple occasions for extended periods of time.”[2] (Doc. #15, ¶10).

         In March 2014, Sanderson enrolled in the Dayton Police Academy as a recruit. He was fired for misconduct that included, in part, asking a female recruit and another male recruit if they were “making love” during a training exercise.

         Despite his termination as a Dayton Police recruit, he completed the Ohio Peace Officer Basic Training Program in early September 2014. A month later, he was hired as a police officer for the Grandview Medical Center.

         In December 2014, his two-month employment as a police officer was interrupted when Grandview Medical Center suspended him, pending an investigation of his misconduct. This included violations of the hospital's sexual-harassment policy such as photographing his erect penis next to a can of hairspray and showing it to members of the hospital's female nursing staff; contacting a known prostitute and talking with her about having her perform oral sex on him for twenty dollars; expressing his interest to his supervisors in undercover-prostitute work; and, admitting to the hospital's police department that he had spoken to prostitutes before work, sat in front of drug houses, and talked with people after they purchased drugs. The hospital police department did not participate in undercover drug or prostitution operations.

         In late December 2014-after just shy of three months on the job-Sanderson resigned his position as a hospital police officer. He resigned in lieu of involuntary termination for his misconduct.

         Sanderson's next law-enforcement job began in July 2015 when G4F Security Solutions USA hired him as a security officer and assigned him to work in the Dayton Metro Library. At this time, G4F also employed Defendant Wysong. Wysong hired Sanderson to work as a security officer. Before Wysong decided to hire Sanderson, he knew about Sanderson's past misconduct by way of a background check that revealed, in part, his improper actions at the Juvenile Detention Center and Grandview Medical Center. Wysong supervised Sanderson during his year-long employment at ¶ 4F.

         In June 2016, Sanderson resigned his position with G4F. By this time, Wysong was chief of the Phillipsburg Police Department and the sole Phillipsburg police officer. In June 2016, Wysong hired Sanderson as a Phillipsburg police officer.

         Things apparently went along quietly until May 2017 when Sanderson-while on duty as a Phillipsburg police officer-stopped Plaintiff Walker as she was driving home. Sanderson claimed that he thought Walker was driving while intoxicated. He handcuffed her and placed her in the back of his police cruiser but did not read Miranda rights to her, did not search her, and did not tell her she was under arrest. Then, rather than taking Walker to jail-Phillipsburg does not have a separate police station or a jail-Sanderson drove her to the Phillipsburg municipal building. The building was locked and no one was inside. He unlocked the building and entered with Walker.

         After implying to Walker that he was asking her for sex in exchange for favorable treatment, Sanderson performed field sobriety tests on her while she remained handcuffed. He told her that she had failed the tests. During and after the tests, Walker was crying.

         While Walker remained handcuffed, Sanderson groped her and removed her shorts and underwear. He then raped her while she was still handcuffed. After this, he removed the handcuffs and raped her again. “At no time did Walker consent to Sanderson's actions. [She] feared for her life if Sanderson came to believe that she would report his unlawful behavior.” Id. at ¶34. After Sanderson twice raped her, he told her “that he would not tell if she did not.” Id. at ¶35.

         Sanderson also targeted and preyed upon Plaintiff Tina Brickles. It began in June 2017 when she drove past a police car while on her way home from a friend's house. Ten minutes after she arrived home (around 11:10 p.m.), Sanderson appeared at the door of her home. He was on duty and wearing a Phillipsburg police department uniform. He was equipped with a police radio, handcuffs, and his duty firearm. He asked her if she knew her husband had a warrant for his arrest, and he told her he had a warrant for her arrest. He did not show her any warrant or other paperwork. He instead asked her to go to the kitchen where the light was better. Once there, he asked her to turn away, and he patted her down. He then pulled on the belt loop of her shorts. Under the guise of patting her down, he felt her breasts under her bra and pulled her bra away from her body.

         Sanderson handcuffed Brickles, placed her in a police cruiser, and drove to the Phillipsburg municipal building. The building was locked, dark, and unoccupied. Once inside, Sanderson took the handcuffs off Brickles. He then felt inside the pockets of her shorts. He asked her if she was wearing underwear while continuing to pull at her shorts.

         Sanderson told her that she had a warrant in Eaton. She sensibly “told him to have Eaton come pick her up, because she was not comfortable with the situation or with how Sanderson was acting.” Id. at ¶53. Sanderson stood in front of Brickles for a long time. “He then asked her if there was some way they could clear this incident up, or if she needed to go to jail. Brickles took this statement as a request by Sanderson for some type of sexual activity in exchange for not going to jail. She told him she was not that kind of person, which she intended and Sanderson understood as a rejection of his request.” Id. at ¶54. Sanderson told Brickles that he had been to jail and asked her if she wanted to know why. She did not respond.

         Eventually, after additional threatening behavior, Sanderson handcuffed Brickles. She started to cry. He then stood behind her and put his hand on her neck, back, and cupped her breast. She tried to move away but “Sanderson put his hand down the front of her shorts and underwear and penetrated her vagina with his fingers.” Id. at ¶61. She again told him that she was not that type of person but there was little she could do to resist because she was handcuffed and alone with him in the Phillipsburg municipal building. Sanderson then left her alone and went into an office. She sat down and started to cry and pray.

         Sanderson returned and sat in a chair in front of Brickles. He stared at her for fifteen minutes. She started to tell him things because she thought he was going to hurt her or rape her. He responded, in part, by telling her that he would be working again the following weekend and would stop by her house if she did not take care of the warrant. He eventually drove her home.

         A week or so later Sanderson returned to Brickles' home at 11:30 p.m. She told him to leave and never return.

         What does all this have to do with Defendants Phillipsburg and Wysong? Nothing causative they say; it was all Sanderson's misconduct. This polemic underpins their contention that Plaintiffs have not raised a plausible constitutional claim against them.

         Plaintiffs argue otherwise. They contend that their Amended Complaint raises plausible claims against Defendants Phillipsburg and Wysong under several theories of municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) Inadequate screening of Sanderson before hiring him as a police officer; (2) failure to train, supervise, and discipline Sanderson; and (3) violations of the Equal Protection Clause. (Doc. #24, PageID #222).

         III. Rule 12(b)(6) and Plausibility

          To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) Motion, 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). “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.” Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). This “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting, in part, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see Reilly v. Vadlamudi, 680 F.3d 617, 622 (6th Cir. 2012).

         IV. ...

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