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Morgan v. Logan County Commission

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

April 18, 2019

FRANK MORGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
LOGAN COUNTY COMMISSION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before this Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Joey Shepard ("Shepard") and Nick Tucker ("Tucker"), (ECF No. 8), and by Defendants City of Logan/City of Logan Police Department ("LPD"), P.D. Clemens ("Clemens"), J.D. Tincher ("Tincher"), and Kevin Conley ("Conley"), (ECF No. 10). For the reasons explained more fully herein, the motion to dismiss filed by Shepard and Tucker, (ECF No. 8), is DENIED. The motion to dismiss filed by LPD, Clemens, Tincher, and Conley, (ECF No. 10), is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Frank Morgan ("Plaintiff) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and West Virginia state law, alleging that he suffered serious injuries after he was beaten "[w]ithout provocation" by LPD officers on April 20, 2018. (ECF No. 1 at 1, 4.) Plaintiff further avers that the officers denied him medical treatment while "frantically attempt[ing] to devise a plan in which Plaintiff was at fault in causing his life-threatening injuries." (Id. at 5.)

         Shepard and Tucker filed their motion to dismiss on December 21, 2018. (ECF No. 8.) Plaintiff filed a timely response, (ECF No. 12), and Shepard and Tucker filed a timely reply, (ECF No. 14). LPD, Clemens, Tincher, and Conley also filed their motion to dismiss on December 21, 2018. (ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff filed a response, (ECF No. 18), and LPD, Clemens, Tincher, and Conley filed a timely reply, (ECF No. 19). Accordingly, the motions to dismiss are fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         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 Tramp., 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))). However, 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). A complaint that alleges enough facts "to satisfy the elements of a cause of action created by [the relevant] statute" will survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 648 (quoting McCleary-Evans, 780 F.3d at 585).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, this Court first "identifies] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. This 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 [this 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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Shepard and Tucker

         Shepard and Tucker urge this Court to dismiss Plaintiffs claims against them as barred by qualified immunity. (ECF No. 9 at 4.)[1] "Qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Adams v. Ferguson, 884 F.3d 219, 226 (4th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). "In order for a plaintiff to overcome an official's qualified immunity defense, the plaintiff must demonstrate (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was 'clearly established' at the time of the challenged conduct." Martin v. Duffy, 858 F.3d 239, 251 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A clearly established right is one that is 'sufficiently clear that every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.'" Adams, 884 F.3d at 226 (alteration omitted) (quoting Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015) (per curiam)). "In other words, existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Reichle v. Howards, 566 U.S. 658, 664 (2012)).

         Shepard and Tucker fail to elaborate on either prong of the qualified immunity analysis; rather, they assert that "this Court [cannot] infer that constitutional violations were committed by them" because Plaintiffs complaint makes only "general allegations of excessive force." (ECF No. 14 at 2.) Although the complaint does not name the specific officers responsible for each aspect of Plaintiff s allegedly unconstitutional treatment, Plaintiff avers that "Defendant officers" beat him with their "hands, feet and ... a metal pipe," "develop[ed] a 'cover-up' plan" to blame Plaintiff for his own injuries, and failed to provide him with immediate medical treatment for those injuries. (ECF No. 1 at 4-5.) Quite simply, Plaintiff alleges that all the officers he names as Defendants in this action participated in the beating and delay of medical care. (See id.) These allegations are sufficient at the motion-to-dismiss stage. See Wright v. North Carolina, 787 F.3d 256, 265 (4th Cir. 2015) (noting that the "core requirement" of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) is to provide "fair notice of [the plaintiffs] claims" (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         More importantly, Plaintiffs allegations compel the denial of qualified immunity in this phase of the proceedings.[2] Plaintiff alleges that after being "confronted" by LPD officers and beaten "[w]ithout provocation"-that is, without suspicion of committing any crime-he was apprehended and placed in restraints. (ECF No. 1 at 4.) He then alleges that "while restrained," he "was shoved to the deck" and "was beaten with hands, feet and ... a metal pipe" by "Defendant officers." (Id. at 4-5.) As of April 20, 2018, it was clearly established that a police officer's use of "unnecessary, gratuitous, and disproportionate force against a handcuffed, secured citizen, who posed no threat to the officer or others and had neither committed, nor was suspected of committing, any crime" constitutes excessive force. Bailey v. Kennedy, 349 F.3d 731, 745 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Jones v. Buchanan, 325 F.3d 520, 534 (4th Cir. 2003)). Therefore, Shepard and Tucker are not entitled, at least at this stage, to qualified immunity as to Plaintiffs excessive force claim.

         The same is true for Plaintiffs due process claim for "failure to provide timely medical care." (See ECF No. 1 at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that he suffered from "life-threatening injuries" that "required immediate medical treatment" and that "Defendant officers knew [he] was severely injured based upon their own observations [and] remarks . . . and Plaintiffs complaints." (Id. at 5, 7.) Plaintiff further avers that instead of providing medical care or "transporting] Plaintiff for emergency medical services," "Defendant officers . . . develop[ed] a 'cover-up' plan" to blame Plaintiff for his own injuries, "placed Plaintiff in a squad car, called for an ambulance, drove Plaintiff around ... for a few minutes[, ] then returned to City Hall where the ambulance was waiting." (Id.) As of April 20, 2018, it was clearly established that "unreasonable delay in providing medical treatment [to a pretrial detainee] where the need for such treatment is apparent" constitutes a due process violation. Gray v. Farley,13 F.3d 142, 146 (4th Cir. 1993) ...


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