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Alexander v. Byrd

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

October 24, 2014

DAWN ALEXANDER, Plaintiff,
v.
TONY M. BYRD, Deputy Sheriff for Gibson County, Tennessee, individually; GIBSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT; GIBSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE; CHAD LOWREY, Chief of Police for City of Medina, Tennessee, individually; JASON McCALLISTER, Police Officer for City of Medina, Tennessee, individually, and CITY OF MEDINA, TENNESSEE, Defendants.

RDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS BY DEFENDANTS, TONY M. BYRD, GIBSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, AND GIBSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE

J. DANIEL BREEN, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff, Dawn Alexander, brought this action against Gibson County, Tennessee; the Gibson County Sheriff's Department; the City of Medina, Tennessee; Tony M. Byrd, Deputy Sheriff for Gibson County; Chad Lowrey, Chief of Police for Medina; and Jason McCallister, a Medina police officer, in a complaint filed on January 28, 2014, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Tennessee tort law. (Docket Entry ("D.E.") 1.) Before the Court is the June 5, 2014, motion of Defendants Byrd, the Gibson County Sheriff's Department, and Gibson County (the "County Defendants") to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), (D.E. 23), to which Plaintiff has responded, (D.E. 28).

I. Legal Standard

Rule 12 permits a court to dismiss a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court should "construe [the] complaint in the light most favorable" to the non-moving party and accept all "well-pled allegations as true." Terry v. Tyson Farms, Inc. , 604 F.3d 272, 274 (6th Cir. 2010) (citing Jones v. City of Cincinnati , 521 F.3d 555, 559 (6th Cir. 2008)). A claim is well-pled when "it contains either direct or inferential allegations respecting all material elements' necessary for recovery under a viable legal theory." Phil. Indem. Ins. Co. v. Youth Alive, Inc. , 732 F.3d 645, 649 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Terry , 604 F.3d at 275-76). The facts in the complaint must "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). The court "need not accept as true legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences, and conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual allegations will not suffice." Youth Alive, Inc. , 732 F.3d at 649 (quoting Terry , 604 F.3d at 275-76). The complaint, therefore, must "contain[] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Reilly v. Vadlamudi , 680 F.3d 617, 622-23 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678).

II. Facts Alleged

Plaintiff made the following allegations in her complaint. On January 28, 2013, Alexander went to her son's home in Gibson County, Tennessee, where she saw three law enforcement vehicles in the driveway of her sister's house, located next-door. (D.E. 1 at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff then went to her sister's house and encountered Defendants Byrd, Lowery, and McCallister, as well as two other officers, several of whom began yelling at her. ( Id. at ¶¶ 12-18.) After Alexander noticed that her nephew was under arrest and complied with McCallister's request that she step to the side of the driveway, the officers, at the direction of Lowery and Byrd, arrested her. ( Id. at ¶¶ 20-26.) In the process, McCallister grabbed her right arm, forced her left arm behind her back, and attempted to force her right arm behind her back while Lowery simultaneously pulled forward on her purse, which she carried over her right shoulder. ( Id. at ¶¶ 21-23.) After the purse was removed, McCallister pulled her right arm behind her back, handcuffed her, pulled up on the handcuffs, and applied pressure to her shoulders, causing her to run down the driveway to the hood of a police car. ( Id. at ¶¶ 23-27.) He then frisked her and placed her in the back of the vehicle. ( Id. at ¶ 28.) The force used during the arrest resulted in pain and injury to Plaintiff requiring medical treatment. ( Id. at ¶ 27.)

About 30 to 45 minutes later, McCallister entered the police car and informed Alexander that she was being arrested for assaulting him, that he had made the arrest at Lowery's direction, and that she would spend the night in the Gibson County Jail. ( Id. at ¶¶ 29-30.) He then took an indirect route to the jail, causing Plaintiff to become fearful. ( Id. at ¶ 32.) Throughout the ride, McCallister also yelled at and taunted her. ( Id. at ¶¶ 30, 33.) Upon arriving at the jail, Alexander was booked, processed, and placed in a holding area until her attorney obtained her release later that night. ( Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.)

The same day as these events, Byrd, on behalf of the Medina Police Department and the Gibson County Sheriff's Department, filed two affidavits of complaint in Gibson County General Session Court charging Plaintiff with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. ( Id. at ¶ 36.) The prosecutor informed Alexander's attorney that the Medina Police Department strongly opposed dropping the charges. ( Id. at ¶ 40). Later at the preliminary hearing, however, the court dismissed the charges for lack of probable cause. ( Id. at ¶ 42.)

III. Analysis

Plaintiff asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of violations of her rights under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. ( Id. at ¶ 46.) She also alleges that Defendants' actions constituted battery, assault, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law. ( Id. at ¶¶ 53-73.)

1. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988

a. Plaintiff's Complaint

Alexander maintains that the Defendants are liable under §§ 1983 and 1988 for violations of her rights under the federal constitution. ( Id. at ¶¶ 45-52.) She claims that the Defendants arrested, detained, and initiated criminal proceedings against her without probable cause or a reasonable belief that their actions were justified. ( See id. )

b. Applicable Law

Chapter 42, section 1983 of the United States Code was enacted to "protect[] citizens from violations of their federal rights by state officials." Bradley v. Reno , 749 F.3d 553, 558 (6th Cir. 2014). "Section 1983 creates no substantive rights, but merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere." Flint ex rel. Flint v. Ky. Dep't of Corr. , 270 F.3d 340, 351 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing Oklahoma City v. Tuttle , 471 U.S. 808 (1985)). To invoke these remedies, "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 color of state law." Heyerman v. Cnty. of Calhoun , 680 F.3d 642, 647 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Sigley v. City of Parma Heights , 437 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2006)).

A municipality or other local governmental entity is considered a "person" under the statute and may therefore be held liable for its actions depriving a plaintiff of her federal rights- commonly referred to as " Monell liability." Bd. of Cnty. Comm'rs of Bryan Cnty., Okl. v. Brown , 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997) (citing Monell v. N.Y.C. Dept. of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978)). However, a municipality, including a city or county governmental entity, will not be liable simply because it employs the alleged tortfeasor. Id. ("We have consistently refused to hold municipalities liable under the theory of respondeat superior ."). Instead, "liability only attaches where a custom, policy, or practice attributable to the municipality was the moving force' behind the violation[.]" Heyerman , 680 F.3d at 648 (quoting Miller v. Sanilac Cnty. , 606 F.3d 240, 254-55 (6th Cir. 2010)); see also Burley v. Gagacki , 729 F.3d 610, 618 (6th Cir. 2013) ("A municipality can be liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 only if the plaintiff can demonstrate that his civil rights have been violated as a direct result of that municipality's policy or custom or if a failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to such rights." (quoting Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cnty. , 390 F.3d 890, 900 (6th Cir. 2004)) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Thus, "[u]nder § 1983, local governments are responsible only for their own illegal acts" and will not be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees. D'Ambrosio v. Marino , 747 F.3d 378, 386 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Connick v. Thompson , 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011)).

A plaintiff may invoke a custom, policy, or practice sufficient to state a claim for Monell liability by alleging either: "(1) the existence of an illegal official policy or legislative enactment; (2) that an official with final decision making authority ratified illegal actions; (3) the existence of a policy of inadequate training or supervision; or (4) the existence of a custom of tolerance [of] or acquiescence to federal rights violations." D'Ambrosio , 747 F.3d at 386 (alteration in original) (quoting Burgess v. Fischer , 735 F.3d 462, 478 (6th Cir. 2013)). Under the first category of municipal liability, a government's "official policies" have been described as including "decisions of its duly constituted legislative body, " Bryan Cnty. , 520 U.S. at 403, as well as policies "officially adopted or established through the decision-making channels, " Doe v. Claiborne Cnty., Tenn. ex rel. Claiborne Cnty. Bd. of Educ. , 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 1996). Under the second, "[a] single decision can constitute a policy, if that decision is made by an official who possesses final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered.'" Flagg v. City of Detroit , 715 F.3d 165, 174 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati , 475 U.S. 469, 480-81 (1986)). This "means that [the official's] decisions [must be] final and unreviewable and... not constrained by the official policies of superior officials.'" Id. at 175 (quoting Miller v. Calhoun Cnty. , 408 F.3d 803, 814 (6th Cir. 2005)). The third category applies "[i]n limited circumstances, [where] a local government's decision not to train certain employees about their legal duty to avoid violating citizens' rights... rise[s] to the level of an official government policy for purposes of § 1983." Connick , 131 S.Ct. at 1359. Under the last category, a "custom" is a practice that "may fairly subject a municipality to liability on the theory that the relevant practice is so widespread as to have the force of law, " even though it is not formally approved. Ford v. Cnty. of Grand Traverse , 535 F.3d 483, 495-96 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bryan Cnty. , 520 U.S. at 403-04); see also Doe , 103 F.3d at 508 ("In short, a custom' is a legal institution' not memorialized by written law." (citing Feliciano v. City of Cleveland , 988 F.2d 649, 655 (6th Cir. 1993))).

Plaintiffs may also bring § 1983 claims against public officials acting in their individual capacities. Unlike in municipal liability, a "plaintiff in a personal-capacity suit need not establish a connection to governmental policy or custom." Hafer v. Melo , 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). There exists, however, no supervisory liability "where the allegation of liability is based upon a mere failure to act." Gregory v. City of Louisville , 444 F.3d 725, 751 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Bass v. Robinson , 167 F.3d 1041, 1048 (6th Cir. 1999)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The official "must have actively engaged in unconstitutional behavior." Id. "[A] plaintiff must demonstrate that the actor directly participated' in the alleged misconduct, at least by encouraging, ...


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