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Mitchell v. Byrd

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri.

March 6, 2019

JULIA AMBER MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL BYRD, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT DAVIESS/DEKALB REGIONAL JAIL'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE

         Pending is Defendant Daviess/DeKalb Regional Jail's (“the Jail')[1] Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Doc. #15. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Julia Amber Mitchell is a former detainee of Defendant Daviess/DeKalb Regional Jail (“the Jail”). Plaintiff alleges Michael Byrd (“Byrd”), a now former employee of the Jail, made inappropriate sexual comments to her, exposed himself, forced her to have unwanted sexual contact with him, and sexually assaulted her. Doc. #1, at 2-4. The Jail moved to dismiss Plaintiff's common law claims because it was shielded from liability by Missouri's sovereign immunity statute. Doc. #4. The Honorable Beth Phillips granted the motion, and dismissed the common law claims against the Jail. Doc. #8. This matter was then transferred to the undersigned, and consolidated with Porter v. Byrd, No. 18-6099, for purposes of discovery. Docs. #9-11.

         The Jail now moves to dismiss the remaining claims (Counts I, III, IV, and VIII) because there are insufficient allegations of fact to support viable claims against the Jail under section 1983. Doc. #15. Plaintiff failed to timely respond to the Jail's motion. The Court directed Plaintiff to show cause why the Jail's motion should not be granted. Doc. #17. Thereafter, without explanation or a request to file out of time, Plaintiff filed her opposition to Defendant's motion. Doc. #18. The Jail filed its reply (Doc. #19), and the motion is now fully briefed.

         II. STANDARD

         “Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Faibisch v. Univ. of Minn., 304 F.3d 797, 803 (8th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted). In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court “accept[s] as true all facts pleaded by the non-moving party and grant[s] all reasonable inferences from the pleadings in favor of the non-moving party.” Id. (citations omitted). The Court reviews a motion for judgment on the pleadings under the same standard that governs motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Ashley Cty. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009); Westcott v. City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990).

         To survive a motion to dismiss, 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). The claim for relief must be “‘plausible on its face, '” meaning it must “plead[] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007)). Mere “‘labels and conclusions, '” “‘formulaic recitation[s] of the elements of a cause of action, '” and “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement'” are insufficient. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Respondeat Superior

         The Jail moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims based upon respondeat superior. The United States Supreme Court has held a governmental entity “may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents.” Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). That is, a local government cannot be held liable under section 1983 based upon a theory of respondeat superior. Id. at 691. Likewise, the Eighth Circuit has held governmental entities “may not be held liable for unconstitutional conduct under a theory of respondeat superior.” Rogers v. King, 885 F.3d 1118, 1122-23 (8th Cir. 2018) (citations omitted); see also Vaughn v. Greene Cty., 438 F.3d 845, 851 (8th Cir. 2006) (stating “it is well settled the doctrine of respondeat superior is inapplicable to section 1983 claims”) (citations omitted).

         Plaintiff, however, argues she stated a plausible claim of respondeat superior because she asserted Byrd was acting with the scope of his employment. Doc. #18, at 4-8. But the legal authorities to which she cites do not demonstrate a claim based upon respondeat superior is plausible under section 1983. Rather, Plaintiff's cited cases pertain to respondeat superior in the context of common law claims, which are not at issue. Id. at 5-8; Mann v. Heckler & Koch Def., Inc., No. 1:08CV611, 2008 WL 4551104, at *7-8 (E.D. Va. Oc. 7, 2008) (finding the plaintiff stated a sufficient claim of vicarious liability for defamatory statements); Gina Chin & Assocs., Inc. v. First Union Bank, 260 Va. 533 (2000) (discussing respondeat superior in the context of a negligence claim and abrogating Kensington Assocs. v. West, 234 Va. 430 (1987)); Majorana v. Crown Cent. Petroleum Corp., 260 Va. 521 (2000) (addressing respondeat superior related to tort and negligence claims); Plummer v. Ctr. Psychiatrists, Ltd., 252 Va. 233 (1996) (considering application of respondeat superior to assault and battery claims); Commercial Bus. Sys., Inc. v. Bellsouth Servs., Inc., 249 Va. 39 (1995) (finding a fact issue remained as to the application of respondeat superior to a tort claim).[2]

         Plaintiff's argument ignores the precedent this Court must follow with regard to section 1983 claims based upon respondeat superior. As set forth above, respondeat superior does not apply to claims brought pursuant to section 1983. Accordingly, the Court grants the Jail's motion for judgment on the pleadings with regard to Count I. To the extent Plaintiff is also attempting to assert respondeat superior claims under Counts III and IV, the Court grants the Jail's motion for judgment on pleadings.

         B. Policy or Custom

         The Jail also moves for judgment on the pleadings with regard to Plaintiffs claims based upon an alleged constitutional violation resulting from the Jail's policy and/or custom. Section 1983 liability may attach to a local government if a constitutional violation resulted from its official policy or custom. Corwin v. City of Independence, 829 F.3d 695, 699 (8th Cir. 2016) (quotations and citations omitted); see also Monell, 436 U.S. at 694-95.

A policy is an official policy, a deliberate choice of a guiding principle or procedure made by the municipal official who has final authority regarding such matters. Alternatively, a plaintiff may establish municipal liability through an unofficial custom of the municipality by demonstrating (1) the existence of a continuing, widespread, persistent pattern of unconstitutional misconduct by the governmental entity's employees; (2) deliberate indifference to or tacit authorization of such conduct by the governmental entity's policymaking officials after notice to the officials of that misconduct; and (3) that ...

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