Steele v. Edwards et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT: For the foregoing reasons, Ashe's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 53) is GRANTED and Ashe's Motion to Ascertain Status as to Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 70) is DENIED AS MOOT. Steele's claims against De fendant Beth Ashe are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. IT IS SO ORDERED. Signed by District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr on 12/16/16. (xc:Pro se party by regular mail.)(DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(af) Modified on 12/16/2016 (af).
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
CHARLES EDWARDS et al.,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Jasmine Steele filed this civil action alleging sexual harassment during her incarceration at
the Tennessee Prison for Women, sexual assault by guard Charles Edwards, and retaliation by the
Montgomery County Jail staff upon reporting the alleged assault. (Doc. No. 47.) Before the Court
are Beth Ashe’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 53) and Motion to Ascertain Status as to Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. No. 70.) For the reasons below, Ashe’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 53) is
GRANTED and Ashe’s Motion to Ascertain Status as to Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 70) is
DENIED AS MOOT.
Ashe is the Executive Director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute (“TCI”). (Doc. No.
47 at 5.) Steele is suing Ashe “both in her individual capacity for her role in causing Steele’s harms
and in her official capacity because at the time relevant to this [action], Ashe was responsible for
ensuring the Clarksville Jail met TCI’s standards.” (Id. at 5.) Steele alleges Ashe was “derelict in
her duty” of ensuring the Clarksville Jail complied with TCI standards, resulting in Steele’s
suffering repeated sexual assaults and harassment as well as retaliation for reporting the sexual
abuse. (Id. at 17.) Steele also claims that Ashe “acted under the color of state law.” (Id. at 5.) Other
than Paragraphs 11 and 74 of the First Amended Complaint, Steele makes no other allegations
about Ashe’s duties, roles or involvement in the TCI or the alleged harassment incidents. (Id. at 5
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A motion to dismiss is reviewed under the standard that the Court must accept as true all
of the allegations contained in the complaint, resolve all doubts in Steele’s favor, and draw all
reasonable inferences in favor of Steele. In re Travel Agent Com'n Antitrust Litig., 583 F.3d 896,
903 (6th Cir.2009). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 677 (2009). 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. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice. Id. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should
assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief. Id. at 679. A legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation need not be accepted as true
on a motion to dismiss, nor are recitations of the elements of a cause of action sufficient. Fritz v.
Charter Township of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010).
Ashe argues that Steele’s only allegation is that Ashe is Director of the TCI, an agency that
per statute has no authority to regulate or enforce regulations; there are no allegations of any degree
of personal involvement. Steele counters without citation to any allegations in the First Amended
Complaint, that “Ashe was personally responsible for ensuring the Jail’s policies protected inmates
such as Plaintiff through policies such as Providing information ‘to inmates about sexual
abuse/assault including: (a) Prevention/intervention; (b) Self-protection; (c) Reporting sexual
abuse/assault; and, (d) Treatment and counseling. This information shall be communicated in
writing or electronically, in a language clearly understood by the inmate, upon arrival at the
facility’. . .” and that “Ashe’s failure to perform her designated duties and ensure the Clarksville
Jail was protecting inmates such as Plaintiff from sexual abuse or unnecessary uses of force
perpetuated Plaintiff’s harms, and thus Plaintiff has sued her, as she may, for damages.” (Doc. No.
56 at 5-6.) The Court acknowledges Steele’s arguments based upon Tennessee regulations, but did
not find any allegations anywhere in the First Amended Complaint to support these arguments.
Claim Against Ashe in her Individual Capacity
Steele is suing Ashe “both in her individual capacity . . . and in her official capacity.” (Doc.
No. 47 at 5.) “[P]ersonal-capacity § 1983 suits seek to impose individual liability upon a
government officer for actions taken under color of state law.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25
(1991). Here, Steele did not allege in the First Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 47) any degree of
personal involvement or actions by Ashe that caused harm to Steele in her individual capacity.
Since the Twombly standard requires plaintiffs to plead sufficient factual matter to state a claim
for relief that is plausible on its face, the Court cannot allow a claim where Steele has plead no
facts regarding Ashe’s alleged dereliction in her duties. (Doc. No. 47 at 17.) A single statement
describing Ashe’s official position does not constitute sufficient facts, nor do the legal conclusions
that Ashe was “derelict in her duty” and “acted under color of state law.” (Id. at 5.) As such,
Steele’s claim failed to provide sufficient factual allegations to state a claim for relief that is
plausible against Ashe as an individual.
Claim Against Ashe in her Official Capacity
Steele also seeks relief against Ashe in her official capacity. The Supreme Court has held
that “official-capacity suits “generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an
entity of which an officer is an agent.” Hafer, 502 U.S. at 25.
Though Steele clarifies in her Response to Ashe’s Motion to Dismiss that she seeks only
injunctive and declarative relief against Ashe in her official capacity (Doc. No. 56), Steele does
not specify in the First Amended Complaint whether she seeks damages or injunctive relief against
Ashe in her official capacity (Doc. No. 47.) Again, current pleading standards require some degree
of specificity so that the parties can understand what specifically is asked of them. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
The First Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 47) alleges no facts that Steele has a basis for
seeking injunctive relief because of a threat of future injury at the hands of Ashe. See City of Los
Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 102-09 (1983); Blakely v. United States, 276 F.3d 853, 873-74
(6th Cir. 2002); Williams v. Ellington, 936 F.2d 881, 889 (6th Cir. 1991). Past exposure to alleged
illegal conduct "does not in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive
relief." O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495 (1974). Simply put, nowhere in the First Amended
Complaint (Doc. No. 47) does Steele allege state conduct or threat of future injury where Ashe is
the sole representative of the state institution. If Steele wishes to maintain an action against the
entity of which Ashe is an agent, she may do so through the other agents Steele has listed as codefendants. (Doc. No. 47.) Ashe’s participation in this suit is not necessary to maintain an action
against the Clarksville Jail. (Id. at 5-7.)
For the foregoing reasons, Ashe’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 53) is GRANTED and
Ashe’s Motion to Ascertain Status as to Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 70) is DENIED AS MOOT.
Steele’s claims against Defendant Beth Ashe is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
WAVERLY D. CRENSHAW, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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