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Jackson v. Jernigan

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

May 11, 2017

JULIE SCOTT JERNIGAN, in her official and individual capacities, et al DEFENDANTS


          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on a renewed motion to amend the complaint by Plaintiff James A. Jackson (DN 57); motions to dismiss by Defendants Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government, Louisville Metro Police Department, and Officer Thomas Lawson (DN 23), Defendants James Crawford and the Commonwealth of Kentucky (DN 25, 26), and Defendants Julie Scott Jernigan, Lescal Joe Taylor, and Grant County, Kentucky (DN 34); and a motion for a hearing regarding the motion to amend the complaint by Defendants Jernigan, Taylor, and Grant County. (DN 62.) Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.

         I. Background

         At the outset, the Court notes that the facts surrounding this case are heavily contested by all parties, and significant disagreements about the background of this case will be noted. And while the Court is to only consider the pleadings at this stage of the litigation, some additional documents the parties have filed will be referenced so as to accurately describe the sequence of alleged events.

         On August 22, 2011, Grant County Circuit Court entered a default judgment against an individual named James A. Jackson, adjudging him to be the natural father of a child whose custodian was receiving state assistance and ordering him to pay child support. (Support Order [DN 34-2] at 1.) This support order was never challenged, and as of September 9, 2015, an arrearage of $12, 043.91 had accumulated. (Grand Jury Referral [DN 34-3] at 1.) Due to this arrearage, the office of Julie Scott Jernigan of the Grant County Attorney Child Support Division faxed a grand jury referral to Commonwealth's Attorney James Crawford, seeking to indict this individual for felony non-support. (Id., Pl.'s Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 21.) An indictment was returned by the grand jury after Jernigan testified as to the basis for the charge. (Id. at ¶ 16, Indictment [DN 34-4] at 1.) A warrant was issued for the arrest of a James A. Jackson. (Warrant [DN 34-5] at 1.) The support order, grand jury referral, and indictment all list the same last four digits of a social security number for the individual sought. While it is unclear if this social security number belongs to Plaintiff Jackson, he alleges that he was mistakenly identified at least as to the grand jury referral, indictment, and warrant, as he was not the father of the child for whom support was sought. (Pl.'s Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 3-4.)

         Plaintiff Jackson was arrested in Louisville by Louisville Metro Police Department (“LMPD”) Officer Thomas Lawson on December 16, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 8.) He was taken to Grant County Detention Center on December 29, 2015, where he asserts he remained until he was arraigned on January 27, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 24-25.) He was then taken back to the Grant County Detention Center until February 24, 2016, when his bond was reduced to an amount he could post. (Id. at ¶ 28.) After securing an agreed order for genetic testing, the results of the test were filed on March 4, 2016, which revealed a zero percent probability that Plaintiff Jackson was the father of the child who was owed support. (Id. at ¶ 29.) An order dismissing the charges was entered on March 15, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 30.)

         Jackson initiated this action on November 29, 2016, making claims against nine defendants.[1] (Id. at ¶ 1-2.) He asserts claims against three groups of defendants: the “Grant County Defendants, ” which includes Jernigan of the Grant County Attorney Child Support Division, Grant County Attorney Lescal Joe Taylor, and Grant County; against the “Louisville Defendants, ” which includes Officer Lawson, LMPD, and the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government[2] (“Louisville Metro”); and the “Commonwealth Defendants, ” which includes Commonwealth's Attorney James Crawford and the Commonwealth of Kentucky (“the Commonwealth”). (Id.) He asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Jernigan, Taylor, Crawford, and Lawson for violating his constitutional rights (Count I, id. at ¶ 34-35), as well as against Grant County, LMPD, Louisville Metro, and the Commonwealth for having policies and customs that deprive individuals, including him, of constitutional rights. (Counts III, VII, and IX, id. at ¶ 38-43, 46-51, 54-59.) He argues that all defendants are liable for falsely imprisoning him, (Count II, id. at ¶ 36-37), and for failing to timely bring him before a judge after his arrest for an initial appearance in violation of Kentucky Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.02. (Count XII, id. at ¶ 64-66.) He brings a claim for malicious prosecution against Jernigan, Taylor, and Crawford, (Count XI, id. at ¶ 62-63), as well as a claim for abuse of process against Jernigan and Taylor. (Count XIII, id. at ¶ 67-68.) Finally, he argues that Grant County, Louisville Metro, and the Commonwealth are all liable for the torts committed by the named individuals employed by those government entities under the doctrine of respondeat superior. (Counts VI, VIII, and X, id. at ¶ 44-45, 52-53, 61-62.)[3]

         All defendants filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (See DN 23, 25, 26, 34.) After those motions became ripe but before any decision was rendered, Plaintiff Jackson filed an emergency motion for an injunction. (DN 45.) Jackson sought to enjoin the prosecution of a different individual, James A. Jackson III (“Jackson III”), for felony non-support in Grant County. Jackson III had submitted an affidavit indicating that he was arrested in May 2015 for what he believed was the same child support case as Plaintiff Jackson was arrested for in December 2015, and that he received information while under arrest that the individual being sought was actually a different James A. Jackson from both Plaintiff Jackson and Jackson III. (First Aff. Jackson III [DN 38-2] ¶ 10-13.) After this affidavit was submitted to the Court, Jackson III submitted another affidavit, indicating that he believed Jernigan was bringing non-support charges against him and attempting to have him arrested in retaliation for his involvement in this case, as Plaintiff Jackson had moved the Court to amend his complaint so as to join Jackson III as a plaintiff. (Second Aff. Jackson III [DN 45-3] ¶ 15-19; Pl.'s Mot. to Amend Compl. [DN 38] at 1.) After conducting a hearing on the emergency motion, the Court denied the motion for an injunction, as well as the motion to amend the complaint, as Plaintiff Jackson had not tendered a proposed amended complaint with his motion. (DN 56.) Plaintiff Jackson then timely filed a renewed motion to amend the complaint, including his proposed amendments. (DN 57.) That motion is now fully briefed and ripe for decision, [4] along with a motion for a hearing on the motion to amend that was filed by the Grant County Defendants. (DN 62.)

         II. Standard of Review

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion

         Upon a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a court “must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, ” League of United Latin Am. Citizens v. Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), “accept all well-pled factual allegations as true, ” id., and determine whether the “complaint . . . states a plausible claim for relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Under this standard, the plaintiff must provide the grounds for its entitlement to relief, which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff satisfies this standard only when it “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. A complaint falls short if it pleads facts “merely consistent with a defendant's liability” or if the alleged facts do not “permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 678-79. Instead, a complaint “must contain a ‘short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 677 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         B. Motion for Leave to Amend

         A motion for leave to file an amended complaint is governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), which states that “a party may amend its pleading only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave.” A district court should freely grant leave “when justice so requires.” Id. However, a district court may deny a motion to amend where there is “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). “A proposed amendment is futile if the amendment could not withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.” Riverview Health Inst. LLC v. Med. Mut. of Ohio, 601 F.3d 505, 520 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Rose v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co., 203 F.3d 417, 420 (6th Cir. 2000)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff Jackson's amended complaint is essentially identical to his original complaint, with the exception of the added allegations that pertain to Jackson III so as to join him as a plaintiff in this action. (See Pl.'s First Am. Compl. [DN 57-2] ¶ 13-14, 40) (adding allegations regarding Jackson III but leaving allegations regarding Plaintiff Jackson largely unchanged). Therefore, the Court will first address whether to grant Plaintiff Jackson leave to amend his complaint so as to join Jackson III as a plaintiff. It will then address the motions by the defendants to dismiss the original complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), since the allegations at issue in those motions are the same as the ones contained in the proposed amended complaint, and the standard for granting leave to amend is the same as the standard for avoiding dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).

         A. Motion for Leave to Amend

         Plaintiff Jackson seeks to amend his complaint so as to join Jackson III as a plaintiff, adding new factual allegations in the proposed amended complaint that pertain to Jackson III's claims. The Defendants argue that the motion to amend should be denied, as joinder of Jackson III is impermissible under Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(1). That rules states that

[p]ersons may join in one action as plaintiffs if
(A) they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and
(B) any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in action.

         The claims asserted by Plaintiff Jackson and Jackson III do not arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. Plaintiff Jackson's claims arise from a grand jury referral and indictment from October 2015, and an arrest and detention from December 2015 to March 2016. Conversely, Jackson III's claims pertain to his arrest and detention in May 2015. These two series of events are entirely separate; the only allegation possibly connecting them is that they may have arisen from the Grant County Attorney's Office pursuit of the same individual. But “[m]ere factual similarity between claims is not enough to show that claims arise from the same transaction or occurrence.” Dejesus v. Humana Ins. Co., 2016 WL 3630258, at *3 (W.D. Ky. June 29, 2016) (citations omitted). The claims asserted by Jackson III allege only that similar events happened to him and Plaintiff Jackson, not that they arose from the same transaction or occurrence. The length of time that elapsed between the alleged events involving Jackson III and Plaintiff Jackson further demonstrates that these events were separate occurrences with no relation other than their factual similarity. Therefore, joinder under Rule 20(a)(1) would be improper, and the motion for leave to amend the complaint is DENIED.

         B. Motions to Dismiss

         The Court will address the motions to dismiss by examining the claims against each defendant individually, as most of the grounds for dismissal are specific to each defendant, rather than specific to the claim presented.

         1. Grant County

         Jackson asserts four claims against Grant County: false imprisonment (Count II), § 1983 liability for constitutional violations (Count VII), respondeat superior liability (Count VIII), and violation of RCr 3.02 (Count XII). Grant County argues that the state law claims for false imprisonment, respondeat superior liability, and violating RCr 3.02 must be dismissed, as the county is entitled to sovereign immunity. “A county government is cloaked with sovereign immunity, ” and the county cannot be held vicariously liable for the acts of its employees, since to do so would “largely nullif[y]” the concept of sovereign immunity. Schwindel v. Meade Cty., 113 S.W.3d 159, 163 (Ky. 2003). Sovereign immunity protects a municipality from not just “the burdens of . . . liability, but also of defending the action.” Kentucky v. Samaritan Alliance, LLC, 439 S.W.3d 757, 760 (Ky. Ct. App. 2014). Therefore, Grant County is immune from any state law claims asserted by Jackson, and those claims must be dismissed.

         As to the federal § 1983 claim, Jackson asserts that Grant County had “policies or customs” that led to constitutional violations, including the failure to hire and adequately train and supervise staff so as to prevent constitutional violations. (Pl.'s Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 46-51.) Grant County argues that no constitutional violation occurred that would lead to municipal liability and that Jackson has insufficiently plead a custom or policy that is responsible for any constitutional violations.

         Municipal governments are considered “persons” who may be sued under § 1983, but the unconstitutional act at issue must be performed pursuant to a governmental policy or custom in order to establish municipal liability. Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). Jackson alleges that he was deprived of constitutional rights pursuant to policies or customs of Grant County, but his complaint fails to state a claim for relief under the standard established in Iqbal. Jackson states that Grant County developed “policies or customs exhibiting deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of persons, ” but he fails to state what those customs or policies are. (Pl.'s Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 47.) He does state that the county “fail[ed] to exercise reasonable care in hiring” and “inadequately supervise[d]” its employees, but these statements provide no factual content upon which the Court could find that he is plausibly entitled to relief. (Id. at ¶ 48-49.) The only two individuals alleged to have violated Jackson's constitutional rights who were employed by Grant County are Jernigan and Taylor, and the complaint is devoid of any factual content as to how Grant County failed to exercise reasonable care in hiring, training, or supervising either.[5] The Supreme Court has stated that municipal liability under § 1983 for negligent hiring requires proof that “this officer was highly likely to inflict the particular injury suffered by the plaintiff.” Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 412 (1997) (emphasis in original). However, the complaint contains no allegations that there were red flags that would have indicated that either Jernigan or Taylor would cause the particular constitutional violations alleged by Jackson. And a claim for failure to train or supervise brought under § 1983 against a municipality requires proof that the inadequate training or supervision “was the result of the municipality's deliberate indifference, ” either in light of “foreseeable consequences that could result from a lack of instruction” or “repeated complaints of constitutional violations by its officers.” Ellis v. Cleveland Mun. Sch. Dist., 455 F.3d 690, 700-01 (6th Cir. 2006) (citations omitted). The complaint makes no mention of past complaints of constitutional violations committed by anyone employed by Grant County, [6] nor does it state what foreseeable consequences would result from a lack of instruction.

         Admittedly, the Sixth Circuit has previously permitted § 1983 claims that allege municipal custom or policy with similar vagueness to survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). See Petty v. Cty. of Franklin, 478 F.3d 341, 348 (6th Cir. 2007) (“Given the allegations that Petty makes in his complaint [regarding municipal custom and policy], it is not immediately clear what more Petty could have alleged with respect to the policies that Franklin County might or might not have”). However, Petty is a pre-Iqbal case, and our sister court has since interpreted Iqbal so as to require “more than bare statements that the alleged constitutional violation was caused by a policy or custom to survive a motion to dismiss.” Vidal v. Lexington Fayette Urban Cty. Gov., 2014 WL 4418113, at *3 (E.D. Ky. Sep. 8, 2014). Allegations that a municipality “negligently trained and/or supervised” its employees, or that it “failed to instruct, supervise, control, and discipline” its employees, id. at *3 (quoting complaint), are “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement [that] contribute nothing to the sufficiency of the complaint.” Id. at *4. Such a complaint “merely recites the legal requirements for a claim against a municipality without any factual allegations that would raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.

         Other district courts within the Sixth Circuit have also concluded that “[p]laintiffs are in fact required to identify the practice or policy that forms the basis of their claim.” Ghaster v. City of Rocky River, 2010 WL 2802685, at *7 (N.D. Ohio May 12, 2010). See also Kustes v. Lexington-Fayette Urban Cty. Gov., 2013 WL 4776343, at *5 (E.D. Ky. Sep. 3, 2013) (“The Plaintiff must describe what the official custom or policy was and describe how it was violated”); Hutchinson v. Met. Gov. of Nashville and Davidson Cty., 685 F.Supp.2d 747, 751 (M.D. Tenn. 2010) (failure to “include any facts related to a . . . municipal custom, policy or practice” required court to dismiss complaint). Under this heightened pleading standard, the complaint has failed to state a claim under § 1983 for which relief could be granted. Therefore, the § 1983 claim against Grant County must be dismissed along with the state law claims, and the motion to dismiss by Grant County is GRANTED as to the claims asserted against it.

         2. Jernigan

         a. Official Capacity Claims

         Jackson asserts five claims against Jernigan: § 1983 liability for constitutional violations (Count I), false imprisonment (Count II), malicious prosecution (XI), violation of RCr 3.02 (Count XII), and abuse of process (Count XIII). His claims are against Jernigan in her official and individual capacities. However, “[a]s long as the government entity [for which the defendant works] receives notice and an opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (citations omitted). Therefore, the same analysis applies to the official capacity claims against Jernigan as that of the claims against Grant County. As a municipal entity, it possesses sovereign immunity from any state law claims (Counts II, XI, XII, XIII). Further, 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. Jackson's § 1983 claim against Jernigan alleges that she individually violated his constitutional rights, not that a municipal custom or policy existed that deprived him of his rights. Therefore, Jackson is merely seeking to hold Grant County liable for any violation possibly committed by Jernigan, which is impermissible under Monell. As such, all claims against Jernigan in her official capacity must be dismissed.

         b. Individual Capacity Claims

         Turning to the individual capacity claims, Jernigan enjoys absolute immunity from both federal and state law claims arising out of her grand jury testimony. Rehberg v. Paulk, 566 U.S. 356, 369-70 (2012) (“[A] grand jury witness has absolute immunity from any § 1983 claim based on the witness' testimony”); Martin v. O'Daniel, 507 S.W.3d 1, 5 (Ky. 2016) (“Consistent with Rehberg, Kentucky's common law protects grand jury witnesses from civil suits predicated upon their testimony”). However, Jackson's claims against Jernigan are not solely based upon her grand jury testimony, as the complaint also bases the § 1983 claim on assertions that Jernigan “referr[ed] him for grand jury indictment” and “implicitly authorized, approved, or knowingly acquiesced in the unreasonable search and seizure of [Jackson].” (Pl.'s Compl. [DN 1] ¶ 3-4.) Further, Jackson bases his malicious prosecution and abuse of process state law claims on Jernigan's alleged grand jury referral. Therefore, the Court will look to whether any of Jackson's federal or state law claims can survive the motion to dismiss on this evidentiary basis. See King v. Harwood, 852 F.3d 568, 584 (6th Cir. 2017) ...

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