Leadholm v. City of Commerce City, The et al
MINUTE ORDER granting in part and denying in part 57 Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants City of Commerce City and Troy Smith by Magistrate Judge Michael E. Hegarty on 05/09/2017. The Court directs the Clerk of the Court to dismiss Defendant Troy Smith from the case. (mdave, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Civil Action No. 16-cv-02786-MEH
CITY OF COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO,
TROY SMITH, in his individual and official capacities,
CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, in his individual and official capacities,
JJ ROUANZOIN, in his individual and official capacities,
JEREMY JENKINS, in his individual and official capacities,
MICHAEL DIENER, in his individual and official capacities, and
KEVIN LORD, in his individual and official capacities,
ORDER ON CITY DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS
Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.
Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants City of Commerce City and
Troy Smith (“City Defendants”) [filed March 13, 2017; ECF No. 57]. The motion is fully briefed,
and the Court finds that oral argument will not assist in the adjudication of the motion. For the
following reasons and based on the entire record herein, the Court grants in part and denies in part
the City Defendants’ motion.1
Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on November 15, 2016, then filed the operative Amended
Complaint as a matter of course on February 21, 2017, alleging excessive force in violation of the
The parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) on
April 24, 2017. ECF No. 74.
Fourth Amendment against the individual Defendants and deliberate indifference in hiring, training,
supervision, and retention against the City Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The following are factual allegations (as opposed to legal conclusions, bare assertions, or
merely conclusory allegations) made by the Plaintiff in his Amended Complaint, which are taken
as true for analysis under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) pursuant to Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
On November 18, 2014, the Plaintiff, Carl Leadholm, was driving home after working a full
day at a recycling company. At some point during his drive home, Plaintiff suffered from a medical
condition due to low levels of glucose in his blood, which caused him dizziness and blurred vision.
This condition caused Plaintiff to swerve his vehicle and drive erratically. Defendants Dickey and
Rouanzoin first encountered Plaintiff on the road, saw the vehicle swerving, and pulled him over
to the side of the road. Rather than ask Plaintiff whether he was alright, Dickey and Rouanzoin
immediately started to shout at him. Dickey and Rouanzoin did not attempt to secure any
information from Plaintiff regarding his identity, nor explain why they pulled him over. The officers
did not ask any questions about Plaintiff’s medical condition. Rather, they opened the car door,
pulled Plaintiff out, and slammed him onto the pavement.
Plaintiff, who had no previous interaction with law enforcement, curled into a fetal position
on the pavement to protect himself. When Dickey and Rouanzoin pulled Plaintiff out of the vehicle,
the truck was still in “drive” and it began to roll into oncoming traffic. Rouanzoin chased and
entered the vehicle, stopped it, and shut the engine off.
While Plaintiff was still on the ground, Dickey and Rouanzoin jammed Plaintiff’s face into
the pavement. At that point, Defendant Diener sprayed Plaintiff in the face with pepper spray, then
Dickey, Rouanzoin, Jenkins, Diener, and Lord (the “Individual Defendants”) struck Plaintiff with
batons in the legs. During this beating, Dickey accidently struck Rouanzoin with his baton. Dickey
also applied multiple taser strikes to Plaintiff. Further, the Individual Defendants wrenched
Plaintiff’s right hand behind his back causing pain and damage to his hand, fingers, and rotator cuff.
These injuries necessitated two surgeries. Plaintiff will require additional surgeries every ten years
to replace the joint in his finger.
Plaintiff did not resist the police officer’s attempts to physically restrain him. Eventually,
an ambulance was called to provide emergency care for Plaintiff. When the paramedics gave him
a chance to speak, Plaintiff indicated that he was diabetic and did not feel well. The paramedics
tested Plaintiff’s blood glucose level and found his readings to be at a level of 35.
According to information from the University of Michigan’s Health System Department of
Metabolism, Endocrinology and Diabetes pertaining to hypoglycemia—or low blood glucose—a
blood glucose reading of 35 is defined as follows:
The symptoms of severe low blood sugar develop when blood sugar falls below
35-40 mg/dL and may include:
* Seizures or convulsions
* Loss of consciousness, coma
* Low body temperature (hypothermia)
The attending paramedics recognized the potential danger that existed for Plaintiff and promptly
administered glycogen, which likely prevented him from slipping into a diabetic coma.
In addition to the allegations raised by Plaintiff in this case, other individuals have lodged
the following allegations against Commerce City and/or its police officers:
In 2003, Commerce City police officers chased a suspect’s vehicle at nearly 100 miles an
hour. The chase ended when the suspect, chased by six officers, smashed head-on into Julie
Bailey’s small truck, flipping it onto its roof and trapping and critically injuring Ms. Bailey
and her son, Brandon Magnuson. Brandon died soon thereafter of injuries sustained in the
crash. Bailey v. City of Commerce City, et al., 05-cv-02440-WYD-CBS.
In 2003, Sergio Perez was repeatedly struck with a heavy flashlight by Officer Juan Gomez.
As a result of the attack, Plaintiff fell to the ground, bleeding from his head and mouth and
was handcuffed and beaten further. Perez v. Gomez et al., 05-cv-02241-WDM-BNB.
In 2007, Adam Launer was arrested by a Commerce City Police Officer, Audie Vigil,
without probable cause and without warrant. While Mr. Launer was handcuffed and laying
face down on the ground, Officer Vigil held Mr. Launer in the prone position, sprayed his
neck and back with mace or pepper spray, and punched him in the right shoulder. John Doe
Officers kicked Mr. Launer in the ribs and used their boot to apply pressure from the
handcuffs against his wrists. Mr. Launer suffered from a partial pneumothorax, rib injuries,
bruises and contusions, and burns from the pepper spray or mace. Launer v. Vigil, et al.,
In 2012, while on duty, Commerce City Police officer Robert Price shot and killed a family’s
dog and was charged with animal cruelty. Commerce City paid the family $262,000 for
excessive force used against their dog. Branson v. Price, et al., 13-cv-03090-REB-NYW.
Furthermore, Defendants Jenkins and Lord have been involved in the following incidents:
On May 6, 2010, Commerce City Police officers, including Defendant Jenkins, allegedly
fired approximately nineteen gun shots in a densely populated residential area killing one,
injuring another, and damaging private resident structures.
Defendant Lord resigned from the Commerce City Police Department November 18, 2015
after his arrest for tampering with evidence and false reporting. In that instance, Lord shot
himself in his own bullet proof vest on purpose and knowingly blamed an innocent person.
He ultimately pleaded guilty, has a criminal conviction, and is on probation.
In 2011, Commerce City’s police union presented Commerce City with a 23-page report
urging a review of years of questionable conduct by police officers and alleged mismanagement by
senior police officials. Commerce City attorney Karen Stevens was the first to review the report.
Of the police union’s twenty-three pages of allegations, she forwarded only eight incidences to the
attention of Timothy Leary, a third-party investigator hired to look into the police union’s claims,
who also worked as a contractor for Commerce City’s insurer, Colorado Intergovernmental Risk
Sharing Agency (“CIRSA”). CIRSA would be responsible for payment if Mr. Leary’s investigation
found wrongdoing that led to lawsuits.
In or about January 2013, Defendant Troy Smith was named chief of police for Commerce
City. See ECF No. 43-2. After assuming the position, Smith did not institute policies and
procedures within the police department pertaining to use of force and/or the recognition of medical
emergencies despite knowing about the department’s “serious internal issues and officer
misconduct.” Id. In June 2015, Smith received a vote of no-confidence from sixty-seven officers
who voted in support of the measure; three voted against it. Mike Violette, Executive Director of
the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police told a newspaper reporter, “In 2-1/2 years, Troy Smith has
managed to destroy a highly respected and much sought after, employment-wise, police department.
I’d hate to see what happens in the next 2-1/2 years if changes aren’t made.” However, Commerce
City Mayor Ford reported to the newspaper that the city counsel was “firmly behind” Smith saying,
“We know there’s a reform need and the chief is moving ahead with these reforms. It takes time for
change to take place.” Smith was eventually demoted to interim chief before he was removed.
On July 18, 2016, Commerce City Mayor Sean Ford, City Manager Brian McBroom, and
Interim Chief of Police Lowell Richardson, wrote a letter addressed to Director Ronald Davis of the
U.S. Department of Justice “requesting assistance from the Department of Justice’s Community
Oriented Policing Division’s Technical Assistance Program for Collaborative Reform.” According
to the letter, Commerce City had “mandated that all uniformed personnel carry Tasers as a lesslethal force option and provided training and new equipment to all officers to accomplish this goal,”
but sought assistance to address “serious internal issues and officer misconduct.” Letter, ECF No.
43-2. These policy makers further acknowledged that
[W]ithin the last six months two police officers [including Lord] were criminally
charged for their actions while on-duty. In other cases officers have chosen to resign
during the internal affairs investigative process after having been found to have
engaged in conduct that likely would have resulted in termination. These incidents
of misconduct on the part of police officers who are sworn to protect and serve this
community have undermined the trust of the community and negatively impacted the
credibility of the department and its membership who are committed to providing
Id. Commerce City became the thirteenth city in the country to seek and receive federal review.
Commerce City Police Department is now implementing body cameras and a Citizen’s Advisory
Committee. Though these changes may assist with victims of excessive force who seek redress from
civil rights violations, there has been little, if anything, done to prevent inadequate training.
Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff claims the City Defendants “with actual
knowledge of the obvious urgent need for constitutionally acceptable departmental policies and
procedures concerning the hiring, training, supervision and retention of officers[,] and the obvious
likelihood of injury to citizens exposed to such officers, recklessly and with deliberate indifference,
did not reasonably provide such policies and procedures and failed to properly hire, train, supervise
and retain the Officer Defendants complained of above. These and other failures created the danger
of harm [that] led to Mr. Leadholm’s injuries in this case.” Am. Compl. ¶ 55, ECF No. 43. Plaintiff
seeks unspecified declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as recovery for compensatory damages,
economic losses, costs, and attorney’s fees. Id. at 4.
City Defendants filed the present motion arguing Plaintiff’s constitutional claims against
them should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff failed to allege plausibly that
the violation was the result of any municipal policy, as required by the Supreme Court in Monell v.
Dep’t of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and because the claims against the City and
against Smith in his official capacity are duplicative.
Plaintiff counters that the City Defendants fail to view the allegations in the light most
favorable to him and fail to acknowledge the allegations supporting his plausible claims. In
addition, Plaintiff contends his allegations of a “pattern” of misconduct by Commerce City police
officers, in addition to the allegations showing his injuries were an obvious or highly predictable
consequence of the lack of training in use of force demonstrates the City Defendants are liable for
constitutional violations. Finally, Plaintiff contends that Smith is individually liable as a supervisor
because his failure to train was directly linked to the individual Defendants’ use of excessive force
against Plaintiff, and Smith is not immune from such liability because Tenth Circuit and Supreme
Court law prior to 2014 clearly established supervisory liability for constitutional violations and the
right to be free from excessive force.
City Defendants reply that “Plaintiff has failed to provide non-conclusory factual support for
his claims and they are, therefore, subject to dismissal.” Reply 2, ECF No. 73. They also contend
that Plaintiff failed to address any arguments concerning hiring, supervision and/or retention of
officers, as well as the argument that the official capacity claim against Smith is duplicative of his
claim against the City.
Finally, City Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s cited case law is
distinguishable from the facts/allegations in this case and, thus, do not apply.
“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, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility, in the context of a motion to
dismiss, means that the plaintiff pled facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference
that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Twombly requires a two prong analysis.
First, a court must identify “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption
of truth,” that is, those allegations which are legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely
conclusory. Id. at 679-80. Second, the Court must consider the factual allegations “to determine
if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681. If the allegations state a plausible
claim for relief, such claim survives the motion to dismiss. Id. at 680.
Plausibility refers “to the scope of the allegations in a complaint: if they are so general that
they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs ‘have not nudged
their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.’” Khalik v. United Air Lines, 671 F.3d
1188, 1191 (10th Cir. 2012) (quoting Robbins v. Okla., 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008)). “The
nature and specificity of the allegations required to state a plausible claim will vary based on
context.” Kan. Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1215 (10th Cir. 2011). Thus, while
Rule 12(b)(6) standard does not require that a plaintiff establish a prima facie case in a complaint,
the elements of each alleged cause of action may help to determine whether the plaintiff has set forth
a plausible claim. Khalik, 671 F.3d at 1191.
Plaintiff brings his Second Claim for Relief against Commerce City and against Smith, in
both his individual and official2 capacities, for “deliberately indifferent hiring, training[,]
supervision[,] and retention.” Am. Compl. 14-15. The City Defendants challenge all aspects of this
claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).
The Court agrees with the City Defendants’ unchallenged contention that Plaintiff’s official
capacity claim against Smith is duplicative of his claim against Commerce City. “[A] section 1983
suit against a municipality and a suit against a municipal official acting in his or her official capacity
are the same.” Stuart v. Jackson, 24 F. App’x 943, 956 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Myers v. Okla.
Cnty. Bd. of Cnty .Comm’rs, 151 F.3d 1313, 1316 n. 2 (10th Cir. 1998)); see also Watson v. City of
Kansas City, 857 F.2d 690, 695 (10th Cir. 1988) (treating as one claim the plaintiff’s claim against
a municipality and claims against municipal officials acting in their official capacities). As the
Supreme Court explained, “[o]fficial-capacity suits . . . generally represent only another way of
pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent. As long as the government entity
receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than
name, to be treated as a suit against an entity.” Ky. v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985)
(citations and quotations omitted).
Consequently, where a plaintiff sues both the municipality and municipal official in an
official capacity under the same theory of recovery, courts have dismissed the official capacity claim
as “duplicative” or “redundant” of the claim against the municipal entity. Barr v. City of
Although the “Parties” section of the Amended Complaint identifies Smith as being
“sued in his individual capacity” (Am. Compl. ¶ 6), the caption of the pleading lists Smith as
sued “in [his] individual and official capacities.” Id. Accordingly, in an abundance of caution,
the Court will construe the claims as raised against Smith in both capacities.
Albuquerque, No. 12-CV-01109-GBW, 2014 WL 11497831, at *13 (D. N.M. Apr. 8, 2014) (citing
Starrett v. Wadley, 876 F.2d 808, 813 (10th Cir. 1989) (despite presence of official capacity claim,
“the appeal effectively is between only two parties: the County and plaintiff”)); see also Doe v.
Douglas Cnty. Sch. Dist., 775 F. Supp. 1414, 1416 (D. Colo. 1991) (“redundant” official capacity
claim dismissed); Riendl v. City of Leavenworth, 361 F. Supp. 2d 1294, 1302 (D. Kan. 2005) (same).
As such, Plaintiff’s claim against Defendant Smith in his official capacity is dismissed. See Hays
v. Ellis, 331 F. Supp. 2d 1303, 1306 n.2 (D. Colo. 2004).
City Defendants contend the Plaintiff has not plausibly pled his claim for municipal liability
under 42 U.S.C. §1983, because he has not sufficiently alleged either an underlying constitutional
violation or an official policy that directly caused the claimed constitutional violation. Mot. ¶ 17.
The Supreme Court recognizes that municipalities and other local government units are
“persons” to whom Section 1983 applies. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55
(1978). However, local governments can be liable under Section 1983 “only for their own illegal
acts.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (internal quotation and citations omitted)
(emphasis in original). Hence, “[a] municipality may not be held liable under § 1983 solely because
its employees inflicted injury on the plaintiff.” Hinton v. City of Elwood, Kan., 997 F.2d 774, 782
(10th Cir. 1993) (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 692). A plaintiff cannot state a claim for relief under
§ 1983 by pointing merely to an isolated or single incident. See Butler v. City of Norman, 992 F.2d
1053, 1055–56 (10th Cir. 1993) (isolated incident of excessive force by a police officer, even
coupled with municipality’s failure to discipline the officer, was inadequate to form the basis of
municipal liability). Rather, to prove a Section 1983 claim against a municipality, a plaintiff must
demonstrate (1) the existence of a municipal policy or custom, which (2) directly caused the injury
alleged. Hinton, 997 F.2d at 782 (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989)).
In establishing the first requirement, a plaintiff may show a municipal policy or custom in
the form of any of the following:
(1) a formal regulation or policy statement; (2) an informal custom amounting to a
widespread practice that, although not authorized by written law or express
municipal policy, is so permanent and well settled as to constitute a custom or usage
with the force of law; (3) the decisions of employees with final policymaking
authority; (4) the ratification by such final policymakers of the decisions - and the
basis for them - of subordinates to whom authority was delegated subject to these
policymakers’ review and approval; or (5) the failure to adequately train or supervise
employees, so long as that failure results from deliberate indifference to the injuries
that may be caused.
Bryson v. City of Okla. City, 627 F.3d 784, 788 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Brammer-Hoetler v. Twin
Peaks Charter Acad., 602 F.3d 1175, 1189-90 (10th Cir. 2010)) (internal quotations omitted).
Here, Plaintiff alleges Commerce City “with actual knowledge of the obvious urgent need
for constitutionally acceptable departmental policies and procedures concerning the hiring, training,
supervision and retention of officers[,] and the obvious likelihood of injury to citizens exposed to
such officers, recklessly and with deliberate indifference, did not reasonably provide such policies
and procedures and failed to properly hire, train, supervise and retain3 the [Individual] Defendants
. . . . These and other failures created the danger of harm [that] led to Mr. Leadholm’s injuries in this
case.” Am. Compl. ¶ 55. The standards for pleading a municipal liability claim are strenuous, and
those for asserting a viable failure to train claim particularly so. See Connick, 563 U.S. at 61 (“A
The Court agrees with City Defendants that Plaintiff’s theories of “failure to hire, . . .
supervise and retain” are merely conclusory, particularly since the allegations (and even the
headings) in the Amended Complaint mention only “failing” or “failure” to train and
“inadequate” or “poor” training. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 33, 36, 37, 40; also at 7. Moreover,
Plaintiff focuses his response to the present motion on the City Defendants’ alleged failure to
train and does not address any arguments challenging his allegations of failures to hire,
supervise, and retain. See Resp., ECF No. 65.
municipality’s culpability for a deprivation of rights is at its most tenuous where a claim turns on
a failure to train.”). “[P]roving that a municipality itself actually caused a constitutional violation
by failing to train the offending employee presents ‘difficult problems of proof,’ and we must adhere
to a ‘stringent standard of fault,’ lest municipal liability under § 1983 collapse into respondeat
superior.” Id. at 69. In this context, Plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to suggest that the failure
to train “amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the [untrained
employees] come into contact.” See id. at 61 (citing Canton, 489 U.S. at 388).
Deliberate indifference is established only “when city policymakers are on actual or
constructive notice that a particular omission in their training program causes city employees to
violate citizens’ constitutional rights,” but they “choose to retain that program.” Id. For example,
A pattern of similar constitutional violations by untrained employees is “ordinarily
necessary” to demonstrate deliberate indifference for purposes of failure to train.
Policymakers’ “continued adherence to an approach that they know or should know
has failed to prevent tortious conduct by employees may establish the conscious
disregard for the consequences of their action – the ‘deliberate indifference’ –
necessary to trigger municipal liability.” Without notice that a course of training is
deficient in a particular respect, decisionmakers can hardly be said to have
deliberately chosen a training program that will cause violations of constitutional
Id. at 62. Apparently, in an effort to demonstrate a pattern of similar constitutional violations,
Plaintiff set forth in the Amended Complaint the allegations by other individuals against Commerce
City’s police department in 2003, 2007, and 2012. However, the Supreme Court and the Tenth
Circuit make clear that such “violations” must place policymakers “on actual or constructive notice
that a particular omission in their training program causes city employees to violate citizens’
constitutional rights.” Id. at 61 (emphasis added). None of the allegations listed in the Amended
Complaint involve excessive force against a driver who was non-responsive due to a medical
condition. The same is true regarding Plaintiff’s allegations that Defendants Jenkins and Lord were
involved in incidents in 2010 and 2015, respectively, regarding Commerce City police officers’
repeated firing of weapons in a residential area (2010) and Lord’s firing of a weapon that resulted
in a criminal conviction (2015). Although possible that these incidents could be construed as
“excessive” force, they are not otherwise “similar” to the Plaintiff’s allegations in this case. See
Connick, 563 U.S. at 62-63 (“Because [unrelated] incidents are not similar to the violation at issue
here, they could not have put Connick on notice that specific training was necessary to avoid this
In Connick, the Supreme Court discussed Canton’s opinion regarding “single-incident”
liability saying Canton “left open the possibility that, ‘in a narrow range of circumstances,’ a pattern
of similar violations might not be necessary to show deliberate indifference.” Id. at 61. The Court
explained that the hypothetical scenario posed in Canton4 demonstrated “an obvious need for
specific . . . training.” Id. at 64 (“The Court sought not to foreclose the possibility, however rare,
that the unconstitutional consequences of failing to train could be so patently obvious that a city
The Court posed the hypothetical example of a city that arms its police force with
firearms and deploys the armed officers into the public to capture fleeing felons
without training the officers in the constitutional limitation on the use of deadly
force. Canton, supra, at 390, n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 1197. Given the known frequency
with which police attempt to arrest fleeing felons and the “predictability that an
officer lacking specific tools to handle that situation will violate citizens’ rights,”
the Court theorized that a city’s decision not to train the officers about
constitutional limits on the use of deadly force could reflect the city’s deliberate
indifference to the “highly predictable consequence,” namely, violations of
Connick, 563 U.S. at 63-64.
could be liable under § 1983 without proof of a pre-existing pattern of violations.”).5 But, citing
Canton, the Court cautioned, “showing merely that additional training would have been helpful in
making difficult decisions does not establish municipal liability. ‘[P]rov[ing] that an injury or
accident could have been avoided if an [employee] had had better or more training, sufficient to
equip him to avoid the particular injury-causing conduct’ will not suffice.” Id. at 68 (citation
Here, following Connick’s reasoning, the Court finds Plaintiff’s allegations in this case, taken
as true at this early stage in the proceeding, more analogous to the hypothetical set forth in Canton
(reflecting an “obvious need for specific training”) than to the circumstances presented in Connick
(no obvious need to train prosecutors in their Brady obligations). See Connick, 563 U.S. at 64.
Although Plaintiff’s allegations are reasonably funneled down to one incident of excessive force,
the incident involved five Commerce City police officers all alleged to have participated in the use
of excessive force against an individual allegedly suffering from a medical condition. Taking these
allegations as true, and given the frequency with which police officers attempt to stop persons
driving unlawfully and the predictability that a lack of training will violate the constitutional rights
of a medically-inhibited driver, the Court finds the allegations sufficient at this stage of the litigation
to demonstrate the City’s deliberate indifference to the predictable consequence of violating an ill
Notably, Plaintiff cites two pre-Connick opinions by the Tenth Circuit for the
proposition that a claimant must first prove the training was, in fact, inadequate before
demonstrating the other factors necessary to prove a claim for failure to train officers in the use
of force. Specifically, these courts held “a showing of specific incidents which establish a
pattern of constitutional violations is not necessary to put the City on notice that its training
program is inadequate” (Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 842 (10th Cir. 1997)) and “a single
incident of excessive force can establish the existence of an inadequate training program if there
is some other evidence of the program’s inadequacy” (Brown v. Gray, 227 F.3d 1278, 1286 (10th
Cir. 2000)). To the extent these opinions are, in any relevant way, inconsistent with the Supreme
Court’s more recent opinion, the Court will, of course, rely on Connick.
driver’s rights. See id. at 63-64.
Of course, “a municipality [cannot] be held liable for the actions of its employees if those
actions do not constitute a violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional rights.” Trigalet v. City of Tulsa,
Okla., 239 F.3d 1150, 1154 (10th Cir. 2001); see also City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796,
799 (1986) (“If a person has suffered no constitutional injury at the hands of the individual police
officer, the fact that the departmental regulations might have authorized the use of [the behavior]
is quite beside the point.”) (emphasis in original). “A plaintiff must plead that each
Government-official defendant, through the official’s own individual actions, has violated the
Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Here, four of the five individual Defendants in this case have
filed Answers to the Amended Complaint (ECF Nos. 52, 59); accordingly, at this early stage of the
proceeding at which the merits of the case have not been adjudicated, the Court finds it proper to
deny the City’s motion to dismiss Plaintiff”s Second Claim for Relief against it.
Plaintiff alleges that “[a]fter taking over [as chief of police], Defendant Smith failed to
institute policies and procedures within the Department pertaining to use of force and the recognition
of medical emergencies despite having ample knowledge that the Department was plagued by
serious internal issues and officer misconduct. Defendant Smith’s deliberate indifference gave rise
to the conditions which allowed [Plaintiff] to be brutally assaulted.” Am. Compl. ¶ 38 (emphasis
The City Defendants assert that Smith, in his individual capacity, is entitled to qualified
immunity from liability for Plaintiff’s claim. Qualified immunity protects from litigation a public
official whose possible violation of a plaintiff’s civil rights was not clearly a violation at the time
of the official’s actions. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). “It is an entitlement
not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation.” Ahmad v. Furlong, 435 F.3d 1196, 1198
(10th Cir. 2006) (internal quotations and citations omitted). “The privilege is an immunity from suit
rather than a mere defense to liability.” Id.
When a defendant asserts the defense of qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff
to overcome the asserted immunity. Riggins v. Goodman, 572 F.3d 1101, 1107 (10th Cir. 2009).
“The plaintiff must demonstrate on the facts alleged both that the defendant violated his
constitutional or statutory rights, and that the right was clearly established at the time of the alleged
unlawful activity.” Id. (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009)). The Supreme Court
affords courts the discretion to decide “which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis
should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson, 555
U.S. at 236; see also Christensen v. Park City Mun. Corp., 554 F.3d 1271, 1277 (10th Cir. 2009).
Was Plaintiff’s Right to be Free from Excessive Force Clearly Established?
Here, the City Defendants argue that there was no clearly established law to put Smith on
notice that his deliberate indifference to the need for adequate use of force training would result in
the violation of Plaintiff’s rights. To overcome the defense of qualified immunity, the right alleged
to have been violated must have been clearly established in the law at the time of the alleged
violation. Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232. For a constitutional right to be clearly established, its contours
must be “sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates
that right.” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002). A plaintiff demonstrates that a constitutional
right is clearly established by referring to cases from the Supreme Court, the Tenth Circuit, or the
weight of authority from other circuits. Riggins, 572 F.3d at 1107.
Plaintiff cites several cases in which a plaintiff’s right to be free from the use of excessive
force was established, but he cites no case on which this Court may rely that establishes a plaintiff’s
right to be free from a supervisor’s deliberate indifference to the need to train law enforcement
officers as to the proper use of force. See Resp. 20-21. The only opinion Plaintiff cites from the
Tenth Circuit involving a supervisor’s failure to train officers in the use of force is Meade v. Grubbs,
841 F.2d 1512 (10th Cir. 1988) in which the Tenth Circuit found the plaintiff’s allegations sufficient
to state a “supervisory liability” claim against a sheriff for “improperly hiring, training,
supervising[,] and disciplining” subordinate deputies who severely beat the plaintiff after he was
arrested and while he awaited booking. Id. at 1528. However, before the incident at issue here
occurred, this portion of Meade was abrogated by Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (rejecting the proposition
that a supervisor’s mere knowledge of his subordinate’s discriminatory purpose amounts to a
constitutional violation by the supervisor), which was recognized in Schneider v. City of Grand
Junction Police Dep’t, 717 F.3d 760 (10th Cir. 2013).
In Schneider, the Tenth Circuit affirmed that a plaintiff must show an “affirmative link”
between the supervisor and the constitutional violation, which requires a demonstration of the
following: (1) personal involvement; (2) sufficient causal connection; and (3) culpable state of mind.
Id. at 767.
“[A] plaintiff may establish the first prong with evidence that ‘the defendant
promulgated, created, implemented or possessed responsibility for the continued operation of a
policy’ that caused the constitutional harm.” Keith v. Koerner, 707 F.3d 1185, 1188 (10th Cir. 2013)
(quoting Dodds, 614 F.3d at 1199) (“Keith I”). Second, “[a] plaintiff must establish the requisite
causal connection by showing the defendant set in motion a series of events that the defendant knew
or reasonably should have known would cause others to deprive the plaintiff of [his] constitutional
rights.” Schneider, 717 F.3d at 768 (citations, internal brackets and quotation marks omitted).
Finally, “[t]he third element requires the plaintiff to show that the defendant took the alleged actions
with the requisite state of mind” which “depends on the type of claim a plaintiff brings.” Id. at 769.
Although Schneider involves allegations against a law enforcement officer’s supervisors
(including the chief of police) for failure to train, the claim raised by the plaintiff was not for
excessive force and the Tenth Circuit did not reach the merits of the claim because it was not
properly raised on appeal. See id. at 773. Nevertheless, the Court finds Schneider and the cases on
which it relies articulate the “clear contours” of a claim against a police chief for failure to train
officers concerning physical contact with (or assault of) a citizen, sufficient to place Smith on notice
of Plaintiff’s “clearly established” right to be free from Smith’s deliberate indifference to such
conduct. Accordingly, the Court will proceed to the second prong of the qualified immunity analysis
to determine whether Plaintiff plausibly alleges a post-Iqbal claim against Smith pursuant to
Is the Constitutional Violation Alleged Against Smith Plausible?
Personal participation is an essential element in a civil rights action. See Bennett v. Passic,
545 F.2d 1260, 1262-63 (10th Cir. 1976); Ky. v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985). A supervisor
can only be held liable for his or her own deliberate intentional acts. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676;
Serna v. Colo. Dep’t of Corrs., 455 F.3d 1146, 1151 (10th Cir. 2006) (“Supervisors are only liable
under § 1983 for their own culpable involvement in the violation of a person’s constitutional
rights.”); see also Fogarty v. Gallegos, 523 F.3d 1147, 1162 (10th Cir. 2008) (“[Section] 1983 does
not recognize a concept of strict supervisor liability; the defendant’s role must be more than one of
abstract authority over individuals who actually committed a constitutional violation.”). Thus, as
set forth above, “Section 1983 allows a plaintiff to impose liability upon a defendant-supervisor who
creates, promulgates, implements, or in some other way possesses responsibility for the continued
operation of a policy the enforcement of which ‘subjects, or causes to be subjected’ that plaintiff ‘to
the deprivation of any rights . . . secured by the Constitution . . . .’” Dodds, 614 F.3d at 1199
(interpreting Iqbal and quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983).
The Tenth Circuit recently confirmed that it has “not determined whether a failure to train
satisfies the post-Iqbal personal involvement requirement.” Keith v. Koerner, 843 F.3d 833, 838
(10th Cir. 2016) (“Keith II”). In Keith II, the court concluded it need not reach the question because
it determined the plaintiff’s allegations insufficient under the more lenient pre-Iqbal standard for
. . . a supervising prison official may be liable “[w]here there is essentially a
complete failure to train, or training that is so reckless or grossly negligent that future
misconduct is almost inevitable.” Houston v. Reich, 932 F.2d 883, 888 (10th Cir.
1991) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). It is not enough to allege “general
deficiencies” in a particular training program. Lopez v. LeMaster, 172 F.3d 756, 760
(10th Cir. 1999). Rather, a plaintiff “must identify a specific deficiency in the
[entity’s] training program closely related to his ultimate injury, and must prove that
the deficiency in training actually caused his jailer to act with deliberate indifference
to his safety.” Id.
Id. at 838-39. The Keith II plaintiff, who claimed she was raped by a prison maintenance instructor,
relied on an audit report which concluded that the prison facility “failed to provide targeted training”
relating to unique issues arising in a female-only facility. The court held, “Even if the Audit Report
creates a dispute about the extent of training provided to TCF employees, it does not provide a basis
from which a jury could find ‘essentially a complete failure to train’ that made sexual misconduct
‘almost inevitable.’” Id. at 839 (quoting Houston, 932 F.2d at 888).
In this case, the Plaintiff’s allegations characterize Commerce City’s use of force
policy/program as “inadequate,” in that the program failed to train officers “pertaining to use of
force and the recognition of medical emergencies.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 37, 38. The Court finds these
allegations, taken as true, “identify a specific deficiency in [Commerce City’s] training program
closely related to [Plaintiff’s] ultimate injury” sufficient to meet the standard imposed in Keith II.
See 843 F.3d at 839.
With that said, the Court is still unclear as to whether a failure to train claim satisfies the
post-Iqbal personal involvement requirement. Id. at 838. Such a finding is not necessary in this
case, however, because the Court finds the allegations insufficient to demonstrate the necessary
“affirmative link” between Smith and the constitutional violation.
Here, the allegations, taken as true, reflect that Smith was named chief of police in late 2012
or early 2013, twelve to eighteen months after Commerce City’s police union presented Commerce
City with a 23-page report urging a review of years of questionable conduct by police officers and
alleged mismanagement by senior police officials. During Smith’s tenure, the individual Defendants
allegedly assaulted Plaintiff during a traffic stop while he was suffering a diabetic episode, which
resulted in his claimed injuries. At some point after Smith’s departure, Commerce City Mayor Ford,
City Manager McBroom, and Interim Chief of Police Richardson wrote a letter to Director Davis
“requesting assistance from the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Division’s
Technical Assistance Program for Collaborative Reform” to address “serious internal issues and
officer misconduct.” Plaintiff alleges that Smith, while chief of police, did not institute policies and
procedures within the police department pertaining to use of force and the recognition of medical
emergencies despite knowing about such “issues and officer misconduct.”
Plaintiff’s allegations must reflect that Smith “set in motion a series of events that the
defendant knew or reasonably should have known would cause others to deprive the plaintiff of [his]
constitutional rights.” Schneider, 717 F.3d at 768. There are no allegations that Smith, as police
chief, was charged with implementing an adequate use of force policy/training program, but failed
to do so. Nor do the allegations demonstrate that during his tenure, Smith was made aware of the
inadequacy of the training policy/program but failed to remedy it before the Plaintiff was stopped
and allegedly assaulted by the individual Defendants. See, e.g., Keith I, 707 F.3d at 1189 (finding
allegations sufficient to demonstrate affirmative link between the warden and the prison officer’s
sexual misconduct against an inmate where the complaint incorporated an “Audit Report” of the
prison facility, which indicated previous incidents (during the warden’s tenure) of both sexual
misconduct and undue familiarity, inconsistent disciplinary responses to such incidents, structural
policy problems at the facility, and a lack of appropriate training programs).
Rather, as stated, these allegations reflect Smith’s “mere knowledge of his [subordinates’]
discriminatory purpose” and/or conduct, which is insufficient to state a § 1983 claim against Smith
in his individual capacity. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (discriminatory purpose “involves a
decisionmaker’s undertaking a course of action because of, not merely in spite of, the action’s
adverse effects upon [the plaintiff]”) (citation and internal quotations marks and brackets omitted);
Schneider, 717 F.3d at 767 (an “affirmative link” requires “more than a supervisor’s mere
knowledge of his subordinate’s conduct”).
Therefore, because the Plaintiff fails to state a plausible claim for individual liability against
former Commerce City police chief Smith, the Court will grant Defendants’ motion to dismiss
Plaintiff’s Second Claim for Relief against him.
In sum, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state plausible claims for deliberately
indifferent hiring, supervision, and retention against the City Defendants and for deliberately
indifferent training against Smith, in both official and individual capacities. However, the Court
concludes Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient, taken as true at this early stage, to state a plausible
claim for municipal liability against Commerce City. Accordingly, based upon the foregoing
reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants
City of Commerce City and Troy Smith (“City Defendants”) [filed March 13, 2017; ECF No. 57].
The Court directs the Clerk of the Court to dismiss Defendant Troy Smith from the case.
SO ORDERED at Denver, Colorado this 9th day of May, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
Michael E. Hegarty
United States Magistrate Judge
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