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Vaughan v. Ellis County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

March 10, 2014

DAVID VAUGHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ELLIS COUNTY and ITS REPRESENTATIVES, THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF ELLIS COUNTY; and ED HARBIN, in his individual capacity, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CARLOS MURGUIA, District Judge.

From 2004 to 2011, plaintiff David Vaughan worked for the Ellis County Sheriff's Department under Sheriff Ed Harbin. In March 2011, plaintiff reported an incident between a jailer and an inmate, detailing the jailer's repeated use of physical force and a stun gun. After this report, plaintiff claims that Sheriff Harbin retaliated against plaintiff by violating the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") when plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation at work. Plaintiff also claims that he was constructively discharged from his job in September 2011. Represented by counsel, plaintiff filed the instant case and brought a number of claims, including a First Amendment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sheriff Harbin and an ADA claim against Ellis County and its Representatives, the Board of County Commissioners of Ellis County.

The matter is before the court on defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 15.) Defendants ask the court to grant their motion to dismiss on multiple grounds. Plaintiff concedes several of defendants' arguments and/or clarifies that he did not, in fact, intend to bring such claims. Based on plaintiff's representations in his response, the court dismisses any claim under the ADA against defendant Harbin personally, plaintiff's common law whistleblower claim, and plaintiff's § 1983 claim against defendant Ellis County and its Representatives, the Board of County Commissioners of Ellis County.

Several arguments remain before the court. First, defendants argue that the Board of County Commissioners is not a proper defendant, requiring dismissal of the ADA claim against it. Second, defendants contend that plaintiff's § 1983 claim against defendant Harbin is time-barred. And third, defendants alternatively claim that qualified immunity protects defendant Harbin against § 1983 liability. For the following reasons, the court denies defendants' motion to dismiss in part and grants it in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following timeline shows the events relevant to resolution of this motion:

Date Event(s) August 2009 Plaintiff informed his employer about his diabetes and depression. (Doc. 12 at 2.) March 2011 Plaintiff submitted a voluntary statement regarding an incident between a jailer and an inmate. In that statement, plaintiff alleged that the jailer used unnecessary force on the inmate. ( Id. ) April 2011 Plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation for his disabilities. ( Id. ) Sometime before "Defendant" (1) denied plaintiff's request for reasonable accommodation; (2) May 19, 2011[1] responded to the request in a "retaliatory, threatening, and/or harassing manner"; and (3) improperly asked for protected medical information. ( Id. ; Doc. 7-1 at 2.) On or about Plaintiff alleges he was constructively discharged. (Doc. 12 at 3.) Sept. 21, 2011 June 11, 2013; Plaintiff filed his complaint after timely requesting a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC. ( Id. )

III. ANALYSIS

A. The Board and/or Ellis County: Proper Defendants?

Defendants contend that the Board of County Commissioners is not a proper defendant because a county board of commissioners has no oversight over a sheriff's department and therefore no vicarious liability for employment practices of the sheriff. See Blume v. Meneley, 283 F.Supp.2d 1171, 1175 (D. Kan. 2003). The sheriff is an independently-elected state officer who has the ultimate responsibility for employment actions under Kansas statutes. See Seifert v. Unified Gov't of Wyandotte Cnty./Kan. City, Kan., 11-2327-JTM, 2012 WL 2448932, at *6 (D. Kan. June 26, 2012) (explaining that while a board of county commissioners has the power to set policy, it doesn't supersede the sheriff's power to control his office). This law suggests that the court should dismiss the Board as a party.

But plaintiff has been deliberate in his naming of this defendant: Instead of merely naming the Board, he has named "Ellis County and its Representatives, the Board of County Commissioners of Ellis County." This designation appears to be an attempt to comply with Kan. Stat. Ann. § 19-105, which provides that all suits against a county should be brought against the Board of County Commissioners. Plaintiff claims that Ellis County is his employer-responsible for ADA violations- but has recognized that instead of naming the county, Kansas statute provides that he should name the Board.

In light of Kan. Stat. Ann. § 19-105, the court concludes that plaintiff has properly named defendant Ellis County and its Representatives, the Board of County Commissioners of Ellis County, in this lawsuit. It does not appear that plaintiff has any other option, as he must name his employer under the ...


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