Weir v. Everette et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by Chief Judge Kevin H. Sharp on 1/23/2017. (xc:Pro se party by regular and certified mail.)(DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(eh)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
OFFICER F/N/U EVERETT et al.,
Chief Judge Sharp
Plaintiff James Weir1, a pre-trial detainee currently in the custody of the Wilson County Jail
in Lebanon, Tennessee, has filed a pro se, in forma pauperis complaint against Officer f/n/u Everett
and the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, alleging civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
(Docket No. 1).
The plaintiff’s complaint is before the court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison
Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e.
PLRA Screening Standard
Under the PLRA, courts are required to screen a complaints filed by prisoners and dismiss
those complaints that are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state claims upon which relief may be
granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).
The Sixth Circuit has confirmed that the dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court
in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
“governs dismissals for failure to state a claim under those statutes because the relevant statutory
Plaintiff has not provided his inmate identification number.
language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470–71 (6th Cir.
2010). Thus, to survive scrutiny on initial review, “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 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[A] district court must (1) view the
complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations
as true.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing
Gunasekera v. Irwin, 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)).
Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108,
110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts’ “duty to be ‘less stringent’ with pro se complaints does not require
us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979)
Section 1983 Standard
The plaintiff brings his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates
a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges “rights,
privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” To state a claim under § 1983,
the plaintiff must allege and show two elements: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting
under color of state law. Tahfs v. Proctor, 316 F.3d 584, 590 (6th Cir. 2003); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The complaint alleges that, on November 16, 2016, while the plaintiff was in the custody of
the Wilson County Jail as a pre-trial detainee, Officer f/n/u Everette began yelling at the plaintiff
outside of his cell door while serving the plaintiff his evening meal. (Docket No. 1 at p. 6).
According to the complaint, Officer Everette “began waving his arm around at the tower so they
would open the door” and, after the door was opened, Everette continued to yell at the plaintiff and
“started using excessive force causing [the plaintiff] to slip and hurt his back and [his] testicle.”
(Id.) The plaintiff told Everette and other unidentified guards that was hurt, but none of the officers
took the plaintiff to see a doctor. (Id.)
First, the complaint names the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office as a defendant to this action.
(Docket No. 1 at pp. 1, 4). However, the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office is not a suable entity under
§ 1983. See Mathes v. Metro. Gov't of Nashville & Davidson Cnty., No. 3:10–cv–0496, 2010 WL
3341889, at *2 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 25, 2010) (“[F]ederal district courts in Tennessee have frequently
and uniformly held that police departments and sheriff's departments are not proper parties to a §
1983 suit.”)(collecting cases)). Thus, the plaintiff’s claims against the Wilson County Sheriff’s
Office must be dismissed.
Giving this pro se complaint a liberal construction, the court could construe the plaintiff’s
complaint as an attempt to state claims against Wilson County, Tennessee. However, while Wilson
County is a suable entity, it is responsible under § 1983 only for its “own illegal acts. [It is] not
vicariously liable under § 1983 for [its] employees' actions.” Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51,
131 S. Ct. 1350, 1359, 179 L.Ed.2d 417 (2011) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).
Under § 1983, a municipality can only be held liable if the plaintiff demonstrates that the alleged
federal violation was a direct result of the city's official policy or custom. Burgess v. Fisher, 735
F.3d 462, 478 (6th Cir.2013) (citing Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 693, 98 S.Ct. 2018,
56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978)); Regets v. City of Plymouth, 568 Fed. Appx. 380, 2014 WL 2596562, at *12
(6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Slusher v. Carson, 540 F.3d 449, 456-57 (6th Cir. 2008)). A plaintiff can
make a showing of an illegal policy or custom by demonstrating one of the following: (1) the
existence of an illegal official policy or legislative enactment; (2) that an official with final decision
making authority ratified illegal actions; (3) the existence of a policy of inadequate training or
supervision; or (4) the existence of a custom or tolerance or acquiescence of federal rights violations.
Burgess, 735 F.3d at 478.
The inadequacy of police training only serves as a basis for § 1983 liability where the failure
to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into
contact. Slusher, 540 F.3d at 457. To establish deliberate indifference, the plaintiff may show prior
instances of unconstitutional conduct demonstrating that the governmental entity has ignored a
history of abuse and was clearly on notice that the training in this particular area was deficient and
likely to cause injury. Id.; see also Gregory v. City of Louisville, 444 F.3d 725, 752-53 (6th Cir.
2006). In the alternative, where the constitutional violation was not alleged to be part of a pattern
of past misconduct, a supervisory official or a municipality may be held liable only where there is
essentially a complete failure to train the police force or training that is so reckless or grossly
negligent that future police misconduct is almost inevitable or would properly be characterized as
substantially certain to result. Hays v. Jefferson Cnty., Ky., 668 F.2d 869, 874 (6th Cir.1982).
Here, the allegations of the complaint are insufficient to state a claim for municipal liability
against Wilson County under § 1983. The complaint does not identify or describe any of Wilson
County’s policies, procedures, practices, or customs relating to training; it does not identify any
particular shortcomings in that training or how those shortcomings caused the alleged violations of
the plaintiff’s rights; and it does not identify any other previous instances of similar violations that
would have put Wilson County on notice of a problem. See Okolo v. Metropolitan Gov’t of
Nashville, 892 F. Supp.2d 931, 944 (M.D. Tenn. 2012); Hutchison v. Metropolitan Gov’t of
Nashville, 685 F. Supp.2d 747, 751 (M.D. Tenn. 2010); Johnson v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville,
No. 3:10-cv-0589, 2010 WL 3619790, at **2-3 (M.D. Tenn. Sept. 13, 2010). Accordingly, the court
finds that the complaint does not contain sufficient allegations to state a claim for municipal liability
against Wilson County. Any such claim is subject to dismissal.
Next, the complaint alleges that Officer f/n/u Everette used excessive force against the
plaintiff, resulting in injuries to the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleges that, at the time of the alleged
events, he was a a pre-trial detainee. The legal status of a purported victim of excessive force is
significant because the conduct of the offending officer must be analyzed under the standard
appropriate to the applicable constitutional provision. See Coley v. Lucas County, Ohio, ___ F.3d
___, ___, 2015 WL 4978463, at *4 (6th Cir. 2015)(“The Supreme Court has recently clarified . . .
that when assessing pretrial detainees excessive force claims we must inquire into whether the
plaintiff shows ‘that the force purposefully or knowingly used against him was objectively
unreasonable.’”)(quoting Kingsley v. Hendrickson, ___ U.S. ___, ___ 135 S. Ct. at 2473 (2015)).
The Supreme Court has recently clarified that when assessing pretrial detainees’ excessive
force claims we must inquire into whether the plaintiff shows “that the force purposefully or
knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, ___ U.S. ___,
135 S. Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015)). The inquiry is highly fact-dependent, and must take into account the
“perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not
with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Id. It should also account for “the ‘legitimate interests that stem
from [the government’s] need to manage the facility in which the individual is detained,’” id., and
defer when appropriate to “‘policies and practices that in th[e] judgment’ of jail officials ‘are needed
to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security.’” Id. (quoting Bell
v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 540 (1979)). The Court further instructs:
Considerations such as the following may bear on the reasonableness
or unreasonableness of the force used: the relationship between the
need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of
the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to
limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at
issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the
plaintiff was actively resisting.
Id. This list is not exclusive. Kingsley also reaffirms that pretrial detainees cannot be subjected to
“the use of excessive force that amounts to punishment,” id. (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 395 n.
10, 109 S. Ct. 1865) precisely because they “cannot be punished at all,” id. at 2475.
In light of this Fourteenth Amendment standard and the facts alleged in the complaint, the
plaintiff’s excessive force claim against Officer Everette in his individual capacity will proceed.
This is a preliminary finding only. The court merely determines that the allegations of the complaint
survive the required PLRA’s screening as to this claim, and further factual development is
warranted out of an abundance of caution.
Finally, the complaint alleges that the plaintiff was not provided with any medical care at all
for the injuries he sustained to his back and testicle after the alleged use of excessive force by
Officer Everette. The Eighth Amendment “imposes duties on [prison] officials, who must provide
humane conditions of confinement; prison officials must ensure that inmates receive adequate food,
clothing, shelter, and medical care, and must ‘take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of
the inmates.’” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994)(collecting cases); Grubbs v. Bradley,
552 F. Supp. 1052, 1119-1124 (M.D. Tenn. 1982). The failure to provide such necessities is a
violation of an inmate’s right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Bellamy v. Bradley,
729 F.2d 416 (6th Cir. 1984). Consequently, the court finds that the complaint states a colorable
Eighth Amendment claim against Officer Everette in his individual capacity based on the allegation
that Officer Everette refused to permit any medical treatment for the plaintiff for his injuries
allegedly sustained on November 16, 2016.
This claim shall proceed for further factual
development as the court does not find the claim to be frivolous.
As set forth above, the court finds the plaintiff’s complaint fails to state claims upon which
relief can be granted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as to the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office or against
Wilson County, Tennessee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Those claims will be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2). However, the allegations in the complaint against Defendant Everette in his individual
capacity state § 1983 claims upon which relief could be granted under the Eighth (denial of medical
care) and Fourteenth (excessive force with regard to pre-trial detainees) Amendments. Of course,
at this stage of the proceedings, it is unclear where the plaintiff ultimately can prevail on these
claims; however, the court does not find that these allegations are frivolous or malicious.
An appropriate order will be entered.
Kevin H. Sharp
Chief United States District Judge
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