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Davis v. William Truesdal Adult Detention Center

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

April 12, 2017

MERCEDES DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM TRUESDAL ADULT DETENTION CENTER, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Gerald Bruce Lee Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant City of Alexandria, Virginia ("City of Alexandria")'s Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 38.) This case concerns Plaintiff Ms. Mercedes Davis's allegation that while she was an inmate at William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center, correctional officer Bryant Pegues sexually assaulted her. (Doc. 32.) Plaintiff alleges claims that under Defendant City of Alexandria's policies or customs, William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center operated in a manner which enabled Pegues to sexually assault Plaintiff in violation of her Eighth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, et seq. ("§ 1983"), and should, thus, be held vicariously liable for Pegues' acts (Counts DC and XII). (Id. at 10, 11, 15.) Additionally, Plaintiff asserts state law tort claims for negligence and gross negligence alleging that Defendant failed to ensure her safety by instituting a custom or policy which permitted Pegues to have access to Plaintiffs cell prior to sexually assaulting her (Counts X and XI). (Id. at 12-14.)

         There are three issues before the Court. The first issue is whether Plaintiffs Amended Complaint plausibly alleges a respondeat superior claim against Defendant City of Alexandria where Plaintiff alleges that Pegues was an agent or employee of the City at the time of her alleged injuries. The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs respondeat superior claim against Defendant (Count XII) because as a correctional officer, Pegues was not employee of the City of Alexandria, but was employed by the Sheriff of the City of Alexandria who is a constitutional officer employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Moreover, even if Pegues was an employee of the City, municipalities cannot be held liable under § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory for the acts of their employees.

         The second issue is whether Plaintiffs Amended Complaint plausibly alleges an Eighth Amendment violation pursuant to § 1983 where Plaintiff states that Defendant City of Alexandria's official policies or customs permitted William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center to be designed and operated in such a manner to facilitate the conditions in the Critical Care Unit that caused the injuries to the Plaintiff. The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs § 1983 claim against Defendant (Count IX) because the Sheriff, not the City of Alexandria, determines the policies and customs of William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center, and the Sheriff makes these determinations based on the mandatory minimum standards established by the State Board of Corrections.

         The third issue is whether Plaintiffs Amended Complaint plausibly alleges state law tort claims of negligence and gross negligence against Defendant City of Alexandria where Plaintiff alleges Defendant had a duty to the inmates at Truesdale Detention Center to prevent sexual assault, and willfully disregarded a duty to ensure Plaintiffs safety while at Truesdale Detention Center. The Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs negligence claim (Count X) and gross negligence claim (Count XI) because the doctrine of sovereign immunity protects Defendant from tort liability arising from the exercise of governmental functions, such as maintaining a jail.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In May 2014, Plaintiff Ms. Mercedes Davis was incarcerated at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center ("Truesdale") in Alexandria, Virginia and was assigned to Truesdale's Critical Care Unit due to her history of mental illness. (Doc. 32 at 3.) Defendant Bryant Pegues was a deputy at Truesdale assigned to supervise and maintain the Critical Care Unit. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that on or about May 27, 2014, Pegues walked by her cell while looking at her in a 'threatening and menacing manner." (Id.) Plaintiff further alleged that on the same day, Pegues entered her cell and sexually assaulted her. (Id. at 4.)

         On January 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint and asserted the following claims against Defendant City of Alexandria, inter alia: violation of the Eighth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, et seq. (Count IX); negligence (Count X); gross negligence (Count XI); and respondeat superior (Count XII). (Doc 32.)

         This matter is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. On March 2, 2017, Defendant City of Alexandria filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 38). Plaintiffs opposition was due on March 17, 2017. Plaintiff, however, has not filed a response to Defendant's motion, and that motion is now before this Court.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) enables a defendant to move for dismissal by challenging the sufficiency of the plaintiffs complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A 12(b)(6) motion should be granted where the plaintiff has failed to "state a plausible claim for relief under Rule 8(a). Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a claim must be facially plausible, meaning the complaint contains sufficient factual allegations, which if taken as true, "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "nudg[e] [the] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, " allowing "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Vitol, S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co., 708 F.3d 527, 543 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell AtL Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007)); Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville, 708 F.3d 549, 554 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         The requirement for plausibility does not mandate a showing of probability but merely that there is more than a possibility of the defendant's unlawful acts. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). As a result, a complaint must contain more than "naked assertions" and "unadorned conclusory allegations" and requires some "factual enhancement" in order to be sufficient. Id. (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Thus, in reviewing a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, a court must separate factual allegations from legal conclusions. Burnette v. Fahey, 698 F.3d 171, 180 (4th Cir. 2012). Further, a court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, " and those matters properly subject to judicial notice. Clatterbuck, 708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013) (citations omitted); Matrix Capital Mgmt Fund v. BearingPoint, Inc., 576 F.3d 172, 176 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Counts XII and IX - ...


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