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Garrett v. Shoupe

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

June 26, 2018




         Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs' Motion to Certify Class (Doc. No. 16); a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Benningfield, Daniels, Shoupe and White County (Doc. No. 21); and a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Fox (Doc. No. 27).


         Plaintiffs are female citizens who, at the times relevant to this action, were incarcerated in the White County, Tennessee jail. Defendant Benningfield was the White County General Sessions Judge. Defendant Shoupe was the White County Sheriff, and Defendant Donna Daniels was a White County Deputy Sheriff. Defendant Fox was the Director of the White County Health Department. White County, Tennessee, is a political subdivision of the State of Tennessee. Defendants Benningfield, Shoupe and Daniels are sued in their individual capacities, and Defendant Fox is sued in her official capacity only.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on May 15, 2017, Defendant Benningfield issued a “Standing Order” (Doc. No. 1-1) providing, among other things, that any White County female inmate serving a sentence for the General Sessions Court who received a free Nexplanon surgical birth control implant would be given a thirty-day credit on her sentence.[1] Plaintiffs claim that Defendant Shoupe had already, prior to Benningfield's Order, approved the exchange of birth control implants for reduced jail time for at least one female inmate. Plaintiffs each agreed to and in fact received the Nexplanon implant.[2] Plaintiffs seek to bring this action on behalf of all female inmates who received the Nexplanon implant in exchange for a thirty-day reduction in jail time at the White County jail.

         Plaintiffs claim that Benningfield's Standing Order violated the United States and Tennessee Constitutions. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Shoupe and Daniels impermissibly coerced female inmates to have the implant procedure in exchange for jail time reduction. They seek monetary damages, injunctive relief (to have the implants removed at no cost), declaratory relief (to declare this practice unconstitutional), punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

         Absent from the Complaint is this relevant fact - on July 26, 2017 Defendant Benningfield issued a Supplemental Order titled “Order Rescinding Previous Standing Order” (Doc. No. 21-1). The Court takes judicial notice of this Order because it relates directly to and indeed rescinds the Standing Order challenged in this case. The Court may consider materials that are integral to the Complaint, are public records, or are otherwise appropriate for the taking of judicial notice. Wyser-Pratte Mgmt. Co., Inc. v. Telxon Corp., 413 F.3d 553, 560 (6th Cir. 2005).

         Likewise, the Court takes judicial notice that on May 1, 2018, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law Senate Bill 2133, which expressly forbids conditioning the length of any criminal sentence on an inmate submitting to any form of temporary or permanent birth control, sterilization or family planning services. Therefore, the misconduct alleged in the Complaint is now illegal by statute. This action is one of four related cases in this Court challenging the constitutionality of Defendant Benningfield's Orders and the actions of White County officials related thereto.[3]

         Motion to Dismiss

         For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the Court must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Id. at 1950. A legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation need not be accepted as true on a motion to dismiss, nor are recitations of the elements of a cause of action sufficient. Fritz v. Charter Township of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010).

         Judicial Immunity and Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         Judge Benningfield argues that he is entitled to absolute judicial immunity for his Standing Order. It is a well-settled principle in our system of jurisprudence that judges are generally absolutely immune from civil actions for money damages. Bright v. Gallia Cty., Ohio, 753 F.3d 639, 648 (6th Cir. 2014). Plaintiffs do not dispute this principle. Instead, they argue that Judge Benningfield may still be liable for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Complaint does not ask for injunctive relief against Defendant Benningfield, only against Defendant Fox (Doc. No. 1, Count III). Accordingly, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss with regard to Defendant Benningfield will be granted.[4]

         Defendants Shoupe and Daniels also argue that they are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity because they were enforcing Judge Benningfield's Standing Order. Absolute judicial immunity extends to those persons performing tasks so integral or intertwined with the judicial process that these persons are considered an arm of the judicial officer who is immune. Rodriguez v. Providence Community Corrections, Inc., 191 F.Supp.3d 758, 767 (M.D. Tenn. 2016); Bush v. Rauch, 38 F.3d 842, 847 (6th Cir. 1994). As with judicial immunity, the Supreme Court endorsed a functional approach in determining whether an official is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. Id. When persons are engaged in executing or enforcing a court order, such actions are intrinsically associated with a judicial proceeding. Id.

         The Complaint alleges, however, that Defendant Shoupe “and his agents” coerced inmates into having the implants at least 45 days before the Standing Order (Doc. No. 1, ¶ 25). The Complaint asserts that Plaintiff Qualls received her implant on March 31, 2017, [5] and the Standing Order was not entered until May 15, 2017 (Doc. No. 1, ¶¶ 26 and 33). The Court must accept the factual allegations of the Complaint, for purposes of this motion, as true. As to their actions prior to the Standing Order, Defendants Shoupe and Daniels are not entitled to quasi-judicial immunity because they could not have been implementing or acting pursuant to the Standing Order, which did not exist.

         As for the actions of Defendants Shoupe and Daniels after entry of the Standing Order, Defendants argue that they were simply executing, enforcing, or carrying out the court's order. To the extent, as alleged in the Complaint, these Defendants impermissibly coerced the Plaintiffs into involuntarily consenting to the procedure, that conduct was not authorized by the Standing Order. There are factual allegations that the conduct of Defendants Shoupe and Daniels, even if they were enforcing the Standing Order, went beyond the scope of that Order and may be outside the scope of any quasi-judicial immunity. Therefore, the Court cannot find, at this time, that the actions of Shoupe and Daniels following entry of the Standing Order were quasi-judicial as a matter of law to entitle them to immunity. Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged conduct outside the scope of quasi-judicial immunity. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on this issue will be denied.[6]

         Qualified Immunity

         The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages when their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights that a reasonable person would have known. Pearson v. Callahan, 129 S.Ct. 808, 815 (2009). Although the defendant bears the burden of pleading this defense, the plaintiff must show that the defendant is not entitled to qualified immunity. Hayden v. Green, 640 F.3d 150, 153 (6th Cir. 2011). Determinations of qualified immunity require the Court to answer two questions: (1) whether the officer violated a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established in light of the specific context of the case. Id..[7]

         Defendants contend that Shoupe and Daniels are entitled to qualified immunity because encouraging female inmates to receive free temporary birth control in exchange for a thirty-day reduction in jail time does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment and, even if it did, it was not a “clearly established” violation at the time of the alleged misconduct. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs fail to allege sufficient facts to establish the type of “shocks the conscience” behavior that is necessary to establish a cognizable claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants also assert that the challenged program was justified by the legitimate ...

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