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Kelly v. West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority

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

March 29, 2019

FARRELL G. KELLY, Plaintiffs,
v.
WEST VIRGINIA REGIONAL JAIL AND CORRECTIONAL FACILITY AUTHORITY; CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS BARRETT; GRAHAM; DILLARD; WOOD; MILLER; CHANNELL; AND JOHN/JANE DOE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN T. COPENHAVER, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is defendant West Virginia Regional Jail Correctional Facility Authority's (“WVRJCFA”) motion to dismiss, filed August 21, 2018.

         I. Background

         This is an excessive force case originally brought by the plaintiff, Farrell G. Kelly (“Kelly”), in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia. Kelly filed his amended complaint on April 20, 2018 and the defendants removed on June 22, 2018.

         Kelly was a pre-trial detainee at Tygart Valley Regional Jail, located in Bellington, West Virginia, when he claims the defendant correctional officers used excessive force against him. Amended Compl. ¶ 1. The plaintiff was acquitted by a jury of the offense for which he was being detained on or around March 31, 2016 and released thereafter. Id.

         On or around March 24, 2016, Kelly claims the defendants told him to “cuff up, ” and asserts that he complied with the order. Id. ¶ 13. Once handcuffed, the defendants allegedly “entered [Kelly's] cell” and “used excessive force” against him “by, among other things, slamming [him] into the ground and hitting and kicking” him. Id. ¶ 14. According to the plaintiff, he was “kicked in the face with such force that he chipped/damaged his front teeth” and “suffered bruising, abrasions, and injury to his back.” Id. The plaintiff claims to have posed no “threat to the defendants” during the course of the alleged events. Id. at ¶ 15.

         Kelly asserts that the defendants' conduct violated West Virginia C.S.R. 95-1-15.9, which imposes a duty upon employees to protect inmates from harm and to comply with the use of force policy adopted by WVRJCFA. Id. ¶ 15. In addition, the plaintiff claims the conduct alleged violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. As a result, Kelly filed this five-count action consisting of Counts I, II, IV, V, and VI (there is no Count III). The five counts charge as follows: Count I, assault and battery; Count II, intentional infliction of emotional distress/outrageous conduct; Count IV, violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count V reckless/gross negligence in supervision/training/hiring; and Count VI, vicarious liability. Plaintiff asserts Count IV solely against the individual correctional officers and Count V solely against WVRJCFA. Counts I and II are asserted against WVRJCFA as well as the officers and Count VI is a vicarious liability claim against only WVRJCFA. WVRJCFA seeks dismissal of those claims made against it.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleader provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing . . . entitle[ment] to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007). Rule 12(b)(6) correspondingly permits a defendant to challenge a complaint when it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         The required “short and plain statement” must provide “‘fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), overruled on other grounds, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563); see also Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 188 (4th Cir. 2007). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 386 (4th Cir. 2009).

         Application of the Rule 12(b)(6) standard requires that the court “‘accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint . . . .'” Erickson, 127 S.Ct. at 2200 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965); see also South Carolina Dept. Of Health And Environmental Control v. Commerce and Industry Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 245, 255 (4th Cir. 2004) (quoting Franks v. Ross, 313 F.3d 184, 192 (4th Cir. 2002)). The court must also “draw[] all reasonable . . . inferences from th[e] facts in the plaintiff's favor . . . .” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

         III. Discussion

         First, WVRJCFA seeks dismissal of Counts I, II, and VI against it, all based upon a theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability. Second, it claims that Count V, reckless or gross negligence in supervision, training, and hiring, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and likewise should be dismissed.

         Relying on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals' decision in West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Authority v. A.B.,766 S.E.2d 751 ( W.Va. 2014), WVRJCFA claims it is entitled to qualified immunity and thus cannot be held vicariously liable for the actions of the defendant ...


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