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Pearcy v. Christopher

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

August 26, 2019

JEFFREY KURT PEARCY, Plaintiff,
v.
KENNY CHRISTOPHER, individually and in his official capacity as the SHERIFF OF BENTON COUNTY, and COUNTY OF BENTON, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS

          S. THOMAS ANDERSON CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss, which was filed on May 23, 2019. (ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff responded on July 8, 2019. (ECF No. 31.) For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED. Plaintiff's official-capacity claim against Defendant Christopher, punitive damages demand of Benton County, claims arising out of the Tennessee Constitution, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 conspiracy claim, and Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability claim are hereby DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 26, 2018, Plaintiff was arrested and housed in the Benton County Jail. (ECF No. 6 at 3.) Plaintiff asserts that, on April 12, 2018, Circuit Court Judge C. Creed McGinley executed an Agreed Order to Reinstate Bond, which authorized Plaintiff's immediate release from custody. (Id.) Notwithstanding the Agreed Order, Plaintiff was not released from the Benton County Jail until April 19, 2018-seven days late.

         His delayed release is the basis of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff filed suit in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for Defendants' alleged violations of Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff also suggests that Defendants violated Tennessee's state law and Constitution.

         In their Partial Motion to Dismiss, Defendants assert the following: (1) official capacity claims against Defendant Christopher must be dismissed; (2) punitive damages are not recoverable against Defendant Benton County; (3) claims arising out of alleged Tennessee constitutional violations must be dismissed; (4) Plaintiff failed to state a colorable § 1983 conspiracy claim; and (5) Defendants retain immunity as to the state law claims.

         In his Response, Plaintiff accepts dismissal as to all but one of Defendants' assertions: Plaintiff maintains that his official capacity claim against Defendant Christopher should survive. (ECF No. 31.) That is the sole issue before the Court.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. RMI Titanium Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 78 F.3d 1125, 1134 (6th Cir. 1996). A complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations, ” but it must contain more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint does not “suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         “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. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard “does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of illegal [conduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant Christopher, in both his official and individual capacities, and Defendant Benton County for violating Plaintiff's civil rights. Defendants argue that Defendant Christopher should only be subject to this claim in his individual capacity, as suing him in his official capacity is the same as suing the County. Because the County is being sued for the same, Defendants contend that an official-capacity claim is redundant.

         In opposition, Plaintiff argues that Defendant Christopher, as Benton County Sheriff, breached his official duty to release Plaintiff from custody. (ECF No. 31.) This, according to Plaintiff, should preclude the official-capacity claim's dismissal.

         Plaintiff's argument is misguided and largely irrelevant to the cause for dismissal. “[O]fficial-capacity suits generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991) (emphasis added). “Official-capacity suits are, for all intents and purposes, treated as suits against the municipality . . . .” Shorts v. Bartholomew, 255 Fed.Appx. 46, 49 n.4 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991)); Foster v. Michigan, 573 Fed.Appx. 377, 390 (6th Cir. 2014). Thus, where the entity is named as a defendant, as it is here, an official-capacity claim is redundant. Foster, 573 Fed.Appx. at 390 (citing Faith Baptist Church v. Waterford Twp., 522 Fed.Appx. 322, 327 (6th Cir.2013) (“Having sued . . . the entity for which [plaintiff] was an agent, the suit against [plaintiff] in his official capacity was superfluous.”)); cf. Shorts, 255 Fed.Appx. at 57-60 (6th Cir. 2007) (allowing the ...


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