Estate of Julio Guerrero, The et al v. Crowther et al
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER-granting 25 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim without prejudice. See Order for details. Signed by Judge David Sam on 4/5/17. (jmr)
THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH
THE ESTATE OF JULIO GUERRERO,)
SCOTT CROWTHER, and
JOHN DOES I-X,
On February 9, 2015, Mario A. Lucero, an inmate at the Utah State Prison serving
a sentence for murder, was placed in a cell with Julio Guerrero, who was serving a
sentence for robbery. The cell they occupied did not have a functioning security button
that enables inmates to summon assistance. Prior occupants of the cell allegedly notified
prison officials some two months earlier that the button did not work. On February 10,
2015, prison officials discovered Mr. Guerrero dead in his cell. Mr. Lucero was charged
with Mr. Guerrero’s death, and subsequently pled guilty to manslaughter.
Plaintiffs, the estate and heir of Mr. Guerrero, filed a complaint against the Warden
of the Utah State Prison, Scott Crowther, and other unnamed defendants.1 Mr. Crowther
moves to dismiss the claims against him in the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim.
An Amended Complaint was subsequently filed.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed
for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To avoid dismissal the
complaint must plead sufficient facts, that when taken as true, provide “plausible grounds”
that “discovery will reveal evidence” to support plaintiff’s allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. V.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007). The burden is on the plaintiff to frame a “complaint
with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” that he or she is entitled to relief.
Id. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. A plaintiff must provide more than labels, conclusions, and a formulaic recitation
of the elements of a claim. Id. at 555. The allegations must be enough that, if assumed
to be true, the plaintiff plausibly (not just speculatively) has a claim for relief. Robbins v.
Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247-48 (10th Cir. 2008).
The Amended Complaint contains three claims for relief, two claims alleging
deprivation of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and one claim for violation of Article 1,
Section 9 of the Utah Constitution.2
The First Claim of the Amended Complaint is brought pursuant to § 1983 for
deprivation of Mr. Guerrero’s rights against cruel and unusual punishment under the
Eighth Amendment and Art. I, § 9 of the Utah Constitution. There is no Second Claim,
presumably due to an error in numbering the claims. The Third Claim is also brought
pursuant to § 1983 for failure to train and/or supervise resulting in deprivation of rights
against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and Art. I, § 9 of the
Utah Constitution. The Fourth Claim alleges deprivation of rights under Art. I, § 9 of the
A. 42 U.S.C. § 1883 - Sufficiency of Pleadings
Section 1983 provides a private cause of action for a person subjected “to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws”
by a person acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Eighth Amendment
imposes a duty on prison officials to “provide humane conditions of confinement” and to
“take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of the inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan,
511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In particular,
prison officials have a duty “to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other
prisoners.” Id. at 833 ( (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
The Tenth Circuit has provided instruction on framing a proper § 1983 complaint.
[C]ommon to all § 1983 ... claims is the requirement that liability be
predicated on a violation traceable to a defendant-official’s own
individual actions. As relevant here, government officials may not be
held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under
a theory of respondeat superior.
[However] .... government officials may be held responsible for
constitutional violations under a theory of supervisory liability. A plaintiff
may therefore succeed in a
§ 1983 suit ... against a defendantsupervisor by demonstrating: (1) the defendant promulgated, created,
implemented or possessed responsibility for the continued operation
of a policy that (2) caused the complained of constitutional harm, and
(3) acted with the state of mind required to establish the alleged
Because § 1983 ... [is a vehicle] for imposing personal liability on
government officials, we have stressed the need for careful attention to
particulars, especially in lawsuits involving multiple defendants. It is
particularly important that plaintiffs make clear exactly who is alleged to
have done what to whom, ... as distinguished from collective
allegations. When various officials have taken different actions with
respect to a plaintiff, the plaintiff’s facile, passive-voice showing that
his rights were violated will not suffice. Likewise insufficient is a
plaintiff’s more active-voice yet undifferentiated contention that
“defendants” infringed his rights. Rather it is incumbent upon a plaintiff
to identify specific actions taken by a particular defendants in order to
make out a viable § 1983 ... claim.
The same particularized approach applies with full force when a
plaintiff proceeds under a theory of supervisory liability. Various officials
often have different powers and duties. A plaintiff must therefore identify
the specific policies over which particular defendants possessed
responsibility and that led to the alleged constitutional violation. ...
Of course, in all cases, a plaintiff must show that each defendant
acted with the requisite state of mind.
Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F. 3d 1210, 1225-1226 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks,
citations, and alterations omitted) (emphasis added).
The essence of the Amended Complaint is that unnamed “Defendants”, aware of
Mr. Lucero’s history of violence and the broken cell security call button, nevertheless
assigned Mr. Guerrero and Mr. Lucero to be cell mates resulting in the death of Mr.
Guerrero. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 22, 23, 30, & 31.
As to Mr. Crowther specifically,
Plaintiffs allege: (1) that he was the prison warden when Mr. Guerrero was murdered; (2)
that he was responsible for prison policies and procedures; (3) that he knew violent
inmates have a greater propensity to assault other inmates; (4) that he failed to provide
adequate policies, procedures, or training to staff to prevent violent inmates from attacking
other inmates; (5) that he was deliberately indifferent to Mr. Guerrero’s safety; and, (6)
that his failures and indifference deprived Mr. Guerrero of his rights. See Am. Compl. ¶¶
3,,36, 37, 39 & 40.
After carefully reviewing the Amended Complaint, the Court agrees with Mr.
Crowther’s position that the Amended Complaint falls short of the basic requirements for
pleading a § 1983 claim.
Plaintiffs have alleged no facts regarding Crowther’s personal
participation in the specific constitutional violation that led to Guerrero’s
death, nor have Plaintiffs alleged that Crowther had any involvement in the
decision making process that led to Lucero and Guerrero being cellmates in
a cell without a functioning security button. Instead, Plaintiffs offer only
conclusory statements regarding Crowther’s knowledge of the general
propensity of violent inmates and his authority as warden to execute
policy and procedure. It is the Plaintiffs’ burden at the pleading stage
to allege sufficient facts to support their claims that Crowther had
personal involvement in the events that led to the violation of Guerrero’s
constitutional rights. General conclusory statements about “defendants”
are insufficient under Tenth Circuit precedent. As such, the allegations in
the Amended Complaint fall short ....
Mem. Supp. at 3 (emphasis added). The Court likewise, agrees with Mr. Crowther that
“Plaintiffs have not identified the specific policies over which Crowther, in particular,
was responsible and that led to the alleged constitutional violation.”
Id. at 8
(emphasis added) . Nor have Plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts that Mr. Crowther acted
with the requisite state of mind.3
In sum, with respect to Mr. Crowther’s alleged
involvement, Plaintiffs offer nothing but generalities, devoid of supporting factual
allegations. Because of these shortcomings the § 1983 claims are subject to dismissal.
B. Violation of Utah Constitution - Sufficiency of the Pleadings
Plaintiffs’ remaining claim alleges that “Defendants” violated Article I, section 9 of
the Utah Constitution. That section provides that “Excessive bail shall not be required;
excessive fines shall not be imposed; nor shall cruel and unusual punishments be inflicted.
“Because ‘mere negligence’ is not enough to hold a supervisor liable under § 1983,
a plaintiff must establish that the supervisor acted knowingly or with ‘deliberate
indifference’ that a constitutional violation would occur.” Sernra v. Colo. Dept. of Corr.,
455 F.3d 1146, 1151 (10th Cir. 2006).
Persons arrested or imprisoned shall not be treated with unnecessary rigor.” Utah
Const. Art. l, § 9 (emphasis added).
The requirements of a claim under Article I, section 9 of the Utah Constitution were
outlined by the Tenth Circuit in Brown v. Larsen, 653 Fed. Appx. 577 (10th Cir. 2016).
To violate the clause, the Utah Supreme Court requires the
government action expose a person to a “substantial risk of serious
injury.” Dexter v Bosko, 184 P.3d 592, 597 ¶ 19 (Utah 2008). ... And
“[w]hen the claim of unnecessary rigor arises from an injury, a
constitutional violation is made out only when the act complained of
presented a substantial risk of serious injury for which there was no
reasonable justification at the time.” Id. “[T]he conduct at issue,”
moreover, must be “more than negligent to be actionable.” Id. at 597 ¶
21. In addition to these demanding standards, a complainant must also
establish: (1) a “flagrant violation” of the Constitution: (2) “existing
remedies” do not redress the injuries: and (3) equitable relief is
inadequate. Jensen ex rel. Jensen v. Cunningham, 250 P.3d 465, 478 ¶ 48
To establish the “flagrant violation” element, the complainant
must show “the conduct violates clearly established constitutional
rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Id. at 482. ...
In the absence of clear, on point precedent recognizing the claimed
right, the defendant’s conduct must be egregious and unreasonable.
Jensen, 250 P.3d at 482 ¶ 67. see also Dexter, 184 P.3d at 598 ¶ 25 (“If an
official knowingly and unjustifiably subjects an inmate to circumstances
previously identified as being unnecessarily rigorous, that is obviously a
flagrant violation. Where a clear prohibition has not been previously
known to the official, more may be required to establish a flagrant
violation.”). An officer violates the unnecessary rigor clause in an
egregious manner where his act presents an “obvious and known
serious risk of harm” and he acts without “reasonable justification,”
knowing that risk. Dexter, 184 P.3d 598 ¶ 25.
Id. at 578-579 (emphasis added). 4
It is worth noting that courts in this district have held that where an injury can be
redressed through a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff cannot state a claim for damages under the
Utah Constitution. See, e.g., Cavanaugh v. Woods Cross City, No. 1:08-cv-00032-TCBCW, 2009 WL 4981591 (Utah. Dec. 14, 2009), aff’d, 625 F. 3d 661 (10th Cir. 2010).
Plaintiffs bring their claim under the unnecessary rigor clause of the Utah
Constitution essentially alleging that unknown “Defendants”, aware of Mr. Lucero’s history
and violent nature should have housed him alone and not with Mr. Guerrero, and that they
should have fixed the security button. See Am. Compl ¶¶ 45-46. Plaintiffs’ allegations that
Mr. Crowther was responsible for policies and procedures at the prison but failed to protect
inmates from assaulting other inmates, that he knew that inmates with a history of violence
pose a danger to other inmates, and that he was deliberately indifferent to Mr. Guerrero’s
safety, are conclusory statements devoid of supporting factual allegations and are
insufficient to support their claims. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009)
(“[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements do not suffice” and “[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a
complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations”).
No supporting factual
allegations reflect that Mr. Crowther’s alleged actions presented a substantial risk of
serious injury to Mr. Guerrero for which there was no reasonable justification.
supporting factual allegations regarding Mr. Crowther reflect that he knowingly and
unjustifiably subjected Mr. Guerrero to circumstances previously identified as unnecessarily
rigorous so as to constitute a flagrant violation. No supporting factual allegations reflect
that Mr. Crowther’s alleged conduct was egregious and unreasonable.
factual allegations reflect that Mr. Crowther’s alleged acts presented an obvious and known
serious risk of harm and that he acted without reasonable justification knowing that risk.
Plaintiffs do not allege any custom or policy implemented by Mr. Crowther that played a
role in Mr. Guerrero’s death. No supporting factual allegations reflect that Mr. Crowther
personally participated in the alleged unconstitutional conduct, or that there is a causal
connection between his alleged action and the alleged deprivation. And no factual
allegations support a claim that Mr. Crowther knew anything about Mr. Guerrero’s housing
situation, or about the non-functioning security button. Because of these shortcomings,
Plaintiffs’ Utah Constitutional claim is subject to dismissal.
For the reasons stated, Defendant Crowther’s Motion to Dismiss the Amended
Complaint against him (Doc. # 25) is granted without prejudice.5
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated this 5th day of April, 2017
BY THE COURT:
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
The Court need not and does not reach Mr. Crowther’s other arguments.
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