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Watkins v. County of Genesee

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 22, 2017

Anson Watkins, Plaintiff,
County of Genesee, et al . Defendants.


          Hon. Denise Page Hood Judge

         Before the Court are: (1) Defendants' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law (Doc. No. 71); (2) Plaintiff's Motion for Order Awarding Attorney Fees, Costs and Interest (Doc. No. 73); and (3) Defendants' Motion to Review the Clerk's Taxed Costs Pursuant to Rule 54(d)(1) (Doc. No. 76). The motions have been fully briefed, except that Plaintiff did not file a reply brief with respect to his Motion for Order Awarding Attorney Fees, Costs and Interest. The Court, having concluded that the decision process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, orders that the motions be resolved on the motion and briefs submitted by the parties. E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2).

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from events that occurred on or about August 28, 2011, when Plaintiff was an inmate at the Genesee County Jail (“GCJ”). Plaintiff was approached in his cell by Defendants Broecker, Winston, Mangrum, and Illig. Defendant Winston used knee strikes against Plaintiff, Defendant Winston put Plaintiff in a headlock and brought him to the ground, and Defendant Broecker tased Plaintiff in the buttocks. All of the above-named individual Defendants then kicked, punched, and hit Plaintiff until he lost consciousness. Defendants placed Plaintiff in a safety cell for 24 hours.

         On or about August 31, 2011, Plaintiff was released from the GCJ, and his brother took him to McLaren Hosptial to treat his injuries. At McLaren Hospital, Plaintiff reported that he had been kicked and punched in the head and face by the above-named individual Defendants, and he complained of head and facial pain, blurred vision, bilateral arm and back pain, and redness around the left eye. Since the incident, Plaintiff claims he suffers or has suffered from head trauma, concussion, dizzy spells, blackouts, migraines, memory loss, stress, chronic body pain, paranoia, constant nervousness, and numbness in his neck and down his arms. Plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages for the personal injuries he claims he sustained at the GCJ on August 28, 2011.

         A jury trial was held between January 26, 2016, and February 10, 2016. The jury was asked to determine if each of the individual officers: (a) used excessive force with respect to his or her interaction with Plaintiff, and (b) was deliberately indifferent to any medical needs of Plaintiff. The jury also was asked to determine whether Genesee County failed to reasonably supervise its officers or failed to provide adequate training regarding the appropriate and lawful use of force. The jury returned, and judgment was entered consistent with, a verdict of: (a) no cause of action against Broecker, Mangrum, and Illig on any claim; (b) $1.00 for compensatory damages and $1.00 for punitive damages against Winston on the use of excessive force claim but no liability on the deliberate indifference to medical needs claim; and (c) $10, 000.00 against Genesee County for failure to reasonably supervise its officers and/or failure to provide adequate training regarding the appropriate and lawful use of force.


         A. Legal Standard

         Judgment as a matter of law should be granted when “viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact for the jury, and reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion, in favor of the moving party.” Jordan v. City of Cleveland, 464 F.3d 584, 594 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Noble v. Brinker Int'l, Inc., 391 F.3d 715, 720 (6th Cir. 2004)). See also Gray v. Toshiba Am. Consumer Prods., Inc., 263 F.3d 595, 598 (6th Cir. 2001); Williams v. Nashville Network, 132 F.3d 1123, 1130-31 (6th Cir. 1997); Barnes v. City of Cincinnati, 401 F.3d 729, 736 (6th Cir. 2005). A motion for judgment as a matter of law should not be granted unless reasonable minds could come to only one conclusion, a conclusion that favors the moving party. Radvansky v. City of Olmstead Falls, 496 F.3d 609, 614 (6th Cir. 2007).

         B. Analysis

         Defendants challenge only the jury's finding that Genesee County is liable on the failure to supervise/failure to train claim.

         It is well-established that a municipality cannot be held vicariously liable for the alleged constitutional torts of its employees, such that respondeat superior is not a viable theory of recovery. Monell v. Dep't. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Rather, liability will attach only where the plaintiff establishes that the municipality engaged in a “policy or custom” that was the “moving force” behind the alleged deprivation of the plaintiff's rights. Id.; Doe v. Claiborne County, 103 F.3d 495, 507 (6th Cir. 1996). In other words, “governments should be held responsible when, and only when, their official policies cause their employees to violate another person's constitutional rights.” City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 122 (1988). “[T]o satisfy the Monell requirements a plaintiff must ‘identify the policy, connect the policy to the city itself and show that the particular injury was incurred because of the execution of that policy.” Garner v. Memphis Police Dept., 8 F.3d 358, 364 (6th Cir. 1993). Additionally, a single incident of unconstitutional activity does not establish an official policy or practice of a municipality sufficient to render the municipality liable for damages under section 1983. City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 823 (1985).

         Defendants assert that Plaintiff cannot make the requisite showing under Monell with respect to the alleged “unconstitutional” policy of failing to train/supervise. To establish that a municipality failed to properly train or supervise an employee, plaintiff must show that the alleged failure evidences a “deliberate indifference” to the rights of its inhabitants. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. at 378, 388-389 (1989); Berry v. City of Detroit, 25 F.3d 1342 (6th Cir. 1994). “Deliberate indifference” means evidence showing an obvious indifference, not a “collection of sloppy, or even reckless oversights.” Doe, supra at 508. Whether the training was the best and most comprehensive available or whether the injury could have been prevented by more or better training has no bearing on a plaintiff's failure to train claim. Lewis v. City of Irvine, Kentucky, 899 F.2d 41, 45 (6th Cir. 1990). Instead, “the need for more or different training [must be] so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of the [county] can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need.” Canton, 489 U.S. at 390. See also Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985). Liability for failing to train “attaches only if a constitutional violation is part of a pattern of misconduct, or where there is essentially a complete failure to train the police force, or training that is so reckless or grossly negligent that future police misconduct is almost inevitable or would properly be characterized as substantially certain to occur.” Ontha v. Rutherford County, Tennessee, 222 F. App'x. 498, 504 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting in part Hays v. Jefferson County, 668 F.2d 869, 874 (6th Cir. 1982)).

         Pursuant to the agreement of the parties, the jury was instructed that Genesee County could be “liable for [a] deprivation only if Plaintiff provides by a preponderance of the evidence that the deprivation resulted from Genesee County's official policy.” (Doc. No. 65, PgID 858). The Court also instructed the jury that it could find against Genesee County only if the jury found that: (1) Genesee County's training program was inadequate to train its officers and employees; (2) the need for more training or different training was so obvious and the inadequacy so likely to result in a violation of constitutional rights, that the policymakers of Genesee County were deliberately indifferent to the need for the training; and (3) that failure was the cause of Plaintiff's injury. (Doc. No. 65, PgID 860)

         Defendants contend there is no evidence to support a claim that Genesee County failed to adequately train its deputies on the use of force prior to the alleged incidents. Defendants indicate that the testimony established that, when deputies are hired, they are sent to a corrections academy, where they are trained in the use of force and tactics for defensive and control purposes in situations of non-compliance.

         Undersheriff Swanson testified about the training of officers on force continuum and excessive force protocol, stating that all new officers are taught those things in the “Corrections Academy” when they commence their position with Genesee County (if they did not have prior police academy training). Undersheriff Swanson testified that Genesee County provides periodic and daily on-the-job training. The evidence at trial revealed that Defendant Illig had 640 hours of police training when he became a police officer in 2008, but no evidence of additional training of any form prior to August 28, 2011. Defendant Mangrum attended a police academy in 2007 and had a refresher course on “use of force training” in 2008. Defendant Winston testified that he last received hands-on defensive tactics training in 2008. Defendant Broecker was promoted to Sergeant in 2009, and she testified that she had some training in 2000 and 2009.

         Defendants assert that Plaintiff cannot establish a policy of failing to supervise leading to excessive force because there are multiple supervisors working every shift at the jail that provide constant supervision. Defendants rely exclusively on the testimony of Undersheriff Swanson as it relates to its supervision policy(ies). Undersheriff Swanson testified that there are daily staff meetings with the Captains, the Undersheriff, and the Sheriff, at which every report is “looked over and reviewed and authored and signed by a Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain and ultimately [Undersheriff Swanson] if it involves force.” (Doc. No. 75, PgID 983) Undersheriff Swanson testified that there also are four mandatory command staff meetings to review “all these issues.” Id. According to Undersheriff Swanson, this is a better way to know how employees are doing and can improve. Id. at PgID 984. The Court notes that both Undersheriff Swanson and Defendant Broecker testified that they do not give performance or employee evaluations, and Defendants acknowledge that Genesee County stopped conducting performance evaluations of its GCJ officers in 2010, at the latest.

         There was no documentary evidence to support any of Undersheriff Swanson's statements, which meant that the jury had to accept as true everything Undersheriff Swanson said in order for them to find in favor of Genesee County. In a case of this nature, the Court finds that it was possible and reasonable for a jury to find a witness was not credible. The Court finds that to be especially true with respect to the existence of the need for performance reviews and training logs. Those are documents that reasonable jurors (and reasonable persons) could believe to be standard or routine in any workplace, and that reasonably would be expected for a paramilitary organization such as the GCJ.

         The absence of any documentation of reviews or training, taken together with the lack of a written policy for training or supervision, support a finding that a jury reasonably could determine that the training program described by Undersheriff Swanson was not adequate to train Genesee County's (GCJ's) officers and employees. Specifically, the absence of “use of force” training by any of the individual defendants for at least the three-year period preceding the events giving rise to this lawsuit constitutes evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Genesee County failed to supervise and/or failed to train its employees. For the same reasons, the Court concludes that a reasonable jury could conclude that: (a) the need for more or different training was so obvious; (b) the inadequacy of the training was so likely to result in a violation of constitutional rights, (c) the policymakers of Genesee County were deliberately indifferent to the need for training, and (d) those failures were the cause of Plaintiff's injury. Canton, 489 U.S. at 390.

         The Court DENIES Defendants' Motion for JMOL.


         Plaintiff has requested that the Court assess attorney fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d). In fact, Plaintiff previously filed a bill of costs with the Clerk of the Court pursuant to Rule 54(d) [Dkt. No. 72], and the Clerk of the Court taxed Defendants in the amount of $3, 151.45. [Dkt. No. 74] Defendants challenge the merit of awarding Plaintiff any attorney fees and costs pursuant to Section 1988 or Rule 54(d).

         Pursuant to Section 1988, the Court has the discretion to award reasonable attorney fees and costs to the prevailing party in an action to enforce a provision of U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1981a, 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1986. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b); see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). Rule 54(d)(1) creates a presumption in favor of awarding costs to the prevailing party, but it also allows the denial of such costs at the discretion of the trial court. Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. ...

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