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Smith v. Hedgecock

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

July 19, 2018

SAMANTHA SMITH, as Guardian and Next Friend of S.S., an Incapacitated Adult, Plaintiff,
v.
(1) B.J. HEDGECOCK, Sheriff of Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, in his Official Capacity, (2) THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS FOR THE COUNTY OF PUSHMATAHA, a political subdivision of the State of Oklahoma, and 3 TAMARA RASHAE NICHOLS, an individual, in her Individual Capacity, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James H. Payne United States District Judge

         Before the Court are (1) Defendants Hedgecock and Board of County Commissioners' Partial Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 7) and (2) Defendant Tamara Nichols' Partial Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 21). After consideration of the briefs, and for the reasons stated below, both motions are GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Samantha Smith (“Plaintiff”), as guardian and next friend of S.S., who is an incapacitated adult, filed this action to recover against the defendants for alleged violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Plaintiff also brings state law tort claims for negligence, battery/issue preclusion, and violations of Oklahoma Constitution. The Petition names as defendants (1) B.J. Hedgecock, Sheriff of Pushmataha County, Oklahoma, in his official capacity (“Sheriff Hedgecock”), (2) the Board of County Commissioners for the County of Pushmataha, a political subdivision of the State of Oklahoma (“Board”), and (3) Tamara Rashae Nichols, in her individual capacity (“Nichols”). (Dkt. 2-2).

         According to the Petition, on or about February 17, 2016, a District Court judge ordered S.S. remanded to the custody of the Pushmataha County Sheriff, and S.S. was confined to the Pushmataha County Jail. (Dkt. 2-2, ¶¶ 11-12). Plaintiff alleges Nichols, a Jailer/Deputy at the Pushmataha County Jail, repeatedly provided S.S. with illegal drugs in exchange for sexual intercourse with S.S. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 20-22). S.S. allegedly reported the sexual intercourse to the County Jail Administrator, who took no action to protect S.S. (Id. ¶ 20). Sheriff Hedgecock and other County employees were allegedly aware that Nichols had a prior history of sexual relations with County inmates. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17). Plaintiff alleges the defendants knew or should have known that S.S. was mentally ill and incapable of consent to sexual relations with Nichols. (Id. ¶ 23). Nichols pleaded guilty to her actions with S.S. on December 7, 2016. (Id. ¶ 15).

         Plaintiff asserts four causes of action against the defendants: (1) negligence/respondeat superior against the Sheriff and Board in failing to protect S.S. from the tortious conduct of their employees; (2) battery/issue preclusion against Nichols for raping S.S., to which Nichols pleaded guilty in Pushmataha County case number CF-2016-53; (3) relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all defendants for violation of S.S.'s rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and (4) relief against all defendants for violating S.S.'s rights under Article II § 30 of the Oklahoma Constitution to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, pursuant to Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority, 305 P.3d 994 (Okla. 2013) (the “Bosh claim”). (Id. ¶¶ 28-77).

         Sheriff Hedgecock and the Board (together, the “County Defendants”) have now jointly filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's state law claims against them pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which any relief can be granted as a matter of law. (Dkt. 7). Plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition (Dkt. 13), and Sheriff Hedgecock and the Board have filed a Reply (Dkt. 19). Nichols has also filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's Bosh claim against her pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. 21). Plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition (Dkt. 23), and Nichols has filed a Reply (Dkt. 25). Both motions are fully briefed and ripe for review.

         DISCUSSION

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, and must construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Anderson v. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, Inc., 521 F.3d 1278, 1284 (10th Cir. 2008). To withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain enough allegations of fact “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Tenth Circuit has stated that “plausibility” in this context refers “to the scope of the allegations in the complaint: if they are so general that they encompass a wide swath of conduct, much of it innocent, then the plaintiffs ‘have not nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible.'” Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247 (10th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569). The plaintiff bears the burden to frame “a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” that he or she is entitled to relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).

         I. Motion of the County Defendants

         A. Negligence Claim Against the Board

         First, the County Defendants assert the Board is immune from suit for Plaintiff's state law claim for negligence/respondeat superior pursuant to the Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act (“OGTCA”), 51 Okl. St. §§ 151 et seq.[1]The OGTCA is the exclusive state-law remedy by which an injured plaintiff may recover against an Oklahoma governmental entity for its own torts and those of its employees. 51 Okl. St. § 153(B); Fuller v. Odom, 741 P.2d 449, 451-53 (Okla. 1987). The OGTCA generally immunizes “the state, its political subdivisions, and all of their employees acting within the scope of their employment” from liability for torts. 51 Okl. St. § 152.1(A). This immunity is subject to a limited waiver for the state and its political subdivisions, but “only to the extent and in the manner provided” in the OGTCA. 51 Okl. St. § 152.1(B). The Board is a political subdivision under the OGTCA. 51 Okl. St. § 152(11)(c); 19 Okl. St. § 4. Therefore, the Board may be subject to tort liability in situations where private persons or entities would also be liable under state law. Salazar v. City of Oklahoma City, 976 P.2d 1056, 1065-66 (Okla. 1999).

         The Board argues it is immune from liability for Plaintiff's negligence claim based upon OGTCA exemptions-specifically, exemptions found in §§ 155(4), 155(5), and 155(25). The Board further argues it cannot be held liable for Nichols' alleged actions in this case, because she was acting outside the scope of her employment.

         1. Immunity Under § 155(25)

         The Court first addresses the exemption in § 155(25), which provides immunity for political subdivisions for losses resulting from the “[p]rovision, equipping, operation or maintenance of any prison, jail or correctional facility.” 51 Okl. St. § 155(25). This exemption provided in § 155(25) “is all inclusive for tort claims.” Gibson v. Copeland, 13 P.3d 989, 992 (Okla. Ct. App. 2000) (citing Medina v. State, 871 P.2d 1379 (Okla. 1993)). In Medina, the Oklahoma Supreme Court explained this exemption “reveals an intent to withhold the waiver of sovereign immunity for any loss or injury, whether to an inmate or other person, resulting from the operational level acts required to furnish the services of a penal institution, ” including the “security of the facility; the employment of personnel” and the “medical and health services or any other service provided for inmates or other persons.” Medina, 871 P.2d at 1384 n.13 (discussing the scope of ยง 155(23), the predecessor ...


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