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Betty Y v. Sanders

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, Pikeville

June 21, 2018

BETTY Y, Administrator of the Estate of JOHN ALEXANDER Y, Deceased, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on two motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The first filed by Jonathan Rouse and Harold Curt Rowe, (DE 5), and the second by Richard W. Sanders, William Alexander Payne, and Darren Stapleton, (DE 6). For the reasons set forth below, all claims against Defendants Rowe, Sanders, Payne, and Stapleton are dismissed. Plaintiffs claims against Defendant Rouse for violation of John Casey's Fourteenth Amendment rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act, negligence, and gross negligence are dismissed. Plaintiffs claims against Defendant Rouse may proceed as to her claims that he violated John Casey's Fourth Amendment rights, committed battery, and for wrongful death pursuant to Ky. Rev. Stat. § 411.130 based on a battery theory.

         I. Background

         The following facts are drawn from the Plaintiffs Complaint and accepted as true for the purpose of the Defendants' motions to dismiss. In the morning of July 21, 2016, Kentucky State Troopers Jonathan Rouse and Harold Curt Rowe arrived at the residence of John Alexander Casey to arrest him on a bench warrant for failure to appear in court. (Compl. ¶ 9, DE 1.) The encounter initially proceeded calmly, but after the Troopers advised John Casey that they were there to arrest him he fled up a nearby hill. (Compl. ¶¶ 10-11.) Trooper Rouse pursued John Casey, who may have picked up a rock or empty blue Pepsi can to throw at Trooper Rouse. (Compl. ¶ 12.) Before John Casey could throw the object, he was shot a single time by Trooper Rouse. (Compl. ¶¶ 12—13.) An ambulance arrived forty minutes later and John Casey died due to the gunshot wound inflicted by Trooper Rouse. (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 16.)

         Betty Casey, John Casey's mother and administratix of his estate, initiated this action alleging that Trooper Rouse's decision to shoot John Casey was objectively unreasonable, exhibited deliberate indifference for his life, was negligent, and constituted battery. More specifically, Betty Casey seeks damages under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violations of John Casey's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. She also alleges that the Defendant's treatment of John Casey violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131, et seq., based on his diagnosis for post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder. Finally, she alleges state law claims for negligence, battery, and wrongful death pursuant to Ky. Rev. Stat. § 411.130.

         Betty Casey asserts claims against two sets of Defendants. First, the "Trooper Defendants, " Troopers Rouse and Rowe, are alleged to have personally engaged in the conduct leading to John Casey's death. (Compl. ¶ 7.) The "Supervisory Defendants" consist of Richard W. Sanders and William Alexander Payne, Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky State Police ("KSP"), respectively, and Darren Stapleton, Commander of KSP Post 9. Betty Casey alleges that the Supervisory Defendants were responsible for establishing policies and the employment, training, and supervision of each of the Defendants subordinate to them. (Compl. ¶¶ 4—6.)

         II. Standard of Review

         A civil complaint is subject to dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if it "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." To state a claim for relief, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "[t]he complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff]; the allegations in the complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in [the plaintiffs] favor." Gavitt v. Born 835 F.3d 623, 640 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Jelovsek v. Bredesen, 545 F.3d 431, 434 (6th Cir. 2008)). Legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations, however, need not be accepted. Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         The Supreme Court has further elaborated on the requirements of Rule 8(a)(2) in two cases: Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). The pleading standard of Rule 8 "does not require 'detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A pleading that merely "offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action"' is insufficient. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Plausible does not mean probable; a claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, " but falls short if the "complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-57).

         Ordinarily, when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must assess the facial sufficiency of the complaint "without resort to matters outside the pleadings. Gauitt, 835 F.3d at 640 (citing Wysocki v. Int'l Bus. Mach. Corp., 607 F.3d 1102, 1104 (6th Cir. 2010)). If matters outside the pleadings are presented to and considered by the Court, the motion must be converted to one for summary judgment under Rule 56 and the parties given reasonable time to present all pertinent material. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Not all outside matters require the motion to be converted. The court "may consider exhibits attached to the complaint, public records, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to defendant's motion to dismiss, so long as they are referred to in the complaint and are central to the claims contained therein, without converting the motion to one for summary judgment. Gavitt, 835 F.3d at 640 (citing Kreipke v. Wayne State Univ., 807 F.3d 768, 774 (6th Cir. 2015); Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008)). Matters of which a court may take judicial notice may also be considered without converting the motion. Ohio Pub. Emps. Ret. Sys. v. Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Co., 830 F.3d 376, 382 (6th Cir. 2016).

         III. Analysis

         Before turning to Plaintiffs specific claims, the Court will address two initial matters. First, the Plaintiff has conceded that the Defendants are not liable under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") because Title II of the ADA is applicable only to government entities, not individual government employees. See, e.g., Ms. Kv. City of South Portland, 407 F.Supp.2d 290, 296 n.3 (D. Me. 2006) (collecting cases). Therefore, Plaintiffs ADA claims are dismissed as to all Defendants.

         Second, Plaintiff has argued that the Supervisory Defendants have converted their motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment because it relies on matters outside the pleadings. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). Specifically, the Supervisory Defendants discuss testimony by Trooper Rouse before a state grand jury concerning the incident. The Supervisory Defendants argue that the Court need not convert the motion because federal courts may take judicial notice of other proceedings. See Granader u. Public Bank, 417 F.2d 75, 8283 (6th Cir. 1969). The Court will not consider any of the testimony discussed in the Supervisory Defendants' motion to dismiss and therefore need not convert this motion to one for summary judgment. Accordingly, Plaintiffs Rule 56(d) affidavit (DE 7-1) is untimely and will not be considered in addressing the sufficiency of Plaintiffs Complaint.

         A. Federal Claims

         Both the Trooper and Supervisory Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity as to Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants violated John. Casey's constitutional rights. In Count I, Plaintiff alleges generally that the "Defendants' conduct was objectively unreasonable, intentional, reckless, deliberate, wanton and/or malicious, and was indicative of their total deliberate and reckless disregard of and indifference to Mr. Casey's life as well as his rights and the risk of harm to him occasioned by such conduct." (Compl. ¶ 18.) Looking elsewhere in the Complaint, and considering Plaintiffs response brief, the claims against the Defendants can be summarized as follows. First, that Trooper Rouse violated John Casey's Fourth Amendment Right to be free from excessive force. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Second, that Trooper Rouse and Rowe were deliberately indifferent, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, to John Casey's medical needs. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Third, that Trooper Rowe failed to prevent the use of excessive force and contributed to his death by providing him an alcoholic drink prior to the shooting. (PL's Resp. at 7, DE 7.) And fourth, that Defendants Sanders, Payne, and Stapleton inadequately trained and supervised their subordinates, leading to John Casey's death. (Compl. ¶ 15.)

         The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials, including law enforcement officers, "from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 231, 229 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The doctrine "balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably." Id. '"Qualified immunity gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments, ' and 'protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law."' Stanton v. Sims, 571 U.S. 3, 6 (2013) (quoting Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011)).

         Qualified immunity is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability" and therefore its applicability must therefore must be resolved "at the earliest possible stage of litigation." Id. at 231-32 (first quoting Mitchell v. Forysth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985); then quoting Hunter u. Bryan, 502 U.S. 224, 227 (1991) (per curiam)); see Iqbal 556 U.S. at 685 ("The basic thrust of the qualified-immunity doctrine is to free officials from the concerns of litigation, including 'avoidance of disruptive discovery.'") (quoting Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 236 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring in judgment)). That point, however, is typically summary judgment. Wesley v. Campbell, 779 F.3d 421, 433-34 (6th Cir. 2015)).

         To determine if a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must ask "(1) whether the facts alleged by the plaintiff make out the violation of a constitutional right and (2) whether the right at issue was 'clearly established' at the time of the alleged violation." Id. at 640 (citing Pearson, 555 U.S. at 232). The burden is on the plaintiff to show that both prongs are met and that the defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 640— 41. The plaintiff can carry this burden, and overcome a motion to dismiss, by "alleging facts making out a plausible claim that defendants' conducted violated a constitutional right that was clearly established a the time of the violation." Id. (citing Johnson v. Mosely, 790 F.3d 649, 653 (6th Cir. 2015)).

         1. The ...

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