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Smith v. Roane County Commission

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

March 21, 2019

BRIAN SMITH, et al., Plaintiffs,
ROANE COUNTY COMMISSION, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court are two Motions to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Summary Judgment filed separately by the Roane County Commission (“the Commission”), Commissioners Merlin Shamblin, Melissa O'Brien, and Randy Whited (collectively the “Commissioners”) and the Roane County Commission d/b/a Roane County Sheriff's Department (the “Sheriff's Department”), (ECF No. 6), and Sheriff Todd Cole, Chief Deputy Matt Cooper, and Lieutenant Jeff Smith (collectively the “Officers”), (ECF No. 8). For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS the motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Tina Smith brings this action on behalf of her incarcerated son, Plaintiff Brian Smith (“Plaintiff”). The following facts are drawn from the Complaint and, for purposes of resolving the motions, are assumed to be true.

         On May 26, 2016, Plaintiff was transported from the Central Regional Jail to the Roane County Courthouse in Spencer, West Virginia, for arraignment. (ECF No. 1 at 4, ¶¶ 9, 10.) While awaiting his proceeding, Plaintiff was shackled at the wrists and ankles and placed in a holding cell with unrestrained prisoners. (Id. ¶ 10.) “Plaintiff expressed his concern for his safety” to the Officers, but his concerns were “ignored” and he was “removed to the courtroom for arraignment.” (Id.) Following his arraignment, Plaintiff remained shackled and returned to the holding cell with unrestrained prisoners. (Id. ¶ 11.) The unshackled prisoners, “encouraged by explicit or implicit coercion by Defendants' inaction and lack of supervision”, then physically assaulted Plaintiff. (Id.) Upon discovering his injuries, an officer immediately transported Plaintiff to the Roane General Hospital. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.) As a result, Plaintiff suffered severe bodily injury and emotional damage. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 13.)

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiff asserts both state and federal claims for relief. As to the state law claims, Plaintiff asserts the following: tort violations guaranteed under Article III, Sections 1, 5, 6, 10, and 14 of the West Virginia Constitution against all defendants; negligent training and supervision against all defendants; punitive damages against all defendants; battery against the Officers; and intentional infliction of emotional distress against all defendants. (Id. at 5-8, ¶¶ 14-33.) Plaintiff also asserts a federal claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants for failure to protect his safety in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. (Id. at 8-9, ¶¶ 34-36.)

         Defendants filed two separate motions to dismiss on July 16, 2018. (ECF Nos. 6, 8.) On August 13, 2018, Plaintiff filed responses to defendants' motions.[1] (ECF Nos. 15, 16.) Defendants filed replies on August 28, 2018. As such, the motions are fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD[2]

         In general, a pleading must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); see McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015) (stating that this requirement exists “to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests” (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007))). To withstand a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must plead enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Stated another way, the factual allegations in the complaint “must be sufficient ‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Woods v. City of Greensboro, 855 F.3d 639, 647 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Well-pleaded factual allegations are required; labels, conclusions, and a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016) (“Bare legal conclusions ‘are not entitled to the assumption of truth' and are insufficient to state a claim.” (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679)).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, the Court first “identif[ies] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The Court then “assume[s] the[] veracity” of the complaint's “well-pleaded factual allegations” and “determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Review of the complaint is “a context-specific task that requires [the Court] to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. “[T]o satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff is not required to plead factual allegations in great detail, but the allegations must contain sufficient factual heft to allow a court, drawing on judicial experience and common sense, to infer more than the mere possibility of that which is alleged.” Nanni v. Aberdeen Marketplace, Inc., 878 F.3d 447, 452 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted).


         A. Section 1983 Claim

         Section 1983 is not itself the source of any substantive rights. Rather, it provides a “method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes.” Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979). “A federal civil rights claim based upon § 1983 has two essential elements: ‘a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Crosby v. City of Gastonia, 635 F.3d 634, 639 (4th Cir. 2011) (quoting West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)).

         In this case, Plaintiff's § 1983 claim alleges that the defendants failed to protect and provide for his safety in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. (ECF No. 1 at 8-9 ¶ 35.) The Supreme Court has long recognized that “prison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994) (quoting Cortes-Quinones v. Jimenez-Nettleship, 842 F.2d 556, 558 (1st Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 823 (1988)). Plaintiff, however, was a pretrial detainee at the time his claims arose, and although he invokes the Fourth Amendment, it is well-established that “the Fourth Amendment does not govern the treatment of pre-trial detainees.” Parrish ex rel. Lee v. Cleveland, 372 F.3d 294, 302 n.10 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing Riley v. Dorton, 115 F.3d 1159, 1164 (4th Cir. 1997) (en banc)). Instead, the treatment of pre-trial detainees are evaluated under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Ervin v. Mangum, 127 F.3d 1099, 1997 WL 664606, at *4 (4th Cir. Oct. 27, 1997) (“[D]ue process rights of a pretrial detainee are ‘at least as great as the Eighth Amendment protections available to a ...

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