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Vanheck v. Marion County

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

June 28, 2019

RONNIE E. VANHECK, By and Through His Legal Guardian and Father, Ronnie Vanheck Plaintiff
v.
MARION COUNTY, KENTUCKY, ET AL. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Rebecca Grady Jennings, District Judge.

         Plaintiff Ronnie E. Vanheck, by and through his guardian and father Ronnie Vanheck, sues Defendants Marion County, Kentucky, Washington County, Kentucky, J. Barry Brady, and Brad Langford alleging negligence and/or gross negligence (Count I) and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Count II). [DE 1 at ¶ 32-37; DE 64 at ¶¶ 34-39]. Defendants move to dismiss all claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). [DE 65]. Briefing is complete, and the motion is ripe. [See DE 68; DE 74]. For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND [1]

         While Vanheck was incarcerated in the custody of the Marion County Detention Center (the “MCDC”), the MCDC took Vanheck to work at the Washington County Recycling Center (the “WCRC”) as part of the Class D Community Service Work Program. [DE 64 at ¶ 9]. Langford, the WCRC Coordinator, and employees who worked under his supervision, ordered Vanheck to climb on top of and work around a large piece of machinery that baled cardboard (the “Machine”). [Id. at ¶ 10]. Langford and his employees did not train Vanheck on how to safely operate the Machine, provide Vanheck with safety equipment to use when operating it, or supervise Vanheck after ordering him to climb onto the Machine. [Id. at ¶¶ 11-13]. Vanheck had diagnosed mild mental retardation and attention deficit disorder. [Id. at ¶¶ 14-15]. Langford, Brady (the Marion County Jailer), and their employees knew of Vanheck's limited abilities. [Id.].

         While working on the Machine, Vanheck injured his hand. [Id. at ¶ 16]. Surgeons sought to reattach the fourth and fifth left-hand fingers that Vanheck lost while operating the Machine, but Vanheck aspirated, went into cardiac arrest, and entered a comatose state. [Id. at ¶ 17]. The reattachment surgery was stopped without Vanheck's fingers being reattached. [Id.]. Vanheck awoke several days later permanently disfigured and suffering from permanent brain damage. [Id. at ¶ 18]. He has since been found to have lost significant intellectual and physical abilities. [Id.]. Vanheck continues to experience pain from his injuries and has had a legal guardian appointed to manage his affairs. [Id. at ¶¶ 19-20].

         Vanheck, through his guardian, sued Marion County, Washington County, Brady, and Langford alleging negligence and/or gross negligence (Count I) and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Count II). [DE 1 at ¶¶ 32-37; DE 64 at ¶¶ 34-39]. Defendants answered [DE 7] and later filed a third-party complaint against Waste Processing Equipment, Inc., Marathon Reduction Solutions, LLC, and Osage Express, Inc. [DE 62]. It alleges that the third-party defendants' “improper installation, service, maintenance, distribution, sale, and/or failure to adequately warn foreseeable users of the foreseeable dangers when the subject baler was used as it was intended” caused Vanheck's injuries. [DE 62 at ¶ 7]. Defendants now move to dismiss Vanheck's claims under Rule 12(b)(6). [DE 65]. Vanheck filed a timely response [DE 68], and Defendants filed a timely reply [DE 74].

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The parties disagree about the appropriate legal standard for Defendants' motion. Vanheck asserts that Defendants' motion is untimely under Rule 12(b) because Defendants have already filed an answer to his initial complaint. [DE 68 at 668]. Vanheck also asserts that the Court should not construe the motion as a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings because the pleadings are not closed as long as the third-party defendants have not filed responsive pleadings [Id. at 669-70]-an argument that is moot since the third-party defendants have now filed answers [See DE 67; DE 71; DE 77].[2] Meanwhile, Defendants argue that they have not filed an answer to Vanheck's amended complaint, and their motion is thus properly analyzed under Rule 12(b)(6). [DE 74 at 711-12].

         Rule 12(b) requires that a motion asserting a 12(b)(6) defense “be made before pleading.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). Even so, as a matter of practice, a 12(b)(6) motion erroneously filed after an answer “may be properly considered as one for judgment on the pleadings under [Rule 12(c)], and evaluated, nonetheless, under the standards for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).” Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 n.1 (6th Cir. 1988) (citing Republic Steel Corp. v. Pennsylvania Engineering Corp., 785 F.2d 174, 182 (7th Cir. 1986); Amersbach v. City of Cleveland, 598 F.2d 1033, 1038 (6th Cir. 1979); 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1367 at 688-89 (1969); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(2)). Thus, the same standard applies whether Defendants' motion is analyzed under Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c).[3]

         Rule 12(b)(6) requires a court to dismiss a complaint if the complaint “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To state a claim, 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 considering a motion to dismiss, courts must presume all factual allegations in the complaint to be true and make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). “But the district court need not accept a bare assertion of legal conclusions.” Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 488 (6th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Mich. Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim becomes 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “A complaint will be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if no law supports the claim[s] made, if the facts alleged are insufficient to state a claim, or if the face of the complaint presents an insurmountable bar to relief.” Southfield Educ. Ass'n v. Southfield Bd. of Educ., 570 Fed.Appx. 485, 487 (6th Cir. 2014) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561-64).

         DISCUSSION

         A. Negligence and/or Gross Negligence (Count I)

         Vanheck asserts negligence claims against Brady and Langford in both their official and individual capacities. [DE 64 at ¶¶ 34-36]. Brady and Langford respond that they are entitled to both ...


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