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Kennedy v. Hodges

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

November 8, 2019

DAVID HODGES, et al., Defendants.



         Justin Kennedy and Astin Hill, pre-trial detainees in the custody of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office in Nashville, Tennessee, co-filed this pro se, in forma pauperis action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Lieutenant David Hodges and the Davidson County Sheriff's Office. (Doc. No. 1).

         The complaint is before the Court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.

         I. PLRA Screening Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly requires initial review of any “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, ” id. § 1915A(a), and summary dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. § 1915A(b).

         The court must construe a pro se complaint liberally, United States v. Smotherman, 838 F.3d 736, 739 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)), and accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true unless they are entirely without credibility. See Thomas v. Eby, 481 F.3d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992)). Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts' “duty to be ‘less stringent' with pro se complaints does not require us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted).

         III. Section 1983 Standard

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege and show two elements: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Sigley v. City of Panama Heights, 437 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2006)); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         IV. Alleged Facts

         The complaint alleges that, on June 8, 2019, Lieutenant Hodges advised another officer to investigate a possible assault on a “weekender” inmate that occurred on June 5, 2019. (Doc. No. 1 at 5). As a result of this investigation, several inmates were charged with various disciplinary offenses, including Plaintiffs. According to the complaint, the video on which the officers relied during their investigation “shows no evidence of any assault or any of the other violations” with which Plaintiffs were charged. (Id.) Plaintiffs believe their characters have been defamed and they were placed in segregation “for something [they] didn't do.” (Id. at 6.) They lost “points” as a result of the charges. (Id.)

         V. Analysis

         Construed liberally, the pro se complaint alleges federal due process claims in connection with the disciplinary charges against Plaintiffs and the resulting disciplinary proceedings. The complaint names two Defendants to this action: the Davidson County Sheriff's Office and Lieutenant Hodges in his individual capacity. (Doc. No. 1 at 2).

         First, a police or sheriff's department is not an entity capable of being sued under 42 U.S.C § 1983. See, e.g., Durham v. Estate of Gus Losleben, No. 16-1042-STA-egb, 2017 WL 1437209, at *2 (W.D. Tenn. Apr. 21, 2017); McKinney v. McNairy Cnty., Tenn., 1:12-CV-01101, 2012 WL 4863052, at *3 (W.D. Tenn. Oct. 11, 2012); Newby v. Sharp, 3:11-CV-534, 2012 WL 1230764, at *3 (E.D. Tenn. Apr. 12, 2012); Mathes v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville and Davidson Cnty., No. 3:10-CV-0496, 2010 WL 3341889, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 25, 2010). Thus, the complaint fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted under Section 1983 against the Davidson County Sheriff's Office. These claims will be dismissed.

         Assuming for purposes of the required PLRA screening that Plaintiff also intended to sue Davidson County, a claim of municipal liability requires a showing that the alleged misconduct is the result of a policy, statement, regulation, decision or custom promulgated by Davidson County or its agent. Monell Dep't of Social Svcs.,436 U.S. 658, 690-691 (1978). A plaintiff can make a showing of an illegal policy or custom by demonstrating one of the following: (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 ...

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