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Scholl v. Harmon

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

October 15, 2014

KEITH SCHOLL, Plaintiff,
BARRY HARMON, et al., Defendants.


JOSEPH M. HOOD, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint in this action. [DE 12]. Plaintiff has responded [DE 13], and Defendants have replied [DE 15]. Thus, this motion is now ripe for review. For the reasons which follow, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff Keith Scholl was a deputy jailer at the Boyle County Detention Center. [DE 8 at 1-2]. In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was wrongfully accused of passing contraband to female prisoners, allegations for which he was terminated on September 25, 2013. [DE 8 at 2]. Plaintiff claims that these allegations were "unsubstantiated and without merit" and that he was "not allowed to view the alleged evidence of his misconduct or respond to the allegations against him." [DE 8 at 2]. He avers that he was not allowed to obtain items from his locker on the date of termination and has not received a response to his request for a copy of the employee handbook, his personnel file, and other items. [DE 8 at 3; DE 8-1].

Defendant Barry Harmon is Jailer at the Boyle County Detention Center. Plaintiff filed his Complaint with this Court against Harmon in his official and individual capacity, as well as Boyle County and its fiscal court. Plaintiff brings a federal claim based on an alleged violation of his constitutional due process rights, as well as several state law claims including a due process violation, a violation of KRS 71.060(2) for termination without cause, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff also sets forth a claim for punitive damages based on these claims. [DE 8].

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint. The court views the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations contained within it. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "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.'" Id. (citing Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is plausible when it contains facts that allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id. at 678.

III. Discussion

A. Sovereign Immunity

Defendants argue that Boyle County, Boyle County Fiscal Court, and Defendant Harmon in his official capacity are entitled to sovereign immunity for Plaintiff's state law claims for violation of due process, violation of KRS 71.060(2), and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff agrees to the dismissal, as does the Court. See Lexington-Fayette Urban Cnty. Gov't v. Smolcic, 142 S.W.3d 128, 132 (Ky. 2004) ("Kentucky counties are cloaked with sovereign immunity."); Edmonson Cnty. v. French, 394 S.W.3d 410, 414 (Ky. Ct. App. 2013) (holding that the county and fiscal court were entitled to sovereign immunity, and that an individual sued in her official capacity is "entitled to the same protection"); Commonwealth v. Harris, 59 S.W.3d 896, 899 (Ky. 2001) (holding a jailer, as an officer of the county, is cloaked in sovereign immunity). Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's state law claims, found in Counts II, III, and IV, against Defendant Harmon in his official capacity, Boyle County, and Boyle County Fiscal Court.

B. Qualified Official Immunity

Defendants argue that Jailer Harmon is entitled to qualified official immunity with respect to the state law claims brought against him in his individual capacity. Qualified official immunity bars a claim against a public officer or employee of (1) discretionary acts or functions, (2) made in good faith; and (3) within the scope of the employee's authority. Yanero v. Davis, 65 S.W.3d 510, 522 (Ky. 2001). Once the official establishes the first and third elements, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove bad faith by direct or circumstantial evidence. Id. at 523. The Plaintiff agrees that Harmon's acts were discretionary and within the scope of his authority as jailer. Therefore, qualified official immunity in this instance turns on the good faith element; or whether Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to show that Harmon acted in bad faith.

Under Kentucky law, an official acts in bad faith when he or she violates a clearly established right, which the official "presumptively would have known" belonged to the plaintiff. Bryant v. Pulaski Cnty. Det. Ctr., 330 S.W.3d 461, 467 (Ky. 2011) (citing Yanero, 65 S.W.3d at 523). "Or, bad faith can be predicated on whether the [official] willfully or maliciously intended to harm the plaintiff or acted with a corrupt motive." Id. (citations omitted).

Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges that Defendant Harmon terminated the Plaintiff without cause and without giving the Plaintiff an opportunity to respond. From these facts alone, reasonable inferences could be drawn that Jailer Harmon acted in bad faith by depriving Plaintiff of his clearly established right to due process, a right which Jailer Harmon should be aware of. See discussion infra Part C. Furthermore, whether bad faith is present is a highly factual inquiry, and the parties have not yet had the opportunity to engage in discovery. As such, ...

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