Sanchez v. Dakota County, Nebraska et al

Filing 68

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER the joint motion to dismiss filed by defendants County of Dakota, Rodney Herron and James L. Wagner 46 is denied; Defendant Joe Ramirez's motions to dismiss 61 and 63 are denied; defendants shall respond to the plaintiff's second amended complaint within 14 days of the date of this order as ordered by Chief Judge Joseph F. Bataillon. (SED)

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- T D T Crutcher-Sanchez v. County of Dakota et al D o c . 68 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA A L A N A CRUTCHER-SANCHEZ, f/k/a A L A N A SMITH, P la in tif f , v. C O U N T Y OF DAKOTA, NEBRASKA, J A M E S L. W A G N E R , RODNEY H E R R O N , and JOE RAMIREZ, in their o f fic ia l and individual capacities, D e f e n d a n ts . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) 8 :0 9 C V 2 8 8 M E M O R A N D U M AND ORDER T h is matter is before the court on the joint motion to dismiss filed by defendants C o u n ty of Dakota, Rodney Herron and James L. W a g n e r, Filing No. 46, and defendant Joe R a m ire z's motions to dismiss him in his individual capacity, Filing No. 63, and in his official c a p a c ity, Filing No. 61. This is an action for damages and injunctive relief for violations of c iv il rights under 42 U.S.C. 1981, 1983 and 1985. In her second amended complaint, Filing No. 45, the plaintiff, Alana CrutcherS a n c h e z, a Native American woman, alleges she was terminated from her employment as a Correctional Officer after being subjected to continuous, unsolicited, and unwelcome to u ch in g and race and gender-based verbal harassment from Chief Deputy Rodney Herron, a n d unwelcome race and gender-based verbal harassment from Sheriff James L. W a g n e r a n d Deputy Joe Ramirez. She alleges that the defendants conspired to deprive her of her rig h ts and acted in furtherance of the conspiracy by discriminating against her and retaliating a g a in s t her for her complaints and refusal to "countenance" the hostile environment. Filing N o . 45, 27. Crutcher-Sanchez further alleges that Deputy Ramirez wrote her termination le tte r and forged Sheriff W a g n e r's signature. Under the Federal Rules, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of th e claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). The rules r e q u ir e a "`showing,' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Bell Atlantic C o rp . v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3. (2007) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). "Specific fa c ts are not necessary; the statement need only `give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2 0 0 7 ) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The complaint must plead "enough facts to s ta te a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557; C.N. v. W illm a r Pub. Sch., Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 347, 591 F.3d 624, 629 (8th Cir. 2010). After T w o m b ly , "a plaintiff `must assert facts that affirmatively and plausibly suggest that the p le a d e r has the right [she] claims . . . , rather than facts that are merely consistent with such a right.'" Gregory v. Dillard's, Inc., 565 F.3d 464 (8th Cir. 2009) (en banc) (quoting Stalley v . Catholic Health Initiatives, 509 F.3d 517, 521 (8th Cir. 2007)). The factual allegations of the complaint must be sufficient to push the claims "across th e line from conceivable to plausible." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1951 (2009) (q u o tin g Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads fa c tu a l content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is lia b le for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Determining whether a c o m p la in t states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task" that requires the court " to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 1950. 2 T h e factual allegations of a complaint are assumed true and construed in favor of the p la in tiff. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (stating "[o]n the assumption that all the allegations in th e complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)," the allegations in the complaint must "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"). However, the tenet that a court must accept a s true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Iq b a l, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-50 (stating "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of a c tio n , supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice"). Although legal c o n clu s io n s can provide the complaint's framework, they must be supported by factual a lle g a tio n s . Id. at 1950 (noting that "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from th e hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of d is c o v e r y for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions"). There is no standard o f heightened specificity, more stringent than the usual pleading requirements of the civil ru le s , in cases alleging municipal liability under section 1983. Leatherman v. Tarrant County N a rc o tic s Intelligence and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993); Frey v. City of H e rc u la n e u m , 44 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 1995). The Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1981, as amended in 1991, gives all persons the e q u a l right to "make and enforce contracts" and provides a cause of action for race d is c rim in a tio n in employment. King v. Hardesty, 517 F.3d 1049, 1057 n.4 (8th Cir. 2008). T h e elements of a claim under 1981 are: (1) membership in a protected class, (2) d is c rim in a to ry intent on the part of the defendant, (3) engagement in a protected activity, and (4 ) interference with that activity by the defendant. See Gregory, 565 F.3d at 469. Section 1 9 8 1 provides a cause of action for race-based employment discrimination based on a h o s tile work environment that is shown when incidents of harassment occur with regularity 3 th a t can be termed pervasive. See Greer v. St. Louis Reg'l Med. Ctr., 258 F.3d 843, 847 (8th C ir. 2001). A claim for retaliation is also cognizable under 1981. CBOCS West, Inc. v. H u m p h rie s , 553 U.S. 442, -, 128 S. Ct. 1951, 1961 (2008). The prohibition on racial d is c rim in a tio n in 1981 covers claims of retaliation against those who advocate the rights o f groups protected by that prohibition. See id. at 1955. The "right to be free from gender discrimination is secured by the equal protection c la u s e of the Fourteenth Amendment." Tipler v. Douglas County, Neb., 482 F.3d 1023, 1027 (8 th Cir. 2007); Ottman v. City of Independence, Mo., 341 F.3d 751, 756 (8th Cir. 2003) ("in te n tio n a l gender discrimination in public employment by persons acting under color of s ta te law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment"). Equal p r o t e c tio n claims may be asserted under 42 U.S.C. 1983. See, e.g., Mercer v. City of C e d a r Rapids, 308 F.3d 840, 844 (8th Cir. 2002). Discrimination based on gender that c re a te s a hostile or abusive working environment also violates 1983. Weger v. City of L a d u e , 500 F.3d 710, 717 n.4 (8th Cir. 2007) (hostile work environment claims under Title V II and 1983 are subject to the same analysis). To state a claim for hostile environment d is c rim in a tio n , an employee must show: (1) she belongs to a protected group; (2) she was s u b je c t to unwelcome harassment; (3) the harassment was based on race or gender; (4) the h a ra s s m e n t affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and (5) her employer k n e w or should have known of the harassment and failed to take proper remedial action. M c C o w n v. St. John's Health Sys., Inc., 349 F.3d 540, 542 (8th Cir. 2003). T h e elements of conspiracy to deprive a person of Constitutional rights under 42 U .S .C . 1985(3) are: (1) that the defendant did conspire; (2) for the purpose of depriving, 4 e ith e r directly or indirectly, any person or class of person of equal protection of the laws, e q u a l privileges and immunities under the law; (3) that one or more of the conspirators did, o r caused to be done an act in furtherance of the object of conspiracy; and (4) that another p e rs o n was injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right o r privilege of a citizen of the United States. Larson ex rel Larson v. Miller, 76 F.3d 1446, 1 4 5 4 (8th Cir. 1996). A plaintiff must at least allege some facts "which would suggest that [d e f e n d a n ts ] `reached an understanding' to violate [her] rights." See, e.g., Nelson v. City of M c G e h e e , 876 F.2d 56, 59 (8th Cir. 1989). G o v e rn m e n t entities are not liable under section 1983 for an employee's actions u n d e r a theory of respondeat superior, but the county may be held liable under 1983 for a rights violation when it either had an unlawful policy or practice that caused the rights v io la tio n , or a "policymaker" directly caused the rights violation. Pembaur v. City of C in c in n a ti, 475 U.S. 469, 480 (1986); Yellow Horse v. Pennington County, 225 F.3d 923, 928 (8 th Cir. 2000). Locating a "policy" ensures that a municipality is held liable only for those d e p r iv a tio n s resulting from the decisions of its duly constituted legislative body or of those o ff ic ia ls whose acts may fairly be said to be those of the municipality. Board of County C o m m 'r s of Bryan County, Okl. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403-04 (1997). "[A]n act performed p u rs u a n t to a `custom' that has not been formally approved by an appropriate decisionmaker m a y fairly subject a municipality to liability on the theory that the relevant practice is so w id e s p r e a d as to have the force of law." Id. at 404 (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv. of C ity of New York, 436 U.S. 668, 690-91 (1978). Under section 1983, to establish liability against a defendant in his individual capacity, b e c a u s e vicarious liability is inapplicable to 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each 5 g o ve rn m e n t-o ffic ia l defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the C o n s titu tio n . Parrish v. Ball, 594 F.3d 993, 1001 (8th Cir. 2010); Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1948. "T h u s, `each Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her o w n misconduct.'" Parrish, 594 F.3d at 1001 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949). A s u p e rv is in g officer can be liable for an inferior officer's constitutional violation only if the s u p e rv is in g officer directly participated in the constitutional violation, or if his failure to train o r supervise the offending actor caused the deprivation. Parrish, 594 F.3d at 1001; Ottman, 3 4 1 F.3d at 761 (stating that "[t]he supervisor must know about the conduct and facilitate it, a p p ro v e it, condone it, or turn a blind eye for fear of what [he or she] might see") (internal c ita tio n omitted). The court finds that Crutcher-Sanchez's amended complaint states a plausible claim f o r racial discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 1981 and for gender discrimination under 1983. C ru tch e r- S a n c h e z alleges she is a member of a protected class and has suffered a tangible e m p lo ym e n t action in that she was terminated from her employment under circumstances fro m which a discriminatory intent can be inferred. The factual allegations of the second a m e n d e d complaint, taken as true, show severe and pervasive offensive incidents that could r is e to the level of a race- and/or a gender-based hostile work environment. CrutcherS a n c h e z alleges facts showing she was treated differently than similarly-situated male e m p lo ye e s and alleges conduct that is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person w o u ld find it hostile or abusive. Further, she has sufficiently alleged a claim for retaliation. W ith respect to the conspiracy claim, Crutcher-Sanchez has alleged facts that show a m e e tin g of the minds. She alleges that the defendants acted in concert to foster and 6 p r o m o te an abusive environment and that two individuals performed an act in furtherance o f the conspiracy in drafting the termination letter and forging the signature. Crutcher-Sanchez has alleged conduct by defendants W a g n e r, Herron and Ramirez th a t would give rise to individual liability. The court further finds that her complaint s u ffic ie n tly states that defendants' actions were either the decisions of a policy-maker or w e r e taken pursuant to an official policy or custom of Dakota County. Accordingly, the court fin d s that the defendants' motions to dismiss Crutcher-Sanchez's claims should be denied. A c c o r d i n g l y, IT IS ORDERED: 1. T h e joint motion to dismiss filed by defendants County of Dakota, Rodney H e rr o n and James L. W a g n e r (Filing No. 46) is denied; 2. D e f e n d a n t Joe Ramirez's motions to dismiss (Filing Nos. 61 and 63) are d e n ie d . 3. D e fe n d a n ts shall respond to the plaintiff's second amended complaint within 1 4 days of the date of this order. DATED this 6 th day of August, 2010. B Y THE COURT: s / Joseph F. Bataillon Chief District Judge *This opinion m a y contain hyperlinks to other docum e n ts or W e b sites. The U.S. District Court for th e District of Nebraska does not endorse, recom m e n d , approve, or guarantee any third parties or the services o r products they provide on their W e b sites. Likewise, the court has no agreem e n ts with any of these third p a r tie s or their W e b sites. The court accepts no responsibility for the availability or functionality of any h yp e r lin k . Thus, the fact that a hyperlink ceases to work or directs the user to som e other site does not affect t h e opinion of the court. 7

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