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Cordwell v. Widen

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

August 15, 2019

TANIA CORDWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
C.O. JAMES WIDEN, individually and in his official capacity as a correctional officer of The West Virginia Division of Corrections, and THE WEST VIRGINIA DIVISION OF CORRECTIONS, and JOHN DOE, unknown person or persons, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are Defendant West Virginia Division of Corrections' (the “WVDOC”)[1], (ECF Nos. 66, 69, 72), and Defendant Renae Stubblefield's (“Stubblefield”) motions to dismiss each member case in this consolidated action, (ECF Nos. 88, 90, 92). Also pending are Defendant Sgt. William Beach's (“Beach”) unopposed partial motions to dismiss each member case in this action. (ECF No. 137, 139, 141.) For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART these motions. (ECF Nos. 66, 69, 72, 88, 90, 92, 137, 139, 141.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         These cases arise out of the alleged physical and sexual abuse of consolidated Plaintiffs by Defendant Correctional Officer James Widen (“Widen”) while they were in the custody of the WVDOC at the Huntington Work Release Center in Huntington, West Virginia. (See ECF Nos. 58, 60, 62 (Am. Compls.).) Plaintiffs filed individual actions in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia, against Widen; the WVDOC; Stubblefield, Administrator of the Huntington Work Release Center; Beach, Widen's Supervisor; and Defendant Correctional Officer King (“King”), with the latter three defendants being sued in their individual and official capacities. The WVDOC subsequently removed each case to this Court on May 11, 2018. (See ECF No. 1.) The Court then consolidated the cases. (See ECF Nos. 11, 17.)

         On November 30, 2019, all three Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaints. (ECF Nos. 43, 45, 47.) The Court granted these motions. (ECF Nos. 57, 59, 60.) All three Amended Complaints allege the following claims: claims against Widen, Beach, King, and Doe for violating Plaintiffs' rights under the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, seemingly pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I); claims against Widen, Beach, and King for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II); claims against all Defendants jointly and severally for the common law torts of civil battery, civil assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and failure to intervene (Count III);[2] and claims against Widen, Doe, and King for civil conspiracy and claims against Beach, Stubblefield, King, and the WVDOC for negligent hiring, training, supervision, and retention (Count V).[3] (See ECF Nos. 58, 60, 62.)

         The WVDOC filed the present motions to dismiss on January 30, 2019. (ECF Nos. 66, 69, 72.) Plaintiffs responded to the motions[4], (ECF Nos. 112, 113, 114), and the WVDOC timely replied, (ECF Nos. 115, 117, 119). On March 7, 2019 Stubblefield filed her present motions to dismiss the Amended Complaints, (ECF Nos. 88, 90, 92), to which Plaintiffs timely responded, (ECF Nos. 121, 122, 123), and Stubblefield timely replied, (ECF Nos. 129, 130, 131). On April 26, 2019, Beach filed partial motions to dismiss, (ECF Nos. 137, 139, 141), to which Plaintiffs did not respond. As such, the motions 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 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))). 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 “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. 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. DISCUSSION

         A. The WVDOC Motions to Dismiss

         In its motion, the WVDOC seeks to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaints in their entirety. (See ECF Nos 66, 69, 72.) In their responses, Plaintiffs stipulate to the dismissal of any vicarious liability claims against the WVDOC for any intentional actions of any Defendant and Plaintiffs' civil conspiracy claims against any Defendant. (ECF Nos. 112, 113, 114 at 3.) Accordingly, the Court DISMISSES any vicarious liability claims against the WVDOC that are premised on the intentional actions of any Defendant and any civil conspiracy claim against any Defendant. Thus, the Court will consider the WVDOC's motion insofar as it seeks to dismiss the remaining claims against the WVDOC of negligent hiring, retention and negligent failure to adequately supervise Stubblefield, Beach, and Doe (the “Supervisory Defendants”) and of vicarious liability for the negligent acts or omissions of the Supervisory Defendants, all which appear to be in Counts I and V.[5]

         “Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, the discretionary actions of government agencies, officials and employees performed in an official capacity are shielded from civil liability so long as the actions do not violate a clearly established law or constitutional duty.” W.Va. State Police v. Hughes, 796 S.E.2d 193, 198 ( W.Va. 2017). This rule operates even when the “discretionary acts” that are the subject of the complaint were “committed negligently.” Maston v. Wagner, 781 S.E.2d 936, 948 ( W.Va. 2015). In determining whether qualified immunity applies, the Court must assess whether a public official's conduct “violate[s] clearly established laws of which a reasonable official would have known” or is “fraudulent, malicious, or otherwise oppressive.” A.B., 766 S.E.2d at 762 (quoting State v. Chase Sec., Inc., 424 S.E.2d 591 ( W.Va. 1992)).

         “To prove that a clearly established right has been infringed upon, a plaintiff must do more than allege that an abstract right has been violated. Instead, the plaintiff must make a ‘particularized showing' that a ‘reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violated that right' or that ‘in the light of preexisting law the unlawfulness' of the action was ‘apparent.'” Hutchison v. City of Huntington, 479 S.E.2d 649, 659 n.11 ( W.Va. 1996) (quoting Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987)). “[T]he ...


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