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Minick v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

October 8, 2014

HEATHER MINICK, individually and as surviving spouse of MICHAEL MINICK, and as co-administrator of the Estate of Michael Minick, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, CHRISTOPHER FOSTER, Individually and in his official capacity, MATTHEW BARSHAW, individually and his official capacity; JEFFREY DAVIDSON, individually and his official capacity; MORRIS CRAVEN, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Heather Minick has filed a Motion to File a Second Amended Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) (Docket No. 158), to which putative defendant Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County ("Metro Nashville") has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 160), and the plaintiff has filed a Reply (Docket No. 165). For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

I. Procedural History

A. Original Complaint

On May 24, 2012, the plaintiff filed a Complaint asserting claims under § 1983 against numerous defendants, including Davidson County Sheriff Office ("DSCO") officers Christopher Foster, Matthew Barshaw, Jeffrey Davidson, and Morris Craven, as well as Metro Nashville and Davidson County Sheriff Hall. (Docket No. 1.)[2] On November 19, 2012, the court dismissed many of the claims and dismissed certain defendants from the lawsuit. (Docket No. 117.) In most relevant part, the court dismissed the § 1983 claims against Metro Nashville and DCSO Sheriff Daron Hall on the grounds that neither defendant could be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior basis. On November 29, 2012, another defendant, Nashville General Hospital ("NGH") Unit Secretary Mailena Mason, filed an interlocutory appeal of the court's denial of qualified immunity with respect to her (Docket No. 119). During the pendency of Ms. Mason's appeal, the plaintiff did not attempt to advance her case against any other defendant. On October 22, 2013 (about one year later), the Sixth Circuit held that the claims against Ms. Mason were subject to dismissal on grounds of qualified immunity (Docket No. 125), and this court accordingly dismissed those claims with prejudice (Docket No. 127).

On remand, the plaintiff retained substitute counsel in early February 2014 ( see Docket Nos. 131-133) and the court held a case management conference with the parties on February 24, 2014. (Docket No. 137.)[3]

B. The First Amended Complaint

On March 21, 2014, the plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint Under Rule 15(a) (Docket No. 140), which, inter alia, sought to assert claims under § 1983 against the individual defendant officers (putative Count I) and three claims against Metro Nashville, including claims under (1) § 1983 (putative Count I), (2) the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act ("TGTLA") (putative Count II), and (3) Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-8-302 (putative Count III), which removes Metro Nashville's immunity for certain claims relating to the actions of a "deputy appointed by the sheriff."

Without opposition, the court granted the requested leave, and the plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on April 2, 2014. (Docket No. 143.) Metro Nashville filed a Motion to Dismiss the First Amended Complaint, asserting that none of the three counts against Metro Nashville was sufficient to state a claim. (Docket No. 144.) With respect to the claim under § 8-8-302, Metro Nashville argued that the correctional officers were not identified as "deputies" in the Amended Complaint and strongly suggested that the officers were actually "jailers" not subject to the statute's scope.

On August 4, 2014, the court granted Metro Nashville's motion. The court dismissed the TGTLA claim with prejudice, the § 1983 claim without prejudice, and the § 8-8-302 claim without prejudice. With respect to the § 8-8-302 claim, the court explained that the First Amended Complaint did not allege that the officers were acting as "deputies" within the meaning of the statute. The court also noted that the plaintiffs could seek to reassert the claims based on a sufficient factual predicate. (Docket Nos. 156 and 158.)

C. Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint and Metro Nashville's Motion to Dismiss

On August 5, 2014, the plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint (Docket No. 158), which seeks to (1) re-plead the § 8-8-302 claim against Metro Nashville; and (2) assert a claim against Sheriff Hall based upon Tenn. Code Ann. § 41-4-101, under which the sheriff is "civilly responsible" for the actions of a "jailer" whom he appoints.

On August 19, 2014, Metro Nashville filed a Response in opposition, in which it argues that the putative claims against it and Sheriff Hall are futile or should be left to a Tennessee state court to decide. (Docket No. 160.) With respect to the claim against Sheriff Hall, Metro Nashville argues that the amendment should not be permitted because (1) it is not clear whether there is a private cause of action under § 41-4-101, (2) the claim is time-barred, or (3) the issue involves novel and complex issues of Tennessee law that should be resolved in the Tennessee courts. With respect to the proposed § 8-8-302 claim against Metro Nashville, Metro Nashville argues that the court should not permit the requested amendment because (1) the re-pleaded allegations are insufficient to state a claim, (2) regardless of the allegations in the proposed Second Amended Complaint, the individual officer defendants are not in fact "deputy sheriffs" or were not acting as "deputy sheriffs" during the underlying incident, or (3) the scope, application, and interplay of Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-8-302 and Tenn. Code Ann. 41-4-101 present unsettled issues of Tennessee law that this court should not decide.

With respect to its factual argument, Metro Nashville has filed the Declaration of Constance Taite (Docket No. 161), the Administrative Services Manager for the DSCO. Taite avers that: (1) on May 30, 2011 (the date of the incident at NGH), DSCO officers Barshaw, Davidson, and Craven "provided security for [NGH] and were classified as non-civil service security officers employed by DSCO[, ]" and DSCO officer Foster "was assigned to the DSCO transportation division as a correctional officer"; (2) Barshaw, Davidson, Craven, and Foster "are not Deputy Sheriffs"; and (3) Sheriff Hall did not apply to a ...


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