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Byas v. Commonwealth

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

April 6, 2017

MICAH M. BYAS PLAINTIFF
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Plaintiff Micah M. Byas[1] filed a pro se, in forma pauperis complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the Court on initial review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons that follow, the action will be dismissed.

         I.

         Plaintiff names numerous Defendants. He sues the following governmental entities: Commonwealth of Kentucky; Ballard County Court; Carlisle County Court; Graves[2] County Court; Ballard County Board of Education; Ballard County Detention Center (BCDC); Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS); and the Department of Public Advocacy (DPA). He sues the following Defendants in their official capacity only: Leigh Ann Wiggins, a CHFS supervisor; and Vickie Hayden, Ballard County Attorney. He sues the following Defendants in both their individual and official capacities: Erica Hobbs-Mathis, a CHFS social service worker; Ashlee Richardson, a CHFS social service clinician; Unknown Secretary at Ballard County Board of Education; Kevin Hoskins, Carlisle District/Circuit Court Clerk; Amanda Brahnam, Assistant Ballard County Attorney; Donnie Hall, Ballard County Jailer; Christina Harvell, a BCDC lieutenant; Michael Hogancamp, Carlisle County Attorney; Timothy A. Langford, Ballard and Carlisle Circuit Court Judge; Angela Troutman, attorney at Public Advocacy of Paducah; and an Unknown Defendant at the Graves County Circuit Court.

         Plaintiff alleges various incidents involving Defendants that occurred primarily in 2015 and 2016. He also mentions an incident occurring in 2002. These incidents will be detailed greater when the Court performs its analysis of Plaintiff's claims later in this Memorandum Opinion. See Section III.

         As relief, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and the following injunctive relief: “Purge and Educate all Kentucky agencies of discrimination.”

         II.

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court must review the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 608-09 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007). On review, a district court must dismiss a case at any time if it determines that the action 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. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 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 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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[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)).

         Although courts are to hold pro se pleadings “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972), this duty to be less stringent “does not require us 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 courts “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.

         “Section 1983 creates no substantive rights, but merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere.” Flint ex rel. Flint v. Ky. Dep't of Corr., 270 F.3d 340, 351 (6th Cir. 2001). Two elements are required to state a claim under § 1983. Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). “[A] plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). “Absent either element, a section 1983 claim will not lie.” Christy v. Randlett, 932 F.2d 502, 504 (6th Cir. 1991).

         A. Claims against the County Defendants

         The claims against BCDC are actually claims against Ballard County. See Matthews v. Jones, 35 F.3d 1046, 1049 (6th Cir. 1994) (“Since the Police Department is not an entity which may be sued, Jefferson County is the proper party to address the allegations of Matthews's complaint.”); Marbry v. Corr. Med. Servs., No. 99-6706, 2000 WL 1720959, at *2 (6th Cir. Nov. 6, 2000) (holding that a jail is not an entity subject to suit under § 1983). Ballard County Board of Education, as a division of local government, [3] may be sued directly. Banks v. Breathitt Cty. Bd. of Educ., 925 F.Supp.2d 856, 860 (E.D. Ky. 2013) (citing Memphis Police Dep't v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985)).

         Further, because “[o]fficial-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, 165-66 (quoting Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 n.55 (1978)), Plaintiff's official-capacity claims against the Unknown Secretary of the Ballard County Board of Education are actually against the Board, and the official-capacity claims against BCDC Jailer Hall and Lt. Harvell are actually against Ballard County.

         When a § 1983 claim is made against a municipality or its school board, 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 violation. Collins v. City of Harker Heights, Tex., 503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992). “[A] municipality cannot be held liable solely because it employs a tortfeasor -- or, in other words, a municipality cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory.” Monell, 436 U.S. at 691; Searcy v. City of Dayton, 38 F.3d 282, 286 (6th Cir. 1994); Berry v. City of Detroit, 25 F.3d 1342, 1345 (6th Cir. 1994). “[T]he touchstone of ‘official policy' is designed ‘to distinguish acts of the municipality from acts of employees of the municipality, and thereby make clear that municipal liability is limited to action for which the municipality is actually responsible.'” City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 138 (1988) (quoting Pembaur v. Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 479-80 (1986)). To demonstrate municipal liability, a plaintiff “must (1) identify the municipal policy or custom, (2) connect the policy to the municipality, and (3) show that his particular injury was incurred due to execution of that policy.” Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 815 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Garner v. Memphis Police Dep't, 8 F.3d 358, 364 (6th Cir. 1993)); see also Richardson v. Bd. of Educ. of Jefferson Cty. Kentucky, No. 3:04-CV-386R, 2006 WL 2726777, at *7 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 22, 2006) (“A municipality or school board may be held accountable for the actions of their employees only if these actions stem from officially executed policy, or the toleration of a custom that leads to, causes, or results in the deprivation of a constitutionally protected right.”) (citations omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff fails to allege a policy or custom of Ballard County or the Board of Education that caused his alleged harm. For this reason, the claims against BCDC and the Ballard County Board of Education and the official-capacity claims against the Unknown Secretary, Jailer Hall, and Lt. Harvell must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         B. Claims against the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Ballard County Court, [4] Carlisle County Court, Graves County Court, CHFS, [5] and DPA[6] and the Official-Capacity Claims for Damages against the Commonwealth's Officers and Employees

         The Eleventh Amendment[7] “bars all suits, whether for injunctive, declaratory or monetary relief, against the state and its departments, ” Thiokol Corp. v. Dep't of Treasury, State of Mich., Revenue Div., 987 F.2d 376, 381 (6th Cir. 1993), unless Congress has validly abrogated the state's immunity or the state has waived its immunity. Nev. Dep't of Human Res. v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 726 (2003); Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 78l, 782 (1978). The Commonwealth of Kentucky has not waived its immunity, see Adams v. Morris, 90 F. App'x 856, 857 (6th Cir. 2004), and in enacting § 1983, Congress did not intend to override the traditional sovereign immunity of the states. Whittington v. Milby, 928 F.2d 188, 193-94 (6th Cir. 1991) (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341 (1979)). The Eleventh Amendment, therefore, bars this § 1983 action against the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Ballard County Court, Carlisle County Court, Graves County Court, CHFS, and DPA.

         “This [Eleventh Amendment] bar remains in effect when State officials are sued for damages in their official capacity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. at 169. Consequently, the official-capacity claims for damages against the following Defendants also are barred by the Eleventh Amendment: CHFS workers Hobbs-Mathis, Richardson, and Wiggins; Carlisle County Circuit/District Court Clerk Hoskins; Ballard County Attorney Hayden and Assistant County Attorney Brahnam; Carlisle County Attorney Hogancamp; Ballard and Carlisle Circuit Court Judge Langford; and the Unknown Defendant at the Graves County Circuit Court.

         In addition, “neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983.” Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989).

         Thus, the claims against the Commonwealth of Kentucky, its courts, CHFS, DPA, and their officers and employees are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and fail ...


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