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Johnson v. Commonwealth, County of Butler

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

August 18, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF KY-COUNTY OF BUTLER, BUTLER COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, and HEATH WEST, Deputy Sheriff, in his individual and/or official capacity Defendants.


JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Wayne Johnson's ("Johnson") Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 25]. Also before the Court are Defendant Commonwealth of Kentucky-County of Butler ("Butler County"), Butler County Sheriff's Department, and Deputy Heath West's Motion for Summary Judgment [DN 31] and Motion to Exclude Testimony from Dr. Terry Cox [DN 32]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for review.


This action arises out of the arrest of Plaintiff Wayne Johnson for driving under the influence of intoxicants and resisting arrest. On March 17, 2011 at 8:10 p.m., [1] Heath West, a Deputy of the Butler County Sheriff's Department, received a call from the Butler County Dispatch Center informing him that someone had called and said there was "supposed to be a subject either off Rochester Road right there at the race track hung up in a ditch in a white Ford flatbed truck; or they're at the race track hung up and supposed to be intoxicated." [911 Transcript, DN 31-3, at 3-4]. The caller also told the dispatcher that the driver of the truck was Wayne Johnson although that information was not relayed to Deputy West. Id.

Upon arriving at the entrance of the Soggy Bottom Racetrack at 8:20 p.m., Deputy West encountered two individuals attempting to remove the truck from the mud. One of the individuals attempting to move the truck told Deputy West that a friend had sent them to get the truck, but the individual informed Deputy West that he was unsure who owned the vehicle. However, Deputy West believed that he recognized the vehicle as belonging to Plaintiff Johnson, who he had arrested for a DUI about six months prior to this incident. Deputy West then checked the truck's license plate tag with the dispatcher, who confirmed that the vehicle belonged to Johnson. The dispatcher also provided Deputy West with Johnson's address. Johnson lives a short distance from the racetrack.

While the facts preceding Deputy West's arrival to Johnson's house are largely uncontested, the parties vigorously dispute what occurred during the five minutes between Deputy West's arrival at 8:32 p.m. and his call to dispatch for an ambulance at 8:37 p.m. According to Deputy West, when he arrived at Johnson's place, he found Johnson sitting in a swing on his porch and noticed almost immediately that Johnson was intoxicated. Deputy West testified that he asked Johnson about his truck and Johnson admitted to driving that day and to getting it stuck in the mud. Additionally, Deputy West stated that Johnson told him that he had not had any alcohol since arriving home. Deputy West then asked Johnson to take a field sobriety test which Johnson declined. At that point, Deputy West determined that he had probable cause to arrest Johnson for driving under the influence. He made this determination based on the fact that Johnson told him "that he was the one that drove the truck and got it stuck, and he told me that he hadn't had anything to drink since he got home, and he blew a two sixty something." [West Dep., DN 31-6, at 15].[2]

Deputy West then proceeded up to the porch area where Johnson was sitting. The porch area of Johnson's residence is a wooden deck on an incline and about five feet off the ground. Situated on the deck is a railing that is approximately four feet high. Once on the deck, Deputy West grabbed Johnson's right arm in order to make him stand and to place handcuffs on him. Johnson "jerked away" from Deputy West during this process. Deputy West described the next series of events as follows:

I still had him by his right arm. I pinned him against his trailer, which was to our right. I had this arm on his back, got his right hand up behind his back and tried to put a cuff on it. He had on some kind of old long - a shirt kind of like that one, but the sleeves was unbuttoned, and my cuff got hung in it. And he jerked away again, so I was going to walk him down the steps and try to put him in the car. When we went towards the steps, he stumbled and fell and he hit this part here on the rail, and I remember his feet coming up, and I still had a hold of him, and he was fixing to pull me off with him, and that's when I turned him loose.

[West Dep., DN 31-6, at 17]. Johnson then fell over the right side of the rail and landed on his head. Deputy West subsequently called EMS after briefly talking to Johnson about his injuries.

According to Johnson, he arrived at the Soggy Bottom Racetrack around noon on March 17, 2011. He said that he did not have anything to drink while at the racetrack. After getting his truck stuck in the mud at around 2:00 p.m., he said that he walked home and began drinking at his house. As it started to get dark that day, Johnson stated that Deputy West pulled up in his police cruiser and immediately walked up the stairs to his porch. Johnson then recalled Deputy West identifying himself as "Heath" and informing Johnson that he was arresting him for driving under the influence. [Johnson Dep., DN 31-7, at 42]. Johnson stated that he asked Deputy West a couple of questions which caused Deputy West to become angry with him. Following this brief exchange, Johnson testified to the following:

He jumped up on the porch, grabbed that arm (Indicating). He didn't grand [ sic ] the right arm. He grabbed the left one, and he jerked me out of the swing. And I kind of got up onto my feet. He had hold of that arm. When he did, he hit me right there in the mouth and busted my lip.

[Johnson Dep., DN 31-7, at 42]. Johnson then said that Deputy West pushed him against the trailer and punched him twice, once in the eye and the other time on the lip. After punching him twice in the face, Johnson testified that Deputy West threw him over the rail and into his yard.


Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter must produce specific facts demonstrating a genuine issue of fact for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

Although the Court must review the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the non-moving party must do more than merely show that there is some "metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Instead, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the nonmoving party to present specific facts showing that a genuine factual issue exists by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" or by "showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence... of a genuine dispute[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party]." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 252. It is against this standard the Court reviews the following facts.


Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Butler County, Butler County Sheriff's Department, and Deputy Heath West, in his official and individual capacity, violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count IV). He also alleges state-law claims for assault and battery (Count I), outrage/intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count II), and punitive damages (Count III). Defendants seek summary judgment on all claims alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint. Also, Plaintiff seeks summary judgment on Count IV and Count I of his Complaint. Because the facts underlying the crossmotions for summary judgment substantially overlap, the Court will simultaneously address the merits of the claims and rule accordingly.

A. § 1983 Claims (Count IV)

Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Butler County, Butler County Sheriff's Department, and Deputy Heath West for violation of his constitutional rights. To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must establish "both that 1)[]he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and 2) the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law." Redding v. St. Eward , 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Because "[s]ection 1983 is not itself a source of any substantive rights, but instead provides the means by which rights conferred elsewhere may be enforced[, ]" the Court's "first task... is to identify the specific constitutional... rights allegedly infringed." Meals v. City of Memphis , 493 F.3d 720, 727-28 (6th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). In this case, Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by arresting him without probable cause, using excessive force, and acting with deliberate indifference by failing to train.

The Sixth Circuit has held that municipal departments are not subject to suit under § 1983. See Rhodes v. McDannel , 945 F.2d 117, 120 (6th Cir. 1991) (holding that a police department is not subject to suit under § 1983); Marbry v. Corr. Med. Servs. , 238 F.3d 422, 2000 WL 1720959, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 6, 2000) (holding that a jail is not subject to suit under § 1983). Therefore, the Court finds that the Butler County Sheriff's Department is not subject to suit under § 1983. Instead, Butler County is the proper defendant. See Monell v. New York Dep't of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 690-91, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 2036, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978) (holding that a municipality can be properly sued under § 1983). The Court will construe Plaintiff's claim against the Butler County Sheriff's Department as a claim against Butler County itself. See Smallwood v. Jefferson Cnty. Gov't , 743 F.Supp. 502, 503 (W.D. Ky. 1990) (construing claims against the Jefferson County Government, Jefferson County Fiscal Court, and Jefferson County Judge Executive against Jefferson County itself); Jones v. Binion, 2011 WL 1458429, at *9 (E.D. Ky. Apr.15, 2011) (construing claims against the Carter County Detention Center and Carter County Fiscal Court against Carter County itself).

Likewise, as to the official capacity claims against Deputy West, the Sixth Circuit has held that a suit against an individual "in his official capacity" is essentially a suit brought directly against the local government unit. Leach v. Shelby Cnty. Sheriff , 891 F.2d 1241, 1245 (6th Cir. 1989); see Kentucky v. Graham , 473 U.S. 159, 165-66, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985). "If an action is brought against an official of a governmental entity in his official capacity, the suit should be construed as brought against the governmental entity." Isom v. Ramsey, 2008 WL 2079408, at *2 (W.D. Ky. May 15, 2008) (citing Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police , 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989)). Thus, the Court will construe Plaintiff's officialcapacity claims against Deputy West as against Butler County.

1. § 1983 Claims against Butler County

Plaintiff contends that Butler County "refused to make a legitimate effort to properly train, supervise, or discipline its Sheriff's Deputy Officers." [Compl., DN 1, at 6]. "The courts recognize a systematic failure to train police officers adequately as custom or policy which can lead to city liability." Gregory v. City of Louisville , 444 F.3d 725, 753 (6th Cir. 2006). The United States Supreme Court held that the inadequacy of police training may serve as the basis for § 1983 liability only where the failure to train amounts to deliberate indifference to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact. City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris , 489 U.S. 378 (1989). In order to establish a failure-to-train claim in the Sixth Circuit, a plaintiff must demonstrate that: "1) the City's training program was inadequate for the tasks that officers must perform; 2) the inadequacy was the result of the City's deliberate indifference; and 3) the inadequacy was closely related to or actually caused the injury." Ciminillo v. Streicher , 434 F.3d 461, 469 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Russo v. City of Cincinnati , 953 F.2d 1036, 1046 (6th Cir. 1992)).

Defendant Butler County asserts that this claim should be dismissed due to the lack of evidence produced by Plaintiff that the County had an inadequate training program. In response, Plaintiff argues that Butler County failed to provide adequate training to police officers, including Deputy West, on the use of force and that the County knew of Deputy West's history with the use of excessive force. Additionally, Plaintiff contends that Butler County's failure to actually have a policy regarding the use of force by the Sheriff's Department demonstrates deliberate indifference.

As to Plaintiff's claim regarding the training of Deputy West, "[a]llegations that a particular officer was improperly trained are insufficient to prove liability, as are claims that a particular injury could have been avoided with better training." Sova v. City of Mt. Pleasant , 142 F.3d 898, 904 (6th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). In the cases of inadequate training, Canton provides this guidance:

It may seem contrary to common sense to assert that a municipality will actually have a policy of not taking reasonable steps to train its employees. But it may happen that in light of the duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need. In that event, the failure to provide proper training may fairly be said to represent a policy for which the city is responsible, and for which the city may be held liable if it actually causes injury.

Canton , 489 U.S. at 390.

In support of his claim, Plaintiff offers an affidavit from the former Sheriff of Butler County, Joe Gaddi, stating that Deputy West received approximately six to eight citizen complaints over the course of three years. However, he has no specific recollection about most of these complaints and there is no documentation to verify them. The only event that Gaddi could specifically recount involved an issue of insufficient probable cause, but despite Gaddi's statement that he placed a disciplinary note in Deputy West's file, it is not currently in evidence.[3] The affidavit of Joe Gaddi is insufficient to support Plaintiff's claim that there are "prior instances of unconstitutional conduct demonstrating that the County has ignored a history of abuse and was clearly on notice that the training in this particular area was deficient and likely to cause injury." Plinton v. County of Summit , 540 F.3d 459, 464 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In terms of excessive force, Gaddi only identifies one specific incident where he believes Deputy West violated an individual's constitutional rights. However, this occurred after his time as sheriff, and therefore, outside the purview of his knowledge. Furthermore, the Kentucky State Police conducted an independent investigation of the Deputy West's use of force in that instance and found nothing wrong on his part.

Next, Plaintiff relies upon Dr. Terry Cox who opines that the County failed to put in place a use-of-force policy. However, as Dr. Cox admits, he does not offer any opinions regarding the training of deputies for Butler County. [Cox Dep., DN 31-12, at 17]. In contrast, the record clearly shows that Deputy West received training from the state police academy and obtained periodic training updates. Additionally, Sheriff Ward testified that he has the deputies provide reports when they use either lethal or non-lethal force. During the process of gathering information for these reports, Sheriff Ward indicated that he interviews both the deputy and the victim. The Plaintiff fails to identify any aspect of Butler County's training to suggest that it permits officers to violate an individual's constitutional right. Doe ...

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