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Harper v. Conrad

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

October 10, 2014

DELBERT M. HARPER, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVE CONRAD, CHIEF LMPD et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN G. HEYBURN, II, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff, Delbert M. Harper, a prisoner proceeding pro se , in forma pauperis has filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (DN 1). This matter is before the Court for screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and McGore v. Wrigglesworth , 114 F.3d 601, 608 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock , 549 U.S. 199 (2007). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss the excessive-force claims against Defendants Whitford and Moore in their official capacities and the failure-to-train claim against Defendant Conrad in his individual capacity. The Court will allow the Fourth Amendment excessive-force claims against Defendants Whitford and Moore in their individual capacities and the failure-to-train claim against Defendant Conrad in his official capacity to proceed.

I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Plaintiff brings this action against three Defendants: (1) Steve Conrad, Chief, Louisville Metro Police [LMPD[1]; (2) R. Whitford, Officer, LMPD; and (3) D. Moore, Officer, LMPD. Plaintiff sues each Defendant in his individual and official capacity. He seeks monetary and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief. The injunctive relief he seeks is an order directing the "LMPD to properly train officers on How to Deal with Mentally Ill. suspects & prohibit repeat conduct."[2]

According to Plaintiff, on July 25, 2013, "Defendants Whitford and Moore were called to respond to a domestic violence situation." Plaintiff states that he is "a mentally ill Vietnam veteran amputee admittedly known to be mentally ill." According to Plaintiff, when Defendants Whitford and Moore arrived, they found Plaintiff "yelling profanities at another resident in his apartment building." Plaintiff states that when Defendants Whitford and Moore approached him, he fled behind his apartment building and hid in some bushes. Defendants Whitford and Moore, Plaintiff states, "[t]azed' Plaintiff into submission" and then jumped on him and "began brutally beating [him] about the head and body causing serious bodily harm." According to Plaintiff, Defendants Whitford and Moore beat him with a police radio and batons. Plaintiff represents that as a result of this beating, he received lacerations to his head and face that required medical treatment. According to Plaintiff, he was transported to the University of Louisville Hospital for treatment of his injuries.

Plaintiff contends that Defendants Whitford and Moore used excessive force to subdue and arrest him in violation of his constitutional and civil rights. As to Defendant Conrad, Plaintiff alleges that he had the duty to "ensure his officers are properly trained in how to deal with mentally ill alleged perpetrators of crime, " and that Defendant Conrad failed in this duty resulting in Plaintiff being brutally beaten by Defendants Whitford and Moore.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a prisoner initiates a civil action seeking redress from a governmental entity, officer, or employee, the trial court must review the complaint and dismiss the complaint, or any portion of it, if it determines that the complaint is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; McGore v. Wrigglesworth , 114 F.3d at 604. A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 90 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The trial court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Id. at 327. In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, "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 , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

"[A] district court must (1) view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and (2) take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true." Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC , 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Gunasekera v. Irwin , 551 F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted)). "But the district court need not accept a bare assertion of legal conclusions.'" Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC , 561 F.3d at 488 (quoting Columbia Natural Res., Inc. v. Tatum , 58 F.3d 1101, 1109 (6th Cir. 1995)). The court's duty "does not require [it] to conjure up unpled allegations, " McDonald v. Hall , 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979), or to create a claim for a plaintiff. Clark v . Nat'l Travelers Life Ins. Co. , 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975). To command otherwise would require the Court "to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, [and] would also transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party." Beaudett v. City of Hampton , 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Official-Capacity Claims

1. Excessive Force

Plaintiff contends that Defendants Whitford and Moore used excessive force to subdue and arrest him in violation of his constitutional and civil rights. He brings an excessive-force claim against them in their official capacities.

"Official-capacity suits... generally represent [] another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'" Kentucky v. Graham , 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of the City of N.Y. , 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). Suing Defendants in their official capacities is the equivalent of suing their employer, Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government. See Lambert v. Hartman , 517 F.3d 433, 439-40 (6th Cir. 2008) (stating that civil rights suit against county clerk of courts in his official capacity was equivalent of suing clerk's employer, the county). When a § 1983 claim is made against a municipality, this Court must analyze two distinct issues: (1) whether Plaintiff's harm was caused by a constitutional violation; and (2) if so, whether the municipality is responsible for that ...


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