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Skillings v. Crowder

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

March 26, 2019

FLOYD CROWDER, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Wagoner County, Oklahoma (“Wagoner County”) and Chris Elliott (Doc. 40).[1] In their motion, Defendants argue that Plaintiff Shemika Skillings' Amended Complaint should be dismissed as to them for lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficient process, insufficient service of process, and for failure to state a claim. Defendant Elliott also asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff has opposed the dismissal motion and indicates that she should be permitted to amend to cure any deficiencies. (See Doc. 64).

         I. Background

         The following is a summary of Plaintiff's factual allegations, with an emphasis on her allegations against the movants, Defendants Wagoner County and Chris Elliott. These allegations are contained in her Amended Complaint (Doc. 22) and must be taken as true at the dismissal stage. See Broker's Choice of America, Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc., 861 F.3d 1081, 1105 (10th Cir. 2017).

         On or about March 6, 2016, Plaintiff brought her four-year-old daughter from Virginia to Oklahoma. According to Plaintiff, she had an agreement with her ex-husband that allowed for this trip. Nevertheless, an arrest warrant was issued against her in Virginia for kidnapping. On March 11, 2016, Broken Arrow police officers arrived at Plaintiff's home and arrested her. She spent approximately 36 hours detained in the Broken Arrow Municipal Jail before being transferred to the Wagoner County Jail. Ultimately, four days after her arrest in Broken Arrow, she was released on a $20, 000 bond. Plaintiff then appeared before a magistrate judge in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, and the kidnapping charges were dismissed.

         Plaintiff brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 against Wagoner County and against Elliott in his individual and official capacities. Plaintiff alleges that Wagoner County “had in effect actual and/or de facto policies, practices, customs and usages that were a direct and proximate cause of the unconstitutional conduct of defendant Chris Elliott, that caused the plaintiff[']s injuries of: severe mental and emotional distress, anguish, humiliation, loss of liberty, loss of reputation, deprivation of society with family, loss of wages, travel expenses, and legal expenses.” (Doc. 22 at ¶ 46). She also alleges that Wagoner County “failed to properly train, supervise or discipline Defendants concerning correct practices in evaluating probable cause to issue and/or detain a person on a fugitive warrant and practices and procedures in detaining an Active Duty Service member, thereby permitting defendants to violate the plaintiff['s] Constitutional rights.” (Id. at ¶ 47). She asserts that Wagoner County, “being aware that such lack of training, supervision, and discipline leads to improper conduct by its employee officers, acted with deliberate indifference in failing to establish a program of effective training, supervision and discipline.” (Id. at ¶ 50).

         Defendant Elliott, in turn, is alleged to have been the Sheriff of Wagoner County “at all times mentioned in [the Amended Complaint].” (See id. at ¶ 15). Plaintiff alleges that Elliott “act[ed] pursuant to an unlawful custom, policy or practice implemented by Wagoner [C]ounty” and “was a direct and proximate cause of the plaintiff['s] deprivation of rights.” (Id. at ¶ 49). She also asserts that Elliott “knew, should have known or had the opportunity to know that Plaintiff was not taken before a magistrate as required by law to determine probable cause.” (Id. at ¶ 85).

         II. Preliminary Issues

         In her Response to the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff requests to drop Defendant Elliott from her lawsuit because he was not the Wagoner County Sheriff when the events contained in her Amended Complaint occurred. (See Doc. 64 at 6). She wishes to amend her pleading to add Mr. Bob Colbert, who was the Wagoner County Sheriff at the relevant time. This request for leave to amend is moot, because the Court has already granted Plaintiff leave to amend her pleading in a recent Opinion (Doc. 110). Hence, Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Elliott in his individual capacity are dismissed, and the Court need not address Elliott's qualified immunity argument.

         Moreover, as discussed in the Motion to Dismiss, “Wagoner County, Oklahoma” is not a suable entity under Oklahoma law. Pursuant to Okla. Stat. tit. 19, § 4, a county must be sued in the name of the “Board of County Commissioners of the County of .” Because Plaintiff failed to name the proper party, she also failed to effect service of process on the proper party.

         In her Response, Plaintiff requests leave to amend her complaint and correctly name the “Board of County Commissioners of the County of Wagoner” as a party-defendant. (Doc. 64 at 6). Upon amending her complaint and naming the proper party, Plaintiff must also obtain proper service of process against the Board of County Commissioners or risk having her claims dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(5).

         The Court will now proceed to analyze the movants' arguments under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) so that Plaintiff can attempt to cure any other deficiencies in her pleading at the same time that she makes the above-mentioned corrections.

         III. Dismissal Standards

         “To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must present sufficient factual allegations to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In other words, the complaint must contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. In ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion made against a pro se plaintiff, the Court must liberally construe the pleadings, take all well-pleaded facts as true, and make all reasonable inferences in factor of the non-moving party. See Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991); Broker's Choice of Am., Inc. v. NBC Universal, Inc., 861 F.3d 1081, 1105 (10th Cir. 2017). Yet, the generous construction the Court gives a pro se litigant's allegations “does not relieve the plaintiff of the burden of ...

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