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French v. The Oklahoma County Detention Center

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

January 31, 2019

CHRISTOPHER JUSTUS FRENCH, Plaintiff,
v.
THE OKLAHOMA COUNTY DETENTION CENTER, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          GARY M. PURCELL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a pre-trial detainee appearing pro se, brings this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[1] Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss requesting the Court dismiss Plaintiff's claims based on the failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Doc. No. 5. The matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends the Motion to Dismiss be granted and Plaintiff be permitted an opportunity to amend his Complaint.

         1. Background

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that during a 2016 incarceration at OCDC, a state court judge ordered his release on December 16, 2016, but he was not released until December 20, 2016. Doc. No. 1 at 4-5. As a result of this unlawful four-day detention, Plaintiff asserts Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims. Id. He names as a Defendant, “Oklahoma County Detention Center under Custody Care Sheriff John Whetsel.” Id. at 2. Elsewhere in the Complaint, Plaintiff identifies the defendant as “Under Custody and Care John Whetsel, Oklahoma County Detention Center[, ] 201 N. Shartel[, ] Oklahoma City[, ] OK 73102.” Id. at 4.

         Defendant OCDC has filed a Motion to Dismiss arguing that it is not a proper party because it does not possess the legal capacity to be sued. See generally Doc. No. 5.

         2. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss may be granted when the plaintiff has “failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In applying this standard the court must assume the truth of all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Leverington v. City of Colo. Springs, 643 F.3d 719, 723 (10th Cir. 2011); Beedle v. Wilson, 422 F.3d 1059, 1063 (10th Cir. 2005). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must present factual allegations that “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). This review contemplates the assertion of “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. Thus, “when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a [plausible] claim of entitlement to relief, ” the cause of action should be dismissed. Id. at 558.

         A pro se plaintiff's complaint must be broadly construed under this standard. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the generous construction to be given the pro se litigant's allegations “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of alleging sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based.” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991). See Whitney v. New Mexico, 113 F.3d 1170, 1173-74 (10th Cir. 1997) (courts “will not supply additional factual allegations to round out a plaintiff's complaint or construct a legal theory on a plaintiff's behalf”).

         A court evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss may consider the complaint as well as any documents attached to it as exhibits. Bellmon, 935 F.2d at 1112. Additionally, “[a] district court may consider documents (1) referenced in a complaint that are (2) central to a plaintiff's claims, and (3) indisputably authentic when resolving a motion to dismiss without converting the motion to one for summary judgment.” Thomas v. Kaven, 765 F.3d 1183, 1197 (10th Cir. 2014).

         3. Analysis

         As noted, Defendant moves for dismissal on grounds that OCDC is merely property owned by Oklahoma County and not a proper party to suit. Doc. No. 5 at 2 (citing Okla. Stat. tit. 57, § 41). Indeed, Rule 17(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a non-corporate entity's capacity to be sued is determined by the law of the state in which the district court is located. A county jail in Oklahoma, as a subdivision of the county in which it is located, has no separate legal identity under Oklahoma law. Thus, Defendant is not amenable to suit in this Court, and any claims against it should be dismissed with prejudice. Lindsey v. Thomson, No. 06-7114, 2007 WL 2693970 at *3 (10th Cir. Sept. 10, 2007) (affirming dismissal of § 1983 claims against police department and county sheriff's department because they are entities with no apparent legal existence); see e.g. White v. Utah, No. 00-4109, 2001 WL 201980 at *1 (10th Cir. March 1, 2001) (affirming dismissal of county jail because no state law supported directing a cause of action directly against a county's subdivisions, including its jails).

         In his Response, Plaintiff argues that he intended to name Sheriff John Whetsel as a defendant in this matter. See generally Doc. No. 7. While that may have been his intent, the language contained in his Complaint does not clearly support the same. Id.

         Additionally, the undersigned would note that merely being Sheriff is not a sufficient basis to support a claim of liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 does not allow a plaintiff to impose liability upon a defendant-supervisor based on “a theory of respondeat superior.” Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1248 (2015). Liability for a constitutional violation must instead be satisfied by establishing a defendant-supervisor's personal participation in the violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights, or by showing the supervisor created, promulgated, or implemented “a policy which subjects, or causes to be subjected that plaintiff to the deprivation of any rights secured by the Constitution.” Id. (quotations and alterations omitted). “A plaintiff arguing for the imposition of supervisory liability therefore must show an affirmative link between the supervisor and the constitutional violation.” Id. (quotations omitted). The requisite showing of an “affirmative link” between a supervisor and the alleged constitutional injury “has ‘[come] to have three related prongs: (1) personal involvement, (2) sufficient causal connection, and (3) culpable state of mind.'” Id. (quoting Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1195 (10th Cir. 2010)).

         The same principles of participation apply to claims asserted against non-supervisory defendants. It is well established that “[i]ndividual liability under §1983 must be based on personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violation.” Foote v. Spiegel, 118 F.3d 1416, 1423 (10th Cir. 1997); see Jenkins v. Wood, 81 F.3d 988, 994 (10th Cir. 1996) (“[P]laintiff must show the defendant personally participated in the ...


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