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Warren v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County

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

May 27, 2015

TIMOTHY RICHARD WARREN, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE; CORPORAL JEREMI SNIPES; SERGEANT SEAN LLOYD; CORPORAL JOHN HAYES; AND OFFICER ALONA WILLIAMS, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.

Pending in this case are four motions to dismiss. Defendant Metropolitan Government of Nashville ("Metro") has filed a Motion to Dismiss ("Metro's First Motion to Dismiss") (Docket No. 20). Defendant Sergeant Sean Lloyd ("Lloyd") has filed a partial Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 24). Defendant Corporal John Hayes has filed a Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 35). Plaintiff Timothy Richard Warren ("Warren") has filed a joint response to these three motions, (Docket No. 37), to which Metro (Docket No. 40) and Lloyd (Docket No. 44) have filed Replies. Metro has also filed a Motion to Dismiss the Official Capacity Claims Against the Individual Defendants ("Metro's Second Motion to Dismiss") (Docket No. 41), to which Warren has not responded. For the following reasons, Metro's First Motion to Dismiss, Lloyd's partial Motion to Dismiss, and Hayes's Motion to Dismiss will each be granted in part and denied in part, and Metro's Second Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the laws of the state of Tennessee, involves the alleged use of excessive force against Warren while he was in the custody of the defendants.[1] Warren is a resident of Davidson County, Tennessee. Metro is a political subdivision of the State of Tennessee. At all times relevant to this action, Defendants Corporal Jeremi Snipes, Officer Alona Williams, Lloyd, and Hayes (together, the "Individual Defendants") were employees of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office, a subdivision of Metro, acting within the scope of their employment as law enforcement officers at the Criminal Justice Center ("CJC").

Warren was arrested for public intoxication some time on the final night of 2013, and he was brought to the CJC as a pre-trial detainee. At approximately 1:25 a.m. on January 1, 2014, Warren was involved in the booking process. During the course of this process, Snipes punched Warren in the face, injuring him. According to the Complaint, there was no purpose for this attack. After Warren was punched in the face, he was subjected to further force and restraint by Snipes, Lloyd, Hayes, and Williams. Williams placed her hand and knee on the side of Warren's head and administered a chemical spray to his face. Lloyd pushed down on the legs of Warren and applied restraints. Hayes grabbed the upper body of Warren and held him down, ostensibly to prevent him from getting back up to his feet. Snipes participated in the restraint of Warren on the ground.[2] The Complaint alleges that these actions were not made in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline in circumstances under haste, under pressure, or without the luxury of a second chance; rather, they were intentional and lacked legitimate penologic purpose.

Warren was thereafter escorted to a "seclusion cell." Warren remained alone in the seclusion cell for over an hour. During this time, Warren suffered immense pain from head and leg injuries without medical treatment. At approximately 3:12 a.m., CJC staff determined that Warren had injuries requiring medical attention at a hospital and caused him to be transported for treatment. It was determined that Warren had sustained multiple injuries, including a broken fibula, a right ankle fracture, ankle dislocation, and facial lacerations. Warren ultimately required and underwent surgery on his fractured ankle.

Later that morning, Snipes and Hayes filed Disciplinary Incident Reports stating that Warren sustained his ankle injury before he was punched in the face by Snipes. On January 2, 2014, Sergeant Scott Satterlee filed a Use of Force Report ("UFR") regarding the incident. The UFR noted that Warren "possible [sic] injured his ankel [sic] as he walked into intake." (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 26.) Lieutenant William Gise commented on the report: "The amount of force used does appear to be inappropriate; however it was the officer [sic] immediate reaction to the incident. The inmate?s [sic] ankle appears to be broken during the [use of force] when the inmate rolls his ankle and falls. [Use of force] complies with DCSO policies; however the inmate should have been placed in cuffs when he started treating [sic] staff. This has been addressed with staff." ( Id. )

On January 3, 2014, Warren filed an inmate grievance form to report the incident. On January 7, 2014, an investigating officer who reviewed the grievance - the same Lieutenant Gise - concluded that the Individual Defendants' actions "were within policy" and found the complaint "unsubstantiated." ( Id. at ¶ 28.)

On October 23, 2014, Satterlee's UFR was amended with the following "administrative disposition" by Chief of Security Jamie Johnson: "This [use of force] does not appear to be in compliance with [Davidson County Sheriff's Office] policy or procedure. This needs to be reviewed by HR." ( Id. at ¶ 29.) Ultimately, after further review of the entire incident, Snipes was suspended from work for use of excessive force against Warren.

Warren filed a Complaint in this court on December 19, 2014. (Docket No. 1.) On February 24, 2015, Metro filed its First Motion to Dismiss. (Docket No. 20.) On February 26, 2015, Lloyd filed his partial Motion to Dismiss. (Docket No. 24.) On March 26, 2015, Hayes filed his Motion to Dismiss. (Docket No. 35.) On April 9, 2015, Warren filed a joint Response to Metro's First Motion to Dismiss, Lloyd's partial Motion to Dismiss, and Hayes's Motion to Dismiss. (Docket No. 37.) On April 17, 2015, Metro filed a Reply (Docket No. 40), and on April 20, 2015, Lloyd filed a Reply (Docket No. 44). Also on April 17, 2015, Metro filed its Second Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 41), to which there has been no response filed by Warren.[3]

Warren's Complaint brings federal and state law claims. First, Warren claims that all of the defendants violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by subjecting him to excessive force under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, which protects a pretrial detainee from the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment that does not serve a legitimate governmental purpose. Second, Warren claims that the defendant Metro has violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by implementing policies, procedures, practices, or customs that amount to deliberate indifference to the right of Warren to be free of excessive force under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Specifically, Warren claims that Metro had customs and policies of failing to adequately train and supervise its agents that violated clearly established law and put Metro on notice of potential liability. Finally, Warren brings a state law claim for negligence against all defendants pursuant to the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act, Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-101 et seq.

While the Complaint does not explicitly set forth a claim for conspiracy under the federal civil rights laws, Warren alleges (in the "parties" section of the Complaint) that each defendant acted individually and in conspiracy with one another.

RULE 12(b)(6) STANDARD

In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), the court will "construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff." Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007); Inge v. Rock Fin. Corp., 281 F.3d 613, 619 (6th Cir. 2002). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that a plaintiff provide "a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957). The court must determine only whether "the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims, " not whether the plaintiff can ultimately prove the facts alleged. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).

A complaint's allegations, however, "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To establish the "facial plausibility" required to "unlock the doors of discovery, " the plaintiff cannot rely on "legal conclusions" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, " but, instead, the plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009). "[O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950.

ANALYSIS

I. Defendant Metro

A. Conspiracy

Metro contends that there can be no viable claim of conspiracy against it because, as a government entity, it cannot, as a matter of law, conspire with its correctional officer employees. It has long been the general rule in the Sixth Circuit in civil conspiracy cases that a corporation cannot conspire with its own agents or employees. Doherty v. American Motors Corp., 728 F.2d 334, 339 (6th Cir. 1984). Although this doctrine was first developed in the context of antitrust litigation, the Sixth Circuit in Doherty stated that "the same rule has been consistently applied in allegations of conspiracy under the Civil Rights Act." Id. In so doing, the Sixth Circuit agreed with a Second Circuit decision, Herrmann v. Moore, 576 F.2d 453 (2nd Cir. 1978), which first applied the "intra-corporate conspiracy" doctrine to bar a plaintiff's Section 1985(2) civil rights claim. Following Doherty and Herrmann, the Sixth Circuit expressly applied the doctrine to Section 1985 conspiracy claims, which involve conspiracies by individuals (including private citizens) to deprive individuals of their civil rights. See Hull v. Cuyahoga Valley Joint Vocational Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 926 F.2d 505, 509-10 (6th Cir. 1991). The court in Hull relied upon the core rationale that "[a] corporation cannot conspire with itself any more than a private individual can, and it is the general rule that the acts of the agent are the acts of the corporation." Hull, 926 F.2d at 510 (citing Nelson Radio & Supply Co., Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 200 F.2d 911, 914 (5th Cir. 1952)). Since Hull, multiple courts within this circuit have applied the intra-corporate conspiracy doctrine to not just Section 1985 conspiracy claims, but also to cases involving allegations of conspiracy brought under the wider rubric of Section 1983. See, e.g., Upton v. City of Royal Oak, 492 F.Appx. 492, 493, 503 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Hull ); Wright v. Bloomfield Twp., 2014 WL 5499278, at *15 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 30, 2014); Pardi v. Cnty. of Wayne, 2013 WL 1011280, at *14-15 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 14, 2013); Mauldin v. Napolitano, 2012 WL 2870834, at *5 (E.D. Mich. July 12, 2012).

Warren alleges that the Individual Defendants were acting within the scope of their employment as agents of Metro, their governmental employer. Pursuant to the intra-corporate doctrine, it is not possible for Metro to have conspired with itself. The court notes that Warren, citing to one district court case, argues that naming Metro in a conspiracy claim is a harmless redundancy for pleading purposes. See Response at 2 (citing Brown v. City of Memphis, 440 F.Supp.2d 868, 873 (W.D. Tenn. 2006)). However, Brown does not involve conspiracy allegations against a municipal defendant. Allowing Metro to remain as a defendant against a claim of ...


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