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Rose v. Centra Health, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division

August 7, 2017

Tershaud Savoryea Rose, Plaintiff,
v.
Centra Health, Inc., ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case, brought by Plaintiff Tersahud Savoryea Rose, seeks compensatory and punitive damages against numerous defendants involved in the pursuit, arrest, and prosecution of Plaintiff following his departure from the hospital on February 4, 2016. The matter is before the Court upon three partial motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The first motion was filed by the City of Lynchburg (“the City”), and the police officers employed by it (Defendants Clark, Bragg, and Miller). (Dkt. 24). The second motion was filed by Centra Health, Inc. (“Centra”)-the hospital where Plaintiff was treated prior to the incident. (Dkt. 25). The third motion was filed by Rudolph Tidwell-the supervising security guard at Centra the night of the incident. (Dkt. 28).

         The motion filed by the City, Clark, Bragg, and Miller will be granted. All Counts will be dismissed against the City because Plaintiff has failed to plead facts sufficient to establish a Monell-style claim against it. Counts 1, 3, and 4 will be dismissed against Defendants Miller, Bragg, and Clark because they are entitled to qualified immunity.

         The motion filed by Centra will be granted in part and denied in part. Counts 1-4 will be dismissed as to Centra because Plaintiff has failed to plead a plausible Monell-style claim against it.[1] Count 12 will be dismissed because it fails to state a claim for negligent entrustment of a taser. Centra's request for dismissal of Plaintiff's punitive damages claims will be denied because Rule 12(b)(6) is not the proper mechanism for dismissing prayers for relief. Nevertheless, the punitive damages request will be capped at $350, 000 for Counts 5-9, in accordance with Virginia law.

         Likewise, Defendant Tidwell's motion will be granted in part and denied in part. The motion will be denied as to Counts 1-4 because Plaintiff has pled facts sufficient to support § 1983 claims against him, and it will be denied as to Counts 4 and 9 because Plaintiff has properly pled a conspiracy to maliciously prosecute under § 1983 and Virginia common law. The motion will be granted as to Count 10, however, because Plaintiff has not pled facts sufficient to support a finding of intentional infliction of emotional distress by Tidwell. In fact, Count 10 will be dismissed in full.

         Plaintiff has conceded that Count 11 should be dismissed in its entirety, so it will be dismissed. Additionally, LPD John Does 1-10, LPD Jane Does 1-10, Centra John Does 1-10, and Centra Jane Does 1-10 will be dismissed and terminated from the case, pursuant to Rule 4(m), because they have not been served. (See dkts. 18, 34).

         I. Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint to determine whether the plaintiff has properly stated a claim; “it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of North Carolina v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted).

         A court need not “accept the legal conclusions drawn from the facts” or “accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Eastern Shore Markets, Inc. v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd. P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, with all allegations in the complaint taken as true and all reasonable inferences drawn in the plaintiff's favor. Chao v. Rivendell Woods, Inc., 415 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2005). Rule 12(b)(6) does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Consequently, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         II. Facts as Alleged

         The 122-page, 619-paragraph Complaint in this case contains far more allegations than can be summarized here. Instead, the Court will limit itself to a brief summary of the facts relevant to the resolution of the instant motions.

         On February 4, 2016, after falling off a bench, Plaintiff was transported to the emergency room at Lynchburg General Hospital, which is owned and operated by Defendant Centra. (Dkt 1 ¶¶ 22-25). While at the hospital, Plaintiff was transferred to a room and an intravenous lock (“IV lock”) was placed in his right hand. (Id. ¶ 28). He was treated for abrasions and given Versed, a sedative, which rendered him unconscious. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28). Sometime before 7:00 p.m., Plaintiff was cleared for release after being examined by a physician and a mental health worker. (Id. ¶ 29).

         When Plaintiff awoke, he decided to leave the hospital. He dressed himself and walked out of the room. The IV lock in his hand was not attached to any equipment at that time. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31). Christopher Woody, a hospital security guard, saw Plaintiff and informed him that he needed to have the IV lock removed before leaving. (Id. ¶ 31). Plaintiff stated he would take it out himself and continued his search for an exit. (Id. ¶ 31). When Woody began to pursue him, Plaintiff ran to an elevator with hopes of reaching the cafeteria. (Id. ¶ 33). Plaintiff then rode the elevator to the basement and left through the cafeteria. (Id. ¶ 34).

         Defendant Miller, an off-duty Lynchburg Police Department (“LPD”) officer working at the hospital, used his police radio to request assistance from on-duty officers. (Id. ¶ 37). Based on information he received from an unidentified nurse who had received information from an unidentified person, Miller described Plaintiff as a “black male subject” with “possible warrants” outstanding. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 86). Defendants Clark and Bragg, both LPD officers, were off-duty nearby and received Miller's radio call for assistance; they joined the pursuit in an unmarked car. (Id. ¶ 45). Meanwhile, Defendant Tidwell, a security supervisor employed by Centra, called 9-1-1 and requested police assistance in detaining Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40). He had also ordered his subordinate security guards to detain Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 40).

         Defendant Cooper, a Centra security guard, drove a marked security vehicle onto public streets in pursuit of Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 41-42). Cooper spotted Plaintiff in a nearby parking lot, but Plaintiff eluded him by running up a hill. (Id. ¶ 43). Defendants Clark and Bragg arrived in the parking lot shortly after Plaintiff had escaped Cooper. (Id. ¶ 48). As they were continuing their search, Clark observed Plaintiff run into the parking lot of a nearby bank. (Id.). Clark exited his vehicle and drew his taser and threatened to fire it if Plaintiff did not stop running. (Id. ¶ 50). Plaintiff stopped and turned around; he told Clark that he had no authority to stop him. (Id. ¶ 51). Plaintiff turned around and began walking away. (Id.).

         At this time, Bragg pulled his vehicle ahead of Plaintiff's path, exited his vehicle, grabbed Plaintiff, and pushed him up against the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 52). Bragg and Clark then attempted to handcuff Plaintiff, but he resisted by stiffening his arms without striking either officer. (Id. ¶ 55). Tidwell and Cooper arrived on the scene at this time, and Tidwell began to assist. (Id. ¶¶ 56, 60). Clark then knocked Plaintiff's legs out from under him, bringing all four men to the ground; Plaintiff incurred lacerations as a result. (Id. ¶ 61).

         Clark climbed on top of Plaintiff's back and grabbed his right arm. (Id. ¶ 62). Tidwell then used the “drive stun mode” of the taser to administer two five-second bursts to Plaintiff's back. (Id. ¶ 63). These bursts left scars on Plaintiff's back and caused significant pain. (Id.). Clark then placed Plaintiff in a chokehold. (Id. ¶ 67). Meanwhile, Bragg punched and pinched Plaintiff several times. (Id. ¶ 64). Clark told Plaintiff he was “under arrest, ” and along with help from other officers, Plaintiff was handcuffed. (Id. ¶¶ 69-71).

         Plaintiff was placed in a marked police car and transported back to the emergency room. (Id. ¶¶ 71, 73). Bragg and Clark sought an arrest warrant for Plaintiff for disorderly conduct, but the magistrate refused to issue a warrant. (Id. ¶ 77). Tidwell, after conversing with Bragg or Clark, obtained a misdemeanor warrant against Plaintiff for trespassing on Centra's property. (Id. ¶ 78). Bragg then obtained a misdemeanor warrant against Plaintiff for obstruction of justice. (Id.). Plaintiff was arrested and held without bond on these charges for fourteen days before he was granted bail. (Id. ¶ 79). The misdemeanor trespass charge was dismissed on March 10, 2016, for lack of probable cause. (Id. ¶ 80). On September 26, 2016, a jury found Plaintiff not guilty of obstruction of justice. (Id. ¶ 81).

         III. Discussion

         The Complaint contains twelve counts: (1) unlawful seizure, false imprisonment, and false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (3) malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (4) conspiracy to maliciously prosecute in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (5) common law assault; (6) common law battery; (7) common law false imprisonment; (8) common law malicious prosecution; (9) common law conspiracy to maliciously prosecute; (10) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (11) statutory conspiracy to maliciously prosecute; and (12) negligent entrustment of a taser.

         A. Motion #1: Defendants Clark, Bragg, Miller, and the City (Dkt. 24)

         Defendants seek partial dismissal of Counts 1-4 and full dismissal of Count 11. Plaintiff has conceded and withdrawn Count 11. (Dkt. 36 at ECF 20). The remaining Counts will be considered in turn.

         1. Count 1: Unlawful Seizure, False Imprisonment, and False Arrest (§ 1983)

         Count 1 alleges that Defendants Clark, Bragg, and Miller violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment right by detaining him without probable cause. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 99-112). Furthermore, Count 1 alleges that the City is liable as a municipality for its failure to train and supervise its officers with regards to detention and arrest. (Id. ¶ 121-34). Defendants Clark, Bragg, Miller, and the City ask the Court to dismiss Count 1 against them. Clark, Bragg, and Miller assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity, while the City argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim of municipal liability. (Dkt. 26 at 1).

         a. Qualified Immunity: Defendants Bragg and Clark

         Qualified immunity protects “government officials performing discretionary functions . . . insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 609 (1999) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)); see also Occupy Columbia v. Haley, 738 F.3d 107, 118 (4th Cir. 2013). To be entitled to qualified immunity, a defendant must show that even if there was a constitutional violation, the right in question was not clearly established at the time that the defendant acted. Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc); Ridpath v. Bd. of Governors Marshall Univ., 447 F.3d 292, 306 (4th Cir. 2006).

         Defendants Bragg and Clark assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity because they reasonably relied on information from Defendant Miller, a fellow officer. (Dkt. 26 at 3). They argue that, regardless of whether there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff, they had reason to believe probable cause existed because they were told my Miller that Plaintiff had “possible warrants” outstanding and should be apprehended. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 37).

         Police officers routinely rely on information from other officers, and reliance-absent clear, contradictory evidence-is reasonable. See, e.g., Whiteley v. Warden, Wyo. State Penitentiary, 401 U.S. 560, 568 (1971) (“Certainly police officers called upon to aid other officers in executing arrest warrants are entitled to assume that the officers requesting aid” have established probable cause.); Lucas v. Shivley, 31 F.Supp.3d 800, 813 (W.D. Va. 2014) (“Indeed, a police force could not function without reasonable reliance on the statements and efforts of others.” (citations omitted)).

         Although the arrest may ultimately be found to be in violation of the Fourth Amendment, see, e.g., Whiteley, 401 U.S. at 568-69, the officers who reasonably relied on fellow law enforcement are shielded from individual liability. See, e.g., United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221, 232 (1985) (“In such a situation, of course, the officers making the stop may have a good-faith defense to any civil suit.”); Liu v. Phillips, 234 F.3d 55, 57 (1st Cir. 2000) (“Where the authorizing officer has made a factual mistake but the mistake is not apparent, immunity for the officer who reasonably assisted is well settled.” (citations omitted)); Lucas v. Shively, 31 F.Supp.3d 800, 813-17 (W.D. Va. 2014), aff'd, 596 F. App'x 236 (4th Cir. 2015). This is because qualified immunity protects officers who “could reasonably believe that their actions were lawful.” Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011). Defendants Bragg and Clark could reasonably believe that their actions were lawful because they reasonably relied in good faith on information from a fellow officer.

         Thus, even if Defendants Bragg and Clark violated Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights, they were not being “plainly incompetent” by “transgressing bright lines” when they decided to arrest Plaintiff. Wilson v. Layne, 141 F.3d 111, 114 (4th Cir. 1998). A reasonable officer would have relied on Miller's call for help in the absence of clear contradictory evidence. In fact, Plaintiff's evasive actions would have served to confirm Miller's statement that Plaintiff was wanted for criminal conduct. Cf. Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124 (2000) (explaining that unprovoked flight, when combined with other circumstances, can lead to reasonable suspicion). Simply put, the conduct of Defendants Bragg and Clark did not “violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Id. Accordingly, they are entitled to qualified immunity on Count 1.

         b. Qualified Immunity: Defendant Miller

         Defendant Miller's role in the incident was meaningfully different from that of Defendants Bragg and Clark, and it warrants separate consideration. Based on information he received from an unidentified nurse who had received information from an unidentified person, Miller was the one who requested Bragg and Clark's assistance that ultimately led to Plaintiff's arrest. (Dkt. 1 ¶¶ 37, 86). The Complaint does not allege that Miller actually arrested Plaintiff, but Plaintiff contends that Miller is liable because he “request[ed] or direct[ed] another to do so.” (Id. ¶ 101).

         The problem with this argument, however, is that the Complaint does not allege that Miller directed Bragg and Clark specifically to arrest Plaintiff. It merely states that Miller requested aid in “apprehending” Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 37). Miller can be held liable only for conduct that he specifically directed or had knowledge of, see Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 799 (4th Cir. 1994), and not every apprehension is an arrest. See, e.g., Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 22 (1968). Miller's request would certainly include an apprehension short of an arrest, such as a brief investigatory stop.

         Furthermore, the facts demonstrate that Miller possessed reasonable articulable suspicion to support such an apprehension when he called for backup. From Miller's perspective, he was aware of an individual with an IV lock in his arm who was running through the hospital to evade a Centra security guard, and he had been told that the individual had possible warrants out against him. (Id. ¶¶ 31-37, 86). Although in a perfect world Miller would have had time to verify this information, what he knew justified at least a Terry stop of Plaintiff to investigate the situation further, especially considering the heightened security concerns in hospitals. If Miller had simply ignored the information he received and a patient or employee was injured, he likely would have been viewed as negligent. In this era of active-shooter incidents and acts of public violence, Miller had an obligation to investigate these claims of a man acting erratically in the hospital. Even if Miller was ultimately incorrect in his assessment, the Court cannot second guess his split-second judgments based on the benefit hindsight. See Maciariello v. Sumner, 973 F.2d 295, 298 (4th Cir. 1992) (“Officials are not liable for bad guesses in gray areas; they are liable for transgressing bright lines.”).

         Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Count 1 because Plaintiff has failed to plead a constitutional violation by Miller. There are no allegations that he actually conducted the arrest, and the Complaint states that he requested assistance in apprehending Plaintiff after developing reasonable articulable suspicion. He cannot be held liable for ...


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