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Sullivan v. Hannah

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

February 11, 2015



JOHN S. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

To: The Honorable Chief Judge Kevin H. Sharp, United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum of Law in Support. (Docket Entry 14 and 15). For the reasons stated below, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that Defendant's Motion be GRANTED and that this action be DISMISSED with prejudice for failure to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Magistrate Judge also RECOMMENDS that this dismissal count as a STRIKE under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g); that this be considered the final judgment in this case; and that any appeal NOT be certified as taken in good faith under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3).

I. Statement of the Case

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, is now an inmate at Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, TN and at all times relevant to the Complaint was an inmate at the Cheatham County Jail (CCJ) in Ashland City, TN. (Docket Entry 1, p. 2; Docket Entry 19). On March 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed his Complaint against Defendant, the Jail Administrator for CCJ, alleging violation of civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Docket Entry 1). On March 25, 2014, the District Judge referred this case to the Magistrate Judge. (Docket Entry 3). On April 22, 2014, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum in Support. (Docket Entry 14 and 15). On May 01, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition. (Docket Entry 18). Plaintiff has notified the Court of a change of address. (Docket Entry 19 and 20). Therefore, the matter is properly before the Court.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (FED. R. CIV. P.) 12(b)(6) governs motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. "Rule 12(b)(6) does not countenance... dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). Instead, "a well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable...." Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 556. A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it includes: (1) facts to support a plausible claim; (2) more than a recital of elements of a cause of action; and (3) facts that, taken as true, raise the right to relief above the level of speculation. Bell Atl. Corp. at 555-56. Of course, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Indeed, the pleading standard in FED. R. CIV. P. 8 "marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678-79.

When a plaintiff is pro se, the Court will review the plaintiff's pleadings under "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers...." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Still, "even pro se complaints must satisfy basic pleading requirements." Dallas v. Holmes, 137 F.Appx. 746, 750 (6th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted) (unpublished opinion).

B. Official Capacity Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Plaintiff seeks an injunction, monetary damages, and declaratory judgment. (Docket Entry 1, p. 5). He alleges violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Docket Entry 1, pp. 4-5). Plaintiff files his Complaint against Defendant in his official capacity. (Docket Entry 1, p. 4). Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiff fails to allege the necessary elements of his claim. (Docket Entry 15).

Generally, a plaintiff who brings a § 1983 claim "must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citation omitted). When a plaintiff brings a § 1983 claim against a defendant in his official capacity, this is "another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (citation and internal quotation omitted). When the claim is against an officer of a municipality, the law is clear that "a municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor-or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory." Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). "Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.

To be clear, "municipalities do not enjoy immunity from suit-either absolute or qualified-under § 1983.... [A] municipality can be sued under § 1983, but it cannot be held liable unless a municipal policy or custom caused the constitutional injury." Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 166 (1993). Moreover, the "policy or custom" requirement applies when a plaintiff seeks monetary damages or "prospective relief, such as an injunction or a declaratory judgment." Los Angeles Cnty., Cal. v. Humphries, 562 U.S. 29, 131 S.Ct. 447, 449 (2010).

Here, Defendant is a Jail Administrator for CCJ. (Docket Entry 1, p. 1; Docket Entry 14, p. 1). As such, Defendant is an agent of Cheatham County. Again, Plaintiff brings this action against Defendant in his official capacity only. (Docket Entry 1, p. 4). Even construing the Complaint liberally, and as explained below, the Magistrate Judge ...

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