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Doe v. Cravens

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

March 28, 2018

JANE DOE #1 and JANE DOE #2, Plaintiffs,
CHARLES SCOTT CRAVENS, in his individual and official capacity as Sheriff of Fentress County, Tennessee; and FENTRESS COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Defendants.



         Sued because then-Sheriff Charles Scott Cravens allegedly had sexual relations with several jail inmates, Fentress County, Tennessee has moved to dismiss all claims against it. (Doc. No. 25). Two of the inmates, Jane Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2, filed this suit, and oppose the Motion. (Doc. No. 29). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Discussion

         The Amended Complaint is in six counts. The first four are federal claims brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count I, directed at Sheriff Cravens, alleges violations of the right to bodily integrity and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. Counts II and III allege the same violations under the same constitutional amendments against Fentress County. Count IV seeks to hold Fentress County liable under a “state created danger” theory for the alleged deprivation of Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

         Counts V and VI are state law claims brought under Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-8-302. Both are against Fentress County, with Count V alleging sexual assault and battery, and Count VI alleging the intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress.

         A. Federal Claims

         Fentress County moves to dismiss the federal claims because there is no respondeat superior liability under Section 1983. This is in accord with Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978), wherein the Supreme Court stated that “a municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor[.]” In other words, “under § 1983, local governments are responsible only for ‘their own illegal acts.' . . . They are not vicariously liable under § 1983 for their employees' actions.” Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479 (1986)). Therefore, “a municipality is liable under § 1983 only if the challenged conduct occurs pursuant to a municipality's ‘official policy, ' such that the municipality's promulgation or adoption of the policy can be said to have ‘cause[d]' one of its employees to violate the plaintiff's constitutional rights.” D'Ambrosio v. Marino, 747 F.3d 378, 386 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 692).

         “Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government's lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.” Connick, 131 S.Ct. at 1359. Thus, to state a municipal liability claim, a plaintiff must adequately allege “(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.” Burgess v. Fischer, 735 F.3d 462, 478 (6th Cir. 2013); accord Boulton v. Swanson, 795 F.3d 526, 531 (6th Cir. 2015).

         In moving to dismiss the federal claims, Fentress County relies on a number of cases that hold a municipality need not train its officers to refrain from raping or sexually abusing individuals in their custody or control. For example, in Andrews v. Fowler, 98 F.3d 1069, 1077 (8th Cir. 1996), the Eighth Circuit stated that “[i]n light of the regular law enforcement duties of a police officer, we cannot conclude that there was a patently obvious need for the city to specifically train officers not to rape young women.” Relying on that case and others, the Eastern District of Tennessee in Campbell v. Anderson County, 695 F.Supp.2d 764, 774 (E.D. Tenn. 2010) similarly observed that “[r]efraining from raping women in police custody is so obvious that even if Anderson County were silent about such conduct, it would not give rise to a constitutional violation, ” and that “no specific training [i]s necessary to inform officers not to rape or sexually assault women in their custody.”

         Even though both cases were decided in the context of a motion for summary judgment and not on a motion to dismiss, the Court agrees with their underlying rationale. This does not end the inquiry, however, because Plaintiffs' failure to train claim is much broader. Among other things, they claim that Fentress County failed to train and supervise its deputies regarding (1) “correctional officer interactions with female prisoners”; (2) “the known risks of sexual abuse that are present in all correctional facilities”; and (3) the “duty to protect inmates from sexual abuse by guards, officers, and authority figures.” (Doc. No. 22-1, Amended Complaint ¶ 47). Plaintiffs also claim that Fentress County failed to enact or enforce a policy that would prohibit allowing a single member of the jail to transport a prisoner. Regardless, the primary allegation here is that the chief law enforcement and “ultimate policymaker of the Fentress County Sheriff's Department” (id. ¶ 5) had sexual relations with at least two individuals under his control, not that a reserve officer (Campbell) or a patrol officer (Andrews) engaged in such conduct.

         Fentress County also relies on cases like Wooten v. Logan, 92 Fed.Appx. 143 (6th Cir. 2004) and Roe v. City of Waterbury, 542 F.3d 31 (2d Cir. 2008). While those cases involved policymakers, they, too, were decided on summary judgment. Further, neither is controlling (Wooten is an unpublished decision and Roe is out-of-circuit), and both are readily distinguishable.

         In Wooten, Charlie Logan, the Sheriff of Pickett County, Tennessee, while in uniform and driving a squad car, stopped a vehicle driven by Peggy Dale in which plaintiff, a mentally handicapped minor, was riding. Thereafter, in accordance with a preconceived plan, Logan and Dale raped the minor.

         Recognizing that “[u]nder appropriate circumstances, a single act by a local government official can constitute the government's ‘official policy, ” specifically “where the official possesses final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action ordered, ” Wooten, 92 Fed.Appx. at 146, a split panel of the Sixth Circuit found plaintiff's evidence insufficient to warrant a jury trial on her claims against Pickett County. The majority wrote:

Fatally, Wooten has not demonstrated that Logan's conduct represented the “official policy” of the County, as she has not shown that Logan was acting in a policymaking capacity when he detained and assaulted her. Logan conspired with a non-employee to commit a felonious act, and his conduct cannot conceivably be characterized as exercising a power to set policy. Moreover, though he allegedly used his “blue lights and police lights” to pull over Dale's car, and utilized his “uniform, badge, and ...

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