United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division
WAVERLY D CRENSHAW, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
another case arising out of Charles Cravens' tenure as
Sheriff of Fentress County, Tennessee, Fentress County moves
to dismiss the claims against it brought by Dustin Shane
Wright (“Wright”), a former inmate at the county
jail. Just as in Doe #1 v. Cravens, No.
2:17-CV-00049, 2018 WL 1522401, at *1 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 28,
2018), it argues that Cravens' conduct did not represent
a policy or custom so as to make the county liable for the
deprivation of civil right in violation of 42 U.S.C. §
1983. Also as in Doe #1, Fentress County argues that
it is not liable for state common law intentional tort claims
because of the governmental immunity provisions set forth in
Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act
(“TGTLA”), Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-21,
Doe #1, the Court dismissed the state law claims
against Fentress Country pursuant to the TGTLA, but declined
to dismiss the federal claims. This time, the Court reaches
the same result, albeit for slightly different reasons.
allegations in the Complaint, accepted as true and construed
in Wright's favor for present purposes, Mills v.
Barnard, 869 F.3d 473, 480 (6th Cir. 2017), are as
the relevant period, Sheriff Cravens was the chief law
enforcement officer of Fentress County and responsible for
the operation of the county jail. On November 13, 2016,
Wright was confined at the jail when two inmates began
“picking on” another inmate. (Doc. No. 1,
Complaint ¶ 8). This prompted the jail administrator to
“chastise” the other inmates for not doing
anything to stop the altercation. (Id. ¶ 9).
Shortly thereafter, Sheriff Cravens entered the housing unit
and “screamed at the inmates and told them they should
not be able to look at themselves in a mirror. He also
challenged their collective manhood.” (Id.
¶ 10). When Wright spoke up on behalf of his fellow
inmates, Sheriff Cravens became “visibly irate”
and ordered Wright to follow him to the booking area.
the booking area, Sheriff Cravens “continued to
berate” Wright, and struck him in the head. Wright was
then “shot with a taser and incapacitated.”
(Id. ¶ 11). Thereafter, Wright was
“placed in a headlock and handcuffed, . . . struck two
(2) to three (3) more times in the head by [Sheriff] Cravens,
and “then kicked . . . in the back.”
the assault, Wright was placed “in an isolated, padded
holding cell” that had “no running water or
facilities of any kind.” (Id.). Four days
later he was placed in a different, isolated, holding cell
for an additional four weeks. (Id. ¶ 14). He
was then allowed to return to general population where he
served out the remainder of his sentence without incident.
was not charged with a crime or a jail policy violation in
relation to these events. Sheriff Cravens, on the other hand,
was criminally charged in this Court with depriving Wright of
his federal constitutional rights. Sheriff Cravens pled
guilty to the charges on April 20, 2017.
claims that, as a result of the events that began on November
13, 2016, he “suffered injuries and/or damages,
including, but not limited to, mental anguish, physical and
mental pain and suffering, embarrassment, and
humiliation.” (Id. ¶ 16). He brings
federal claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985
against Sheriff Cravens and Fentress County for the
deprivation of his constitutional rights under the Fourth,
Fifth, Eighth and Fourteen Amendments. He also brings state
law claims for assault, battery, and the intentional
infliction of emotional distress.
Monell v. Department of Social Services of New York,
436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978), Supreme Court held 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).
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).
upon those principles, Fentress County moves to dismiss the
federal claims relying (as it did in Doe #1) on the
Sixth Circuit's decision in Wooten v. Logan, 92
Fed.Appx. 143, 146 (6th Cir. 2004), and the Second