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Lloyd v. City of Newport News

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Newport News Division

February 20, 2015

CITY OF NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA[1] GABE MORGAN, Sherriff for the City of Newport News, and JANE DOE, Deputy Sheriff for the City of Newport News, Defendants.


DOUGLAS E. MILLER, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant, Gabe Morgan ("Morgan")'s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim (ECF No. 10), pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The District Court referred the motion to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for recommended disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that Morgan's motion be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.


Plaintiff, Starla Jean Lloyd ("Lloyd") filed the Complaint August 22, 2014 and named as defendants the City of Newport News, Virginia, Sheriff Gabe Morgan, individually and in his official capacity, and Jane Doe, an unidentified Deputy Sheriff for the City. Lloyd alleges state law tort claims, violations of the United States Constitution, and violations of the Virginia Constitution.

She alleges that on or about August 19, 2011, Jane Doe and another unknown sheriff's deputy escorted Lloyd from the Newport News Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court back to the Newport News Juvenile Secure Detention facility for processing and release from custody. Compl. ¶ 8 (ECF No. 1, at 3). Lloyd alleges that while descending the courthouse stairs, in handcuffs secured behind her back and with shackles around her ankles, she "lost her footing and fell down the flight of steps striking her head and body with great force and violence, due to the negligent supervision and lack of assistance by the Newport News Sheriff's Deputies." Id . Lloyd alleges that Jane Doe and the other deputy did not assist Lloyd down the stairs, but walked approximately five steps behind Lloyd. Id.

Lloyd alleges that Jane Doe then accompanied Lloyd to the emergency room at Riverside Regional Medical Center. Lloyd alleges that an attending physician there "ordered specific tests be conducted." Id . ¶ 10 (ECF No. 1, at 4). However, "Defendant Jane Doe, negligently and with deliberate indifference, and without a valid reason, other than to state she had a dinner date, cancelled the tests and returned the Plaintiff to the Detention Center." Id . Lloyd alleges that after her release from custody, she sought medical attention at Mary Immaculate Hospital "where it was determined that she had suffered serious head and bodily injuries from her fall and that she required additional treatment for her injuries, which treatment had been previously negligently denied to her by Defendant Deputy Jane Doe." Id . ¶ 11 (ECF No. 1, at 4).

Lloyd alleges that Jane Doe breached her duty to exercise reasonable care for Lloyd while Lloyd was in custody. Id . ¶¶ 10, 13 (ECF No. 1, at 4). Lloyd further alleges that Morgan is liable for such common law negligence under the principle of respondeat superior. Id . ¶ 14 (ECF No. 1, at 5). Lloyd alleges that the deliberate indifference exhibited by Jane Doe's conduct rose to the level of gross negligence. Id . ¶¶ 20, 24 (ECF No. 1, at 5-6).

Lloyd alleges that by the same conduct. Defendants collectively acted under color of state law to deprive her of her Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, id. ¶ 21, her right to due process of law secured by the Fourteenth Amendment, id. ¶¶ 21, 24, and her privileges and immunities secured by Article IV and/or the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[2] Id . ¶ 24 (ECF No. 1, at 5-6). Lloyd also alleges that Defendants acted to deprive Lloyd of her rights secured by Sections 9 and 11 of the Virginia Constitution. Id . ¶ 21 (ECF No. 1, at 5). Lloyd seeks $5, 000, 000 in compensatory damages in addition to $350, 000 in punitive damages. Id . ¶¶ 25, 26 (ECF No. 1, at 6).

Morgan moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and requested oral argument for same. (ECF No. 10). Plaintiff filed a brief opposing Morgan's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 17). Morgan replied (ECF No. 18), and the undersigned heard argument of counsel February 11, 2015.


A. The Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion "challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint considered with the assumption that the facts alleged are true." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). While federal courts adhere to notice pleading. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id . Notably, the motion to dismiss inquiry is "context-specific." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraf fairs. com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 256 (4th Cir. 2009). At bottom, the complaint must "plead sufficient facts to allow a court, drawing on judicial experience and common sense, ' to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct' and nudge the plaintiff's claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'" Id . (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570)).

B. Lloyds Claims Against Morgan

1. Lloyd's Official Capacity Claims Against Morgan

Lloyd has named Morgan as a defendant in both his official capacity as the sheriff for Newport News and his individual capacity. Morgan has moved to dismiss the former claims on the ground that the Eleventh Amendment bars Lloyd's claims. Morgan's Br. (ECF No. 11, at 3-4). Lloyd has opposed the motion, with regard to the official capacity claims, solely on the assertion that "the Eleventh Amendment simply does not apply in this case." PL's Br. (ECF No. 17, at 2).

"It is well established that the Eleventh Amendment bars suit in federal court by an individual citizen against a sovereign state of the Union."[3] Roach v. W. Virginia Reg'l Jail & Corr. Facility Auth., 74 F.3d 46, 48 (4th Cir. 1996) (citing Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-63 (1974); Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 16-17 (1890)). As Morgan points out and numerous courts have recognized, considerable authority holds "that the Eleventh Amendment precludes § 1983 official-capacity suits against Virginia Sheriffs and their deputies because they are state, not local, officials." Gemaehlich v. Johnson, No. 7:12cv263, 2013 WL 589234, at *4 (W.D. Va. Feb. 14, 2013) aff'd. No. 14-1198, 2014 WL 6764332 (4th Cir. Dec. 2, 2014) (citing Smith v. McCarthy, 349 F.Appx. 851, 858 n.ll (4th Cir. 2009) ("[T]he district court did not err in dismissing the [plaintiffs'] claims against [the deputy sheriffs] in their official capacities, as they are afforded immunity by the Eleventh Amendment."); Bland v. Roberts, 730 F.3d 368, 391 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Cash v. Granville Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 242 F.3d 219, 223 (4th Cir. 2001) (" [T]o the extent that the claims seek monetary relief against the [Virginia] Sheriff in his official capacity, ... the Sheriff is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity."); Vollette v. Watson, 937 F.Supp.2d 706, 714-15 (E.D. Va. 2013) (compiling cases); Francis v. Woody, No. 3:09cv235, 2009 WL 1442015, at *4 (E.D. Va. May 22, 2009) (same).

Here, Lloyd has named Sheriff Morgan as a defendant in his official capacity. As such, unless an exception applies, Morgan is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as an "arm of the State" of Virginia. Kitchen v. Upshaw, 286 F.3d 179, 184 (4th Cir. 2002). Because none of the three recognized exceptions to immunity apply in this case, and in light of the significant authority cited above and Lloyd's failure to provide any argument or case law to the contrary, the undersigned recommends that the Court GRANT Morgan's motion with respect to Lloyd's claims for damages against Morgan in his official capacity and that those claims be DISMISSED.

First, Congress can abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity "when it both unequivocally intends to do so and acts pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional authority." Bd. of Trustees of Univ. of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Plaintiff has not alleged or argued any abrogation and § 1983 did nothing to abrogate the States' sovereign immunity. See Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66-67 (1989).

Second, States can waive their immunity. See, e.g., Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99 (1984). Plaintiff has not alleged or argued that Morgan or Virginia have waived their immunity and no such waiver appears from the record.

Finally, Lloyd only seeks money damages against Morgan. From Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 159-60 (1908) and its progeny, "the Eleventh Amendment permits suits for prospective injunctive relief against state officials acting in violation of federal law." Frew ex rel. Frew v. Hawkins, 540 U.S. 431, 437 (2004). However, the Eleventh Amendment clearly bars the monetary relief Lloyd seeks. As this Court has explained, "while state officials literally are persons, they are not persons' for purposes of Section 1983 official capacity claims seeking monetary relief. This means that a Virginia Sheriff, as an arm of the State, is not subject to official capacity Section 1983 monetary liability." Vollette, 937 F.Supp.2d at 730 n.7 (internal citations and quotation omitted); see also Goodmon v. Rockefeller, 947 F.2d 1186, 1187 (4th Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (applying Will to Eighth Amendment claims).

Because Lloyd only seeks money damages and no injunctive relief, see Complaint (ECF No. 1, at 7), she has failed to state an official capacity claim upon which relief can be granted. The Eleventh Amendment bars her claim. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends that Lloyd's official capacity claims against Morgan be dismissed.[4]

2. Lloyd's Individual Capacity Claims Against Morgan

In addition to her claims against Morgan in his official capacity, Lloyd alleges constitutional and tort claims against Morgan in his individual capacity. "Because a suit against an official in his individual capacity does not seek payment from the state treasury, but from the personal funds of the individual, and therefore is not a suit against the state or the state office that the individual occupies, the individual is not protected by the holding of Will" and Eleventh Amendment immunity. Goodmon, 947 F.2d at 1187. Lloyd argues that Morgan is individually liable in tort and for alleged constitutional violations committed by Jane Doe, through respondeat superior.

Morgan argues that Lloyd's constitutional claims, brought under § 1983, must be dismissed because they rely on respondeat superior liability, not Morgan's personal involvement in depriving Lloyd of her constitutional rights. Morgan also argues that Lloyd's tort claims ...

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