O'Brien v. Murphy

Decision Date22 December 2020
Docket NumberNo. 1:20-cv-00153-SEP,1:20-cv-00153-SEP
PartiesEDWARD JAMES MARTIN O'BRIEN, Plaintiff, v. STEPHEN MURPHY, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on review of self-represented Plaintiff Edward James Martin O'Brien's Amended Complaint, Doc. [8], pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. For the reasons below, the Court will dismiss the official capacity claims against all Defendants, as well as the individual capacity claim against Stephen Murphy. The Court will direct the Clerk of Court to issue process on Defendant Adam Robinette in his individual capacity as to Plaintiff's claim of excessive force after being handcuffed and on Defendant Charlie Mays in his individual capacity as to Plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs.

Legal Standard

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is required to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a "mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. at 678. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context-specific task that requires the Court to draw upon judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679. The Court must "accept as true the facts alleged, but not legal conclusions or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016); see also Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 372-73 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that the court must accept factual allegations in complaint as true, but is not required to "accept as true any legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation").

When reviewing a pro se complaint under § 1915(e)(2), the Court must give it the benefit of a liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A "liberal construction" means "that if the essence of an allegation is discernible . . . then the district court should construe the complaint in a way that permits the layperson's claim to be considered within the proper legal framework." Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004)). However, pro se complaints are still required to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for relief as a matter of law. Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980); see also Stone, 364 F.3d at 914-15 (stating that federal courts are not required to "assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint"). In addition, affording a pro se complaint the benefit of a liberal construction does not mean that the court must excuse a plaintiff's procedural mistakes. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993); see also Meehan v. United Consumers Club Franchising Corp., 312 F.3d 909, 914 (8th Cir. 2002) ("All civil litigants are required to follow applicable procedural rules."); Lindstedt v. City of Granby, 238 F.3d 933, 937 (8th Cir. 2000) (per curiam) ("A pro se litigant is bound by the litigation rules as is a lawyer . . . .").

Background

Plaintiff is a self-represented litigant who is currently incarcerated at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri. On July 14, 2020, he filed a civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Doc. [1]. Along with his Complaint, he filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and a motion for appointment of counsel. Docs. [2], [3]. On October 23, 2020, the Court granted Plaintiff permission to proceed in forma pauperis, assessed an initial partial filing fee, and declined to appoint him counsel. Doc. [7].

Plaintiff's original Complaint was subject to dismissal under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 because Plaintiff sued Defendants in their official capacities only, but he failed to provide any factual allegations showing the liability of Defendant's employer, Ripley County. Rather than dismissing the case outright, the Court provided Plaintiff the opportunity to file an amended complaint, which he did on November 9, 2020. Doc. [8].

The Amended Complaint1

In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff names Deputy Adam Robinette, Chief Deputy Charlie Mays, and Deputy Stephen Murphy as Defendants, and he sues them in both their official and individual capacities. Doc. [8] at 2-4. All are employed by the Ripley County Sheriff's Department.

Plaintiff alleged that, on March 22, 2020, he "was being pursued by Deputy Adam Robinette" on Highway 160E-12 outside of Doniphan, Missouri. Id. at 4. During the vehicle pursuit, Deputy Robinette allegedly used his "front right fender to hit the vehicle [Plaintiff] was driving," in a tactic known as a "PIT maneuver,"2 forcing Plaintiff into a ditch. Id. Plaintiff then "placed both [his] hands out of the window" and was handcuffed and placed face down on the ground by Deputy Murphy. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Deputy Robinette then came over and punched him in the face three times and tasered him twice, all while he was face down in handcuffs. Id. He claims that Deputy Robinette lied when he stated that Plaintiff had "ram[med]" Robinette's vehicle. Similarly, Plaintiff claims that Deputy Stephen Murphy "lie[d]" when he said Plaintiff had "rammed" Robinette's car. Id. Because their alleged lies are the basis for Plaintiff's second-degree felony assault charge, Plaintiff contends that they amount to libel and slander. Id. at 5

When an EMT arrived on scene, Plaintiff requested medical attention for his alleged injuries from the car accident and assault. Id. Plaintiff claims he had been knocked unconscious in the crash and that he had a black eye from being punched. Plaintiff contends that Chief Deputy Mays told the EMT that Plaintiff "was fine and did not need medical attention," and, as a result, Plaintiff did not receive medical attention for his alleged injuries. Id. Plaintiff also accuses Chief Deputy Mays of libel and slander, contending that he "lie[d]" when stating that Plaintiff had used his "front left bumper [and] fender to ram Deputy Robinette's vehicle." Id. Plaintiff further contends that Mays used this "lie" as a basis to order the PIT maneuver.

In addition to individual capacity claims, Plaintiff also bring official capacity claims against all three Defendants, which Plaintiff notes are actually charges against Defendants'employer, Ripley County. He asserts that the Ripley County Sheriff's Department Facebook page, as well as the front page of a newspaper, stated that he had "assaulted Deputy Robinette," which influenced public opinion before his upcoming trial.3 According to Plaintiff, that was libel and slander.

Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of this incident, he suffered a period of unconsciousness and a black eye, and that he continues to suffer from back and neck problems and migraines. He also states that he has become depressed "because [he's] facing 30 years on charges [he's] not good for." Id. Plaintiff is seeking the following relief: $3 million for being punched in the face, $4 million for being tasered, $5 million for being struck by Deputy Robinette's vehicle, $10 million for being denied medical care, $5 million for being "slandered" on Facebook and in the newspaper, and $5 million in pain and suffering from his unattended injuries. Doc. [8] at 6. In total, Plaintiff seeks $32 million and the firing of Deputy Robinette.

Discussion

Plaintiff, a self-represented litigant, brings this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His Amended Complaint names Ripley County Sheriff's Deputy Robinette, Chief Deputy Mays, and Deputy Murphy as Defendants. As outlined below, the Court will dismiss the official capacity claims against all Defendants and the individual capacity claim against Stephen Murphy. The Court will direct the Clerk of Court to issue process on Adam Robinette in his individual capacity as to Plaintiff's claim of excessive force after being handcuffed, and on Charlie Mays in his individual capacity as to Plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference to his medical needs.

A. Official Capacity Claims

In an official capacity claim against an individual, the claim is actually "against the governmental entity itself." See White v. Jackson, 865 F.3d 1064, 1075 (8th Cir. 2017). A "suit against a public employee in his or her official capacity is merely a suit against the public employer." Johnson v. Outboard Marine Corp., 172 F.3d 531, 535 (8th Cir. 1999); see also Brewington v. Keener, 902 F.3d 796, 800 (8th Cir. 2018) (explaining that official capacity suit against sheriff and his deputy "must be treated as a suit against the County"); Kelly v. City ofOmaha, 813 F.3d 1070, 1075 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that a "plaintiff who sues public employees in their official, rather than individual, capacities sues only the public employer"). Deputy Robinette, Chief Deputy Mays, and Deputy Murphy are all allegedly employed by the Ripley County Sheriff's Department. As such, the claims against them in their official capacities are claims against Ripley County itself.

A local governing body such as Ripley County can be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). In order to prevail on such a claim, Plaintiff must establish the governmental entity's liability for the alleged conduct. Kelly, 813 F.3d at 1075. Such liability may attach if the constitutional violation "resulted from (1) an official municipal policy, (2) an unofficial custom, or (3) a deliberately indifferent...

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