Sanchez v. Dakota County, Nebraska et al
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)
- 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 . ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) )
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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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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