United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
STACY WILLIS, as Personal Representative of the Estate of, MITCHELL EVERETT WILLIS, Deceased, Plaintiff,
OKLAHOMA COUNTY DETNENTION CENTER et al ., Defendants.
TIMOTHY D. DeGIUSTI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is a Joint Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support
[Doc. No. 36] filed by Defendants Sheriff P.D. Taylor and
Sheriff John Whetsel (“Defendants”) in their
individual capacities. The Sheriffs' Joint Motion was
filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff filed a
response [Doc. No. 44], to which Defendants have replied.
[Doc. No. 49].
Everett Willis (“Willis”) was arrested on August
18, 2017. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 30] at
7, ¶ 10. That same day, Willis was placed in the custody
of the Oklahoma County Detention Center (the
“OCDC”) as a pretrial detainee. Id. at
7-8, ¶¶ 10, 12. After intake, Willis was allegedly
assaulted by employees of the Oklahoma County Sheriff's
Department (the “OCSD”), suffering blunt force
trauma to the head, neck, and torso. Id. at 7,
¶ 10. Several other OCSD employees looked on as Willis
was attacked. Id. Following the assault, Willis was
left face down on the floor of his cell for several hours,
where he died as the result of his injuries. Id. at
9-10, ¶¶ 16, 19.
Willis' death, OCDC had been the subject of serious
concern. Because of a 2007 investigation into OCDC, the
United States Department of Justice (“DoJ”)
issued a report (“DoJ Report”). Doc. No. 30, Ex.1
at 1. Certain conditions at OCDC, the DoJ concluded,
“violate the constitutional rights of detainees
confined therein.” Id. at 2. The DoJ noted
insufficient staffing, possible uses of excessive force,
issues regarding medical care, and poor training.
Id. at 6-10.
oversees the jail's day-to-day operations. See
Memorandum of Understanding Between the United States and
Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, Doc. No. 30, Ex. 2 at 6. The
questionable practices employed at OCDC allegedly began under
Sheriff Whetsel and continued through Sheriff Taylor's
term in office. Cf. Id. at 11, ¶ 23;
see Plaintiff's Response in Opposition to the
Joint Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 44] at 5-6 & n.7. About
five months before Willis' death, Defendant Sheriff
Whetsel retired from his position as sheriff. That same day,
March 1, 2017, Defendant Sheriff Taylor took office.
See Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 30]
at 4-5, ¶ 6.
Stacy Willis, on Willis' behalf, sued multiple defendants
alleging violations of Willis' rights under the United
States Constitution. See Id. The claims were brought
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, along with requests for
attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
12(b)(6) Failure to State a Claim
survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint
must contain enough facts that, when accepted as true,
“state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009); see Robbins v. Oklahoma, 519 F.3d 1242, 1247
(10th Cir. 2008). A claim has facial plausibility when the
court can draw “the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In § 1983 cases, it is
particularly important “that the complaint make clear
exactly who is alleged to have done what to whom, to
provide each individual with fair notice as to the basis of
the claims against him or her.” See Robbins,
519 F.3d at 1249-50 (emphasis in original); see also
Smith v. United States, 561 F.3d 1090, 1104 (10th Cir.
Liability Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that a person acting
“under the color of law” to deprive someone else
of their “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by
the Constitution and laws, ” shall be liable to the
person injured. A supervisor cannot be vicariously liable for
the conduct of subordinates under § 1983; “[A]
plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant,
through the official's own individual actions, has
violated the Constitution.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
liability, however, “allows a plaintiff to impose
liability on a defendant-supervisor who creates, promulgates,
[or] implements . . . a policy, ” which results in the
deprivation of a person's constitutional rights. See
Dodds v. Richardson, 614 F.3d 1185, 1199 (10th Cir.
2011), cert. denied, 131 S.Ct. 2150 (2011). To
succeed in a § 1983 suit against a defendant-supervisor,
a plaintiff must show that: “(1) the defendant
promulgated, created, implemented or possessed responsibility
for the continued operation of a policy that (2) caused the
complained of constitutional harm, and (3) acted with the
state of mind required to establish the alleged
constitutional deprivation.” Id. at 1199.
See also Cox v. Glanz, 800 F.3d 1231, 1248 (10th
Cir. 2015); Pahls v. Thomas, 718 F.3d 1210, 1210,
1225 (10th Cir. 2013).
Plaintiff's claims for excessive force and lack of
adequate medical care are Fourteenth Amendment due process
the precise constitutional harm asserted in a § 1983
supervisory liability action goes on to affect the legal
standards that apply, the Court must first establish which
violation is at issue. See Estate of Booker v.
Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 418-19 (10th Cir. 2014) (“[A]
district court evaluating an excessive force claim must first
isolate the precise constitutional violation with which [the
defendant] is charged because [t]he choice of amendment
force claims can be maintained under the Fourth, Fifth,
Eighth, or Fourteenth Amendment . . . and each carries with
it a very different legal test.” Porro v.
Barnes, 624 F.3d 1322, 1325 (10th Cir. 2010). An
excessive force claim brought under the Fourth Amendment
depends on the objective reasonableness of the
defendants' actions. See Id. The same claim
brought under the Fourteenth Amendment turns on other
factors, including “the motives of the state
actor.” See Id. at 1325-26; see also
Gomez, 745 F.3d at 418-19. The Fourth Amendment standard
applies to claims “arising from [the] treatment of an
arrestee detained without a warrant and prior to any probable
cause hearing.” Gomez, F.3d at 419, 421. The
Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process standard governs
claims of excessive force brought by a pretrial detainee.
Id. at 419.
is nothing in the Amended Complaint suggesting Willis was
arrested without a warrant or probable cause. Plaintiff makes
repeated references to the violation of Willis' Fourth
Amendment rights. Doc. No. 30 at 16, ¶ 38. See
Plaintiff's Response at 10 & n.10. The Fourth
Amendment, by its very text, however, prohibits only
“unreasonable seizures.” U.S. Const. amend. IV.
Plaintiff also alleges violations under the Fourteenth
Amendment. Amended Complaint at 16, ¶ 38. Willis was a
pretrial detainee at the time of the attack. Id. at
7, ¶ 10. Therefore, Defendants correctly point out that
the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process standard
should govern. Sheriffs' Joint Motion at 4.
Court agrees that Plaintiff's excessive force claim
alleges a violation of Willis' Fourteenth Amendment
substantive due process rights, resulting from
“substandard policies and procedures” on use of