United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Brandy Oakes ("Oakes") filed this action against defendants Dustin H. Patterson ("Deputy Patterson"), Ewell Hunt ("Sheriff Hunt"), Bill Overton ("Sheriff Overton"), and the Western Virginia Regional Jail Authority ("WVRJ"), asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Virginia law. This matter is before the court on the motions to dismiss filed by Sheriff Hunt, Sheriff Overton, and the WVRJ. The issues have been fully briefed and oral argument was held on March 18, 2014. For the reasons stated below, Sheriff Overton and the WVRJ's motions to dismiss will be GRANTED, and Sheriff Hunt's motion to dismiss will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Oakes' claims arise from an alleged sexual assault and battery by Deputy Patterson, a Franklin County Sheriff's Deputy, while Oakes was a pretrial detainee. Oakes originally filed this action in the Circuit Court for the City of Roanoke and Sheriff Hunt removed it to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. Deputy Patterson failed to file a responsive pleading in state court and is in default. See Notice of Removal, Dkt. No. 1, at 2. The amended complaint asserts claims against Deputy Patterson, Sheriff Hunt, who was Franklin County Sheriff at the time the alleged events occurred, Sheriff Overton, the current Franklin County Sheriff, and the WVRJ. Sheriff Hunt hired Deputy Patterson on November 1, 2010; however, Deputy Patterson was no longer employed as a sheriff's deputy when Sheriff Overton became Franklin County Sheriff.
The following facts, which are taken from the amended complaint, are accepted as true for purposes of the defendants' motions. See Edwards v. City of Goldsboro , 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). Oakes, as a pretrial detainee of the Franklin County Sheriff, was being held in a holding cell located in Rocky Mount, Virginia, awaiting transport to the WVRJ. Deputy Patterson, who was on duty, was aware that Oakes had been discharged from the hospital immediately prior to her arrest, and was in the midst of a divorce. Though Oakes had never met Deputy Patterson, she claims that he is the brother-in-law of Oakes' daughter's father, and thus knew of her fragile emotional state. While she was in the holding cell in Rocky Mount, Deputy Patterson was unusually solicitous, looking into her cell on multiple occasions, and "asking her repeatedly whether she needed anything." Amend. Compl., Dkt. No. 1-3, at ¶ 19. Oakes alleges Deputy Patterson behaved this way "to groom Ms. Oakes for his planned sexual advances." Id. at ¶ 20.
Between approximately 12:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. on October 22, 2011, Deputy Patterson removed Oakes from her holding cell to transport her to the WVRJ. Deputy Patterson was instructed to transport Oakes using a transport van equipped with camera surveillance. However, instead, he placed Oakes in the front passenger seat of his service vehicle. While traveling to the WVRJ, Deputy Patterson fondled Oakes' breasts and, after unlocking Oakes' left hand cuff, demanded that she touch his groin. Deputy Patterson drove past the WVRJ entrance to a nearby church parking lot where he continued to sexually assault Oakes. Only when a dispatcher called over the radio, "asking Deputy Patterson for his location and inquiring why it was taking so long for his prisoner to arrive" did he stop his assault and transport her to the WVRJ. Id. at ¶ 43.
Count I alleges claims for assault and battery against Deputy Patterson, Sheriff Hunt, and Sheriff Overton, in his official capacity. Count II alleges a negligence claim against the WVRJ. Count III alleges claims for gross negligence against Sheriff Hunt and Sheriff Overton, in his official capacity. Count IV brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 against Deputy Patterson and Sheriff Hunt. Finally, the amended complaint also asks for punitive damages against Deputy Patterson, Sheriff Hunt, and Sheriff Overton, in his official capacity. Defendants Sheriff Hunt, Sheriff Overton and the WVRJ have moved to dismiss Oakes' claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter which, accepted as true, "state[s] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. This plausibility standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than "a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must "accept the well-pled allegations of the complaint as true" and "construe the facts and reasonable inferences derived therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Ibarra v. United States , 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). While the court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations, the same is not true for legal conclusions. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678; see also Wag More Dogs, LLC v. Cozart , 680 F.3d 359, 365 (4th Cir. 2012) ("Although we are constrained to take the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, we need not accept legal conclusions couched as facts or unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.") (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, in order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must present sufficient nonconclusory factual allegations to support a reasonable inference that the plaintiff is entitled to relief and the defendant is liable for the unlawful act or omission alleged. See Francis v. Giacomelli , 588 F.3d 186, 196-197 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678-79, and Gooden v. Howard Cnty., Md. , 954 F.2d 960, 969-70 (4th Cir. 1992) (en banc)). Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679.
A. Sheriff Overton
Sheriff Overton brings a motion to dismiss counts I and III of the amended complaint. Sheriff Overton asserts that he cannot be sued in his official capacity. He further argues that he cannot be held vicariously liable for the actions of Deputy Patterson because he was not Sheriff of Franklin County at the time of the alleged sexual assault and he never supervised or employed Deputy Paterson. Oakes responds that "whether the proper defendant is the sheriff at the time of the tort or the sheriff at the time of the lawsuit... is one of first impression." Resp. to Sheriff Overton's Mot. to Dismiss, Dkt. No. 12, at 5.
The amended complaint does not state claims against Sheriff Overton sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss. The amended complaint alleges only state law claims against Sheriff Overton, distinguishing this case from instances where courts have found that successor liability of a sheriff is appropriate. In King v. McMillan, No. 7:05cv0521, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51859, *1-2, 2006 WL 2126279, *1 (W.D. Va. July 28, 2006), plaintiff brought a Title VII action against a sheriff, alleging, among other things, that the sheriff had maintained a hostile work environment. After a new sheriff took office, the court substituted the new sheriff as the defendant pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d). The new sheriff argued that this substitution was improper because she was not the former sheriff's successor within the meaning of Rule 25(d). However, the court rejected this argument, concluding that a new sheriff is the former sheriff's successor and is, therefore, liable under Title VII in an action for damages. Id .; see also Briggs v. Waters , 455 F.Supp.2d 508, 515-516 (E.D. Va. 2006). Significantly, while the court in King v. McMillian substituted the new sheriff in her official capacity as to plaintiff's Title VII claims, the former sheriff remained a defendant in his individual capacity as to plaintiff's other claims, including state law claims.
In the instant case, the only claims asserted against Sheriff Overton are state law claims for assault and battery and gross negligence. Additionally, because Sheriff Overton did not supervise or employ Deputy Patterson, there is no basis alleged to hold him vicariously liable for Deputy Patterson's alleged wrongful acts. Similarly, because Sheriff Overton was not Sheriff of Franklin County when the events occurred, there is no basis for a gross negligence claim related to overseeing the sheriff's department and sheriff's deputies during that time.
Accordingly, the court will grant Sheriff Overton's motion to dismiss counts I and III of the amended complaint.
The WVRJ brings a motion to dismiss count II, which asserts a claim for negligence under state tort law. To state a claim for negligence, Oakes must allege the existence of a legal duty, a breach of the duty, and proximate causation resulting in damage. Atrium Unit Owners Ass'n v. King , 266 Va. 288, 293, 585 S.E.2d 545, 548 (2003). Oakes claims that the WVRJ was "responsible for transporting...female detainees...from the Franklin County Jail to the WVRJ, " and had a duty to both "ensure the safety and security of all prisoners being transported to and from the WVRJ" and to "supervise and monitor the vicinity of the WVRJ." Amend. Compl, Dkt. No. 1-3, at ¶¶ 58-60. The WVRJ asserts that it had no responsibility to transport Oakes to the WVRJ. It points to Virginia Code § 53.1-113, which provides that, "each political subdivision participating in a jail or jail farm shall bear the cost of transporting its prisoners to and from the jail or jail farm." The WVRJ further argues that it did not employ Deputy Patterson, and had no duty or power to train or supervise a sheriff's deputy. The WVRJ states it was "simply the destination for transportation" and is not a proper defendant. Mot. to Dismiss, Dkt. No. 10, at 4.
The court finds that Oakes has not pled sufficient facts showing that the WVRJ had the duties alleged. Deputy Patterson was a sheriffs deputy transporting Oakes from a holding cell in Rocky Mount, Virginia, and had not yet arrived at the WVRJ when the alleged assault occurred. Indeed, Deputy Patterson "intentionally passed the necessary turn off' to the WVRJ, and drove to a church parking lot. Amend. Compl., Dkt. No. 1-3, ¶ 34. Allegations of duty, accompanied by no factual support, are insufficient to support a reasonable inference that the WVRJ is liable. See Giacomelli , 588 F.3d at 193 (citing Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679, and Twombly , 550 U.S. at 557) (finding that a complaint is insufficient if it relies upon "naked assertions" and "unadorned conclusory allegations" devoid of "factual enhancement"). Further, Oakes' claim that ...