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Shaffer v. Kalamazoo County

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

September 12, 2017

Alonzo Shaffer, Plaintiff,
Kalamazoo County, Brent D. Reynhout, and Bryan L. Jolliffe, Defendants.



         This is a civil rights action brought pro se by a former Kalamazoo County inmate under 42 U.S.C. §1983. (Amend. Compl., ECF No. 24). Plaintiff alleges that Kalamazoo County Officers Bryan Jolliffe and Brent Reynhout used excessive force against him on August 13, 2013, after he had been assaulted by a fellow inmate. Plaintiff seeks to hold Kalamazoo County liable for the actions of the officers. He claims that he suffered serious back and neck injuries.

         The matter is now before the Court on defendant Kalamazoo County's motion to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 26). Also before the Court is defendants Bryan Jolliffe and Brent Reynhout's Rule 12(b)(6) motion dismiss. (ECF No. 33). For the reasons set forth herein, I recommend that the Court grant Kalamazoo County's motion, and that the Court deny defendants Jolliffe and Reynhout's motion.

         Procedural History

         On July 12, 2016, plaintiff filed a complaint naming only the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Department. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff claimed that his civil rights had been violated by the Sheriff's Department due to the actions of two sheriff deputies who used excessive force in breaking up an altercation between plaintiff and another inmate at the Kalamazoo County Jail. (ECF No. 1, PageID.2). The Court granted his motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 3).

         On August 16, 2016, the Sheriff's Department filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (ECF No. 6). Plaintiff responded on September 15, 2016, attaching copies of the police reports regarding the incident. (ECF No. 8, 8-1). He filed an “Addendum/Supplement to Complaint” on September 28, 2016. (ECF No. 12). He alleged, again, that his civil rights under the Eighth Amendment were violated when he was not protected from a fellow inmate and when Officer Jolliffe used excessive force in breaking up an altercation between plaintiff and the other inmate. (ECF No. 12, PageID.43-44).

         On September 29, 2016, plaintiff filed a motion to amend his complaint. (ECF No. 14). The proposed amended complaint attempted to replace the Kalamazoo Sheriff's Department with Kalamazoo County and the county administrator as the defendants in this case. (ECF No. 14-1, PageID.49). On October 11, 2016, the undersigned judicial officer conducted a hearing on the Sheriff Department's motion to dismiss and plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint. (Minutes, ECF No. 17). In a report and recommendation filed the next day, the undersigned recommended that the Court grant the Sheriffs Department's motion to dismiss, and that the Court deny plaintiff's motion to amend the complaint as futile. (ECF No. 18).

         On November 4, 2016, the Court adopted the recommendation to dismiss the claim against the Sheriff's Department, but allowed plaintiff to further amend his complaint to give him an opportunity to provide more specificity to his claim against the county. (Order, ECF No. 23, PageID.95). The Court noted:

Plaintiff can and should recite his claims in a more coherent, amended complaint. . . . To facilitate this, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint to state a policy and practice claim against Kalamazoo County, an excessive force and race discrimination claim against Officer Jolliffe, and any other claim Plaintiff believes he has against any defendants.

(Id. at 4, PageID.96).

         Plaintiff filed his amended complaint on November 28, 2016. (ECF No. 24). The amended complaint includes three counts: in Count I, plaintiff claims that Officer Bryan Jolliffe violated his Eighth Amendment rights by using excessive force, including a “choke hold, ” and that the officer was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's medical needs; in Count II, plaintiff raises excessive force and deliberate indifference claims against defendant Brent Reynhout for his participation in the same incident; and in Count III, plaintiff contends that Kalamazoo County is vicariously liable for the acts of its employees (Officers Jolliffe and Reynhout), and he asserts that the County is directly liable due to “its policies, practices, and customs, which [led] to this complaint of violation.” (ECF No. 24, PageID.98-99).

         On December 12, 2016, defendant Kalamazoo County moved to dismiss Count III of the amended complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 26). Plaintiff filed a timely response on January 4, 2017 (ECF No. 28), and Kalamazoo County filed a reply on January 9, 2017. (ECF No. 31). On January 17, 2017, defendants Jolliffe and Reynhout filed a motion to dismiss Counts I and II of the amended complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 33). Plaintiff timely responded on January 31, 2017 (ECF No. 34), and defendants Jolliffe and Reynhout replied on February 3, 2017. (ECF No. 35). On April 21, 2017, I conducted a hearing on both motions to dismiss. (Minutes, ECF No. 56).

         Rule 12(b)(6) Standards

         Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes the dismissal of a complaint for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must provide “ ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.' ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), and Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). While this notice pleading standard does not require “detailed” factual allegations, it does require more than labels and the bare assertion of legal conclusions. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Generally, when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable factual inferences in plaintiff's favor. See Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008). “[C]ourts ‘are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.' ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). “[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.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 680-81 (2009); Albrecht v. Treon, 617 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2010). Courts are not required to conjure up unpleaded allegations, nor accept unwarranted factual inferences. See Total Benefits Planning, 552 F.3d at 434. “To survive a motion to dismiss, [plaintiff] must allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' ” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v. Michigan Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir. 2010) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by licensed attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Even the lenient treatment generally given pro se pleadings has its limits, however. See Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991). “A plaintiff must ‘plead [ ] factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' ” Albrecht, 617 F.3d at 893 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “A plaintiff falls short if [] he pleads facts ‘merely consistent with the defendant's liability' or if ...

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