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Johnson v. City of Bessemer

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

June 22, 2017

LATUNJA JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BESSEMER, ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          R. DAVID PROCTOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the court on motions to dismiss filed by Defendant City of Bessemer (Doc. # 37) and Defendants Rutledge and Hudson (Doc. # 38). This case arises from tragic events which occurred on November 1 and 2, 2014. Plaintiff, on behalf of Sheneque Proctor (“Proctor”), brings claims against individual Defendants as well as the City of Bessemer (“City”) related to Proctor's treatment (and lack of medical treatment) at the City Jail. The City and these two individuals -- who supervised jailers working on the night Proctor died -- have moved to dismiss claims against them. After careful review, the court finds Defendants' motions to dismiss are due to be granted.

         II. Background[1]

         Proctor was arrested on November 1, 2014 and was taken to the Bessemer City Jail. (Doc. # 36 at ¶ 13). At the jail, Proctor was noticeably under the influence of drugs. (Id. at ¶ 14). Shortly after she was booked into the jail, Proctor fell unconscious. (Id. at ¶ 18). Defendant Goodwin noticed Proctor's condition over an hour later. (Id. at ¶ 19). Defendant Goodwin could not get Proctor to respond. (Id. at ¶ 20). Rather than seek medical attention for Proctor, Defendant Goodwin pushed Proctor over onto her side. (Id.). Defendant Goodwin informed the other jailers named in this action about Proctor's condition. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22). None of the jailers sought medical assistance for Proctor. (Id. at ¶ 24). Instead, Proctor died sometime after 3:00 a.m. on the morning of November 2, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 25).

         In addition to bringing suit against the individual jailers (who are not parties to this motion), Plaintiff maintains that Proctor's death was caused by customs and policies of Defendant City of Bessemer and by the deliberate indifference of Defendants Rutledge and Hudson, who are supervisors of the jailers. (Id. at ¶ 28). The Bessemer City Jail does not employ medical personnel, but instead relies upon its jailers to assess the medical needs of inmates. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32). City policymakers, including Defendants Rutledge and Hudson, did not provide jailers with any training and supervision related to the medical needs of inmates. (Id. at ¶ 39). After Proctor's death, Bessemer policymakers, including Defendants Rutledge and Hudson, did not re-train or disciple the detention officers on duty at the time of Proctor's death. (Id. at ¶¶ 41-42). City policymakers and supervisory officials did not provide Bessemer jailers with training regarding medical care for inmates, the rights of inmates to medical care, or treatment of unconscious inmates and inmates experiencing drug overdoses. (Id. at ¶ 46).

         III. Standard of Review

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Still, the complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels and conclusions” or “naked assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, courts view the allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Watts v. Fla. Int'l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A plausible claim for relief requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” to support the claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. The Supreme Court has identified “two working principles” for a district court to use in applying the facial plausibility standard. First, in evaluating motions to dismiss, the court must assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations; however, the court does not have to accept as true legal conclusions when they are “couched as . . . factual allegation[s].” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Second, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679.

         Application of the facial plausibility standard involves two steps. Under prong one, the court must determine the scope and nature of the factual allegations that are well-pleaded and assume their veracity; and under prong two, the court must proceed to determine the claim's plausibility given the well-pleaded facts. That task is context specific and, to survive the motion, the allegations must permit the court based on its “judicial experience and common sense . . . to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claims are due to be dismissed. Id.

         IV. Analysis

         A. Plaintiff's Claim Against Defendant City of Bessemer

         Plaintiff contends she is due money damages based on what she contends is an unconstitutional policy of the City. (Doc. # 36). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Bessemer failed to properly train City jailers regarding medical care for inmates. (Id. at ¶ 46). “The Supreme Court has placed strict limitations on municipal liability under section 1983.” Gold v. City of Miami, 151 F.3d 1346, 1350 (11th Cir. 1998). As explained in Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), “a municipality may be held liable for the actions of a police officer only when municipal ‘official policy' causes a constitutional violation.” Id. (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 694-95). So, to hold a municipality liable, Plaintiff “must show: (1) that his constitutional rights were violated; (2) that the municipality had a custom or policy that constituted deliberate indifference to that constitutional right; and (3) that the policy or custom caused the violation.” McDowell v. Brown, 392 F.3d 1283, 1289 (11th Cir. 2004) (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 388 (1989)). A policy is defined as a “decision that is officially adopted by the municipality. . . .” Sewell v. Town of Lake Hamilton, 117 F.3d 488, 489 (11th Cir. 1997) (citing Brown v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 923 F.2d 1474, 1479-80 (11th Cir. 1991)). A custom is defined as a “practice that is so settled and permanent that it takes on the force of law.” Id. (citing Monell, 438 U.S. at 690-94).

         Here, even if Plaintiff shows her constitutional rights were violated, in order to prevail on her claim against the City, she must demonstrate it had an unconstitutional policy or custom. See Wilson v. Tillman, 613 F.Supp.2d 1254, 1266 (S.D. Ala. 2009) (“[T]he city of [Bessemer] is not automatically liable under § 1983 even if it inadequately hired, trained or supervised its police officers and those officers violated [Plaintiff's] unconstitutional rights.”). “To show an unconstitutional policy or custom, [P]laintiff must identify the policy or custom, connect the policy or custom with the government entity itself, and show that the particular injury was incurred because of the execution of that policy.” Id. (citing Bennett v. City of Slidell, 728 F.2d 762, 767 (5th Cir. 1984) (en banc)). “In order ...


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