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Grove v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County

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

May 28, 2019

ARIC RYAN GROVE, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT OF NASHVILLE AND DAVIDSON COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELI RICHARDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 9), supported by an accompanying brief (Doc. No. 10). Plaintiff Aric Grove filed a response (Doc. No. 16), and Defendant replied (Doc. No. 19). For the below-stated reasons, the Motion will be granted.

         ALLEGED FACTS

         In December 2017, Plaintiff Aric Ryan Grove was incarcerated at the Hill Detention Center, a Metropolitan Government correctional facility. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 16). On December 27, 2017, Defendant Correctional Officer Touissant Hagewood (“Officer Hagewood”) escorted Plaintiff to an I-Cell.[1] (Id.). While being escorted, Plaintiff informed Officer Hagewood that Plaintiff had left his water or drink at Officer Hagewood's work station. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17). Officer Hagewood retrieved the water or drink and gave it to Plaintiff before placing Plaintiff in an I-Cell. (Id.). Thereafter, a verbal altercation between Plaintiff and Officer Hagewood occurred as Officer Hagewood closed the door to Plaintiff's I-Cell. (Id. at ¶ 18). Officer Hagewood shut the door to Plaintiff's I-Cell, paused for a few seconds, and then re-opened the door of the I-Cell. (Id. at ¶ 19). Officer Hagewood then entered the I-Cell and began to beat Plaintiff, aggressively striking Plaintiff with a closed fist approximately six or seven time. (Id. at ¶ 20). This resulted in Plaintiff's transfer to a local hospital to treat his injuries. (Id.).

         On November 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Officer Hagewood in his individual and official capacity, as well as the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (“Metro”). (See Doc. No. 1). The Complaint alleges that Metro violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because it exhibited deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's rights in three ways: (1) its failure to train Officer Hagewood; (2) its failure to adopt, establish, or implement policies aimed at avoiding use of excessive force against unarmed and/or unthreatening inmates; and (3) its failure to properly supervise and discipline Officer Hagewood. (Id. at ¶¶ 37-39). The Complaint further alleges that Metro is liable for the following state law claims on a theory of respondeat superior: negligence; assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; and outrageous conduct. (Id. at ¶ 14). Metro has filed a motion to dismiss all claims against it. (Doc. No. 9).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the Court must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true as the Court has done above. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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 679. A legal conclusion, including one couched as a factual allegation, need not be accepted as true on a motion to dismiss, nor are mere recitations of the elements of a cause of action sufficient. Id. at 678; Fritz v. Charter Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010); Abriq v. Hall, 295 F.Supp.3d 874, 877 (M.D. Tenn. 2018). Moreover, factual allegations that are merely consistent with the defendant's liability do not satisfy the claimant's burden, as mere consistency does not establish plausibility of entitlement to relief even if it supports the possibility of relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         In determining whether a complaint is sufficient under the standards of Iqbal and its predecessor and complementary case, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), it may be appropriate to “begin [the] analysis by identifying the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680. Identifying and setting aside such allegations is crucial, because they simply do not count toward the plaintiff's goal of showing plausibility of entitlement to relief. As suggested above, such allegations include “bare assertions, ” formulaic recitation of the elements, and “conclusory” or “bald” allegations. Id. at 681. The question is whether the remaining allegations - factual allegations, i.e., allegations of factual matter - plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief. Id. If not, the pleading fails to meet the standard of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 and thus must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Id. at 683.

         ANALYSIS

         In Metro's Motion to Dismiss, it argues that Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim should be dismissed because the Complaint does not plausibly allege municipal liability under Section 1983. Second, Metro argues that Plaintiff's state law claims fail because Metro has not waived its immunity for any tort arising out of an alleged civil rights violation. (Doc. No. 9). The Court will explore both of Metro's arguments in turn.

         I. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         A Section 1983 claim exists for deprivation “of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, ” as a result “of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A municipality can be liable under Section 1983 only if the plaintiff establishes that: “(1) the plaintiff's harm was caused by a constitutional violation; and (2) the [municipality] was responsible for that violation.” Spears v. Ruth, 589 F.3d 249, 256 (6th Cir. 2009). Municipalities “may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents” on a theory of respondeat superior liability. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978).

         “The upshot is that municipalities can be held liable for harms caused by[:]” (1) “direct actions of the municipalities themselves[;]” (2) “harms caused by the implementation of municipal policies or customs[;]” (3) “and harms caused by employees for whom the municipality has failed to provide adequate training [or supervision].” Morgan v. Fairfield Cnty. Ohio, 903 F.3d 553, 565 (6th Cir. 2018) (internal citations omitted); see also Thomas v. City of Chattanooga, 398 F.3d 426, 429 (6th Cir. 2005). Notably, “allegations concerning the failure to implement a policy is cognizable under Monell as a ‘failure to train' theory.” Liggins v. Baca, No. CV 12-10982-CJC, 2016 WL 10650807, at *3 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2016) (emphasis added); see also Modd v. Cnty. of Ottawa, No. 1:10-CV-337, 2012 WL 5398797, at *16 (W.D. Mich. Aug. 24, 2012) (“Section 1983 claims against municipalities based on a failure to train, the lack of a policy, or other inaction are all governed by the same standards, as established by the Supreme Court in City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388-89 (1989)).

         Plaintiff alleges that Metro violated Section 1983 in three ways: (1) its failure to train Officer Hagewood; (2) its failure to adopt, establish, or implement policies aimed at avoiding use of excessive force against unarmed and/or unthreatening inmates; and (3) its failure to properly supervise and discipline Officer Hagewood. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 37-39). Thus, each of Plaintiff's three alleged bases for Metro's liability fall into the third of the above-identified categories of harms for which a municipality may be held liable, i.e., failure to train. In other words, Plaintiff's claims of failure to train, failure to implement policies, and failure to supervise all are variants of the failure-to-train category of claims. Each of the three variants will be discussed in sequence in the following paragraphs.

         “A municipality's culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on a failure to train.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51 (2011) (citing Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 822-23 (1985)). To state a Section 1983 claim based on a failure to train, a plaintiff must plead facts sufficient to plausibly show that:

(1) the training [] 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. We have further elaborated that, “[t]o show deliberate indifference, Plaintiff[s] must show prior instances of unconstitutional conduct demonstrating that the [city] has ignored a history of abuse and was clearly on notice that the training in this particular area was deficient and likely to cause injury.”

Marcilis v. Twp. of Redford, 693 F.3d 589, 605 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Plinton v. Cnty. of Summit, 450 F.3d 459, 464 (6th Cir. 2008)).

         For a municipality to be liable under Section 1983 based on harm resulting from the failure to implement a municipal policy, the lack of a policy must amount to deliberate indifference to the injured party. See Blackmore v. Kalamazoo Cty., 390 F.3d 890, 900 (6th Cir. 2004). Where a complaint “is devoid of any allegations identifying the allegedly deficient policy, how existing policies and procedures are inadequate . . . or [defendant's] awareness of the deficiency in existing policy and the risk it posed[, ]” the complaint fails to state a ...


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