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Thompson v. Village of Phillipsburg

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

December 5, 2019

VILLAGE OF PHILLIPSBURG, et al., Defendants.

          District Judge Thomas M. Rose



         This civil case is before the Court on the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Village of Phillipsburg and Mark Wysong. Doc. 36. Plaintiff has filed a memorandum in opposition to Defendants' motion, and Defendants have filed a reply. Docs. 41, 43. The undersigned has carefully considered all of the foregoing, and Defendants' motion is now ripe for decision.


         This is a civil rights case in which Plaintiff asserts, inter alia, federal claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. 35. At the time of the events giving rise to Plaintiff's claims, Defendant Justin Sanderson (“Sanderson”) worked as a police officer for the Village of Phillipsburg (“Phillipsburg”). Doc. 35 at PageID 215. Defendant Mark Wysong (“Wysong”) was Phillipsburg's Chief of Police. Id. According to Plaintiff, Wysong was also employed by a private security company named G4S Security Solutions USA (“G4S”). In that capacity, Wysong hired Sanderson as a private security officer before he hired Sanderson as a Phillipsburg police officer. Id. at PageID 215, 219.

         The crux of the allegations presented in this case are horrific and involve Defendant Sanderson raping, sexually assaulting, and/or battering Plaintiff in a Knights Inn Hotel room in Dayton, Ohio (hereinafter “the Hotel”) on June 28, 2017 while he was on duty as a Phillipsburg police officer. Doc. 35 at PageID 215. This was not the first or the last sexual criminal activity Sanderson engaged in while on duty as a police officer for Phillipsburg, and he has since been convicted of multiple sex offenses as a result of this and other abhorrent sexual misconduct in the Montgomery County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas -- where he was sentenced to 43 years in prison. See State v. Sanderson, No. 28149, 2019 WL 4231369, at *1-5 (Ohio Ct. App. Sept. 6, 2019).

         Plaintiff now brings this civil suit against Sanderson, as well as against Phillipsburg and Wysong in his individual and official capacities. Doc. 35. The motion to dismiss here at issue involves only the claims Plaintiff asserts against Phillipsburg and Wysong -- namely claims under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) alleging, inter alia, unconstitutional policies and procedures, inadequate screening of job applicants, and inadequate discipline of officers. Doc. 36. With regard to the Monell claims against Phillipsburg and Wysong, Plaintiff contends that Sanderson was hired as a Phillipsburg police officer despite a troubled past that allegedly includes him being fired and/or resigning from at least two other law enforcement jobs because of inappropriate sexual behavior. Doc. 35.

         Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Sanderson was fired from the Grandview Medical Center (“GMC”) Police Department in 2014 after two months because he, inter alia, took a photograph of his erect penis and showed it to female nursing staff; made contact with a prostitute on several occasions while on duty, including discussing with her the exchange of twenty dollars for oral sex; and displayed a handgun and his GMC police badge to a prostitute he invited into his police cruiser. Id. at 218. Sanderson was also allegedly suspended while employed by the Montgomery County, Ohio Juvenile Detention Center for accessing pornographic websites while on duty in 2009; allowing a male to enter the female housing unit in violation of facility policies; and for leaving his post while on duty for several hours in 2012. Id. at PageID 219-220. Sanderson was also previously discharged as a police recruit from the Dayton, Ohio Police Academy for misconduct -- i.e., showing a pattern of doing the bare minimum and disregarding rules -- and was investigated for making inappropriate sexual comments, specifically asking a female recruit and another male recruit if they were “making love” during a training exercise. Id. at PageID 219.

         Plaintiff contends that Phillipsburg, through Wysong, knew or should have known about these prior incidents because Wysong previously hired Sanderson as a private security officer in June of 2015 on behalf of G4S. Id. Plaintiff alleges that, during that hiring process, Wysong was informed of the contents of Sanderson's background check, including the prior misconduct. Id. at 219-221. In addition, when applying for the Phillipsburg position, Sanderson provided Phillipsburg and Wysong with the names, addresses, contact information, and dates of hire for his past employers, including the foregoing employers. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Sanderson falsely represented that he had never been asked to resign (or been given the opportunity to resign) from any employment position, and that he has only been reprimanded, suspended or terminated from G4S. Id.

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that, after hiring Sanderson, Wysong and Phillipsburg failed to provide Sanderson with any on-the-job training and Sanderson was not personally supervised during the majority of his shifts. PageID 221. Plaintiff contends that Phillipsburg had no police cruisers equipped with cameras or body cameras for police officers and, because Sanderson was frequently the only officer on duty during his shifts, his police work was left largely unmonitored. Id.


         A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) operates to test the sufficiency of the complaint and permits dismissal for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” To show grounds for relief, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires that the complaint contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” While Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 “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) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Pleadings offering mere “‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In determining a motion to dismiss, “courts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). Further, “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id. “[T]he factual allegations must be specific enough to justify ‘drag[ging] a defendant past the pleading threshold.'” DM Research, Inc. v. Coll. of Am. Pathologists, 170 F.3d 53, 55 (1st Cir. 1999).

         In order “[t]o 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.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In addition to well-pleaded allegations in the complaint, the Court may also consider “matters of public record, orders, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the complaint, ” as well as documents attached to a defendant's motion to dismiss that are important to the plaintiff's claims or if referred to in the complaint. Amini v. Oberlin College, 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted); Composite Tech., L.L.C. v. Inoplast Composites S.A. de C.V., 925 F.Supp.2d 868, 873 (S.D. Ohio 2013).

         A claim is plausible where “plaintiff pleads 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. Plausibility “is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not ‘show[n]' -- ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (alteration in original) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).


         Phillipsburg and Wysong first argue that Plaintiff's claim for inadequate screening should be dismissed because the alleged constitutional violations were not an obvious consequence of Sanderson's hiring. Doc. 36 at PageID 241-42. As to Plaintiff's claim for failure to supervise and discipline, Defendants argue that Chief Wysong was not on notice of constitutional violations committed under his supervision and, consequently, could not have acted with deliberate indifference. Id. at 243. Finally, Defendants move ...

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