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Phillips v. PTS of America, LLC

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

October 13, 2017

ROSE M. PHILLIPS, administratrix of the estate of William Culpepper, deceased, et al., PLAINTIFFS


          Joseph H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss by defendants Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government (“Louisville Metro”) and Mark Bolton. (DN 37.) Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for decision.

         I. Background

         According to the second amended complaint (DN 29), William Culpepper was arrested in Louisville on an outstanding warrant from Mississippi and taken to Louisville Metro Department of Corrections (“LMDC”). On January 29, 2016, Culpepper was to be transported by defendant PTS of America (“PTS”), a prisoner transportation service, from LMDC to Pearl, Mississippi, with an overnight stop in Mississippi County, Missouri. Before leaving LMDC, Culpepper began complaining of abdominal pain related to a bleeding ulcer. Medical staff at LMDC indicated to PTS staff that Culpepper had no history of such pain and that he should be given antacids. PTS staff were also advised that Culpepper was diabetic and had not been taking his medications as required.

         While being transported, Culpepper continued to complain of abdominal pain and was given antacids. His blood sugar levels were taken twice during the trip from Louisville to Missouri, and on both occasions his levels were higher than what was considered normal. When the PTS transport van arrived in Missouri after a thirteen-hour trip, Culpepper was unable to exit the van and was barely responsive. He had to be carried into the Missouri County Department of Corrections, but the jail would not admit him until he was stable and medically cleared. Culpepper lost consciousness, but he was not taken to the hospital. An ambulance was called, but by the time it arrived, Culpepper had no pulse. He could not be revived, and Culpepper ultimately died from a perforated duodenal ulcer.

         The present complaint was brought by plaintiffs Rose M. Phillips, administratrix of the estate of Culpepper; Michelle Myers, the mother of Culpepper's minor daughter, W.C.; and Brandon Green, the son of Culpepper. The plaintiffs have twice amended their complaint to assert claims against various defendants related to PTS, Louisville Metro, and Mississippi County. As relevant to the present motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs have asserted federal and state-law claims against Louisville Metro and Mark Bolton, the director of LMDC, in his individual capacity. Both have moved to dismiss all claims against them pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).[1]

         II. Standard of Review

         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)).

         III. Discussion

         A. Louisville Metro

         The second amended complaint asserts two claims against Louisville Metro. Count I seeks to hold Louisville Metro liable for the deprivation of Culpepper's constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, while Count III is a state-law claim for wrongful death. Turning to the wrongful death claim first, Louisville Metro argues that it is protected against any state-law claims under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The plaintiffs concede in their response that Louisville Metro enjoys sovereign immunity from their state-law claims. See Schwindel v. Meade Cty., 113 S.W.3d 159, 163 (Ky. 2003) (“A county government is cloaked with sovereign immunity”). Therefore, Louisville Metro's motion to dismiss Count III is GRANTED.

         As for the § 1983 claim, Louisville Metro argues that the claim should be dismissed, as the complaint fails to state a claim for municipal liability under § 1983. 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). Count I does seek to hold Louisville Metro liable for the violations of Culpepper's constitutional rights that resulted from LMDC's “written policies, procedures . . . customs and practices.” (Pl.'s Second Am. Compl. [DN 29] ¶ 27.) However, the complaint does not state what those policies or customs were. There are statements that suggest these policies or customs were related to the training and supervision of staff at LMDC, but the complaint contains no factual content upon which the Court could find that the plaintiffs are plausibly entitled to relief, such as what these policies or customs regarding training and supervision were, why they were inadequate, and how they contributed to the violation of Culpepper's constitutional rights. District courts in the Sixth Circuit have consistently 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. 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); Ghaster v. City of Rocky River, 2010 WL 2802685, at *7 (N.D. Ohio May 12, 2010) (“Plaintiffs are in fact required to identify the practice or policy that forms the basis of their claim”). Under this pleading standard, the complaint fails to state a claim for municipal liability under § 1983. Therefore, Louisville Metro's motion to dismiss Count I is GRANTED.

         B. Director Bolton

         The plaintiffs assert three claims against Director Bolton. Count I seeks to hold Bolton liable pursuant to § 1983 for violations of Culpepper's constitutional rights, while Count II asserts a state-law claim of negligence. Count III asserts a claim for wrongful death. Bolton seeks dismissal of the § 1983 claim, as the plaintiffs have failed to plausibly allege a claim for which relief could be granted, and he ...

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