United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MONA SIMPSON, individually and as Special Administrator of the Estate of Cassandra Baldwin, Plaintiff,
DEWEY COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS; SHERIFF CLAY SANDER, Sheriff of Dewey County, in his official capacity, and CINDY ROGERS Defendants.
L. RUSSELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Dewey County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Clay Sander,
in his official capacity, filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No.
9) seeking dismissal of the claims set forth by Plaintiff in
the First Amended Complaint. Plaintiff responded in
opposition to the motion. Having considered the parties'
submissions, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to
state a claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and
that this federal claim, which forms the basis of this
Court's subject matter jurisdiction, should therefore be
dismissed. Furthermore, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367,
the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
Plaintiff's state law claims.
rule 12(b)(6), a court may dismiss a complaint for
“failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). “The nature of a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the allegations
within the four corners of the complaint after taking those
allegations as true.” Mobley v. McCormick, 40
F.3d 337, 340 (10th Cir. 1994). The sufficiency of a
complaint is a question of law, and when considering and
addressing a rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept as
true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint,
view those allegations in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in the
plaintiff's favor. See Moore v. Guthrie, 438
F.3d 1036, 1039 (10th Cir. 2006); Hous. Auth. of Kaw
Tribe v. City of Ponca City, 952 F.2d 1183, 1187 (10th
complaint need not set forth detailed factual allegations,
yet a “pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action” is insufficient. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)(citing Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “Threadbare
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by
mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937. See
Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1163 (10th Cir. 2011)
(stating that the “plausibility standard is not akin to
a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully”).
“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that
all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if
doubtful in fact).” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
Baldwin was killed by her ex-husband on January 6, 2016, in
Dewey County, Oklahoma. According to the Amended Complaint,
on that night Ms. Baldwin called the Dewey County Emergency
Center by dialing 911, because she was in fear of her life.
The 911 call was answered by Defendant Cindy Rogers, an
employee of Dewey County, at 0359 hours. Mrs. Baldwin was
screaming and crying, telephone buttons were pushed, and the
phone disconnected. Rogers attempted to call the number back,
but no one answered her call. Rogers did not dispatch
officers. Plaintiff alleges that prior to this date Dewey
County Emergency Services had responded to a domestic
violence situation at Cassandra Baldwin's home involving
Lanne Baldwin, which resulted in a police report. Plaintiff
contends that as a result of this prior incident, the County
was aware of Cassandara Baldwin's address.
Amended Complaint further alleges that at 0442 hours, Leesa
Baldwin made a call to Dewey County Emergency Services and
stated there was an incident involving two people who had
been shot, Lanne Baldwin and Cassandra Baldwin. No dispatch
was made as a result of Leesa Baldwin's call. At 0451,
Leesa Baldwin placed a second telephone call to 911 advising
that she had received a telephone call from Lanne Baldwin
indicating he had been shot in the face. During this call
Leesa Baldwin requested ambulance service, and officers were
dispatched and appeared at the scene at 0504 hours. When the
Sheriff's deputies entered the home, they found Lanne
Baldwin with a large facial wound and Cassandra Baldwin dead.
Plaintiff contends that the failure to dispatch officers in
response to the first two calls, from Cassandra and Leesa
respectively, violated Cassandara Baldwin's due process
rights, both procedural and substantive. Doc. No. 7, ¶
56-57. Plaintiff also seeks relief under state law.
Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause provides that
“no State shall ... deprive any person of life,
liberty, or property without due process of law.” U.S.
Const. amend. XIV, § 1. This provision guarantees
“more than fair process”; it also covers a
“substantive sphere ..., barring certain government
actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to
implement them.” Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis,
523 U.S. 833, 840 (1998)(quotations omitted). State actors
may be held liable under § 1983 only for their own
affirmative acts that violate a plaintiff's due-process
rights and not for third parties' acts. See Robbins
v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d at 1242, 1251 (10th
Cir. 2008)(citing DeShaney v. Winnebago Cnty. Dep't
of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 197 (1989)).
“[N]othing in the language of the Due Process Clause
itself requires the State to protect the life, liberty and
property of its citizens against invasion by private
actors.” DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 195. The Due
Process Clause is not a guarantee of a minimal level of
safety and security. Id. at 195. There are, however,
two exceptions to this general rule, the special-relationship
doctrine and the danger-creation theory. Although Plaintiff
believes her Amended Complain includes allegations sufficient
to state a claim under one or both of these theories, the
Court is convinced otherwise.
Process claim under the special-relationship doctrine is
comprised of four elements, the first of which is the
existence of a special relationship.
The existence of the special relationship is the pivotal
issue: if none exists, a state cannot be held liable for a
person's injuries at the hands of a private third party
as opposed to a state actor. “A special relationship
exists when the state assumes control over an individual
sufficient to trigger an affirmative duty to provide
protection to that individual....” Uhlrig v.
Harder, 64 F.3d 567, 572 (10th Cir. 1995).
“Generally, the scope of this relationship has turned
on the dependent and involuntary nature of the custodial
relationship between the individual and the State.”
Schwartz, 702 F.3d at 580. Plaintiffs must show that
the state has restrained them against their will, because
“if there is no custodial relationship there can be no
constitutional duty.” DeAnzona, 222 F.3d at
1234. And the state has a special custodial relationship only
with “individuals [who] depend completely on
the state to satisfy their basic human needs.”
Maldonado v. Josey, 975 F.2d 727, 733 (10th Cir.
1992) (emphasis added).
Dahn v. Amedei, __F.3d__, 2017 WL 3470142, *5
(10th Cir. 2017). The allegations herein as set
forth above clearly lack any indication that the County
assumed control over Ms. Baldwin sufficient to trigger a duty
of protection. As such, Plaintiff cannot rely on the special
relationship exception to the rule announced in
second exception ─ the danger-creation theory ─
is equally inapplicable to the facts alleged in the Amended
Complaint. Under this theory the County may be liable for an
individual's safety “only when ‘a state actor
affirmatively acts to create, or increases a plaintiff's
vulnerability to, or danger from private
violence.'” Robbins, 519 F.3d at 1251
(quoting Currier v. Doran, 242 F.3d 905, 923 (10th
Cir. 2001)). See Estate of B.I.C. v. Gillen, 702
F.3d 1182, 1187 (10th Cir. 2012)(“[S]tate officials can
be liable for the acts of private parties where those
officials created the very danger that caused the
harm.”). “The affirmative conduct requirement
typically involves conduct imposing an immediate threat of
harm, which by its nature has a limited range and duration,
and is “directed at a discrete plaintiff rather than
the public at large. Inaction by the state is
insufficient.” Hernandez v. Ridley, 734 F.3d
1254, 1259 (10th Cir. 2013) (internal citations and
danger-creation theory, there is no § 1983 liability
absent “an intent to harm” or “an intent to
place a person unreasonably at risk of harm.”
Uhlrig v. Harder, 64 F.3d at 573. Furthermore, a
plaintiff must allege “sufficient[ ] ‘affirmative
conduct on the part of the state in placing the plaintiff in
danger.'” Estate of B.I.C., 702 F.3d at
1187 (quoting Gray v. Univ. Colo. Hosp. Auth., 672
F.3d 909, 916 (10th Cir. 2012)). To state a prima-facie case,
the plaintiff must show that his or her danger-creation claim
for due-process violations meets a six-part test: (i) the
state and individual actors must have created the danger or
increased plaintiff's vulnerability to the danger in some
way; (ii) the plaintiff must be a member of a limited and
specifically definable group; (iii) the defendant's
conduct must put the plaintiff at substantial risk of
serious, immediate, and proximate harm; (iv) the risk must be
obvious and known; and (v) the defendant must have acted
recklessly in conscious disregard of that risk. See Pena
v. Greffet, 922 F.Supp.2d 1187, 1227 (D.N.M.
2013)(Browning, J.)(citing Rost ex rel. K.C. v. Steamboat
Springs RE-2 Sch. Dist., 511 F.3d 1114, 1126 (10th Cir.
accepting all of Plaintiff's factual allegations as true,
she has failed to allege that any Defendant, including
Defendant Rogers, created the danger that Cassandra Baldwin
would be subjected to violence by Lanne Baldwin. Nor does
Plaintiff allege facts from which the Court can conclude that
Defendant Rogers, the Sheriff or the County increased
Cassandra Baldwin's vulnerability to being shot by Lanne
Baldwin. “[I]naction by the state in the face of a
known danger is not enough to trigger the obligation'
unless the State has ‘limited in some way the liberty
of a citizen to act on his own behalf.” Gray,
672 F.3d at 916 (internal quotation omitted). Accordingly,
Plaintiff has failed to state a § 1983 claim that
Cassandra Baldwin's due process rights were violated
under a danger-creation theory.
Plaintiff fails to state a claim that her constitutional
rights were violated, there can be no basis for holding the
Board of County Commissioners or Sheriff Clay Sander liable
under § 1983. Furthermore, although Defendant Rogers did
not join in the instant motion, Plaintiff's claims
against her are subject to dismissal on these same grounds.
Accordingly, the Court hereby GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss