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Lunsford v. Davidson County Sheriff's Office

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

December 3, 2019

RESHAWN M. LUNSFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVIDSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, et al., Defendants.

          Eli J. Richardson Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this civil rights action, pro se and in forma pauperis Plaintiff Reshawn M. Lunsford brings excessive force claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arising out of an alleged assault that took place while he was being booked into the Davidson County Jail. (Doc. No. 1.) Defendant Officers Marvin Ramsey and Kimetha Jones have filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that qualified immunity protects them from Lunsford's claims. (Doc. Nos. 10, 11.) Lunsford responded in opposition (Doc. No. 23), and Ramsey and Jones filed a reply (Doc. No. 26). Because Lunsford has not adequately alleged that Ramsey or Jones was personally involved in the assault, the motion to dismiss should be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual History

         The following facts are drawn from the allegations of Lunsford's complaint (Doc. No. 1), which are taken as true for the purpose of ruling on Ramsey and Jones's motion to dismiss, and from court records in Lunsford's related action, Lunsford v. City of Goodlettsville, 3:19-cv-00082 (M.D. Tenn. Jan. 16, 2019), which stems from an altercation between Lunsford and several police officers that led to Lunsford's arrest and pretrial detention at the Davidson County Jail. See Buck v. Thomas M. Cooley Law Sch., 597 F.3d 812, 816 (6th Cir. 2010) (“Although typically courts are limited to the pleadings when faced with a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), a court may take judicial notice of other court proceedings without converting the motion into one for summary judgment.”); see also Jones v. City of Cincinnati, 521 F.3d 555, 562 (6th Cir. 2008) (“A court may consider public records without converting a Rule 12(b)(6) motion into a Rule 56 motion.”); Amini v. Oberlin Coll., 259 F.3d 493, 502 (6th Cir. 2001) (“In determining whether to grant a Rule 12 (b)(6) motion, the court primarily considers the allegations in the complaint, although matters of public record . . . also may be taken into account.” (quoting Nieman v. NLO, Inc., 108 F.3d 1546, 1554 (6th Cir. 1997))).

         Lunsford was booked into the Davidson County Jail on September 18, 2018, after being arrested on charges of resisting arrest and assault. (Doc. No. 1); Ex. A, Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Lunsford v. City of Goodlettsville, 3:19-cv-00082 (M.D. Tenn. Feb. 20, 2019), ECF 10-1. During booking, Lunsford's blood pressure registered as “extremely high” and he demanded to be taken to the hospital. (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 7.) Defendant Officer Corrice Thompson responded by telling Lunsford not to yell and threatening to put him in segregation. (Id.) Lunsford answered that he was merely expressing concern about his health. (Id.) Thompson pushed Lunsford against a wall and ordered him to remove his shoes. (Id.) As Lunsford was complying with that order, Defendant Officer Jorge Torres blindsided Lunsford, slamming him headfirst into the ground and kicking him in the eye. (Id.) While Lunsford was in handcuffs and leg irons and pinned down by Torres, Defendant Officer Scott Satterlee discharged pepper spray less than an inch from Lunsford's face, spraying Lunsford's eyes, nose, and mouth. (Id.) Lunsford was then placed in a holding cell. (Id.) Lunsford alleges that Ramsey and Jones were involved in the assault, but he does not know what role they played. (Doc. No. 1.) Lunsford suffered a black eye, a deep bruise to his left eye socket, and chemical burns in his nose and mouth. (Id.)

         B. Procedural History

         Lunsford filed this action pro se on January 15, 2019, asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive use of force against the Davidson County Sheriff's Office and Davidson County Jail Officers Ramsey, Jones, Thompson, Torres, and Satterlee. (Doc. No. 1.) The Court granted Lunsford's application to proceed in forma pauperis and screened his complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). (Doc. No. 5.) The Court dismissed Lunsford's claim against the Davidson County Sheriff's Office but found that he had stated colorable excessive force claims against the other defendants. (Doc. Nos. 4, 5.) On March 6, 2019, Satterlee, Thompson, and Torres answered the complaint (Doc. Nos. 7-9). Ramsey and Jones filed a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 10). Ramsey and Jones argue that Lunsford's vague allegation that they were involved in his assault is not enough to state a claim against them for excessive force and qualified immunity therefore shields them from liability. (Doc. Nos. 10, 11.) Lunsford responded in opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss, briefly summarizing his complaint and alleging that the defendants, including “Jones and Ramsey[, ] used force on [him]” that was “unnecessary[.]” (Doc. No. 23, PageID# 97.) In their reply, Ramsey and Jones argue that Lunsford's response, like his complaint, is “devoid of any factual allegations about any conduct that either Officer Ramsey or Officer Jones undertook that could have amounted to excessive force.” (Doc. No. 26, PageID# 115.)

         On April 17, 2019, Ramsey, Jones, and the other defendants filed a motion to stay discovery until the Court resolves the issue of qualified immunity that Ramsey and Jones raise in their motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 21.) The Court granted that motion. (Doc. No. 29.)

         II. Legal Standard

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all of the complaint's factual allegations as true, and determine whether the plaintiff undoubtedly can prove no set of facts in support of the claims that would entitle [him to] relief.” Hayward v. Cleveland Clinic Found., 759 F.3d 601, 608 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Aho v. Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc., 219 Fed.Appx. 419, 422 (6th Cir. 2007)). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, “[t]he factual allegations in the complaint need to be sufficient to give notice to the defendant as to what claims are alleged, and the plaintiff must plead ‘sufficient factual matter' to render the legal claim plausible, i.e., more than merely possible.” Fritz v. Charter Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009)).

         “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007)). A plaintiff must plead more than “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). “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.

         Because Lunsford proceeds pro se, the Court construes his filings “liberally” and holds his complaint “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by ...


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