United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MAE PENDLETON, Special Administrator of the Estate of Maurice Pendleton, Deceased, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS FOR OKLAHOMA COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES B. GOODWIN, United States District Judge.
before the Court are the following motions: (1) Motion to
Dismiss of Defendant P.D. Taylor in His Official Capacity as
Sheriff of Oklahoma County (Doc. No. 5); (2) Motion to
Dismiss of Defendant Taylor in His Individual Capacity (Doc.
No. 6); (3) Motion to Dismiss of Defendant Board of County
Commissioners for Oklahoma County (Doc. No. 7); (4) Motion to
Dismiss of Defendants Willa Johnson, Brian Maughan, and Ray
Vaughn in Their Official Capacities as County Commissioners
of Oklahoma County (Doc. No. 8); and (5) Motion to Dismiss of
Defendants Johnson, Maughan, and Vaughn in Their Individual
Capacities (Doc. No. 9). Plaintiff has submitted four
Responses in opposition (Doc. Nos. 14, 15, 16, 17). After
considering the parties’ arguments and the governing
law, the Court determines that the Motions should be granted
in part and denied in part, as set forth more particularly
of the Pleadings
Mae Pendleton filed this lawsuit as Special Administrator for
the Estate of her son, Maurice Pendleton, who was beaten to
death by fellow inmates while in pretrial custody at the
Oklahoma County Detention Center (the “OCDC”).
Plaintiff alleges that, on or about July 18, 2017, Mr.
Pendleton was “locked inside a converted basketball
court used as a holding pen for inmates facing disciplinary
sanctions.” Compl. (Doc. No. 1-2) ¶¶ 16, 23.
The holding area “was not supervised by any jail staff,
” and inmates were “left unrestrained to freely
roam about without restriction or oversight.”
Id. ¶ 18. While locked in the holding area, Mr.
Pendleton “was confronted and attacked by at least four
inmates, ” three of whom were “awaiting
disciplinary hearings for attacking other inmates” and
all of whom had a known “history of violence.”
Id. ¶¶ 19-20. The attackers
“savagely beat” Mr. Pendleton, “kick[ing]
[him] repeatedly in the head and body, ” while
“stripping him naked.” Id. ¶¶
21-22. When jailers arrived, Mr. Pendleton was “still
alive and consci[ous]”; however, he died several hours
later from a traumatic head injury. Id. ¶¶
include the Board of County Commissioners for Oklahoma
County, Oklahoma (the “Board”); County
Commissioners Willa Johnson, Brian Maughan, and Ray Vaughn
(collectively, the “Commissioners”),
both their official and individual capacities; and Oklahoma
County Sheriff P.D. Taylor, in both his official and
individual capacities. Plaintiff alleges Defendants had
“actual notice” that inadequate staffing and
monitoring at the OCDC were “likely to result in
inmate-on-inmate violence” and, despite having such
knowledge, failed to allocate funding to address the
deficiencies. Id. ¶ 41. Plaintiff alleges:
“Either the Board failed to adequately fund
Taylor’s office to fulfill its constitutional duty to
provide a facility that was adequate for the safekeeping of
inmates, or Taylor’s office squandered taxpayer money
on luxuries instead of correcting the deficiencies.”
Id. ¶ 40.
seeks “a declaration that conditions of confinement at
the OCDC caused the death of Maurice Pendleton and deprived
him of the fundamental constitutional right to safety and
bodily integrity.” Id. ¶ 2. She also
seeks damages for the alleged federal and state
constitutional deprivations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
Bosh v. Cherokee County Governmental Building
Authority, 305 P.3d 994 (Okla. 2013), respectively.
See Id . ¶ 3.
The Rule 12(b)(5) Motion
Commissioners first contend that dismissal of the claims
raised against them in their individual capacities is
required under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5)
because Plaintiff failed to properly serve them with this
service under Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
“notif[ies] a defendant of the commencement of an
action against him.” Okla. Radio Assocs. v. Fed.
Deposit Ins. Corp., 969 F.2d 940, 943 (10th Cir. 1992).
Further, such service “provides the mechanism”
for the court to “assert jurisdiction over the person
of the party served.” Id.; see also Murphy
Bros., Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., 526 U.S.
344, 350-51 (1999). A Rule 12(b)(5) motion challenges the
plaintiff’s mode of serving process on the moving
party. Craig v. City of Hobart, No. CIV-09-53-C,
2010 WL 680857, at *1 (W.D. Okla. Feb. 24, 2010) (citing 5B
Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal
Practice & Procedure § 1353 (3d ed. 2004)). In
opposing a Rule 12(b)(5) motion, the plaintiff bears the
burden of showing that he or she “complied with all
statutory and due process requirements.” Id.
“Motions under Federal Rules 12(b)(4) and 12(b)(5)
differ from the other motions permitted by Rule 12(b)
somewhat in that they offer the district court a course of
action-quashing the process without dismissing the
action-other than simply dismissing the case when the
defendant’s defense or objection is sustained.”
5B Wright & Miller, supra, § 1354;
accord Gray v. Ritter, No. CIV-09-909-F, 2010 WL
4880890, at *2 (W.D. Okla. Oct. 8, 2010).
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(e)(1), service may be
made upon an individual within a judicial district of the
United States by “following state law for serving a
summons in an action brought in courts of general
jurisdiction in the state where the district court is located
or where service is made.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(e)(1). Thus,
service upon these Defendants in accordance with the Oklahoma
Pleading Code would satisfy Rule 4.
to the Oklahoma Pleading Code, a summons and initial pleading
may be served by “certified mail, return receipt
requested and delivery restricted to the addressee.”
Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 2004(C)(2)(b). The
Commissioners’ Motion argues that Plaintiff failed to
comply with Oklahoma’s service statute because
Plaintiff served the Petition and Summons by unrestricted (as
opposed to restricted) certified mail. See
Comm’rs Indiv. Capacity Mot. (Doc. No. 9) at
The Commissioners have not supplied the executed summonses to
the Court, and Plaintiff has not filed the executed returns
of service as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
does not dispute, however, that service was improper under
Oklahoma law. See Pl.’s Resp. to Comm’rs
Indiv. Capacity Mot. (Doc. No. 15) at 6-7. Plaintiff
nonetheless argues that, absent any allegation that the
deficiency has denied these Defendants due process, dismissal
is unwarranted. The Court agrees.
compliance with the Oklahoma statutory scheme is not required
for service to be proper[.]” Bristow First Assembly
of God v. BP p.l.c., 210 F.Supp.3d 1284, 1292 (N.D.
Okla. 2016). Instead, Oklahoma courts adhere to a rule of
“substantial compliance.” Graff v.
Kelly, 814 P.2d 489, 495 (Okla. 1991); Free v. Okla.
Dep’t of Corrs., No. CIV-13-87-F, 2014 WL 347627,
at *4 (W.D. Okla. Jan. 30, 2014). “To determine whether
substantial compliance has occurred, the court must consider
the circumstances and determine whether the found departure
offends the standards of due process and thus may be deemed
to have deprived a party of its fundamental right to
notice.” Bristow, 210 F.Supp.3d at 1292
(internal quotation marks omitted). In other words, the court
must find that the deficient service nonetheless fairly
apprised the defendant of the lawsuit and the consequences
attendant to default. Id.
the Tenth Circuit and the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals
have recognized that the statutory requirement of restricted
delivery is not essential, so long as the defendant had
actual notice of the pending litigation. See Nikwei v.
Ross Sch. of Aviation, Inc., 822 F.2d 939, 943-44 (10th
Cir. 1987) (rejecting defendant’s argument that
“service was fatally defective” under prior
Oklahoma statute because “plaintiffs did not request a
return receipt from addressee only” where “the
evidence demonstrated that the defendant himself was
served”); Coulsen v. Owens, 125 P.3d 1233,
1237 (Okla.Civ.App. 2005) (holding that “service [was]
valid, ” despite the fact that “the certified
mail delivery was not designated ‘restricted,
’” where “there was no dispute that
Defendant received the summons and petition”).
Niwei and Coulsen, the record in this case
reflects that the Commissioners received actual notice of
Plaintiff’s lawsuit and are otherwise unprejudiced by
Plaintiff’s technical deficiency. Accordingly, the
Court concludes that Plaintiff substantially complied with
Oklahoma’s service statute, the requested relief of
dismissal or quashing of service is unwarranted, and the
Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over the
The Rule 12(b)(1) Motions
Board and the Commissioners argue that the Court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims
because Plaintiff lacks standing to sue as her injury is not
traceable to the Board. See Bd. Mot. (Doc. No. 7) at
12-20; Comm’rs Official Capacity Mot. (Doc. No. 8) at
11-17; Comm’rs Indiv. Capacity Mot. at 15-19. The crux
of this argument is that, because the Board “has no
express statutory authority to act in areas of jail
operations, ” the injury alleged is not
“traceable to the [Board’s] acts or
omissions” or to the conduct of any individual
Commissioner. Bd. Mot. at 15. These Defendants argue that
they do not exercise supervisory authority over Defendant
Taylor as Sheriff, that Plaintiff is not complaining about
any policies of the Board, and that Plaintiff cannot
establish that her injuries “are fairly traceable to
conduct of [the Board], ” and thus the Board and the
Commissioners are not proper parties to this lawsuit.
standing argument conflates the justiciability of a
plaintiff’s lawsuit with the plaintiff’s ultimate
ability to prove a defendant’s liability in that
lawsuit. Cf. Kauble v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Cty.
of Okla., No. CIV-17-729-D, 2018 WL 912285, at *3 (W.D.
Okla. Feb. 15, 2018) (“While couched in terms of
subject matter jurisdiction, [the Oklahoma County Board of
County Commissioners’] argument [that the plaintiff
lacks Article III standing to sue], in reality, is premised
on the notion that [the plaintiff] has failed to state a
claim upon which relief can be granted because [the Oklahoma
County Board of County Commissioners] has no authority to act
in areas of detaining or releasing inmates.”);
Thurman v. Cty. Comm’rs of Okla. Cty., No.
CIV-17-950-M, 2018 WL 6237908, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Oct. 16,
2018) (R. & R.) (same), adopted, 2018 WL 6220213
(W.D. Okla. Nov. 28, 2018).
type of standing argument has been repeatedly rejected by
Under Oklahoma law, a county’s board of county
commissioners is not a separate legal entity from the county.
Rather, in general, it exercises the powers of the county. 19
Okla. Stat. § 3. A suit brought against a county’s
board of county commissioners is the way Oklahoma law
contemplates suing the county. 19 Okla. Stat. § 4.
Moreover, in the § 1983 context, a suit against the
board of county commissioners or some other county official
in their official capacity is, in substance, a suit against
the county .....
The motion filed by the Board of County Commissioners
confuses the issue by arguing that it (the Board) is not a
“proper party, ” essentially because it
didn't do anything wrong, or fail to do anything it had a
duty to do. But, as noted above, the Board, as such, is not
even a legal entity and obviously cannot be a
“party” regardless of what it did or didn’t
do. Rather, the question is whether a basis for claim against
the county is stated.
Snow v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Cty. of
McClain, No. CIV-14-911-HE, 2014 WL 7335319, at *2
(citing DuBois v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of Mayes
Cty., No. 12-CV-677-JED-PJC, 2014 WL 4810332 (N.D. Okla.
Sept. 29, 2014)).
Cramer v. Okla. Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs, No.
CIV-18-179-G, 2019 WL 1937602, at *5-6 (W.D. Okla. May 1,
2019) (citation omitted).
has plausibly alleged that the County, through its Board of
three Commissioners, is responsible for providing and funding
a jail for Oklahoma County and failed to properly fulfill
that responsibility. See, e.g., Compl. ¶¶
5, 32-34, 50. Further, as explained below, Plaintiff has
plausibly alleged a claim against Oklahoma County, acting
through Defendant Taylor, regarding the operation of the
Jail. See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 6, 42.
“Although it is true that in certain circumstances a
board of county commissioners may be an improper party
because its policies or customs cannot be shown to be
responsible for an alleged constitutional violation, that
does not mean that a board can never be a proper
party as a matter of law.” Kauble, 2018 WL
912285, at *4; accord Chichakli v. Samuels, No.
CIV-15-687-D, 2016 WL 11447755, at *3 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 10,
2016) (R. & R.) (“Grady County can be held liable
notwithstanding the fact that the Grady County Board of
County Commissioners, itself, does not operate the jail or
promulgate the policies attendant thereto.”),
adopted, 2016 WL 2743542 (W.D. Okla. May 11, 2016).
“The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that
any official or entity whose actions represent official