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Knisley v. Hickman County

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

July 6, 2017

GARRETT KNISLEY, as Administrator for the Estate of Rhonda Michelle Bock-Deleon, Deceased



         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties have consented to have the magistrate judge conduct any and all proceedings in this action, including the entry of a final judgment. See Order entered February 1, 2017 (Docket Entry No. 29).

         Pending before the Court is the motion to dismiss filed by Defendants Tommy McClanahan and the City of Centerville. See Docket Entry No. 6. Plaintiff has responded in opposition to the motion. See Docket Entry No. 27. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         In the early evening hours of October 27, 2015, Rhonda Michelle Brock-Deleon ("Deleon") and Freddy Breece ("Breece") were passengers in a vehicle that was being driven by Rachel Arnold ("Arnold") in Hickman County, Tennessee. The vehicle was stopped for a traffic infraction by Hickman County Sheriffs Deputies Tory Bowman ("Officer Bowman") and Leif Carlsen ("Officer Carlsen"). See Complaint at ¶ 25. Prior to the stop at approximately 6:32 p.m., a confidential informant had advised Officer Bowman that Breece and Deleon were planning on making a drug sale at a local residence and also informed him of the make and model of the vehicle in which they would be traveling, the name of the vehicle owner, and the amount and type of drug that was to be involved in the sale. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.

         Upon being stopped and questioned by Officer Bowman, Arnold told Officer Bowman that Breece had drugs "in his pants" and gave consent for a search of the vehicle. See Complaint at ¶ 27. Breece and Deleon were directed to exit the vehicle and were frisk searched. Id. at ¶ 28. After a search of the vehicle uncovered a drug "meth" pipe and a glucose test strip bottle with pills in the back seat, Breece and Deleon were arrested and taken into custody. Id. at ¶ 33. Officer Bowman transported Breece to the Hickman County Jail ("Jail"). Breece was transported to the Jail by Officer Tommy McClanahan ("Officer McClanahan"), a police officer with the City of Centerville Police Department who had stopped at the arrest scene, and arrived at the Jail at approximately 8:38 p.m. Id. at ¶¶ 35-36. Arnold was released with a verbal warning regarding the traffic infractions.

         While at the arrest scene, Officer Bowman noticed Deleon walking with her hands over her buttocks in a manner that made him believe that she was attempting to conceal additional drugs on her person, a belief that he conveyed to others at the scene prior to Deleon being transported to the Jail. Id. at ¶¶ 29 & 31. Although Deleon was searched by Jail staff Felicia Roberson ("Roberson"), Tiffani Mari Shelton ("Shelton"), and Shanda Reneee Hall ("Hall") after arriving at the Jail and no drugs were discovered, at some point that evening, Officer Bowman was notified by Jail staff that Deleon had been observed squatting in the corner of a Jail cell and had pulled a white bottle from her rectum. Id. at ¶ ¶ 39 and 43. Officer Bowman subsequently discovered a white pill bottle in the booking area containing a bag with one gram of a white crystal substance. Id. at ¶ 40. He was further informed by Roberson that she believed Deleon had ingested narcotics that were located inside the pill bottle. Id. at ¶ 42. At some point that evening, Defendant Bowman conducted a recorded interview of Deleon, at which time she was "clearly exhibiting signs of serious effects of drugs." itf. at¶41.

         At approximately 12:10 a.m. on October 28, 2015, the Hickman County Ambulance Service was called about Deleon. Id. at ¶ 45. The paramedics who arrived at the Jail were told that Deleon had ingested 1-3 grams of methamphetamine and Percocet about an hour prior thereto. Id. at ¶ 46. Although Plaintiff was taken for emergency treatment to a local hospital and then to a larger hospital, her life was unable to be saved and she was pronounced dead at 2:09 p.m. on October 28, 2015. Id. at ¶¶ 49-51. The cause of death was noted as acute methamphetamine intoxication, and autopsy findings noted two empty plastic bags were found in both her stomach and duodenum and one intact plastic bag with white contents was found in her vagina. Id. at ¶ 52.

         On October 25, 2016, Garrett Knisley, the Administrator for the Estate of Deleon, filed this lawsuit seeking damages and other relief against Hickman County Tennessee ("Hickman County"), the City of Centerville, Tennessee ("City of Centerville"), Bowman, Carlsen, Roberson, Shelton, Hall, Hickman County employee Christopher Jolly ("Jolly"), McClanahan, and "John Does I-X." Plaintiff brings a count under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of Deleon's civil rights (Count I), as well as counts under state law for violations of Tennessee Code Annotated ¶ 41 -21 -201 and ¶ 41 -21 -204 (Count II), and for negligence (Count III). Hickman County, Bowman, Carlsen, Roberson, Shelton, Hall, and Jolly (hereinafter referred to collectively as the "Hickman County Defendants") filed a joint answer to the Complaint. See Docket Entry No. 4.


         In lieu of an answer, the City of Centerville and McClanahan (hereinafter referred to collectively as the "Centerville Defendants") filed the pending motion, seeking dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant McClanahan argues that Plaintiff fails to allege facts that plausibly show that he violated Deleon's constitutional rights. He further raises the defense of qualified immunity from the assessment of any individual damage against him for a violation of Deleon's constitutional rights. The City of Centerville contends that, in the absence of allegations that support a conclusion that Defendant McClanahan violated Deleon's constitutional rights, the claim against it under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must also fail. The City of Centerville also contends that, 1) there are no facts alleged in the Complaint supporting a claim that an unconstitutional policy or custom of the City of Centerville caused any of Deleon's injuries, and 2) Count II of the Complaint fails to support a claim against it because it has no role in the management of detainees or prisoners at the Jail. Finally, the City of Centerville asserts that Plaintiff s negligence claim under the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act ("TGTLA") arises out of the same circumstances giving rise to Plaintiffs civil rights claims under § 1983 and that it retains immunity against the negligence claim under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-205(2). Alternatively, the City of Centerville requests that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the TGTLA claim under principles of comity. See Memorandum in Support (Docket Entry No. 7).

         In response, Plaintiff argues that the Complaint's allegations are sufficient to state a claim that Defendant McClanahan violated Deleon's constitutional rights. Plaintiff contends that the facts alleged to be known to the officers at the scene of Deleon's arrest and the facts which can be reasonably inferred to have been known by Defendant McClanahan are enough to state a plausible claim that he was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm to Deleon's health and safety that was caused by her actual drug ingestion and by the possibility of the ingestion of drugs that she had hidden on her person. See Response (Docket Entry No. 27). Plaintiff further argues that it has sufficiently stated a municipal liability claim under Section 1983 by pleading that Defendant McClanahan's individual conduct occurred in compliance with the policies, practices, and customs of the City of Centerville and was ratified by the City of Centerville. Plaintiff finally alleges that it has adequately pled common law negligence claims against the City of Centerville that are not barred by the TGTLA and that should be heard by this Court. See Response (Docket Entry No. 27).


         A motion to dismiss is reviewed under the standard that the Court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint, resolve all doubts in Plaintiffs favor, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of Plaintiff. See In re Travel Agent Com'n Antitrust Litig., 583 F.3d 896, 903 (6th Cir.2009). Although the complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, Plaintiff must provide the grounds for the entitlement to relief sought. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 555, 127S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (abrogating C ...

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