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Johnson v. Blount County

April 22, 2008

TANYETTA LATRICE JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BLOUNT COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas A. Varlan United States District Judge

(VARLAN/GUYTON)

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Tanyetta Latrice Johnson ("Plaintiff") filed the present civil action against Blount County, Tennessee ("Blount County"), Officer Michelle Jackson ("Jackson"), in her official and individual capacity, and John Doe(s) Correctional Officers 1-10 ("John Does"), in their official and individual capacities, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights.*fn1 The Plaintiff also claims sexual assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the Tennessee Constitution against Officer Jackson and the John Does in their individual capacities. Defendants Blount County and Jackson, in her official capacity, filed a Motion to Dismiss, and in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc.20], which is ripe for determination.

The Court has carefully considered the parties' briefs and supporting materials [Docs. 21, 29, 32] in light of the entire record and controlling law. For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 20] will be GRANTED.

I. RELEVANT FACTS

Plaintiff is an African-American resident of Blount County, Tennessee. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 1.] Defendant Blount County is a municipal corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Tennessee. [Id. at ¶ 1; Doc. 7 at ¶ 2.] Defendant Jackson, a female corrections officer, and the John Does, male corrections officers, were employed by Blount County in the Blount County Detention Facility ("BCDF"). [Docs. 1 at ¶ 4, 5; 9 at ¶ 4.] On or about January 1, 2006, Plaintiff was arrested on charges of disturbing the peace and transported to the BDCF. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 17.] While there, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Jackson held her in a choke hold while the John Does ripped Plaintiff's clothes and at least one male officer allegedly put on rubber gloves and inserted his hands into Plaintiff's private areas.[Id. at ¶ 20.] Plaintiff also alleges that she was subjected to racial slurs and acts while in Defendant Blount County's custody. [Id. at ¶ 25.] Plaintiff was released from BCDF on January 1, 2006 and filed the present civil action on December 28, 2006. [Doc. 1.]

II. ANALYSIS

A. Motion to Dismiss

1. Standard of Review - Rule 12(b)(6)

A party may move to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, all well-pleaded allegations must be taken as true and be construed most favorably toward the non-movant.

Trzebuckowski v. City of Cleveland, 319 F.3d 853, 855 (6th Cir. 2003). While a court may not grant a Rule 12(b)(6) motion based on disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations, Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196, 1199 (6th Cir. 1990), the court "need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences." Morgan v. Church's Fried Chicken, 829 F.2d 10, 12 (6th Cir. 1987). The Sixth Circuit has made it clear that despite the liberal system of notice pleading, conclusory allegations are not enough to survive Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal. See MacDermid v. Discover Fin. Servs, 488 F.3d 721, 733 (6th Cir. 2007). The issue is not whether the plaintiff will prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support his or her claim. Miller v. Currie, 50 F.3d 373, 377 (6th Cir. 1995). Consequently, a complaint will not be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) unless there is no law to support the claims made, the facts alleged are insufficient to state a claim, or there is an insurmountable bar on the face of the complaint.

2. Jackson and John Doe Officers - Official Capacity

In their motion to dismiss, Defendants contend that because a suit brought against an officially-sued employee is a suit against the employing governmental entity, Defendant Jackson, in her official capacity, should be dismissed from the suit because the employing governmental entity, Blount County, is the real interested party. Though they did not join in Defendants' motion, the official capacity argument as to Defendant Jackson is equally applicable to the John Doe officers. Plaintiff responds that Defendant Jackson, in her official capacity, should not be dismissed because she is not shielded on the basis of qualified immunity.

The Sixth Circuit has previously held that "[a]n official capacity claim filed against a public employee is equivalent to a lawsuit directed against the public entity which that agent represents." Claybrook v. Birchwell, 199 F.3d 350, 355 n.4 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985)). Thus, in a suit such as this where Plaintiff has filed her complaint against both the officers in their official capacity and sued the county itself, the official capacity suits are simply redundant. Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss the claims against Defendant Jackson, in her official capacity, will be granted. For similar reasons, the Court will also dismiss the claims against the John Doe officers in their official ...


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