Franklin v. Curry et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: As further set out in order, 4 , MOTION to Dismiss, filed by Chris George, Chris Corbell, Jay Fondren, Ken Burchfield, John Samaniego and Chris Curry, IS DISMISSED/DENIED. Count five of the complaint, alleging a state l aw claim for negligent supervisory practices, is DISMISSED, and Defendants' motion to dismiss is otherwise DENIED. The parties are directed to meet and confer as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 and to submit to the court a report of their planning meeting by January 14, 2013. Signed by Judge Abdul K Kallon on 12/27/12. (CVA)
2012 Dec-27 AM 10:58
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CINDY LAINE FRANKLIN,
CHRIS CURRY, et al.,
Civil Action Number
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Cindy Franklin alleges violations of state and federal law arising
out of a sexual assault she suffered while detained in the Shelby County Jail
against Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry (“Sheriff Curry”), Correctional Officer
Michael Keith Gay (“Officer Gay”), Chief Deputy John Samaniego (“Officer
Samaniego”), Division Commander of Administration Ken Burchfield (“Officer
Burchfield”), Division Commander of Corrections Jay Fondren (“Officer
Fondren”), Division Commander of Uniform Chris Corbell (“Officer Corbell”),
and Division Commander of Investigations Chris George (“Officer George”). See
doc.1. Defendants Curry, Samaniego, Burchfield, Fondren, Corbell and George
seek dismissal of all claims against them on the basis of failure to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted, qualified immunity, and absolute immunity.
Doc. 4. As discussed more fully below, the court finds that Defendants’ motion is
due to be DENIED.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed
factual allegations,’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendantunlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “labels and
conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are
insufficient. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citations and internal quotation marks
omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]’ devoid of
‘further factual enhancement.’” Id., at 1949 (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a
complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “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.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at
1949 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a
facially plausible claim for relief “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. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish
“more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also
Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “contextspecific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience
and common sense.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950.
II. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND1
On October 19, 2010, Cindy Franklin was transported from Chilton County
to the Shelby County Jail as a pretrial detainee. Doc. 1 at ¶ 14. While
fingerprinting and photographing Franklin, Officer Gay told her “I want to see
your rug.” Id. at ¶ 18. Franklin responded that Officer Gay “would get in trouble”
because he could not speak to her that way, but Officer Gay purportedly told her
“there is nothing you can do” and placed Franklin’s hand on his penis. Id.
“When considering a motion to dismiss, all facts set forth in the plaintiff’s complaint
‘are to be accepted as true and the court limits its consideration to the pleadings and exhibits
attached thereto.’” Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d 1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000)
(quoting GSW, Inc. v. Long Cnty., 999 F.2d 1508, 1510 (11th Cir. 1993)). However, legal
conclusions unsupported by factual allegations are not entitled to that assumption of truth. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).
Franklin objected and asked Officer Gay to leave her alone. Id. Following this
incident, Officer Gay placed Franklin in a holding cell with a mattress on the floor
and gave her a blanket. Id. at ¶ 19. Some time later, Franklin alleges that she
“was jolted awake to find [Officer] Gay on top of her” with his pants unzipped.
Id. at ¶ 20. According to Franklin, despite her resistance, Officer Gay then leaned
down onto his knees and held Franklin’s head while he forced his penis into her
Afterwards, Franklin called and reported the attack to her boyfriend and her
parole officer. Id. at ¶¶ 21-22. In response, Officer Samaniego spoke with
Franklin about the incident. Id. at ¶ 23. Franklin also believes that Sheriff Curry,
or another officer working under him, notified the Alabama Bureau of
Investigation (“ABI”), who obtained a statement from Franklin and instituted a
formal investigation into her allegations against Officer Gay. Id. at ¶ 24. During
the course of the investigation, Franklin learned that Officer Gay purportedly
abused another female inmate and had inappropriate sexual relations with yet
another. Id. at ¶ 25. Following the investigation, Officer Gay resigned. Id. at ¶
In her complaint, Franklin asserts claims against Defendants under state and
federal law arising from the purported assault by Officer Gay. Doc. 1. However,
Franklin concedes that Defendants are due absolute immunity under Alabama law,
doc. 15 at 2, and, therefore, count five of the complaint, for negligent supervisory
practices, is DISMISSED. The court, however, disagrees that count one is
likewise due to be dismissed for Defendants.
In count one, Franklin alleges that Defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 for the alleged violation of her “clearly established constitutional right to be
free from sexually-motivated physical assaults, sexual harassment, and abuse.”
Doc.1 at 6. Franklin alleges further that Defendants “knew or should have
known” of her right and that Officer Gay was sexually harassing and assaulting
and engaging in inappropriate sexual relations with female inmates and detainees.
Id. at 7, 10. Defendants contend that this count fails because Franklin failed to
meet the pleading standards of Iqbal and Rule 8, and because they are entitled to
qualified immunity. Doc. 4.
Pleading Standard for § 1983 Actions
Defendants allege that Franklin’s claim fails under Iqbal because it is
premised on a “knowledge and acquiescence” theory, which is insufficient to
support a claim under § 1983 against supervisory officials for a constitutional
violation premised upon the acts of a subordinate employee. Doc. 5 at 5. Indeed,
“[i]n order to prevail on the merits in a § 1983 action against a defendant in his
individual capacity, the plaintiff generally must show that he was personally
involved in acts or omissions that resulted in the constitutional deprivation.”
Lloyd v. Van Tassell, 318. Fed. Appx. 755, 760 (11th Cir. 2009). Moreover,
“[s]upervisory officials are not liable under § 1983 for the unconstitutional acts of
their subordinates on the basis of respondeat superior or vicarious liability.” Id.
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Instead, to establish supervisory
liability under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that “the supervisor personally
participat[ed] in the alleged unconstitutional conduct” or that “there is a causal
connection between the actions of a supervising official and the alleged
constitutional deprivation.” Id. (quoting Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1360
(11th Cir. 2003)). This type of causal connection can be shown where “(1) the
supervisor was on notice, by a history of widespread abuse, of the need to correct
a practice that led to the alleged deprivation, and he failed to do so; (2) the
supervisor’s policy or custom resulted in deliberate indifference; (3) the supervisor
directed the subordinate to act unlawfully; or (4) the supervisor knew the
subordinate would act unlawfully and failed to stop the unlawful action.” Id.
Defendants’ argument that Franklin failed to meet the above standard is
unavailing. Franklin’s complaint sufficiently alleges that Defendants are liable
under § 1983 because there is a causal connection between their actions and
Officer Gay’s alleged conduct. With respect to Sheriff Curry, Franklin states in
her complaint that Sheriff Curry “knew or should have known of [Officer] Gay’s
pattern and practice of sexual assault, misconduct, harassment, or abuse of female
inmates or detainees[,]” that he “is the chief policy maker for the Shelby County
Jail and for the [officers] he supervises or whose actions he or his designee
controls[,]” that he “failed to promulgate, to adopt, to implement or to enforce the
policies, rules or regulations to safeguard female inmates or detainees’
constitutional right[,]” and that this failure “constitutes deliberate indifference . . .
to the substantial risk of serious harm to female inmates or detainees[.]” Doc. 1 at
8-9. In other words, Franklin alleges that a causal connection exists because
Sheriff Curry was on notice of Officer Gay’s alleged conduct and the need to
correct this practice, but failed to do so, and because Sheriff Curry’s policy or
custom resulted in deliberate indifference. With respect to Officers Samaniego,
Burchfield, Fondren, Corbell and George, Franklin alleges that they too knew or
should have known of Officer Gay’s pattern of inappropriate conduct with female
detainees and inmates but “were deliberately indifferent to the substantial risk of
serious harm to female inmates or detainees resulting from their failure to
adequately staff, train, supervise the [officers] or their failure to ensure that [the
officers] working in the Shelby County Jail did not and do not violate the clearly
established constitutional right to be free from sexually-motivated physical
assaults[.]” Id. at 10-11. Therefore, Franklin alleges that Officers Samaniego,
Burchfield, Fondren, Corbell and George were also on notice of Officer Gay’s
alleged conduct and the need to correct this practice, but failed to do so, and that
their custom, failure to adequately supervise, resulted in deliberate indifference.
Additionally, the court disagrees with Defendant’s contention that
Franklin’s complaint does not comply with Rule 8 and Iqbal’s “plausibility
standard.” Defendants base this argument on Franklin’s purported failure to allege
facts attributable to each defendant individually. Doc. 5 at 11. However,“the
pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual
allegations[.]’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Instead, Franklin need only “plead
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant[s] [are] liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. As discussed above,
Franklin has pled sufficient factual content to allow the court to reasonably infer
that Defendants are liable for the alleged constitutional deprivation she suffered
because they purportedly failed to act as necessary within their supervisory roles.
Whether Franklin can ultimately prove her claims is a different matter. For now,
the court finds only that Franklin pled her complaint with sufficient facts to
survive the motion to dismiss. Accordingly, Defendants motion with respect to an
alleged pleading deficiency is DENIED.
“Qualified immunity protects municipal officers from liability in § 1983
actions as long ‘as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or
constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’” Lewis v.
City of W. Palm Beach, 561 F.3d 1288, 1291 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Harlow v.
Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). Although this defense is ordinarily raised
at the summary judgment stage, it can be granted when raised in a motion to
dismiss “if the ‘complaint fails to allege the violation of a clearly established
constitutional right.’” St. George v. Pinellas Cnty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir.
2002) (quoting Chesser v. Sparks, 248 F.3d 1117, 1121 (11th Cir. 2001)). As set
forth more fully above, Franklin alleges in her complaint that Defendants knew or
should have known of Officer Gay’s pattern of conduct, that Franklin had a clearly
established right to be free from sexual assault while a detainee at the Shelby
County jail, and that Defendants’ supervisory conduct caused the constitutional
deprivation Franklin suffered. Accordingly, the court finds that Franklin pled
sufficient facts to defeat Defendants’ claim of qualified immunity at this juncture,
and Defendants’ motion is DENIED.
For the reasons stated above, count five of the complaint, alleging a state
law claim for negligent supervisory practices, is DISMISSED, and Defendants’
motion to dismiss is otherwise DENIED. The parties are directed to meet and
confer as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 and to submit to the court a report of their
planning meeting by January 14, 2013.
DONE this 27th day of December, 2012.
ABDUL K. KALLON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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