United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville Division
JORDAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss [doc. 31], Defendants' Brief in Support of the
Motion [doc. 33], Plaintiffs Response in Opposition [doc.
46], and Defendants' Reply [doc. 49]. For the reasons
herein, the Court will grant the motion in part and deny the
motion in part.
Annissa Colson ("Ms. Colson") alleges that one
evening she was involved in a car accident and that Officer
Dustin Cook ("Officer Cook") and Officer Arik
Wilson ("Officer Wilson"), both of the Alcoa Police
Department, arrested her for driving under the influence and
for reckless endangerment. [Compl., doc. 1, ¶ 5]. Ms.
Colson claims that, at the scene of the accident, she
consented to a blood alcohol test and the officers then drove
her to Blount Memorial Hospital for the test. [Id.].
She alleges, however, that she withdrew her consent once they
arrived at the hospital, prompting the officers to instruct
her to get back into their vehicle. [Id.]. At that
point, Ms. Colson, who claims to suffer from anxiety- related
disorders that include "severe panic disorder" and
claustrophobia, alleges that she had a "crippling panic
attack, gasping for breath, in obvious distress" and
asked the officers to let her breathe. [Id.
¶¶ 1-2, 5]. "I need to breathe. Please let me
breath, " she claims to have told them. [Id.
¶ 56]. According to Ms. Colson, who refers to herself as
"diminutive, " the officers believed that she was
resisting their commands and responded by forcing her back
into their vehicle. [Id. ¶ 6]. Officer Cook
allegedly pulled her into the vehicle from inside while
Officer Wilson pushed her into it, and in the process,
Officer Wilson allegedly thrust his knee into her knee and
caused it to "pop." [Id. ¶¶
Ms. Colson was inside the patrol vehicle, she was allegedly
"screaming in pain and crying for her mother."
[Id. ¶ 9]. Ms. Colson claims that Officer Cook
contacted his supervisor, Lieutenant Keith Fletcher
("Lieutenant Fletcher"), and asked him for
instructions about how to proceed, including about whether
they should take Ms. Colson to have her knee examined by a
medical professional. [Id.]. Lieutenant Fletcher
allegedly told them to take Ms. Colson to Blount County Jail,
where the staff nurse could check her knee and conduct a
mandatory blood draw. [Id. ¶¶ 9, 64].
According to Ms. Colson, they transported her to Blount
County Jail,  where several officers and other staff
employees, including Officer Mandy England ("Officer
England") and Defendant Nurse Russell ("Nurse
Russell"), waited to receive her. [Id.
¶¶ 10, 11, 65]. Officer England allegedly ushered
Ms. Colson, who claims that she was screaming in pain because
of her knee, to a room where officers surrounded her and
strapped into a "restraint chair." [Id.
¶¶ 10, 66].
Colson maintains that Nurse Russell, a staff nurse at Blount
County Jail, then performed a "cursory examination"
of her knee, found nothing wrong, and tried to draw her blood
with Officer England's help. [Id. ¶ 11]. In
response, Ms. Colson alleges that she became uncomfortable
and resisted their efforts, prompting Officer England to
strike her in the face. [Id.]. Afterwards, Ms. Colson
claims that, while still in the restraint chair, she
repeatedly requested the opportunity to use the restroom, was
denied that opportunity, and urinated on herself several
times. [Id. ¶ 12]. According to Ms. Colson, the
officers in the room reacted with laughter. [Id.]. A
male officer then allegedly put her in a "semi-choke
hold" while Officer England forced a helmet onto her
head. [Id. ¶¶13, 73-74]. She claims that
she told the officer he was hurting her and he said,
"good." [Id. ¶ 73]. She allegedly
remained fastened in the restraint chair for roughly another
five hours. [Id. ¶¶ 13, 75].
Colson asserts that after she was released from Blount County
Jail, she learned that she had suffered "a tibial
plateau fracture, a torn ACL, [and] a torn LCL, " in
addition to abrasions and bruises to her neck, chest, arms,
and foot. [Id. ¶ 16]. She also maintains that
she experienced "substantial mental anguish."
[Id.]. As a result, she has filed this lawsuit
against the City of Alcoa, Tennessee; Blount County,
Tennessee; and officers of these local governments in their
official and individual capacities, bringing several claims
under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, 1988 and
alleging violations of her constitutional rights under the
Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. [Id. at
32-53]. She pleads that these violations consist of use of
unlawful and excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment,
failure to train and supervise, failure to protect, and
failure to offer adequate medical care. [Id.]. Ms.
Colson also brings claims under Tennessee law for assault and
battery against Officer Cook and Office Wilson, and claims
against all Defendants for negligence and intentional
infliction of emotional distress. [Id. ¶¶
City of Alcoa moves to dismiss Ms. Colson's § 1983
claims and state law claims. [Defs.' Br. at 6-9, 11-12].
Defendants Chief Philip K. Potter ("Chief Potter"),
Lieutenant Fletcher, Officer Cook, and Officer Wilson also
move-in their official and individual capacities-for
dismissal of Ms. Colson's claims under § 1983 and
Tennessee law. [Id. at 4-5, 10-13]. The Court will
now consider their requests for dismissal.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), "[a] pleading
that states a claim for relief must contain ... a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), the plaintiffs complaint must contain
"sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when the
plaintiff pleads facts that create a reasonable inference
that the defendant is liable for the alleged conduct in the
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court
accepts the allegations in the complaint as true and
construes them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Mixon v. Ohio, 193 F.3d 389, 400 (6th Cir. 1999).
"[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the
allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal
conclusions, " however. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
A plaintiffs allegations must consist of more than
"labels, " "conclusions, " and
"formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of
action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation
omitted); see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
("Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice." (citation omitted)). "Although a motion
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) invites an inquiry into the legal
sufficiency of the complaint, not an analysis of potential
defenses to the claims set forth therein, dismissal
nevertheless is appropriate when the defendant is entitled to
a meritorious affirmative defense such as qualified
immunity." Peatross v. City of Memphis, 818
F.3d 233, 240 (6th Cir. 2016).
1983 permits a claim for damages against "[e]very person
who, under color of [state law], subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person
within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
and laws." 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because § 1983
has "a 'color of law' requirement, " a
defendant "can be held liable only if state law, whether
provided by statute or judicially implied, empowers him with
some legal obligation to act." Doe v. Claiborne
County, 103 F.3d 495, 512 (6th Cir. 1996) (citation
omitted). A claim under § 1983 therefore consists of two
elements: the defendant (1) must deprive the plaintiff of
either a constitutional or a federal statutory right and (2)
must deprive the plaintiff of one of these rights while
acting under color of state law (i.e., state action).
Id. at 511. "Absent either element, a section
1983 claim will not lie." Christy v. Randlett,
932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991). Based on Defendants'
arguments, which the Court has reviewed and will now address,
Defendants do not challenge whether Ms. Colson, under the
first element, has asserted cognizable constitutional rights.
Rather, Defendants dispute her allegations that their actions
caused any deprivation of those rights.
The City of Alcoa: Municipal Liability (Count Five and Count
of the length of the Complaint, which exceeds sixty pages,
and the relatively large number of Defendants in this action,
the Court begins with an overview of the allegations against
the City of Alcoa. Ms. Colson prefaces her claims by
characterizing the City of Alcoa's "policies,
customs, or practices" as the "moving force"
behind the alleged infringements of her constitutional
17. The moving force behind the violations of Plaintiffs
constitutional rights was Alcoa and Blount County's
policies, customs, or practices to employ and apply the same
protocols, conventions, customs, or rules of conduct in
handling suspects or inmates who suffer from severe mental
disorders, here, a severe anxiety and panic disorder, as they
do in handling other un-afflicted inmates. This practice is
accepted as a policy or custom of deliberate indifference to
the safety of suspects or inmates who suffer from
debilitating mental disorders.
18. Defendants knew, or should have known, by Plaintiff s
actions, statements, and medications, that Plaintiff suffered
from a severe mental disorder. . . . The officers responded
just as they would have to any non-compliant suspect or
inmate, disregarding her severe mental disorder.
[Compl. ¶¶ 17-18]. Against the backdrop of these
general assertions, Ms. Colson mounts two claims for
municipal liability against the City of Alcoa under §
1983, one in Count Five and one in Count Seven.
municipality or other local government may be liable under
[§ 1983] if the governmental body itself
'subjects' a person to a deprivation of rights or
'causes' a person 'to be subjected' to such
deprivation." Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51,
60 (2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). When an official
municipal policy or custom causes a person to suffer a
constitutional wrong, that policy or custom will create
liability against the municipality under § 1983. Bd.
of Cty. Comm 'rs of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S.
397, 403 (1997). A plaintiff may contend that he suffered
this type of constitutional deprivation in one of four ways,
based on "(1) the municipality's legislative
enactments or official agency policies; (2) actions taken by
officials with final decision-making authority; (3) a policy
of inadequate training or supervision; or (4) a custom of
tolerance or acquiescence of federal rights violations."
Spears v. Ruth, 589 F.3d 249, 256 (6th Cir. 2009)
(quoting Thomas v. City of Chattanooga, 398 F.3d
426, 429 (6th Cir. 2005)).
Ms. Colson's Allegations
Count Five, Ms. Colson alleges that Officer Cook and Officer
Wilson's use of excessive force against her while she was
suffering a panic attack "evidences a complete lack of
training" from the City of Alcoa regarding the
appropriate use of force against mentally ill inmates.
[Compl. ¶ 125]. Similarly, she maintains that the City
of Alcoa fails to supervise and train its officers in
handling and protecting inmates who suffer from mental
disorders. [Id. ¶ 127]. According to Ms.
Colson, the City of Alcoa's failures in training its
officers illustrate a policy of "deliberate
indifference" to the constitutional rights of mentally
ill inmates and indicate that the City of Alcoa
"condoned" or "ratified" this policy.
[Id. ¶¶ 123-24]. Ms. Colson reiterates
these same allegations in Count Seven, in which she asserts
that the City of Alcoa's various "failures" and
"complete lack of training" amount to ratification
of "a de facto policy of. . . allowing the unnecessary
and unreasonable use-of-force to go unchecked."
[Id. ¶¶ 145, 148, 151]. In sum, Ms.
Colson, in her municipal liability claims against the City of
Alcoa, bases liability on "a policy of inadequate
training or supervision" and "a custom of tolerance
or acquiescence of federal rights violations."
Spears, 589 F.3d at 256 (quoting Thomas,
398 F.3d at 429). In arguing that Ms. Colson's municipal
liability claims require dismissal, the City of Alcoa attacks
the sufficiency of the allegations only as they pertain Ms.
Colson's inadequate-training theory. [See
Defs.' Br. at 8-9]. The Court will therefore limit its
analysis to this theory of liability. Also, the City of Alcoa
argues that if the Court declines to dismiss the municipal
liability claims, it should as a matter of course dismiss the
official-capacity claims against its officers-Chief Potter,
Lieutenant Fletcher, Officer Cook, and Officer Wilson-
because those claims are duplicative. [Id. at 4-5].
Municipal Liability under an Inadequate-Training Theory
state a plausible claim for municipal liability based on a
policy of inadequate training or supervision, a plaintiff has
to allege sufficient facts showing that "(1) the
training or supervision was inadequate for the tasks
performed; (2) the inadequacy was the result of the
municipality's deliberate indifference; and (3) the
inadequacy was closely related to or actually caused the
injury." Ellis ex rel. Pendergrass v. ClevelandMun.
Sch. Dist., 455 F.3d 690, 700 (6th Cir. 2006) (citation
omitted). Deliberate indifference, under the second element,
"is a stringent standard of fault" and requires
allegations from which the Court can infer that a
municipality's policy-maker disregarded a known or an
obvious risk of a constitutional violation. Stemler v.
City of Florence, 126 F.3d 856, 865 (6th Cir. 1997)
(quoting Bryan Cty., 520 U.S. at 410); see
Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483-84
(1986) ("[M]unicipal liability . . . attaches where-and
only where-a deliberate choice to follow a course of action
is made from among various alternatives by the official or
officials responsible for establishing final policy with
respect to the subject matter in question." (citation
The Factual Sufficiency of Ms. Cols on's Allegations
challenging the sufficiency of Ms. Colson's municipal
liability claims, the City of Alcoa targets the element of
deliberate indifference, arguing that these claims fail
because Ms. Colson does not "identify prior
constitutional violations." [Defs.' Br. at 9]. In
response, Ms. Colson concedes that she does not allege prior
constitutional violations by the City of Alcoa's
officers. [PL's Br. at 15-17]. But she contends that an
inadequate-training theory does not always require assertions
of prior violations to establish deliberate indifference.
[Id. at 15-16]. According to Ms. Colson, allegations
of prior constitutional misconduct are unnecessary when a
plaintiffs allegations support an inference that a
municipality's failure to train is so egregious that
future constitutional infringements are inevitable.
[Id. at 15]. Ms. Colson is correct on this point.
plaintiff can establish that inadequate-training is the
product of deliberate indifference "in one of two
ways." Shadrick v. Hopkins County, 805 F.3d
724, 738 (6th Cir. 2015). He can plead sufficient facts
showing (1) the municipality's officers engaged in a
pattern of comparable constitutional violations or
(2) "a single violation of federal rights, accompanied
by a showing that [the municipality] has failed to train its
employees to handle recurring situations presenting an
obvious potential" for a violation. Id. at
738-39 (quoting Bryan Cty., 520 U.S. at 409). An
allegation of a pattern of similar misconduct-the first of
the two approaches-is the "ordinar[y]" or
traditional way for a plaintiff to establish an
inadequate-training theory. See Connick, 563 U.S. at
62. This is so because repetitive wrongdoing by officers who
exercise their discretion is a sure sign that those officers
require additional training, and it should be "plainly
obvious to the city policymakers." Bryan Cty.,
520 U.S. at 407 (quoting Canton, 489 U.S. at 390
Supreme Court has acknowledged "the possibility, "
"in a narrow range of circumstances, "
Connick, 563 U.S. at 63 (quoting id. at
409), that a municipal policymaker's deliberate
indifference "could" arise without a pattern of
prior constitutional misconduct, Bryan Cty., 520
U.S. at 409. This is where the second of the two approaches
has its application. The Supreme Court confined this second
approach to cases in which there is (1) a "likelihood
that [a] situation will recur" (2) with such a
"high degree of predictability" that "an
officer lacking specific tools to handle that situation will
violate citizens' rights." Id. at 409-10.
To flesh out these elements, the Supreme Court provided the
hypothetical of a municipality that arms its officers and
then mobilizes them into the public to capture absconding
felons without training them to use proper force.
Canton, 489 U.S. at 390 n. 10; Connick, 563
U.S. at 63-64. "Given the known frequency with
which police attempt to arrest fleeing felons and the
'predictability that an officer lacking specific
tools to handle that situation will violate citizens'
rights, " the consequences of the municipality's
failure to train the officers "could be so patently
obvious" that the municipality could be liable without a
pattern of previous violations. Connick, 563 U.S. at
63-64 (emphasis added) (quotation omitted).
City of Alcoa, however, attempts to procure dismissal of Ms.
Colson's municipal liability claims by relying solely on
the first approach; it makes no effort to perform any
analysis as to whether Ms. Colson's municipal liability
claims suffice under the equally viable, though narrow,
second approach. Even if Ms. Colson's claims are
insufficient under the first approach, as the City of Alcoa
contends they are, they may still pass muster under the
second approach, as Ms. Colson contends they do. The Court
therefore deems the City of Alcoa's argument to be
incomplete. See McPherson v. Kelsey, 125 F.3d 989,
995-96 (6th Cir. 1997) ("[I]ssues adverted to in a
perfunctory manner, unaccompanied by some effort at developed
argumentation, are deemed waived. It is not sufficient for a
party to mention a possible argument in the most skeletal
way, leaving the court to . . . put flesh on its bones."
(quotation omitted)). As a result, the Court will decline its
invitation to dismiss Ms. Colon's municipal liability
claims. In allowing the municipal liability claims against
the City of Alcoa to remain intact, however, the Court will
dismiss the official-capacity claims against Chief Potter,
Lieutenant Fletcher, Officer Cook, and Officer Wilson because
they are duplicative. See Thorpe ex rel. D.T. v.
Breathitt Cty. Bd. of Educ, 932 F.Supp.2d 799, 802 (E.D.
Ky. 2013) ("[W]hen a § 1983 complaint asserts a
claim against a municipal entity and a municipal official in
his or her official capacity, federal courts will dismiss the
official-capacity claim." (citing Claiborne
County, 103 F.3d at 509)).
Chief Potter and Lieutenant Fletcher: Supervisory Liability