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Gilpatrick v. Harper County

United States District Court, D. Kansas

September 10, 2019

FLORA GILPATRICK and DAREN MOON, Individually and on behalf of the Heirs at law of BRET DALLAS MOON, and SAVANNAH MOON, Administrator of the ESTATE OF BRET DALLAS MOON, Plaintiffs,
v.
HARPER COUNTY, KANSAS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN W. BROOMES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case comes before the court on Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 23). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision. (Docs. 24, 28, 30.) Defendants' motion is GRANTED for the reasons stated herein.

         I. Facts

         The following facts are taken from the allegations in the complaint. On May 19, 2018, Bret Moon was booked into the Harper County Jail (“the jail”). On May 22, Moon was sent to Larned State Hospital (“Larned”) by court order “because of his medical condition.” (Doc. 1 at 14.) Larned provides mental health services and is the largest psychiatric facility in Kansas. Moon was released from Larned on May 25 with “instructions that he remain on his medications.”[1] (Id.) On May 26, Moon was booked into the jail and placed in a single-person cell. Moon was not placed on suicide watch.

         On May 29, Moon was found unresponsive. Moon was hanging from the top bunk with a long plastic trash bag drawstring tied around his neck. Moon was taken to the hospital but later pronounced dead.

         Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to Moon's serious medical needs. Plaintiffs further allege that Defendants failed to implement appropriate policies and failed to train the officers. Plaintiffs also bring a claim of wrongful death under state law.

         This action is brought by the following Plaintiffs: Moon's estate, through Savannah Moon, the administrator of Moon's estate; Flora Gilpatrick, Moon's mother; and Daren Moon, Moon's brother. Plaintiffs have filed this action against Harper County and the Harper County Sheriff's Department. Plaintiffs have also named as Defendants numerous individuals in both their official and individual capacities including: Tracy Chance, the sheriff of Harper County; Justin Carey, the administrator of the jail; and Tom Burns, the undersheriff of Harper County. Plaintiffs have also named the following jail officers in both their official and individual capacities: Kenny Hodson; Dallas Murphy; Deborah Murphy; Travis Peterson; Vance Williams; Ellen Yoder; Drake Chance; Alex Crawley; Tamara Crawley; Julie Harris; Samuel Porter; and Sam Rothenbush. Plaintiffs have also named the following commissioners of Harper County in both their individual and official capacities: Brian Waldschmidt; Carla Pence; Lee Adams; and Ruth Elliott.

         Defendants move to dismiss the complaint on the basis that it fails to state a claim and the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Defendants raise additional arguments regarding the dismissal of the Sheriff's Department and the state law claims.[2]

         II. Standards

         Rule 12(b)(6). In order to withstand a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007)). All well-pleaded facts and the reasonable inferences derived from those facts are viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs. Archuleta v. Wagner, 523 F.3d 1278, 1283 (10th Cir. 2008). Conclusory allegations, however, have no bearing upon the court's consideration. Shero v. City of Grove, Okla., 510 F.3d 1196, 1200 (10th Cir. 2007).

         Section 1983 Qualified Immunity. The individual Defendants move for dismissal on the basis of qualified immunity. “Individual defendants named in a § 1983 action may raise a defense of qualified immunity.” Cillo v. City of Greenwood Vill., 739 F.3d 451, 460 (10th Cir. 2013). Qualified immunity “shields public officials ... from damages actions unless their conduct was unreasonable in light of clearly established law.” Gann v. Cline, 519 F.3d 1090, 1092 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations omitted). When the defense of qualified immunity is asserted, a plaintiff must show: “(1) that the defendant's actions violated a federal constitutional or statutory right, and, if so, (2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's unlawful conduct.” Cillo, 739 F.3d at 460.

         Supervisor Liability. Vicarious liability is inapplicable to section 1983 claims. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676. As such, “a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Id. A plaintiff may also plead a claim against a “defendant-supervisor who creates, promulgates, implements, or in some other way possesses responsibility for the continued operation of a policy” which caused the constitutional harm. Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1199 (10th Cir. 2010). Therefore, personal liability includes both personal involvement or supervisory liability due to a policy. Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1164-1165 (10th Cir. 2011) (Personal liability through “his personal participation” “or the promulgation of a policy.”).

         If the basis of liability is a policy, Plaintiffs must prove that “(1) the defendant promulgated, created, implemented or possessed responsibility for the continued operation of a policy that (2) caused the complained of constitutional harm, and (3) acted with the state of mind required to establish the alleged constitutional deprivation.” Dodds, 614 F.3d at 1199. “An affirmative link must exist between the constitutional deprivation and the supervisor's personal participation, exercise of control or direction, or failure to supervise.” Quint v. Cox, 348 F.Supp.2d 1243, 1250 (D. Kan. 2004).

         Municipal Liability. Municipal liability requires more than a violation by one of the municipality's officers. Plaintiffs must sufficiently allege: (1) that a violation was committed by an officer; (2) that there is a municipal policy or custom; and (3) a “direct causal link between the policy or custom and the injury alleged.” Graves v. Thomas, 450 F.3d 1215, 1218 (10th Cir. 2006). A policy or custom includes the following: 1) a “formal regulation or policy statement;” 2) an informal custom that amounts to a widespread and well-settled practice; 3) a decision of an employee with final policymaking authority; 4) ratification by a final policymaker of a subordinate's decision; or 5) “failure to adequately train ...


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