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Gardner v. Samaniego

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

May 17, 2019

BETTY JEAN GARDNER, as the personal representative of the estate of Nathaniel Blake Dorough, Plaintiff,



         This action arises out of the tragic death of Betty Jean Gardner's nephew, Nathaniel Blake Dorough. Dorough suffered from severe mental illness, and died after Deputy Evan McKee Jamison shot him in the home Dorough shared with his father. Gardner asserts claims against Jamison in his individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. 20 at 4-5. She also asserts claims against John Samaniego, the Sheriff of Shelby County, in his official capacity, under § 1983, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq. (“ADA”), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. (“§ 504”), based on her contention that the Sheriff failed to properly train deputies to respond to calls involving people with mental illnesses. See docs. 1; 20 at 4-5. The Sheriff has moved to dismiss the claims against him, doc. 5, [1] arguing that he is immune from suit and that Gardner failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is due to be granted.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere “‘labels and conclusions'” or “‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” are insufficient. Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When evaluating a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6), the court accepts “the allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hunt v. Aimco Props., L.P., 814 F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016). However, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must . . . ‘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 complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “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. In other words, the complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (explaining that “[f]actual allegations [included in the complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”).


         Dorough, who suffered from schizophrenia and other psychiatric diagnoses, lived with his father. Doc. 20 at 2. This tragic incident occurred when Dorough had a mental health crisis at his home, and his father called 911. Id. Jamison and another deputy were dispatched to the home, where Dorough's father waited outside. Id. Upon arrival, the deputies learned from Dorough's father that Dorough had a mental disability, was experiencing a mental health crisis, and had not committed any crimes. Id. at 3. Even so, Jamison entered the home without consent and before formulating a plan for approaching Dorough. Id. Once in the home, Jamison saw Dorough “crouched in a corner holding a short stick with small nails hammered into it, and shot [and killed] him without justification when Dorough refused to drop the stick.” Id. Gardner asserts that Deputy Jamison would not have killed her nephew if the Sheriff had properly trained the deputies on how to handle mentally ill individuals. Id. at 4.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Gardner asserts a § 1983 claim against the Sheriff in his official capacity for unlawful entry and claims under the ADA and § 504 based on a failure to accommodate theory. Doc. 20 at 5-7. The Sheriff has moved to dismiss based on immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, and on the failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The court addresses these contentions in turn.

         A. Whether the Sheriff is Immune from Suit

         The Sheriff argues that Gardner's claims against him in his official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See doc. 5 at 12-13. Under the Eleventh Amendment, a state is immune from suit in federal court unless the state waives its immunity or a superseding federal act abrogates the state's immunity. U.S. Const. amend. XI; Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 73 (2000). A state's sovereign immunity applies to suits brought against a state official in his official capacity “when ‘the state is the real, substantial party in interest.'” Carr v. City of Florence, Ala., 916 F.2d 1521, 1524 (11th Cir. 1990) (quoting Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 120 (1984)). Moreover, “a sheriff is an executive officer of the state of Alabama” and is protected by the Eleventh Amendment when, as here, he is sued for damages in his or her official capacity under § 1983. Id. at 1525. Therefore, becuase Alabama has not consented to suit and “Congress has not abrogated eleventh amendment immunity in section 1983 cases, ” id. (citations omitted), the Eleventh Amendment bars Gardner's § 1983 claim against the Sheriff.[2]

         A different analysis applies, however, to Gardner's ADA and § 504 claims. Title II of the ADA “provides that ‘a State shall not be immune under the eleventh amendment to the Constitution of the United States from an action in a Federal or State court of competent jurisdiction for a violation of this chapter.'” United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151, 154 (2006) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 12202) (alteration omitted). Moreover, “insofar as Title II creates a private cause of action for damages against the States for conduct that actually violates the Fourteenth Amendment, Title II validly abrogates state sovereign immunity.” Id. at 159. In this case, Gardner asserts a Title II claim based on her allegations that the Sheriff violated the ADA by failing to train deputies to respond to people with mental illness and, as a result, Jamison shot and killed Dorough without justification. See doc. 20 at 6. Thus, Gardner's ADA claim is based on alleged violations of the Fourteenth and Fourth Amendment. See U.S. Const. amends. IV; XIV, § 1. Therefore, because Title II validly abrogates state sovereign immunity for alleged constitutional violations, the Sheriff has not shown that the claim is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

         Finally, state agencies that receive federal funds waive their Eleventh Amendment immunity for § 504 claims. Garrett v. Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Bd. of Trustees, 344 F.3d 1288, 1293 (11th Cir. 2003) (per curiam). Here, Gardner alleges that the Sheriff “receives federal funds for his law enforcement program, ” doc. 20 at 6, and that allegation is entitled to a presumption of truth at this stage in the case, see Hunt, 814 F.3d at 1221. Consequently, at this juncture, the § 504 claim is also not due to be dismissed based on Eleventh Amendment immunity.

         B. Whether Gardner States Viable ADA and ...

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