Taylor v. Davidson County Sheriff's Office et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION OF THE COURT. Signed by Chief Judge Kevin H. Sharp on 1/4/2017. (xc:Pro se party by regular and certified mail.)(DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(jw)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
DAVIDSON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE,
Chief Judge Sharp
Plaintiff Seth Taylor, a pre-trial detainee currently in the custody of the Davidson County
Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee, has filed a pro se, in forma pauperis complaint pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, Dwayne Butler, James Lemaster,
Jacob Steen, Jacob Voyles, and Jonathan Rodgers, alleging violations of the plaintiff’s federal civil
rights. (Docket No. 1). The plaintiff seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory damages and
damages for his pain and suffering. (Id. at p. 6).
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.
PLRA Screening Standard
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint
filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or
seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly
requires initial review of any “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a
governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity,” id. § 1915A(a), and summary
dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in § 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. §
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
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 July 21, 2016, while in the custody of the Davidson County
Sheriff’s Office, the plaintiff fell off his bunk bed and suffered an injury to his back. (Docket No.
1 at p. 5). According to the complaint, “[i]f medical staff hadn’t been negligent of my needs, injury
could have been avoided.” (Id.)
The complaint further alleges that, on August 25, 2016, the plaintiff was “physically
attacked” by Dwayne Butler, James Lemaster, Jacob Steen, Jacob Voyles, and Jonathan Rodgers.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that these defendants maced, restrained, and choked the plaintiff
until he was unconscious. According to the complaint, the defendants’ use of excessive force was
“without reasonable cause.” (Id.) The complaint alleges that the plaintiff sustained injuries to his
back, hand, and wrist as a result of the defendants’ use of excessive force. (Id.)
First, the complaint names the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office as a defendant to this
action. However, the Davidson 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 Davidson 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 Davidson County, Tennessee. However, while
Davidson 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 Davidson County under § 1983. The complaint does not identify or describe any of
Davidson 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 Davidson 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 Davidson County. Any such claim is subject to dismissal.
Next, the complaint alleges a claim pertaining to unspecified “negligence” by unnamed
medical staff in the treatment of the plaintiff’s back injuries sustained after he fell out of his bunk
bed in July 2016. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution imposes an obligation
to provide prisoners with reasonably adequate food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, recreation, and
medical care. 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). To establish a violation of his Eighth
Amendment rights resulting from the medical care provided or a denial of medical care, a plaintiff
must show that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Estelle
v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Brooks v. Celeste, 39 F.3d 125, 127 (6th Cir. 1994).
Complaints of malpractice or allegations of negligence are insufficient to entitle plaintiff
to relief. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 105-06. Further, a prisoner’s difference of opinion
regarding treatment does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. Id. at 107. Finally,
where a prisoner has received some medical attention, but disputes the adequacy of that treatment,
the federal courts are reluctant to second-guess prison officials’ medical judgments and
constitutionalize claims which sound in state tort law. Berryman v. Rieger, 150 F.3d 561, 565 (6th
Cir. 1998)(citing Westlake v. Lucas, 537 F.2d 857, 860 n.5 (6th Cir. 1976)).
Here, while the complaint alleges that the “medical staff” acted “negligent[ly]” to the
plaintiff’s medical needs, (Docket No. 1 at p. 5), the complaint acknowledges that the plaintiff
received some examination and/or treatment after sustaining injuries on the date of the alleged
incident. (Id.) The complaint does not explain what sort of additional medical treatment the
plaintiff claims he should have received. The complaint is devoid of allegations that any defendant
acted with deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s back injuries. As such, the complaint fails to
state an Eighth Amendment claim based on the denial of medical treatment or the type of treatment
received for the plaintiff’s back injuries sustained on July 21, 2016.
Finally, the complaint alleges claims of excessive force against defendants Butler, Lemaster,
Steen, Voyles, and Rodgers. Although it is unclear from the complaint, it appears that these
defendants are guards or corrections officers employed by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office.
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
officers 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,
plaintiff Taylor’s excessive force claims against defendants Butler, Lemaster, Steen, Voyles, and
Rodgers in their individual capacities 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 these claims and defendants, and further factual development is warranted out of an abundance
As set forth above, the court finds that the complaint states colorable excessive force claims
pursuant to § 1983 against defendants Butler, Lemaster, Steen, Voyles, and Rodges in their
individual capacities. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. These claims survive the required PLRA screening.
However, the plaintiff’s claims as to all defendants that he received negligent medical care for his
injuries sustained on July 21, 2016, will be dismissed, having failed to survive the PLRA screening.
Likewise, the plaintiff’s claims against the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office fail to state claims
upon which relief can be granted, and those claims must be dismissed.
An appropriate order will be entered.
Kevin H. Sharp
Chief United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?